July 24th, 1975 The New York Mets played the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds at Shea Stadium. It was an ordinary midseason game between two National League rivals. The rivalry took off in the 1973 National League Playoffs, when the Mets defeated the heavily favored Reds in five games. The series was marred by a game-three fight between Reds All-Star outfielder Pete Rose and diminutive Mets shortstop Buddy Harrelson. Fans threw whisky bottles and other objects at Rose when he went out to left field during the next half inning. Umpires threatened to forfeit the game in the Reds’ favor if the fans didn’t stop. Manager Yogi Berra, along with stars Rusty Staub, Tom Seaver, and Willie Mays pleaded with the fans to cease throwing the objects at Rose. Ultimately the fans stopped and play resumed with the Mets winning the game, 9-2. However the fans ire towards Rose would remain for many years to come. This midsummers night game would be no exception.
Among the 41,00 plus in attendance that evening was a seven year old baseball fan from Northern New Jersey, going to his first ever baseball game with his dad and his coworkers. I had looked forward to this game for months since dad bought two tickets in early April. Baseball cards and issues of Baseball Digest were spread out on my bed all that summer in anticipation. We met up with dad’s friends, all of whom knew how much of a Mets and baseball fan I was, happily snapping pictures of me in my Mets t-shirt (Felix Millan, which I wore until it disintegrated) and Mets cap. We boarded an old school bus and were on our way to Shea!
It was a warm early evening as the school bus pulled into the Shea Stadium parking lot. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the huge stadium upper deck, it seemed like it went on forever. We filed out of the bus, given our tickets and sandwiches. I held Dad’s hand as we approached Gate A and Nirvana. As we were entering the gate an older gentleman asked me if this was my first game. I stammered something which I think was yes. He chuckled and pulled my cap over my eyes. We were finally here.
There are moments in our lives which we remember forever: meeting first loves, marriage, birth of children, and of course first baseball games. If time travel was possible the first place I’d go back to would be my first game. The moment stepping through the tunnel and seeing the field, I was in love. The grass was so green. The lights of the scoreboard lit up the night’s sky. It was overwhelming. Dad took out his instamatic camera and took a picture of my face as I saw Shea for the first time live. He took my hand as we headed for our seats in the mezzanine.
The details of the game are blurry but I do remember vividly Tom Seaver getting his 2,000th strikeout, Millan getting three hits, Rose getting booed loudly, and a foul ball whizzing past my ear hit by Reds first baseman Dan Driessen. Seeing a major league game for the first time was beyond my expectations. I tried to take in all the sights, sounds and smells of the ballpark. The beer vender with the booming voice. The cotton candy guy with the long hair. The young lady who walked around selling programs and yearbooks. She caught my attention. I’d always wanted one of those. Dad flagged her down and bought me my first yearbook, telling her it was my first game. She smiled as she handed it to me. I leafed through it during the half innings, scouring the pictures and statistics. Still have it.
Unfortunately my Mets lost the game 2-1. However it didn’t dampen my excitement of going to my first game. As our group headed for the exits, dad told me I could pick out anything I wanted at the souvenir stand. What could a seven year old need? A stuffed Mr. Met, no. A Mets pennant, no. A Mets pencil and pen set? no. ( Ironically all part of my Mets collection now). Finally I picked a Mr. Met plastic drinking cup, which is still the cornerstone of my Mets amalgamation.
Whenever I add something to my Mets collection I always think about the Mr. Met cup dad bought me. It’s not the most valuable, but it contains memories I’ll remember forever. Dad passed away in 2014. He not only took me to my first Mets game, he also cemented my love of baseball. For that I’ll always be grateful. Thank you dad. I love and miss you.