Take Me Back to the Ballgame

Ok, I lied. And I’m glad–because I wound up witnessing NY Mets history. Thanks Johan!

You may recall in my last blog post I vowed never to set foot back in Citi Field, not after the shoddy, snide treatment we got the last time we were there. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would sneak down to empty seats in the lower deck from our crummy upper deck perch, and no one would stop us. It was an unwritten rule and a courtesy to the working class fans.

But now, even with the Mets struggling and row after row of obscenely-priced “premium” seats empty, stadium security won’t let anyone pass– not even an off-duty cop and his family.
So when I found out my brother got me Mets tickets as a belated birthday present, I admittedly was less than thrilled. I had a hell of a lot of freelance work to do at home, not to mention fine tuning a play of mine that will be produced in NYC this fall.

To take the tedious journey out to the ballpark named after a predatory bank on an iffy weather day wasn’t my idea of fun. But my brother meant well and had bought us good seats in the lower deck, and so I dragged my butt out to Flushing on the 7 train, mumbling about wasted time.

When I got there, the place was half-empty and the winds whipping around, as I froze and shivered, stuffing my face with overpriced food to try and keep warm. Then it started to drizzle, as the wind gusts increased. Perfect, just like last time!

Yes, the great Johan Santana was pitching, but as he was coming off major shoulder surgery they were monitoring his pitch count__ he would probably be removed in the sixth or seventh inning, no matter how he was pitching. Maybe I could graciously sneak out in mid-game…

In the fourth inning, the Mets broke out for two runs. Great, another couple and I could leave early without hurting anyone’s feelings or contracting pneumonia.

By the 7th inning, Santana still hadn’t given up a hit. I knew in the half century of the Met’s existence, there had never been a no-hitter pitched by them. My brother noted that Santana had already thrown 100 pitches and manager Terry Collins couldn’t risk his star pitcher suffering permanent injury and would surely take him out. But when Collins approached the mound the fans erupted in boos, and Santana shook his head no. Collins left him in.

A screaming line drive headed over the head of outfielder Mike Baxter, and our hearts froze. But Baxter is a born and bred New Yorker and he wasn’t giving up. He desperately tore after the ball, made an amazing catch and crashed hard into the wall, saving the no-hitter. Baxter stayed down for minutes, then rose to cheers and groggily left the game.

But that amazing grab ratcheted up our excitement–maybe this was destiny. The Mets were one of only two teams in baseball to have never thrown a no-hitter, coming closest in 1969, way back when baseball, not football, was still the most popular sport in America.

By the 9th inning, Santana still hadn’t given up a hit, and the place was in a frenzy. We were on our feet and cheering on every pitch. With two out, St Louis’ David Freeze, the hero of the last World Series, stepped to the plate. Three straight balls, and things looked grim. But through the deafening din, Santana bore down, threw strike one, strike two…

Strike three swinging! Utter bedlam broke out, both on the field and in the stands. The first Mets no hitter ever! We fans went nuts, hugging perfect strangers, delirious with joy. No one cared who supported Obama and who Romney. The war in Afghanistan? What war? What recession? For that brief, shining moment, we were in a better place, giddy with joy.

After emerging from the jubilant pile of Mets at the mound, Santana glanced up at the screaming, worshipful fans as he approached the dugout and flashed the biggest grin I’ve ever seen.

As we floated back to the 7 train, cheers of San-tan-a! San-tan-a! rocked the Willets Point Station. I had witnessed the only no-hitter in Mets history!

And I didn’t even have to sneak down to the lower deck. Thanks Bob.

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