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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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I Could Say I'd Been to Shea

On July 11, 2023, the National League defeated the American League in an All-Star Game for the first time since 2012, which added a flourish to the 50th Anniversary celebration of this correspondent’s first game at Shea Stadium, which occurred on July 11, 1973. To commemorate the seminal occasion, I dug into the Faith and Fear archives to repost my original report from July 12, 1973, which, of course, ran here exactly fifty years ago today. I hope you longtime readers will enjoy this trip down memory lane.

Well, it’s finally happened. I’ve been to Shea Stadium. For the first time, I’m able to tell you more than what a Mets game looked like on television or sounded like on radio. I had all five senses going for me on Wednesday, courtesy of Camp Avnet, where, as you know, I’ve been whiling away my days between fourth and fifth grades. Camp Avnet is kosher. I’m not, but I’m willing to go along with the program if it finally gets me to a Mets game. As you know from my continual grumbling on the subject, I was supposed to make my Flushing debut last September, but I got a cold, and my pediatrician told my mother it wasn’t a good idea to have me sit outside for several hours. My pediatrician’s office is stale with the smell of too many pets. She must not understand the benefit of fresh air.

The cold went away, no thanks to the family staying home and me not seeing the Mets beat the Phillies that Saturday, September 23, 1972, not that I’m obsessing on it nine-and-a-half months later. Maybe one of these days I’ll forget the date of what was supposed to be my first Mets game. Give me fifty years and get back to me.

My mother signed me up for this day camp because me hanging around the house, as I tend to do in summer, is considered not good for me. Where was this concern for getting me out of the house last September 23? Anyway, Camp Avnet, despite its dietary restrictions and parochial school-style interludes (it’s hosted by what’s usually the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach) has been all right thus far. We swim pretty much every day. On Mondays we head over to the Long Beach Bowl, where I must say I’m getting pretty good at an activity I’d only known about from watching Fred Flintstone do it. And we have trips beyond the bowling alley scheduled here and there. We’re supposed to go to Coney Island for go-karts at some point, Grant Park in Lawrence for paddleboats and, oh look, Houston Astros at N.Y. Mets on Wednesday, July 11.

No offense to the go-karts and the paddle boats and the bowling and the chance that the Red Cross might foolishly certify me some kind of junior life saver by the end of August. I cheerfully assented to be transported to Camp Avnet every weekday morning this summer because I saw that little trip planned. All I had to do was keep showing up and not catch a cold, and I could break the most vexing streak to which I have been party since discovering the Mets four summers ago, the one in which every day I love a certain baseball team, yet I never go to see them.

It’s over! I’ve done it! I’ve been to a Mets game! It has happened!

Hey, I’ve been there!

To be fair, that’s probably more excitement expressed over Wednesday’s game than there was during it, even by me, partly because a 7-1 loss to the Astros simply isn’t very exciting, even if it’s taking place before your eyes, ears, nose and everything else; and partly because I realize I’m more comfortable when I’m playing it cool at the ballpark. Not that I had any ballpark experience before yesterday.

I’m sure you have plenty of questions befitting a ten-year-old who’s just been to his first major league baseball game, so I will try to conceive of what they might be and also answer them.

Really, it’s no trouble at all. I like to write.

Q: Did you catch a foul ball?

A: Don’t be misled by what you see on Channel 9, where happy fans are grabbing foul balls in the middle of seemingly every at-bat. That doesn’t happen everywhere at Shea Stadium, especially not where we were sitting. They don’t put camp groups in the seats closest to the field. Besides, our counselor, Marvin, warned us away from bringing our gloves. “You’ll just lose ’em,” he warned. Nice show of faith in the responsibility of your charges, Marvin, but we followed the presumably well-meaning advice and stashed them in our cubby holes before heading to Shea.

Q: Did you get any autographs?

A: Again, I’d caution you to not blindly buy into whatever you’ve seen on TV as the norm. No, no autographs. We were too far from the players, and, besides, Marvin says you have to be clever to get an autograph. He told us about how he came to the All-Star Game in 1964, the year Shea Stadium opened, and saw Willie Mays sitting on the team bus. He ran up to the window with a pen and a $20 bill. Willie signed. I’m ten years old. Do I look like I have a spare $20 bill? Hell, in school they make us use pencils. So, no, no valuable autographs from Willie Mays, but I did see Willie start at first base for the Mets, so I can always tell people that.

Q: How did you get to Shea Stadium?

A: How do day campers get anywhere as a group? We went on a school bus. Don’t ask me the route. I wasn’t paying attention out the window other than at the clouds, hoping it wouldn’t rain. With Marvin holding court about his autographed $20 bill, I don’t remember which highways or parkways we took, I just know that we got there. I am moved to wonder that, if I ever get to go another Mets game (assuming I didn’t catch my death of cold yesterday), how I would find my way. I understand the Long Island Rail Road has trains that go to Shea. I’ll have to check that out sometime.

Q: Did you get a yearbook?

Do you honestly think after parts of five seasons listening to Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy imploring me to add the official New York Mets yearbook to my “baseball library” that I wasn’t going to avail myself of the in-person opportunity? Last year I had to ask my mother to write a check for, I think, $1.25 (including 50 cents for shipping and handling) to have it mailed to me. Seventy-five cents of my hard-earned allowance was jingling in my pocket for this purchase, and I was not displeased by the investment. I’m learning so much from the 1973 yearbook. For example, did you know Ed Kranepool was once an All-Star? It’s true! I am, however, kicking myself for not buying what they call the program, which it turns out is the same as a scorecard. The program has even more information about the Mets in it, which is a great thing. I mean it’s not like there’s some machine you can turn on, press a few buttons and get all the Met information in the world from, so, naturally I want to build my baseball library.

Q: Did you get a hot dog?

I see we’re back to those stereotypical TV images. No, no hot dog for me. Remember, I was traveling with the kosher day camp. God forbid we go off the culinary reservation for an afternoon. Camp Avnet packed box lunches featuring salami sandwiches. I hope they were in a cooler of some sort before they got to us. Judging from my reaction to them hours later, I would guess no. A little ice cream would have gone great, and lord knows they sell ice cream at Shea Stadium (little cups, wooden sticks), but try to slip that shanda by Marvin the counselor when the special of the day is sitting-out salami.

Q: What’s that big scoreboard look like in person?

Man, that thing is huge! I can’t imagine a bigger scoreboard in a baseball stadium. It even brought good tidings before the game started, announcing Jim Fregosi had been sold to Texas. Too bad it didn’t also announce Nolan Ryan would be coming back from California, but you can’t have everything. You can’t even have ice cream when you’re rolling with Camp Avnet.

Q: Did you see any home runs?

One, hit by Lee May, who I don’t have to tell you does not play for the Mets, so there goes the chance to get weepy-eyed over another of those iconic baseball images you hear so much about. I mean, it went over the fence, yea, but it also made the score Houston 5 Mets 1, so, at the risk of being more parochial than the Hebrew Academy, boo. I will tell you it took me a couple of innings to adjust to the notion that not every fly ball is a home run. From the Upper Deck at Shea Stadium, they all look so high that you think they’re all going, going, gone, but, no, they come down and are caught. Except for the one Lee May hit.

Q: Did the Mets win?

What are you, a wise guy? It’s the day after. You don’t need me to tell you that yesterday, Wednesday, July 11, 1973, the Mets lost to the Astros, 7-1. Jerry Koosman gave up nine hits and six runs, five of them earned (not that I’ve quite figured out exactly how that’s calculated; cut me some slack, I’m only ten). Seaver and Matlack had been so good beating Houston the two games before. Maybe one of our really good pitchers was due for a letdown. Jim McAndrew relieved Jerry and gave up two more runs. Felix Millan went 4-for-4 for us, but remarkably his three singles and one double led to no runs. Bud Harrelson drove in one run, or as many as Tommie Agee did. Agee is now an Astro. Rich Chiles, for whom Agee was traded last winter, was nowhere to be found despite the official yearbook telling me Rich was “Houston’s second choice in 1968 free agent draft after completing brilliant high school career as a 4-letter man in baseball, football, basketball and track.” I wonder what it’s like for Agee being managed by Leo Durocher, like if they ever get mad at one another about 1969. Ah, that was four years ago, a veritable lifetime, or approximately 40% of mine.

Q: Did you stay for the whole game?

When your ride home is somebody else’s bus, you leave when they tell you to leave, so, no, I did not stay for the whole game. I should have seen the writing on the wall, even if the writing was in Hebrew and I had to read it from right to left, when Marvin told us that on last year’s Camp Avnet trip they left in the eighth inning and listened to the Mets complete their win on the bus back to Long Beach. The game didn’t take even two hours this year, so I don’t know what the rush was, but then again, i don’t drive the bus.

Q: Do you think the Mets are any good?

That, as I’ve heard said by adults using a reference I’m not sure I understand, is the $64,000 question (plus whatever it is for shipping and handling). I mean, come on, these are the Mets! They’re good, right? I’ve only been watching them since 1969, but I think about what I’ve seen: a world championship and three third-place finishes. This team still has many of those players, and even if some of them have been injured, you look at them and you wonder how the Mets are 36-47 and in last place, 11½ games behind the stupid Cubs. I guess a lot of what ails us, besides ailing players, is the guy I didn’t get to see much of yesterday. Tug McGraw pitched the eighth and ninth and was perfect. Less perfect was we were on the bus by the time he was done. Totally imperfect would describe Tug this year. Maybe if he can start throwing his screwball the way he always has we’ll be better. Weren’t we 9½ behind the Cubs in August in 1969? (That’s a rhetorical question. You and I know we were.) Can’t we make up that much, plus an extra couple of games, with another month to do it in 1973? (I’m not sure if that’s a rhetorical question.)

Q: Do you think the Mets should fire Yogi Berra?

I know other teams sometimes fire their manager. Durocher became Astros manager last year because Houston fired Harry “The Hat” Walker. I think we’re legally required to refer to Walker as Harry “the Hat” at least once per mention. But I don’t think it’s all Yogi’s fault. The Post has been running a poll, asking if the blame falls on Berra, Bob Scheffing or M. Donald Grant. Maybe it’s a team effort, and based on his yearbook photo, this Grant guy — the “chairman of the board,” whatever that is — doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but whatever happened to patience? Cripes, I’m ten, and I seem to have more patience than most sportswriters. Leave it to a politician to make the most sense on the subject. I read in the Daily News that Brooklyn Borough President Sebastian Leone (and, no, I’m not sure what a borough president is, living outside the five boroughs as I do), was also at Shea yesterday to tell Grant to, in so many words, leave Yogi alone: “Yogi’s a warm human being, and he certainly deserves more dignity that Mr. Grant has shown him.” Maybe this Leone guy oughta run for actual president.

Q: Do you believe the Mets will get better?

Given that My First Game Ever at Shea Stadium figures to endure as a momentous event in my life, I asked my father if he could find me as many newspapers as he could so I could read everything written about it from throughout the Metropolitan Area. Good ol’ Dad came through, and got me The Record, one of those New Jersey papers at some newsstand in the city. In an article by Ron Drogo, it says, “there has been a noticeable change in the mental attitude of the team. A pep talk from board chairman M. Donald Grant, a couple of close wins over the Houston Astros, and the thought of a healthy team seem to have lifted the Mets’ spirits. Even yesterday’s 7-1 loss to the Astros and visions of a 13-game road trip that begins in Cincinnati tomorrow night didn’t seem to dampen their new-found optimism.” Mr. 4-for-4 himself, Felix Millan said in the Herald-News, from Passaic, “I still say this is a hell of a club.” I’m impressed they let Felix curse in a newspaper, but who knows what goes on over there in Jersey? Millan also noted that “McGraw’s screwball was good today,” which I appreciate knowing, having been absconded with to the bus too early to make that judgment for myself. “Yes, I threw some good ones,” Tug affirmed, even if it was in a bit of a mopup role, which the former All-Star and perennial Fireman of the Year candidate swore he didn’t mind pitching in. Listen, if the Mets can be upbeat after the 1973 they’ve had so far, and Tug McGraw can be upbeat after the 1973 he’s had so far, I guess we’ve got to believe.

17 comments to I Could Say I’d Been to Shea

  • Seth

    That is absolutely the best writing I’ve ever seen from a 9-year-old! Also, apparently you had your Instamatic and got a ride in the WOR blimp?

    • Ten-year old me would protest the age difference. Sixty-year-old me appreciates that you enjoyed it.

      • Seth

        Sorry. I was 9, so maybe I had 9 stuck in my head. It was June 3, 1966, vs the Dodgers, and I remember 2 things clearly: lots of Dodger fans, and my brother leaning over to me and saying “Ed Kranepool just stole home.” I’ve verified this with the box score, so it really did happen. Funny that a 9-year-old would remember that, though.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Very nice! I guess my only question is, what took you so long to go?

    My first game, my 7th Birthday.

  • eric1973

    Great writing, at any age, about a great subject.

    I have never ever heard that fellow referred to as Harry Walker, not even by his family.

    And that Sebastian Leone, the same guy on the Kotter sign!

  • Bob

    Reminded me of my first games at Shea–Memorial Day, 1964 doubleheader VS Giants-2nd game went 23 innings-Mets lost both games.
    My father, an old NY Giants fan who saw Mays break in at Polo Grounds told me “Wille Mays is greatest baseball player you’ll ever see.He was right.

  • mikeski

    You didn’t report on the soundtrack. How was Jane Jarvis that day?

  • K. Kastima

    . . . on the Thomas Organ

  • Joe D

    “I hope you longtime readers will enjoy this trip down memory lane.”

    Yes, yes, yes!

  • Rumble

    Great share. Thanks. I have a 73 yearbook so this was extra special.

  • ljcmets

    August 17, 1969. A doubleheader on Banner Day. Mets win 3-2 in a thrilling comeback with a late-inning 3-run homer by renowned slugger Duffy Dyer.

    We stayed for the banners but not for the nightcap, which I also think the Mets won 3-2, but we had to listen to Lindsey,Bob and Ralph because my father had heard on his transistor radio that they might close the Thruway somewhere south of Albany, preventing us from getting home safely. Apparently there was some kind of concert going on.

    That twin bill was part of a four-game sweep of the new expansion team, the San Diego Padres, which became clear in retrospect was the weekend that propelled the then third-place Mets to glory. You Could Look it Up.

    Postscript: Later on that year, my father bought the album from that weekend concert. Nobody else I knew had a father like that. A father who was cool -so cool that he’d schlep his 11-year old daughter seven hours round-trip to his company’s “father-son” annual baseball outing, and proudly proclaim to his colleagues that she knew as much about baseball as their sons. He’s been gone 40 years. I still miss him, but I will remember that game forever.

  • Charles Reiss

    It’s been 71 years since I was 9. So maybe I forgot a few things. But I have had 4 children and grand children since. So, I do remember something.
    And what I remember is I, and my off springs, could never have written something so good at that age. That I read it with interest and familiarity seven decades later and found so much to relate to is just remarkable. Is this for real or did you re- edit it?
    No matter it is great either way at recalling an era, life style and sport history.
    Your blog is always good. Just too damn bad that, for all these years, the Mets refuse to live up to it!