This one was hard for me. Mr. Backman immediately came to mind, but he has some problematic parts of his life story for me. I met him once and he was nice to me. Since I couldn’t think of anyone else, and calm down before you start sending McNeil to Cooperstown, I guess Wally.
My personal favorite moment at Shea Stadium was April 5, 1983 when I was there to see The Franchise return!
I wrote about it in my book Send The Beer Guy which is $3 on Kindle and $10 for paperback. (I can’t make it cheaper than $10 or I only get 30 cents. I get $3 if you buy the paperback.)
The Franchise Returns
April 5, 1983: Opening Day
I’m sitting in the left side field level seats with my friend Dave. I’m twelve years old and in my memory I don’t think there were any parents with us. I’ve looked it up and Easter that year was April 3rd, so I guess we were on Easter break.
Anyway, we are there for what is my favorite Shea Stadium memory of all.
It’s right around 1pm and a familiar face takes a long slow stroll down the right field line. Tom Seaver has come home and he’s starting Opening Day for the Mets.
As will be a common theme in this book there have been plenty of times thing haven’t felt right in Flushing, but on this April afternoon everything was how it was meant to be.
Tom had chosen to walk in from the bullpen out in the public eye rather through the tunnel. The place erupted. I can still picture that long slow walk and how nothing ever felt as good in that building.
Seaver went six scoreless innings that day for a no-decision, and a fellow named Doug Sisk pitched the final three for the win. (That’s a reminder of how different baseball was before creeping Larussa-ism. A three inning relief stint on Day One? Today you would have seven guys finish that up.)
It’s a hell of a box-score if you look up that 2-0 victory. The opposing pitcher was Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. That’s not a bad Opening Day matchup! Also in that game, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt.
On the Mets-side, not so Hall of Famey. Mookie Wilson was there and Wally Backman pinch hit. Dave Kingman started at first since this was still nineteen-seventy-thirteen (and pre-Keith Hernandez) for another few weeks, and you win 100 points if you can name the Opening Day right-fielder. Nope, not Darryl – a guy named Mike Howard got the start out in right in what would be his only game in 1983 and the last game of his career. Bizarre.
1983 was kind of fun. Yeah the Mets sucked but it was a different kind of suck, and Seaver taking the ball every fifth day really made it easier to tolerate.
In April, Tom was somehow tied for the league lead in triples. No, not triples given up, offensive triples. I remember having a good laugh about that. I also remember some sort of promo with Mookie Wilson and a ball-girl that we all thought was cute.
In June the Mets made a trade and sent off Neil Allen for a guy who didn’t want to be here, Keith Hernandez.
Keith was just better than anything you had seen before in Queens. His defense was….wait you can do that?…just on another level. We were used to sticking a tall guy at first who would catch putouts. Now there was an ability to play aggressive defense, to throw guys out at second from first, and to generally grab the infield by the balls and refuse to lose.
But the talent was what the talent was and the 68-94 Mets finished in sixth place.
As you know, Tom would finish his career with the Mets pitching four more sea…..wait…what….they left him off the 40 and he was stolen by the White Sox? What kind of idiot let that happen. Let me go look into this. Whaddaya mean he was on the 86 Red Sox. What????
Enjoy this video before it disappears in advance of MLB’s upcoming First Inning Of A 35 Year Old Game Blu-Ray.
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