Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day and My Mets Fandom

Today is Memorial Day, a day in which we honor the men and women who served in the military and gave up their lives to protect the United States and its people.  Memorial Day is also special to me as a Mets fan, for it was on the day we observed the holiday in 1981 that I became a Mets fan.

On Monday, May 25, 1981, I was off from school.  I had been looking forward to Memorial Day for weeks because my father promised we'd have a barbecue in the backyard.  Something about having burgers while fending off mosquitoes always made eight-year-old me giddy with anticipation.  But unfortunately, that outdoor food and fly-swatting fest was not to be, as my father did not feel well and was bedridden all day.

Of course, as most children my age would do, I was more upset about not having burgers and potato salad that day than I was about the condition of my father.  Instead of counting down the hours and minutes to the unveiling of the grill, I spent all morning and early afternoon moping in the living room.  Eventually, I took advantage of the fact that my father was in bed, which left his favorite recliner that no one was allowed to sit on open for the taking.  So of course, I turned on the TV and plopped myself in his comfortable chair.  Since it was 1981 and we weren't a remote control household, I didn't feel like getting up to change the channel.  The last thing anyone had watched the night before was on WOR (Channel 9), so that's what I would make myself watch to take my mind off the postponed barbecue.

Channel 9 had always been the TV home of the New York Mets, but in 1980, fledgling cable network Sportschannel began to air Mets games as well.  Fortunately, the Memorial Day game in 1981 was scheduled to be broadcast on Channel 9 and the allure of the velour prevented me from getting off the recliner to change the channel.  So it was the Mets for me on that day.  And it's been the Mets for me ever since.

The Mets played the Philadelphia Phillies in the Memorial Day matinee and they showed no brotherly love for their division rivals, defeating them in a 13-3 laugher.  Although many players performed well for the Mets that day (Hubie Brooks, Lee Mazzilli and Joel Youngblood had three hits apiece, Dave Kingman hit a grand slam and starting pitcher Greg Harris earned his first major league victory), it was Mookie Wilson who captured my attention and made me thankful that we didn't possess a remote control.  Mookie reached base four times that day (two hits, two walks).  He also scored three runs and drove in two.  After leading off the game with a walk, Mookie proceeded to swipe second and scored the first of the Mets' four runs in that inning.  It was the first time I had been exposed to Mookie's baserunning abilities, and I was utterly amazed.  Six innings later, Mookie crushed a long drive to center off former Met Tug McGraw that went for a two-run triple.  His gazzelle-like speed mesmerized eight-year-old me to the point where I checked the TV guide - I had to get off the couch eventually - for when the next Mets game was going to be aired on WOR.



Less than three weeks after discovering Mookie and the Mets, baseball went on strike.  For two months, I couldn't indulge in my new passion - my New York Mets passion, that is.  Fortunately, my father recovered from his illness and we were able to have many barbecues to pass the time during baseball's two-month hiatus.  Baseball returned to my TV screen in August, and I quickly eschewed burgers and hot dogs on the grill for Mookie and the Mets in front of my grill.

Thirty-six Memorial Days later, I'm still a Mets fan and I will be attending today's game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field.  But just think of how everything had to fall into place for my Mets fandom to begin the way it did.

Had my father not been ill, I never would have watched the Mets that day.  It would have taken longer for me to develop an interest in baseball, especially since my father wasn't a sports fan and couldn't tell me the difference between an infield fly and an unzipped fly.

Also, if someone had left the TV on a channel other than Channel 9 the previous night, I might have become a daytime soap opera fan instead of a Mets fan and this blog post would be about the wedding of Luke and Laura and not the running of Mookie Wilson.

And last, but certainly not least, had the Yankees been playing a day game rather than a night game in Baltimore, I might be bragging about ringzzzz today.  Fortunately, the Yankees had no day game on the docket and even if they had, they were blown out by the Orioles on Memorial Day 1981 so I wouldn't have looked forward to their next game as much as I was for the Mets after their philleting of the Phillies.

My father is now 81 years old.  He has taught me many things about life and love.  On May 25, 1981, he probably wanted to teach me how to make a well-done burger.  But on a day when he was too sick to gave me any instruction, he inadvertently taught me how to be a Mets fan.  And my life would not have been the same had I not developed that love and passion for the team.  I met my wife because of the Mets and I've made many new friends due to our shared love of the orange and blue.

Memorial Day will always be special to me, thanks to my now-healthy father, a chair of incredible comfort and the fleet feet of Mookie Wilson.  I still need that lesson on how to make a perfect burger, but my father can teach me whenever the Mets aren't playing.

The grill master to the left, the former eight-year-old couch potato to the right.

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