On the old Late Night With David Letterman show, they used to do a bit called “Brush With Greatness,” where audience members would recount chance meetings with celebrities. That was kind of fun, as I recall. For a reason you’ll see soon, I was reminded of this and thought I’d do a column, recounting various meetings with Mets I’ve had over the past 37 years. Hope you dig it.
My first meeting of actual, real-life Mets has already been recounted among these pixels, right here. A la Forrest Gump, that’s all I’m going to say about that.
My next encounter was the following year, 1976. On a sweltering July afternoon, my mother took my cousin Terry, my friend Chris and I to Bamberger’s in the Garden State Mall to get autographs from Dave Kingman, then in the midst of his chase of Roger Maris. Kingman had clubbed 32 homers by July, and we all had our sites firmly set on the prize. This was gonna be the man who beat the man who beat the Babe. We were all thrilled! The lines were like Kingman’s taters: gargantuan. We waited semi-patiently for about 2 hours to get to the counter and in the presence of the all-powerful. I was a bit disappointed that all he could do was grunt when I thanked him and that they had run out of Xeroxed pictures to autograph; Kong was down to signing bits of scratch paper. Of course, it all ended up like the pursuit of 62 – Dave Kingman injured his thumb shortly after this autograph session, missed all of August and hit only five more homers on the year. C’est la vie. I lost that artifact ages ago. I don’t really miss it.
Next time was a lot later. After a huge Sunday afternoon win vs. the Cards in ’85, I got a nod from Frank Cashen as we exuberantly exited past the front office windows overlooking the interior loge exit ramps of Shea Stadium. I thought that was cool.
After that, we flash forward to 1991. I had purchased my weekend plan with Chris, and one of the perks was an off-season tour of Shea led by Jay Horwitz, a Q & A opportunity with GM Al Harazin, plus autographs from current and former Mets. How cool was that? So I got to congratulate Harazin on sticking his neck out with this particular fan base, and he quipped that compared to going on the radio with Mike Francesa and Chris Russo, this was a walk in the park. At the autograph signing, I got signatures from Ed Charles and John Franco. The Glider was pretty funny. I was wearing my Tom Seaver 1969 throwback jersey and Charles days to me, “Well, I see you even got Seaver’s number, there. Do you have the same kind of velocity?” I laughed and said, “If I did, I’d be sitting where you are right now!” I got to share a giggle with the Glider!
There was another tour the next year, without the interview – Harazin’s skin got significantly thinner, apparently – and the autograph signers were Franco again, Ryan Thompson and Mookie Wilson. I had something burning to tell Mookie. I had to sum up my fandom, and spill to a real, live member of the ’86 Mets – the protagonist in the most famous drama ever presented at Shea Stadium, the yin to Bill Buckner’s yang – how much he and that whole team meant to me. I said, “Every time I see the tape of you jumping out of the way of that wild pitch, I get chills.” I was expecting a “Thank you for saying that,” or a “You fans are the best.” Instead, Mookie said, “Man! You still lookin’ at that? You got to get out more!” Illusions die hard, I guess.
Now, it’s March 1996. My father rented an apartment in Delray Beach, Florida for the winter – a mere 40 minute drive to Port St. Lucie. I insisted we go and visit camp. Great experience. Butch Huskey gave my dad a rope burn on the back of his leg when he ducked under a separating line between the players and the crowd. We got to see manager Dallas Green in his tower. Man was like a statue, never moved a muscle or said a word. Now that’s managing. We got to see Keith Hernandez giving first base pointers to Howard Johnson, who had just returned and was trying to make the club on a minor league contract. HoJo would hang ‘em up before the month was out. Green wouldn’t last the season either. Next year, we didn’t hang around camp so much, but we did go to the first inter-squad game. New skipper Bobby Valentine came out and shouted to the few dozen of us scattered around the stadium, “I don’t think we’ve got PA today, so here are the lineups…” and rattled off all the familiar names we’d be seeing. Fun stuff, and Preston Wilson was very fast.
There weren’t any more brushes until 2006. My post-season odysseyis well-documented, but here’s a tidbit I left out: I got to pee next to John Maine before game 2 of the NLDS. For the record, I observed the proper men’s room protocol, eyes front, no talking. I didn’t get a chance to tell him what a great game he’d pitched the afternoon before.
And now we come to the inspiration for this little list. This past Sunday afternoon, the miracle of Twitter allowed me to have a “conversation” with one of my all-time favorite Mets, former outfielder Cliff Floyd. I found his handle, followed him and we had the following exchange:
CH: “We miss you in New York, Cornelius!”
CF: “Haven’t heard that since my Mom was last mad at me!! Thanks Charlie”
CH: “Hahaha! PS – I was at game 7 in ’06. We all deserved better…”
CF: “Ain’t that the truth!! I missed those pitches that I usually didn’t miss period…”
CH: “I hope you didn’t take that as a dig. It was a great game – and you had a great COURAGEOUS year.”
CF: “Not at all it’s the truth we were suppose [SIC] to [be] in the WS period….We truly felt it in the locker room all that day!!!”
Anybody else get to meet the Mets?
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley