April -Play ball or Not at all
April 2017- New Season- old dreams
I don’t clearly recall the first time I saw Shea Stadium. It was newly minted in 1964. I was an eight-year-old boy at the time being led to the New York World’s Fair by my father’s hand. I have the vaguest memory of him telling me to look at the brand new stadium looming over the train platform. It made little impression. At that time of my life the World’s Fair was the big story. All the exhibits, futuristic rides, and of course, the life sized dinosaurs were all I could see and tugged impatiently at the old man’s hand after we would get off the Long Island Railroad at the new stop in Queens on the Port Washington branch.
In the future, this account would figure greatly in an epiphany of sorts, I experienced comprised of time and passage on one Spring afternoon some 40 years later.
First off you should know, I’m not much of a big sports fan. As a boy growing up on Long Island I played sandlot “everything” like most kids. Truth was I wasn’t really very good. Never made any of the High School Teams. Closest I came to excelling in anything was softball. We had an empty lot behind our home on the shores of the LI Sound on the North Fork. And from the age of about eleven through fourteen, my summers were one long ball game.
You see that little dinky crabgrass snarled lot, seeded with broken glass and rocks had become my Shea Stadium. During this time something had happened to me. I had discovered the Mets.
I was taken to my first game on the last day of the 1968 season. Fan Appreciation Day.
They passed out winter wool hats w/ the logo on it. Of course I still have it. A fellow classmate from St. Agnes Elementary school called me out of the blue that late September morning and casually asked, “if I was doing anything that afternoon? ”…quite bored, I replied that I wasn’t. He made his proposal. I went ballistic. By this time I was well aware of Shea and the prospect of going there filled me with an excitement that I still clearly recall.
My clearest single memory is walking up that ramp behind home plate on the gray afternoon sodden in a fine drizzle and being astound by the vision before me. All that green smooth expanse of the playing surface was astounding, the starlight red and orange lights of the immense white scoreboard that stood in counterpoint to the towering ascending stadium decks of empty seats.
My God….it was real. I was about to find out just how real.
Suddenly a foul ball shot straight back and knocked out a woman walking past me.
She dropped to the concourse like a sniper had just picked her off from the upper deck. I gasped. A Hispanic kid much younger than me eagerly scooped up the ball. (it had a small smear of blood on it) and began celebrating merrily in Spanish. I looked back down a the lady out cold on the concrete, others bending over her and back up to the playing field….I gasped again……they were still playing like nothing had happened.
Next thing I remember was my friend yelling at me from an entrance tunnel about
twenty five feet away, “You gonna stand there all day or can we sit down now ?!?”
Just for the record, the Mets lost to the Astros 4 to 2.
Years pass quickly here. Sure there would be other games. All you have to say is 1969 to a fellow fan of this era and you’ll get an instant nod of recognition.
But sadly even by 1973, the Mets and Shea had faded from my focus. I was eighteen you see. Worried about the end of the Vietnam War and the Draft. I was graduating high school and leaving that June the day after commencement for California to be just another pilgrim of that era seeking his way on the road
As I passed into manhood throughout the decade and experienced so many things that would shape my life, baseball or sports weren’t even on my radar. I had become a “drifter” in time. Lost in the miles, music, art, books, writing….I traveled in the world of ideas. But by the conclusion of that decade of the seventies, I once again had reached a turning point in my life. Disenchanted with my lack of focus and direction once more I was planning to travel back out West…this time to Northern Pacific region of the country.
Much like my own malaise, my old forgotten friends the Mets were in equally uncertain waters. On an April morning in 1979 I woke up with a persistent, nagging, memory of a dream fragment that lingered from the night before. In this dream I was bounding down the ramps of a ballpark at night and had this feeling that was difficult to describe. It wasn’t fear, or sadness or even joy….it just was…..like something that hadn’t happened yet or I didn’t really understand at that point in my life. I was either going somewhere or leaving something. One thing I was aware of however, the setting was oddly familiar. So on that chilly Spring morning, I dressed, checked the mail. There was a small State refund check of about thirty two dollars there. So I cashed it, got in my 64 Chevy Impala and proceeded to start driving west from the end of Eastern long Island.
About mid afternoon I sat in the Smith Haven Mall. Equally puzzled. Had I driven all this way to just hang here and be just another kid loitering around his lost teenage wasteland ?
The answer was no. I went back out to my car. Headed west again on the LIE. An hour later I sat in the emptiest of Shea Stadium parking lots staring intently at the deserted Sphinx like monolith, gaping silently before me.
Why was I here? I didn’t plan on going to a game. I knew enough from the papers that these guys were going to be terrible this year. But I knew what I was about to do. I walked up to ticket window and purchased a seat somewhere inside Shea. Now the truth is I don’t remember one single thing about the actual game. I think they won. But I really can’t say for sure anything beyond that.
No all I can vividly recount is was what happened to me just after that game ended. Shea in those days was the kind of place, where if you wanted “to be alone” just go to a night game like this one, so early in the year. The crowd that night wasn’t just small, man it was minuscule. So as I bounded down the darkened, soft shadowy ramps after the game, I could hear my own footsteps resound and echo.
I realized I was alone @ that moment. Not another person in sight and O yeah another thing suddenly occurred to me. I was in my dream…. from the night before !
Everything matched up. The stark revelation of dream translating into reality stopped me dead in my tracks. And I still recall that thunderbolt that flashed across my mind, “you can make your dreams happen, if you can dream/see them first.”
I drove home. Back out east, all the way the length of Long island. Ran out of gas a block away from my folk’s house. Walked home and stood in their back yard looking at my little lost softball field at midnight. I didn’t realize then, but that would be the last time I’d see Shea as it was from my childhood.
The next twenty years brought so much life and change as to constitute the “lion’s share” of a man’s life. The travel ended by the mid eighties, a career of sorts was forged, I married, started a family and the day-to-day business of life was joined.
But still always in the background were the Mets and Shea Stadium. I’d always look for it when I would be home for a visit and passed it on the LIE. It had changed. It was all blue now, with neon figures like some mid-town yuppie grill. But I still loved it. Went to a few games a year, when in town. Of the three great loves of my life, two I attended games with, the former broke my heart, the latter I would marry and the middle one was all set to sing the national anthem, but the early eighties baseball strike robbed her of that joy.
My son was born in the Fall of 1986, October 14th to exact. He was my World Series. Don’t get me wrong, it was great baseball in those days, but as I sat on the edge of the bed and watched part of that 16 inning Houston playoff game, I holding in my arms one of the greatest victories of my life. Not to diminish all the wild fun and excitement of that year….but let’s just say my attention was slightly “distracted.”
And of course my boy grew up to be a Mets fan. We’ve gone to Shea, every season, at least couple times a year since he was five. We share the experience of going to a ballgame there like none other. Recently I took his seven-year-old sister to her first game at Shea. And as my wife and I watched my son leading his sister through the familiar corridors towards our seats explaining everything about the place to her…..well…let’s just say it was another vision that Shea had provided the context for me to experience.
A couple of years ago, my son and I decided to go to the Mets’ game by taking the old World’s Fair train from Port Washington. We would get off @ the Shea Stop there. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny Spring day. Upon getting off the train, for some reason I said to him, hey kid turn left when we get up to the top of the stairs. He looked at me with a puzzled expression. I could hear his mind going, “but Dad you turn right to go to Shea”
We trudged up the old black iron steps to the top were the platform crested.
Like in a dream once more I looked down that worn plank wooden boardwalk that was once the grand sweeping entrance to the 63/64 World’s Fair. The series of peaked roofs, which were the entrance gates, stood still intact. A rush of familiar excitement returned to me, just like it did with my father, as we would approach those entrances. I stood with chills. It was the first time I had seen this picture in forty years. I got out my father’s ancient Minolta camera. Snapped away to capture this second. Almost lost in my nostalgia, I had forgotten my boy and turned around to say something to him….
And there it was. Shea. Looming like a huge castle over the Number #7 platforms. And then I really saw it. Remembered looking at it as a child almost seeing it again for the first time, a forgotten memory returned to me. I saw those orange and blue corrugated steel panels and the freshly minted, gleaming Stadium.
It was the second punch of a one-two combo from the passage of time. But there was just one more…
My son standing there. Almost as tall as me now. With his glove and Mets’ hat with Shea framing around him like an embrace…the look on his face a little amused…trying to be patient …..but still with that look that said…
“…. OK..OK…..Hey Dad…Can we go to Shea……..Now ?
-from the Forward to Greetings from Gridville 2006
Happens Every Spring
And he wraps
around the pen
holding it in
like it was his
series of practice
crouching into stance
while setting his
place between the
white caulk lines
of the pages
looking out a the pitcher
and nods in acknowledgement
with a slow sure steady stare
glaring a certain degree
of due respect
I can hit this guy.
– from Sometimes Grief (barks up the wrong tree) 2012
I keep hearing the first word
and the last word follow lock
step right next to each other.
But lately they have
started to match.
The last time I heard
it on a concrete ramp
right before the first pitch
across a chilly April sunshine
hidden half sunlit and shadow
just in the next section over.
In smoke shrouded swirling chin
in shades yet.
Looking down in the coffee
there was this reflection
at the bottom
of my black coffee cup sea.
Contended to the bone.
Back sharing a solid slab.
All over it with my shoulders
in my favorite place.
Thinking of you.
Taking shape behind my eyes
Pushing a song out of my lips.
You hidden right around corner.
All the time.
Just what am I really seeing ?
In his line of vision.
It was Sanitation day @ Shea.
Pitcher came out
BP practice fast balls
It was a blow out by the 5th.
I sat next to you
with my kid
in stolen seats.
While a fan
screamed out my name.
He loved me
He wasn’t even talking to me.
It was all pretty familiar.
The last word
and the first.
All over again.
Fuck’n play ball
or not at all.
And that was never
the last word heard
the first word they seem to mean
But it was always
all I ever heard
of everything in between 5/05
Just Following Procedure
Father and his seven year old son
go to a ballgame at Comerica Park
in Detroit to watch the Tigers
play visiting Chicago on a Chilly
April Calendar Day Saturday afternoon.
Dad’s a Classical Archaeology tenured Professor
at Michigan University. Knows about
ancient burial sites in Turkey more than something
called Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
His kid gets thirsty at the game,
so the old man buys him something to drink.
Figures the seven buck a pop bottle of lemonade
is just way it is at the ball park these days.
Figures lemonade is probably better for his little
one than soda, less sugar.
So they go to their seats in section 114
watch the game, which the Tigers
end up dropping to 5 to 3.
But neither of them are around to see the end.
Because in the top of the 9th a presumably bored
Stadium Security Guard notices the kid drinking
out the bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and asks
the father if he knows that the stuff contains
five percent booze, thus allowing a minor to consume
an alcoholic beverage ?
Dad goes, “No…you’ve got to be kidding me…I never thought…..”
Guard doesn’t let him finish. Radios for Stadium Police for back up.
Just following procedure.
Stadium police hustle the Prof and his boy to the First Aide Station under the
stands at Comerica. Little boy under goes medical evaluation by on-duty
attending Physician. Dad gets interviewed by the cop. Says it’s all a big mistake.
Didn’t know it was spiked lemonade. Didn’t even know they made such a thing.
Police can see the guy is probably telling the truth. Not the kind of guy to be
feeding his kid drinks in public.
Meanwhile the Doc looks over the little boy. Seems fine. Well taken care of.
Not exhibiting any outward signs of intoxication/inebriation. However does admit to
have a little “tummy ache.”
Police officer and Doctor talk over the situation. Both agree it’s all just an honest
misunderstanding, but neither one wants to sign off on that on the official report
of an allegation of providing alcohol to a minor. A very young minor.
So mistake or child abuse/neglect ?
They decide they better follow procedure.
Next Dad and Kid get a ride in an Ambulance to local ER for further evaluation.
ER Resident gives the kid a blood test. Results come back negative. No trace of
alcohol in the little boy’s blood. Seems completely normal. Well. He did cry a little.
Didn’t like the needle. Get’s worse.
Following procedure ER has to inform Child Protection Services. They arrive on the scene promptly. Interview all concerned.
The police officer, the father, the kid, the ER lab tech.
Everyone comes in completely in agreement. Just a misunderstanding.
However the little boy is under no circumstances allowed to leave with his father
considering the circumstances and further investigation. Child must be placed in an
emergency foster/safe home for the weekend.
Just following procedure.
It will be two day till on Tuesday Morning local Circuit judge who handles
preliminary investigative information from CPS determines
that the child can return home to his mother. But only if her husband, the professor
moves out to a hotel till all this can be thoroughly sorted out.
Just following procedure.
It will be week till Dad will be allowed to return to his own house.
And that’s the end of that. No moral. Reason. Warning. Apology.
If fact if anything I’m the one who is really sorry here that all this doesn’t
make for a better poem.
Guess I’m just…..
just following procedure.
from the Terrible Now 2009
The Poetry Pitcher
Listen there kid
if you want to get
up here and throw in
there are a few things
you had better know
right off the bat.
Plan on going the distance.
Plan on going 9
Forget all this BS
about pitch counts
or just wanting to contribute
and help the ball club.
About as useful
as PB plywood flat fastballs.
Take my advice
If you are lucky
enough to be given
the ball and stand up on this mound.
Don’t even think about
being done until the job is finished
and its’ been put in the books.
Sure you want to show off your heat
your fast ball
you want to blow them all away.
is only cool if somebody has a headache
and changes are you’re the one
that gave it to them.
It will bore them
Put them to sleep.
You’ll fail to connect
and be yanked early.
So mix up your pitches
Don’t tip your next delivery
Use the change up
Sharp breaking Sliders are cool.
Good Curve balls are a delight.
Just keep pitching in there.
Don’t take forever,
keep the game moving
and if he crowd get’s restless
and you think you’re not getting
the right calls on your stuff’s location ?
Don’t get pissed
and start throwing chin music
at people’s heads
bean a nut bag like Jimmy Piersall
(and believe me there’s always one out there)
and they will charge the mound
or wait for you after the reading
outside the Café to kick your ass.
Sure you can brush them back
move them off the plate
give them something to think about.
Purpose pitches are useful in that respect.
But have a point out there.
So think carefully about throwing a lot of junk.
Not everybody loves, gets or appreciates
screwballs, knuckleheads and spitters.
O I meant knuckle balls.
You’re going to need those too.
Big iron ones.
Not everybody is going to get your stuff
In fact better get used to the idea of
catcalls, booing and hecklers
but probably the most common reaction
you can expect is indifference
silence and scouting reports that call you wash
up before you get your shot and your best stuff
weak punch and Judy can’s of corn.
You’ve got to expect this.
Remember you aren’t the whole game up there.
You’re only one player
Sure you’ve been given the ball
The chance to throw for strikes
to be the one in the center of the diamond
For crying out loud do yourself and
all of us a big goddamn favor
Act like you belong to be out there.
It’s all anybody can really ask.
Terrible Now 2009 6/2009