Part III: New York Baseball, Dad, and Me
By Joe Rini
My father took me to my first Mets game in July 1969 when I was six-years old after I asked/pleaded/whined my way into being included with him and my older siblings when we drove to the advanced ticket window at Shea Stadium to buy tickets. As the years progressed, given my Dad’s heavy work schedule, we’d go to a game or two a year when he was on vacation. We’d get to the game early to see batting practice and he always kept score though I must admit, his method of keeping score was too complicated for me (eg. three horizontal lines for a triple?) so I learned to keep score from my boyhood friend Rocky (one of three Rocky’s on my block if you’re keeping score at home.).
It’s funny what I remember about those trips to Shea Stadium with him. I remember pointing out to Dad that there always seemed to be someone crazy behind us like the guy yelling “Chico” all game or the family behind us who seemingly spent the game feeding Luigi as in, “Hey Luigi, you want a hot dog…Hey Luigi, you want popcorn…Hey Luigi, you want a beer…” Of course, my Dad pointed out to me that the people in front of us might be saying the same thing about us!
We always remembered going to Shea Stadium and being amazed at Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson hitting home runs in batting practice from the left and right side of the plate (sadly we also saw Gibson injure himself on the mound in 1973 and he was never quite the same pitcher). Perhaps the most historic game we saw was September 1, 1975 when Tom Seaver set the record with eight consecutive 200 strikeout seasons. My Dad memorialized the record setting strikeout of Manny Sanguillen with a circled “K” on his scorecard (that scoring notation I could understand). In later years when my teen friends and I would go to games, he was good enough to drive us to the game or pick us up, to spare us the commute of multiple trains and buses.
Because even the great Joe DiMaggio couldn’t make Dad a Yankees fan, World Series championships by our teams – the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Mets – were few but memorable. As a first grader, my sister and I arrived home from school in time to watch the Mets win the 1969 World Series with Mom, Dad, and my siblings from our parlor TV (in our house, it was a “parlor” not a living room). I’m sure I would’ve always become a baseball fan, but watching your team win the World Series, seeing the ensuing ticker-tape parade plus the team’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show singing “You Gotta Have Heart” turbo-charged my baseball fandom and by next spring, Mom and Dad bought me my first baseball glove and Dad demonstrated a pitcher’s motion for me.
A decade and a half later, my mother, father, two sisters and I were home seemingly about to watch the Mets lose Game 6 and the 1986 World Series to the Red Sox. I was in despair as the bottom of the tenth inning approached. My Dad and the rest of my family watched from the same parlor (remember, a parlor, not a living room) while I anxiously walked within ear and eyeshot of the kitchen, parlor, and bedroom TVs. I’ll never forget when Mookie Wilson came to bat with the tying run on third base, my Dad called out to me, “Hey Joe, maybe the pitcher will throw a wild pitch,” to which I responded, “Yeah, but knowing Mookie, he’ll swing at it.” Well, you know what happened, the pitcher threw a wild pitch in the miraculous “Game 6” and the Mets won the World Series two nights later. Thirty three years later in 2019, I had the pleasure of telling Mookie Wilson that story in the Mets dugout before a game and we had a good laugh about it.
Dad wasn’t able to see too many of my games while I played CYO baseball but when he was able to attend, it meant a lot to me, whether it was the game I doubled twice or the game where my glove oddly repulsed the baseball away from me every time it approached my glove in leftfield (I’m not making excuses but the webbing on that old glove was shot). He never pressured me to play and while he never said it to me, I think he was happy I played the game he loved. Looking back, I wished I’d tried out for baseball in high school but I ran track instead, a sport where I didn’t need to reach first base to run.
The years went by and life happened. My father was able to quit one of his two jobs in the mid-1970s after my brothers married (he joked that a 40 hour work week was like semi-retirement to him) and eventually he retired as he and my Mom became wonderful Grandparents while for me grammar school became high school then college then a career, my own apartment, marriage to my wife, Carolyn, and our two daughters, Alison and Amy.
However, baseball was a constant connection for us. Whether we discussed last night’s Mets game, or the upcoming season, our connection through baseball flowed like Tom Seaver to Dwight Gooden to Jacob deGrom being ace pitchers for the Mets. He enjoyed hearing about my experiences covering the Mets for the Rockland County Times in the last decade, especially my encounters with beloved former Mets like Ron Swoboda, Rusty Staub, and Jerry Koosman. Yet in the background, there were always the memories of the long gone Brooklyn Dodgers, Ebbets Field, Dexter Park, and The Bushwicks which lived on in him.
Funny, even in the thirty years or so after we no longer lived under the same roof, I loved calling him up to talk baseball especially after a particularly dramatic win or devastating loss. It was especially after a bad loss when I’d call late at night and he’d pick up the phone and knowing it would be me, he’d automatically answer, “Hello Joe” and I would respond in some variation of “What the heck was that manager thinking of leaving that pitcher in the game?” My father handled those losses better than I did but looking back I laugh at those exchanges between us.