Now road trips are great but they can sometimes backfire. For example, I was "thumb and forefinger" close to being in Charlotte this past Sunday to see the Jets. For those keeping score, that would have been 644 miles to witness a field goal. That's a horrible mileage to point ratio. But the Mets road trip that I took years ago was a bit more fruitful...and one to remember.
August 30th, 1997. It was the first New York Mets game I had ever witnessed in person that wasn't in Shea Stadium. Mets vs. Orioles in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. To me, Oriole Park is the standard by which all new ballparks should be held to...I'll never pass up an opportunity to take in a game at this gem, and neither should you. The inner harbor, a scaled down version of New York's South Street Seaport, is nearby...and if you're ever there, take a ferry to Fells Point and have some chicken wings at a place called "The Greene Turtle". These might very well be the best chicken wings on the face of the earth. And Metstradamus is someone that knows his chicken wings.
Back to the game...like I said, this is the only time I've ever seen the Mets outside of Shea. It was also the first time I've ever worn hometown colors in enemy territory (I've since gone on to have some legendary experiences wearing Jet colors as the visitor in Foxboro and Indianapolis...even survived a night in Philadelphia while wearing a Gretzky jersey.) So I wasn't quite sure what to expect. So we get there early hoping to assimilate and make friends with the hometown faithful so we don't get our throats slit...and up until just about game time the three of us are making it through pretty well (it's myself, a fellow Met fan, and believe it or not, a Yankee fan buddy...you'll find out that his presence might have saved my life). But at right about 12:55 PM a group of regulars strolled up to find their seats, sat two rows behind us, and then announced their presence at the top of their lungs:
"Alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight! Where are the nearest stinkin' Met faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaans???????"That's it, we're dead. We're all dead.
Now it's important to note that I'm wearing a Todd Hundley t-shirt to the game...and this was around the time that Hundley was involved in a mini-controversy involving Met manager Bobby Valentine, who told the press that Hundley wasn't getting enough sleep. Needless to say, as far as our heckling friends were concerned, for nine innings my name was Todd.
Hey Tooooooooooooooodd! How ya doin' Toooooooooooodd!!! Are you getting enough sleep there Toooooooooooooooodd???!??!?!?!?!??Now the dilemma...do I respond? And if so, how?
At least through the early innings, my responses were kept to the occasional look behind me, while sporting my classic New York smirk...you know, the one that makes people all over the country hate our freakin' guts? That one. But make no mistake...I had my own personal heckler for five innings!
Then by about the fifth inning, the Mets were down 5-2 and the heckling was non stop. But then the immortal Orioles starter Rick Krivda ran out of gas after giving up 5 in four and a third. And then Terry Mathews threw gasoline on the fire, Bernard Gilkey, Todd Pratt (Hundley didn't even play due to injury) and Luis Lopez were inflicting some serious damage and all of a sudden the Mets were up 8-5.
What followed next, well, let's just say that wars were started over less...it was the opening salvo to what could have escalated into the second civil war, since Baltimore is south of the Donna Dixon line. I, Metstradamus, turned into the ugly New Yorker...the inhospitable guest...as I stand up and do my 180, turning toward my own personal heckler:
Nice bullpen! Way to throw gasoline on that fire!!!You see, heckling is an art which is all about timing...the worse mistake that hecklers, or any fan with a gimmick for that matter, can make is they come in and think they're gonna be a superstar for nine innings. You have to pick your spot, be patient, then unleash with a fury that's going to catch your subject off guard, and leave all spectators wanting more. The sixth inning of this game, August 30th 1997, was that spot. It was time to even the score.
Well with one line, the spigot was open. For an inning, all bets were off. Jokes about 1969...zings about the Orioles bullpen...even Robert E. Lee references (their side lost the civil war, remember). My own personal heckler never knew what hit him. I was in his head.
At this point, my Met fan friend was trying his best to bury his head and not get involved. Little did he know that later in the game, he would have no choice but to be involved.
Now all good hecklers have something else up their sleeve...and our southern friend decided that if he can't beat 'em (and he couldn't), beat someone else. And that's when I found out he wasn't so bad after all.
He attacked my Yankee fan friend.
This was about the seventh inning after the Mets helped my cause by extending their lead to 10-5 as Bernard Gilkey was in the midst of having one of his best days in a Mets uniform, and also one of his last. Now came the assault on the Yankees:
"Billy Martin was a druuuuuuuuuuunk!Not even a Yankee hater would go there.
Mickey Mantle was a druuuuuuuuuuuuuuunk!
Joe DiMaggio beat his wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife!
Babe Ruth was a druuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunk!
Oh the Yankee fan had a comeback...this was 1997, and his evil team were the defending champs. So he stood up, turned around, and came back with:
"World Champions...until FURTHER NOTICE!"He was right. He's a stinkin' Yankee fan but he was right. Now what else could an Oriole fan do but cry for help. And who better to turn to?
Hey Toooooooooooooooooooodd? What's that about???? Come on Todd, do something about your friend!Now what do I do? Help my friend even though he's a Yankee fan? Or help the anti-Yankee fan even though he's a total stranger who torched me for five innings?
As far as I was concerned, they were both on their own.
Now this is the time where these Oriole fans are, in addition to being nice and full of beer to the point where these guys had blood levels in their alcohol, are hacked off at the fact that they're team is losing by a barrel of runs. There was unusual chatter between them...too quiet for drunks, yet too loud for people who want to keep a secret. And all of a sudden, one of them takes a tumble...rolling down three rows like a barrel...and steamrolls over my Met fan friend along the way. Now this guy is in great shape, but he's more along the lines of triathlon shape, not middle linebacker shape...so he could have snapped like a twig. Luckily, he was no worse for wear, but I thought that this was the point where we're going to have to throw down.
Turns out it was an accident and all was well.
Gilkey hits a home run in the ninth and the Mets went on to a 13-5 victory in Baltimore, where my record away from home stood at 1-0. I shook the Oriole fan's hand for a valiant heckling effort, but he wouldn't shake the hand of the Yankee fan. I knew he had some good in him.
The Met fans at the game, of which there were many, were in a dancing mood...one of them even gave me a hug (another one with a blood level in their alcohol). Another Met fan told us that none other than the injured Todd Hundley himself was hanging out in the inner harbor. Tried as we might, we couldn't find him.
But all in all, the conquering of Baltimore and their goblins was complete. It was time for the Yankee fan to leave us while the two Met fans in the group continued their baseball odyssey to Reading, PA to take in a Reading Phillies game the next day before returning home. People may say now that the novelty of interleague play has worn off. I tend to agree. But for one day, interleague play was the most spectacular idea ever thought of by anyone.
As for Bernard Gilkey who hit a home run and drove in four that day, he was never the same after that fly ball hit him in the head while he was distracted by the spaceship.
Hundley? He got some sleep, but had his own adventures in left field after the arrival of Mike Piazza, and started his journey to Chicago, Los Angeles, back to Chicago, and then...the abyss.
As for me, It took seven seasons but I did finally catch the Mets on the road one more time...in Miami on July 9th, 2004. It was 6-3 Mets victory punctuated by Ty Wigginton and Mike Cameron dingers to run my stellar road record to 2-0. It's worth noting that that date marked the Mets high water mark for the 2004 season. Since then, the Mets went into a spectacular 27-50 tailspin to mercifully end Art Howe's reign as Met manager. A note to all about Miami: if you're staying in Fort Lauderdale, Dolphins Stadium is a very expensive taxi ride away...don't let anyone tell you differently. And if you can get past the fact that the Marlins play baseball in a rectangular field and not a diamond, and have cheerleaders that wear Dolphins-colored outfits with small Marlins logos hastily sewed on them, then it's a great place to watch a game.
It may be time for the third road trip.
Next week: How the Mets almost sabotaged my education...