No two words evoke more wonderful memories in a man than "Opening Day"...not "free food", not "happy hour", heck not even "Elle MacPherson".
For "Opening Day" is the day when all is right with the world...everyone's got a chance. The weather is always perfect (at least at game time), the hot dogs are fresh, the house is rockin', and the home team is invincible.
I've made it to my share of Opening Days...and considering that the Mets had one of the most kick-ass streak of opening day wins ever, I've had my share of great Opening Day moments.
There was 1983...the return of Tom Seaver, which I faked a dental appointment to get out of the last half of my day at school (that will be a theme as you read on).
1987...My first game as a partial season ticket holder, beating the Pirates to begin their world title defense.
1993...Sure, the rest of the season was putrid, but being in the house for the first ever Colorado Rockie game was pretty damn sweet.
2000...Beating the Padres on a Derek Bell dinger in the 8th, and changing the lyrics of John Fogarty's "Centerfield" during the car ride home...
Of course, it wasn't all good...for example, 2003 might have been the worst Opening Day ever. The Mets lost to the Cubs by a score of 2,381-2, it was 31 degrees with a wind chill of -66, and we sat near a pack of drunken college frat boy punks...who felt it necessary to yell out jokes about Mike Piazza's alleged sexual orientation...every...two...minutes!
Look at meeeeeeeee
I could beeeeeeeeee
The choice was simple:
- Leave, or
- Go to jail for beating the living daylights out of all of them.
I should have chosen the latter. But they outnumbered me, and it was cold...so I was gone in the sixth inning. For someone who never leaves games early, that shows you how bad that opener was.
But I wouldn't give that up in exchange for missing out on all of the great Opening Day memories I've had. I've nailed my favorites down to two...
1988: Senior year of high school (the same high school that one Omar Minaya attended and was an all-star catcher for just ten years earlier). That's an important fact because I was in the school play that year. I'm not telling you what the play was...but I can tell you that my part was never rehearsed, at least early in the semester, until at least two hours into the rehearsal session. So I wasn't even going to ask for the day off. My plan was to sneak out of school, make the 1:30 start, and get back to rehearsal by 5PM which should be plently of time to rehearse my part without anyone ever noticing I was gone.So I sneak out of school after bribing some substitutes with sandwiches (teachers make paltry salaries, so they took tips, you know?) And I get to the game in the bottom of the second inning...but here's the kicker: I was booed. BOOED! My section, who booed everyone who came late and couldn't find their seat in 1987, now turned their attention to me to kick off 1988. No matter that there were extenuating circumstances involving a school play...I was BOOED! The hurt lasted all of ten seconds, for the first pitch that I'm in my seat for? Darryl takes Pascual Perez to the bullpen for a 1-0 Mets lead. The boos turned to cheers and I was a hero once again.
The game was going quick but I couldn't take a chance getting caught back at school, so I had to leave somewhere around the eighth inning...yes I was booed again...but the Mets wound up winning 3-0 so I wasn't going to get blamed during the next game (or banned from my seat). So I take the train ride back to school where I'm motoring around without really knowing what time it was, but figuring I was safe.
I get to the back door of my (and Omar's) alma mater and plan to sneak my way backstage...locked! Damn! Here I go 'round the block to the front door...and the 5 or 6 people that were in on the plan were nervously waiting outside. Apparently, the director was looking for me! Those guys, bless their hearts, came up with every story in the book:
- He's in the bathroom...
- He's across the street getting his lucky chicken sandwich...
- He ran upstairs to get his sheet music...
- He lost his keys...
- He went to find his Social Studies extra credit assignment...he'll be right down...
- He's backstage trying on his costume...
- He's throwing up...
Why, with a Platoon style elbow crawl from the back of the auditorium all the way back stage of course!
My elbows hurt, but my role required a lot of stunt work crashing into a hard floor so I was used to it. It was no sweat in the end...I made it, and was ready with my lines memorized by the time my scene was being rehearsed. I have to tell you, I was proud of myself. We pulled it off.
But then, caught up in my hubris and my newfound feeling of absolute invincibility, I tried to have my cake and eat it too. After rehearsal I asked the director how she thought my performance was, and she generally had no problems...but did have one question for me:
How did the Mets do today?Yup, she knew...and I come to find out later that she was quite pissed. But to her credit, she never let me have it. Why not you ask? Well, probably because it was Opening Day. And who else but a director of the theatre could understand how important Opening Day is?
1980: My first ever Mets game at Shea, to the best of my recollection (and to the recollection of Retrosheet), happened sometime in May of 1976...it was a 5-4 victory, and oddly enough Tom Seaver pitched eight innings against the Cincinnati Reds...the very team he would join one season later.
I didn't go back to Shea until 1979 to watch the first Met team I was completely familiar with. I went to nine games that season. The Mets lost all nine. Naturally, I thought it was me.
So when 1980 came, the Mets made it a point to tell me that "The Magic Is Back". Oh really? Well hey, where do I sign up? Even at the tender age of nine I was ready to shed some bad karma...and when better to do it but right off the bat...Opening Day, April 10th 1980!
Now I have to give my mom credit...whenever I was held back from the second half of the school day after spending lunch at home (talk about working on the honor system for the old days, eh?), Mom always covered for me. And it was usually with a note that said something like: "Please excuse my son for missing school, his stomach hurt." It's what mothers did. Opening Day 1980 was no different, as I just absolutely had to witness the magic return...and exorcise my demons!
And exorcise they did. Craig Swan went seven innings...drove in a run, and Jerry Morales (of all people) drove in two runs for a 5-2 Met win over the Cubs. All was well.
The only hurdle now to climb was "the note"...you know, the note that would get me free and clear. My mom was good at "the note", for there were plenty of instances where I would have to bag the last half of school days for purposes other than illness (ballgames usually), but "the note" always bailed me out.
So I gear up for school on April 11th, and mom gives me "the note". Confidently, I put the note in my pocket without ever reading it (this was old hat for me so why bother?), and I snicker knowing that we were putting another one over on the establishment...me and Mom. I get to school, and the actor in me starts playing it up as I walk in...holding my stomach, coughing a bit, you know...selling it.
As my teacher, who was generally regarded by us kids as "the mean one", was taking attendance, I took a peek at the note to see which excuse Mom used this time. What I saw scarred me for life:
Please excuse my son for missing the last half of class on April 10th...he went to see the Mets play opening day at Shea.MOM???!!??!?? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOIIIIIIIIIIIIIING!!!!!!!
P.S. The Mets won 5-2What could I do? I couldn't eat the note, I'd get marked for a cut, or something similar. I had to turn this note in to the meanest teacher in school. I was sabotaged by my own mother.
So as I sheepishly hand in the note and slink back to class hoping nothing would be said, I hear: "Excuse me!"
"You missed class to go to a baseball game?"
Yup, that's me.
"Well...as long as the Mets won...now go have a seat."
I was looked upon by my classmates for the rest of the school year as a conquering hero...I went head to head with the meanest teacher in elementary school...and found her soft spot: The New York Mets. I went to school that day a boy. I left as...
All thanks to Opening Day.
Next week: Geraldo Rivera opens a vault in a Manhattan alley and finds "The Lost Blogs"...