Among our regular and recurring commenters over the years, we’ve had readers who’ve identified themselves in their screen names with an array of Mets from 1962’s Ray Daviault to 2005’s Mike Jacobs. But no one has been more steadfast in his support of a particular Met than a Faith and Fear commenter you’ve seen grace our pages since the early days of FAFIF as the gentleman who’s been known as KingmanFan or, more recently, dak442.
That’s not his real name. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet John Colella and discover there’s more to him than a KINGMAN 26 jersey. But for our purposes, we’re going to be superficial and take advantage of his affinity for the player we knew as Sky King or Kong or just Dave from 1975 to 1977 and again from 1981 to 1983. See, John went to FanFest with one overarching goal in mind. He let us know how that went in our comments section the other day, but since it was such a great story, I thought I’d share it here as a guest column.
Fan Fest was neat, but a lot of it is geared toward little kids — hitting cages, sliding drills, toss games, “instruction”. It was well worth the $10 discounted ticket I bought, but don’t know how psyched I’d be to spend $35 a head. But I was really there for one reason.
The Missus and I got in around noon. We went straight to Felix Millan’s signing. We bought his book, and he signed two Topps 1976 cards and made a nice inscription on the book as well. The lines for Cliff Floyd and Kevin Mitchell were onerous so we wandered about before stopping in to catch the end of Joe Pignatano’s Q&A. A little shopping and viewing the exhibits and then we caught Rusty Staub’s Q&A. He was interesting, particularly telling about how he reconciled with M. Donald Grant (after having been furious about being traded) and they became good friends. (Grant in Rusty’s bar: “Why the hell did I ever trade you?”).
Then, the Big Event — joint Q&A with Kingman and Cleon Jones. We stuck around after Rusty’s and got seats in front. They were both great. Cleon talked about ’69 (duh), that he knew Agee was gonna make that catch and that in general if a ball was hit anywhere near them he knew one of them would catch it. He was asked about ’73, specifically Yogi’s decision to start Seaver on short rest instead of Stone. Cleon said he wasn’t going to bury Yogi, and then pretty much did; he said the team leaders (Cleon, Mays, Seaver, couple others) met with Yogi, imploring him to use Stone who was their hottest pitcher down the stretch. Yogi refused, saying “The writers will kill me!” Both were asked about nicknames; Dave didn’t much care for any of his but didn’t mind them, Cleon said his favorite was “Beep-Beep” as in the Roadrunner, from his high school and college running days.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Kingman. He doesn’t enjoy a good reputation from a lot of people stemming from feuds with writers. The fact that most of them were assholes who mocked him is conveniently forgotten. A guy I met online through Greg who is friends with Kingman says he is a delightful, personable, generous man.
And that was completely the case.
Dave simply couldn’t have been more pleasant, friendly, engaging and humble. When asked about his best experience in baseball, he said it was making so many good friends and staying in touch with them. When asked twice about the abrupt end to his playing career (he hit 35 HRs in ’86) he very matter-of-factly talked about collusion, said he would have liked to play two or three more years (and certainly could have), but that it’s all water under the bridge and he’s very happy with his career and his place in the game. I won’t relate the entire Q&A — it should be available on YouTube as three different guys were taping it on cameras/phones — but two things stood out.
• A guy asked Dave if he remembered visiting a kid who had had brain surgery in Montreal years ago, Dave said yes, the guy said it was him. Dave got up, walked over, gave him a big hug and they talked for a minute.
• And one guy said how he cried the night of the midnight massacre, and Dave said, “I’m not ashamed to admit — I did too. I loved it in New York.” It’s fantastic to hear that our love isn’t always one-sided.
At the end of the session, the two of them got up and stood there signing stuff for everyone. We each had baseball cards signed, and then ran to the line for the official autograph session. I’m not a big autograph guy — I’ve always found the soliciting and purchasing of them insipid, but I really just wanted to meet Dave and get a picture with him. The Fest volunteers gave specific marching orders: no pictures from the stage, only one item signed, be quick. Dave disregarded them all, graciously stood for pics with everyone, chatted with people.
The missus went first; she just said hi and I got a nice pic of them. Then it was my turn. We shook hands, I said I was a huge fan since childhood and thanked him for changing his mind and attending the last day of Shea (I decided not to ask him if my e-mail made him change his mind). He said it was a great day, he had a nice time and was glad he did. He signed a picture for me, posed for a couple of pictures, and I thanked him and began moving away. The MLB authenticator guy who was affixing little hologram stickers to all autographed items asked, “Hey, you want your jersey signed?” I hadn’t asked because they said only one item, I didn’t want to be a bother, and frankly I was a little overwhelmed. I said, “Really, you would?” and Dave said, “Sure! I have to sign a No. 26!”
I whipped it off and said, “Wow, thanks! I wear this to almost every game and always get a positive reaction.” Dave seemed surprised and pleased by that, so I said, “Absolutely! Everyone loves you!” The MLB guy said “You know, you can’t wash it anymore,” and I said “That’s OK, I hardly ever wash it anyway”, and Dave laughed and said, “Ha, we can tell”. It’s got Shake Shack residue, ketchup marks and other food stains on it from a year or two worth of ballgames. We all had a good laugh and I walked away on Cloud 9…without any of my stuff other than the jersey in my hand. The guy had to call me back first for my bag, and then for my picture.
I am generally a fairly cool customer, unfazed by anything. Except this. I was completely agog. When I came off the stage my wife laughed at me for babbling up there and forgetting all my stuff, and when I showed her the autograph she said, “Oh my God, your hands are shaking! What’s with you?!” For a couple of minutes I was a starstruck ten-year-old kid again. It’s wonderful that love of a baseball team (and player) can reduce a blasé New Yorker to a gibbering fool. I’ve been smiling for a day straight. I can’t convey enough how happy I am to have met a childhood hero who turns out to be a great guy. You hear about athletes being jerks, or just brusque (like some of the other signers), but this was just such a fabulous experience.
Now, I need to step up the campaign to get Kingman into the Mets Hall of Fame. Who’s with me?!
Mariano Rivera won’t be going into the Mets Hall of Fame, though it felt like he was being inducted Tuesday night. Jason gives his thoughts on the subject in the Wall Street Journal here.