The Mets had an April in 1981 that would seem familiar to any Mets fan feeling all rained out forty Aprils later. Opening Day arrived as scheduled Thursday, April 9, in Chicago, followed by an off day, followed by a Wrigley Field weekend as planned…except it was nasty on the North Side on Sunday the Twelfth and would-be rookie phenom Tim Leary felt something in his elbow and didn’t get the chance to be phenomenal for more than two innings and wouldn’t be back on the mound for the Mets until September 25, 1983. Still, they took two of three from the Cubs and lived up to the notion that the Magic, as the ads promised, was Real.
Monday the Thirteenth was a scheduled off day. Tuesday was set to be the Home Opener versus St. Louis, except it rained on April 14, 1981, like it’s rained on April 15, 2021. I can vouch for the former, having held a ticket to the first Home Opener I was going to witness in person. Sure I had a Spanish test that day, but what’s the point of being a high school senior if not to learn to make vital life choices?
My first choice was to skip the test. My second choice was picking a date to exchange the rain check for at the Shea box office once my pal and fellow Spanish classmate Joel and I were told the gates would not open. We were deprived of our first glimpse of the newly installed Mets Magic-branded Home Run Apple (it sat in a top hat, in case the theme wasn’t abundantly clear), though I think we eventually got to take a makeup exam en Español. Thus, we wound up indulging our late-stage truancy for the pleasure of a round-trip train ride; a peek at the KINGMAN FALLOUT ZONE placard on a parking lot lamp post; and a bowl of matzo ball soup at Marron’s of Long Beach at the end of our return journey. We needed the comfort.
The Mets played on the Fifteenth and Sixteenth, winning one and losing one to the Cardinals. Good Friday on the Seventeenth was another off day. Saturday the Eighteenth was a home loss to the daunting Expos. Sunday the Nineteenth was a scheduled Easter doubleheader versus Les Spos and the presumed crown jewel of Nostalgia Album Weekend. Attendees were handed glossy magazines with reprinted articles from the Times confirming that Mets Magic used to be less hype and actually actual. The Mets went .500 that day, forging a split that left them 4-4 on the pokey young season.
Even Steven was an ethos that would resonate across the ensuing week. April 20 was a scheduled off day. So was April 21. The Mets got back on the field at last in Pittsburgh on Wednesday the Twenty-Second. They played one game there, though you wouldn’t know it from its impact on the standings. The final score was 2-2 — a tie…an honest-to-goodness regulation tie, with the Mets and Bucs deadlocked the middle of the ninth and the umpires ruling in favor of shelter. Rain ended up triumphant, and precipitation’s momentum carried into the next afternoon. April 23, the day after Earth Day, brought a good soaking to the Three Rivers artificial turf and another postponement to the Mets. Mother Nature sure had a quirky sense of humor.
Off to Montreal for a matinee on Friday the Twenty-Fourth. Mère Nature traveled with the team. Olympic Stadium’s roof wasn’t operable in 1981. It rained in Quebec as it had in Pennsylvania, meaning a) another rainout; and b) over the course of five days, the Mets had played no games to a decision.
The Expos won what became the series opener on Saturday the Twenty-Fifth and swept the makeup doubleheader on Sunday the Twenty-Sixth. Not a fun threesome, but it did yield a fun fact: each game in that twinbill lasted nine innings by design.
The Mets flew home and cooled their heels Monday the Twenty-Seventh for yet another scheduled off day. When they returned to Shea to host the Pirates the next night, April 28, the Pirates shut them out, 8-0. The night after that, April 29, was pretty much the same, except the final was 10-0, and Joel and I got to use our rainchecks. That was the game we chose. Our choosing skills, like the Mets, obviously needed more reps. Not only were our beloveds shut out by a double-figure margin, but for a spell they couldn’t easily see how much they were losing by, thanks to an electrical glitch reduced stadium lighting enough to cause a non-rain delay. (Cruelly, the scoreboard remained illuminated.) It wasn’t so pitch black that they had to postpone, but the Met-aphor couldn’t be missed. You’re truly dim if you come to Shea. On the rare bright April 1981 side, I was able to purchase a leftover Nostalgia Album at a concession stand. At eighteen years of age, I was already hooked on looking back wistfully.
On Thursday the Thirtieth, the Mets scored four runs, but the Pirates scored several more en route to making it a three-game sweep.
That was the final scene of intermittently soggy, exasperatingly idle April 1981. The Mets finished the month 4-10-1, with whatever springtime momentum they’d packed from St. Petersburg in disarray and our Magical thinking proving no more than wishful. Too many open dates to begin with. Too much rain coming down in buckets. Not enough pitching to withstand the Expos or Pirates. April pretty much killed the season’s vaguely hopeful vibe — our record would sink to freaking 8-24 — before the strike killed it all over again in June. They’ve yet to print a Nostalgia Album highlighting that blip of Mets history. (Though I’d buy one.)
Postponements of baseball games are never good. Postponements of baseball games in April, any April, are the worst. There are no reserves in our tank, no easy acceptance that a pause from the grind isn’t the worst thing in the world. Rainouts, we’re pretty sure in April, are the worst thing in the world, at least in our world, especially when they keep occurring.
Or maybe you’ve recently noticed.
The Mets were rained out today, Thursday. They were rained out Monday. They were all but rained out Sunday. There were also those three games punted well into summer by the Washington baseball club via positive COVID testing, an innovation (like seven-inning doubleheaders) we didn’t have in 1981. And there was the surfeit of — wait for it — scheduled off days to protect against rain. We’re fifteen days into the 2021 baseball season and we’ve played all of eight complete games, and only six of those have gone what we used to think of as the full nine. Our next stop, as if we need more stopping, is Denver, where the potential for snow and cold scoffs “hold my Coors” toward our chilly rain.
Then again, we’ve already won more games halfway through April 2021 than we did in all of April 1981, with a couple of weeks to go (weather permitting). Every cloud such have such an orange and blue lining.