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For Austin

For Austin, Another Visit to Shea

    The residents at 75 Fox Chase Lane in West Hartford, all five of them plus one teenage friend, drove off to Flushing Meadow last Saturday (05/19) to witness another battle of the boroughs, confident that our team, the Mets, would show those arrogant, overpaid athletes from the Bronx how to play hardball.  We were not disappointed.  Young Mr. Wright hit two homeruns and so unnerved Mr. Steinbrenner's boys that they walked him intentionally three times subsequent to his knocking the ball over the wall twice. 

    But that's a story you have probably seen, read, and relished a few times since Saturday.

    For a moment let's remember.  I went with you to Shea so many times, often as your guest, that memories crowd out one another in their clamoring to be recalled.  Two, however, stand head and shoulders over the others.  Beginning with that October night in 1969, in the reserved seats in the upper deck at the railing, for the decisive game in the pennant series pitting our Mets against the Braves.  Clendenon and Agee hit homeruns.  At least they always do in my recollection (the record book says Clendenon didn't).  But it was Nolan Ryan (whose mother-in-law or aunt belonged to your congregation in Bay Ridge) coming to the rescue of starter Gary Gentry that sticks out, how the future Hall of Famer, winning his first big league game blew away the likes of Hank Aaron and Orlando Cepeda.  But you and I have that night etched into our gray matter because of a hard roll sandwich.  I made it with plenty of ham and cheese (and no tomatoes!). You chomped into that morsel and broke your tooth.  No happy event (Met win) ever arrives uncompromised.

    Then, of course, the Subway Series of 2000, when I accompanied you in that special section at field level at the end of the right field line, just to the foul side of the pole.  Too bad we didn't go to the other four games.  If we had, the Mets would have won more than just the one we attended... although I think another four games with arrogant and loud, very loud, Yankee fans shouting in my ears would have left me permanently hard of hearing and even more ill-tempered than normal. Our Mets did win, if that game only.  I vowed that afternoon never to attend another World Series, so rowdy the crowd, so crowded the train, so untrained the crowd control. 

    With these strong memories in mind, I phoned you from row R in the upper level seats, section 30, Shea Stadium around 4:30 PM Saturday, May 19th, a day and fifty years after the arrival of our firstborn.  She had earlier in the day spent an hour in the Emergency Room of the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.  Our bichon friese got too frisky playing tiger at the front door and chomped down on Betsy's forefinger, leaving her with puncture wounds that to this day swell and throb. Echo of a broken tooth?  Nah, its counterpart happened later in the early evening when I tripped and fell in front of the USLTA headquarters a mile away and three hundred feet lower than row R. 

     The game began appropriately.  David Wright, twin Robert's hero, cured his ailing run production with a homer to left with two on base.  The young Yankee pitcher had already been removed when a line drive broke his finger.  After Wright's second homerun, pushed over the fence by Johnny Damon's glove, the victory over the Bombers seemed assured.  There were a few tense moments, what with homers by Cano, Rodriguez (a laser to left), and Posada.  But Billy Wagner, whose debacle versus the Yankees a year ago was still fresh in my and Robert twin's mind, put out the smoky embers of the Yankee fire.  We went home, tripping the light fantastic and literally tripping, at 8:30 PM.

    Let me add a little additional color to the game experience.

    Two rows in front of us sat a forty-something Met fan who seemed intent on embarrassing his son seated next to him.  At every opportunity (which means constantly) dad shouted at the top of his lungs with a big smile on his face, "Yankees s--k!"  I suppose I should be grateful for small favors, that he could have, but didn't, choose other four letter exclamations to show his fealty to the boys in orange and blue and his contempt for the boys in navy blue and gray.  There's no foul-mouth quite like and old foul-mouth.

    In the row in front of us sat two Yankee fans, slender young men, with a prodigious thirst for $6.75 beer.  In the fourth inning of a long game the vendor announced that it would be our last chance to buy the bubbly.  The quiet men with Yankee caps bought two beers each.  Of course, vendors continued to arrive in our nose-bleed section under the top roof of the stadium well into the seventh inning, more than an hour  later.  My neighbor a Yankee fan here in the middle of Red Sox Nation, tells me that beer at $6.75 per is a bargain compared to the $8.75 up near the Grand Concourse in The Bronx.  The upside of beer consumption by the fellows in front of us was that our view of the field was unobstructed for much of the game as they spent many innings in line waiting for their turn to send the beer they consumed into the sewer system. 

    I must now correct an earlier observation about why people go to ballparks.  I have suggested it was basically to eat bad food.  Now I suspect it's also to drink expensive beer.

    Or smoke cigars your wife prohibits inside the house.  Like the fellow two seats behind us.  He sat there puffing away, sending the aroma throughout our section, hardly saying a word or raising a cheer, perhaps in a haze of equanimity, a mood cigars can induce. 

    One other observation about the game, a meteorological one: it was cold, boy, was it cold.  Almost as cold as that night I sat with Barbara Melzer chug-a-lugging hot coffee; or that opening day in 1970 with Tom Seaver pitching when the sleet had me shivering so hard I couldn't keep score.  Barbara this night, however, sat in Section 30, Row R, Seat 2, like a contented Buddha, wrapped in down coat, scarves, and corduroy pants covered with a traveling blanket.  I shivered... because, she said, I was too macho to accept part of the blanket.  I wore shirt and pants lined with flannel.  But rabbit fur-lined gloves couldn't keep the blood from draining from my fingers to warm my heart.  I had been ready to complain about the Mets ticket office for sending us into the stratosphere for our seats; but the roof sheltered us from the rain which grew with intensity as the game progressed; and we made it back to West Hartford slightly bloodied but not water-logged. 

    It was a night I shall remember, but not with as much detail and delight as either of our two winning moments at Shea in 1969 and 2000.

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