The Mets had won the ‘86 World Series and everyone wanted season tickets for ‘87. When I went to the stadium the Mets staff took me to the visitor’s locker room, where only recently Bill Buckner had contemplated Mookie Wilson’s ball that scooted between his legs. Yeah, Mookie was fast, and he had to hurry, and with those hobbled knees it would be close. But if he had only straightened up after picking up the ball and made a fast toss to the covering pitcher …
But it didn’t work that way, much to the chagrin of all of New England. After winning that sixth game and coming from behind in the seventh, the Mets won the 1986 World Series. Ray Knight, after a key hit in the final game, was speaking about earlier missed opportunities in that game. He said he was thankful baseball was a game of redeeming features. As I sat in the visitor’s locker room that day, studying stadium diagrams and choosing seats for the next season, I knew we Mets fans were very grateful baseball was a game of redeeming features.
Just five months later we were in our regular seats in the fourth row, behind the box seats, in the Loge section of Shea stadium. When Howard Johnson was batting left-handed and connected too early there were lots of fly balls right into our section. My son was ten years old, and on many a night we discussed our plan. We’d given up bringing our gloves to the games, but if a ball did come our way we would take off our baseball caps, catch the ball in the cap, and hold tightly onto the brim and the back of the cap. We hoped that would be enough to keep the ball securely in our grasp. We even tried it at home a time or two. But no balls headed to Loge Section 23, Row D, seats one through four.
And then it came. I don’t remember who was pitching but it was a right-handed pitcher, because Howard Johnson was batting left-handed, and with that early swing he sent a rocket our way. People, popcorn, and beer went flying everywhere. Jonathan struggled mightily to get to the ball first, but this loud guy from Brooklyn beat him to it. He thrust the ball into the air, proudly showing his prize. Later in the game Jonathan fearfully approached to ask if he could see the ball. “I’ll let you hold it kid, but you’re not going to try to run with it are you?” Jonathan held the ball in awe, and after about 2.3 nanoseconds Mr. Brooklyn took it back. We got close to other baseballs during the ten years we had the tickets, but never that close.
Jonathan was twenty-two and a senior in college. He went to school in Denver and the Mets were in town to play the Rockies. The Mets were in the middle of a pennant race and Jonathan was fortunate enough to get two tickets. When he and a friend were ushered to their seats Jonathan noted they were in a good location for a foul ball and reminisced about the man from Brooklyn. And then it came. It bounced once and landed at his feet. Jonathan reached down and snatched it up.
Then he turned around and handed it to the little kid behind him, who was sitting there with his baseball glove and his dreams of a foul ball securely nestled in it. Jonathan told him the baseball was his. No questions asked. No explanations given.
Jonathan drove home and went to bed. He got up the next morning and headed off to class, and then called to tell me he’d gotten a foul ball—and given it away to the kid in the seat behind him. And together we redeemed the memory of a guy from Brooklyn who did not understand half of what Jonathan understood about baseball being a game of redeeming features.
Photo (Flickr CC) by eric molina