It was at Shea Stadium, though I don’t remember the score or who the Mets played. I was about 9 years old. The game was hard to get to, we had terrible seats, and the Mets weren’t very good either.
So why was it so special?
The way it was
I was a Mets fan from the start, as I was naturally drawn to root for the underdog. Though I grew up in the Bronx, the Yankees were too good and too smug for me.
I loved baseball then. I was the kind of kid who wore his glove and Mets cap while watching the games on TV. I played stoop ball and kept statistics in a composition notebook reserved for the purpose, cheating when necessary to ensure a Mets victory. I collected baseball cards, clipping the lesser players to my bicycle spoke with a clothespin so it would sound like a motorcycle.
Today, I can’t name a single player on the Mets or Yankees, but I remember the names I grew up with: Felix Millan, Buddy Harrelson, Wayne Garrett, Jerry Grote, Jerry Koosman, Cleon Jones, Ed Kranepool. And of course the big names like Rusty Staub, Tug McGraw, and Tom Seaver.
I remember the announcers, the voice of Ralph Kiner and the ugly sport coats Lindsey Nelson wore.
Going to the game
Our family didn’t have a car and couldn’t afford tickets to the game. But there was another way. One of the Mets’ sponsors was Dairylea, and they offered a promotion on their milk cartons. Collect 20 coupons and mail them in for a free ticket in the upper deck.
So we ate a lot of cereal and drank a lot of milk, and eagerly anticipated our trip to Shea. 20, 40, 60, 80 quarts of milk. We would send our roughly-hewn stubs to Dairylea and wait for the mail to bring us the shiny, beautiful tickets. Opening that envelope, we felt like Charlie unwrapping the chocolate bar and finding a glimpse of gold.
To get there, we would take the QBx1 which ran between the Bronx and Queens. I remember it being a long walk to get from the bus to the stadium, but that just heightened the sense of anticipation as Shea loomed large in the distance, and the faint crowd noises gradually grew into roar.
We went with other families, so it felt even more like a big adventure. And our moms packed food, of course. The food at the stadium was too expensive to feed our hungry brood, but we sometimes managed to get an ice cream or a Cracker Jacks.
I remember we sat in the last row, at the top of the stadium, and I was afraid of heights. Nevertheless, I brought my glove, “just in case.”
We stayed till the very end, squeezing out every drop of time there, and we took the subway home. It was past midnight by the time we made it to the Buhre Avenue station, and we could smell the bread from the bakery as we got off the train.
My mom must have known someone who worked there. She would step inside the low brick building and come out with big baguettes, still hot from the oven. We ate them while we walked, breaking off pieces with our hands.
Finally home, exhausted, I slumped down on my bed and fell asleep, my glove and Mets hat nearby.