The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Catholic School”

Remnants of All Things Dying

The slushy streets sounded hollow as my boots clicked on the pavement, as if the subterranean world below Bridgeport was a cracked eggshell just waiting to collapse into itself.  I imagined the bones of workers clubbed to death in labor disputes by company goons a half-century before my father was born, rotting down there, shovels and picks in mummified hands awaiting a battle long ended.  Dead buildings of gray brick and grime stood sentinel along wide, deserted streets.  They called this time of year “Spring.”

I felt both sweaty and chilled in my dark blue fleece as the remnants of a sun dissolved behind black cherry clouds.  My dad once worked in one of these vacant buildings where cold metal machinery claimed fingers, hands and even the occasional arm in its vast unforgiving maw.  Guys got bandaged up and went back to work the next day.  The blood of men in their thousands greased the wheels of industrial America.  My dad called it “going to work.”

My friend James lived up on Washington Ave. about a mile or so from my house, but a frayed ribbon of Bridgeport mile was a showcase of all that had once been, and now only the scattered, battered remains were apparent.  A vast industrial cemetery graveyard that I called home.  It started to drizzle.

I had hoped James and I could play some catch.  I’d even brought along an extra glove in my denim duffle bag I’d inherited from a gnarled aunt whose favorite pastime was collecting stamped envelopes from places others had been, of which she could only imagine the worst calamities befalling her if she’d ever set foot outside her two-room apartment, triple locks on her front door.  I couldn’t say I blamed her.

James didn’t answer the door at first; he never did.  Apparently allergic to the light even in a refracted nightmare of a town like ours, asthmatic James finally cracked the door open, stretched and yawned in his undershorts and without a word, allowed me to enter his darkened sanctuary.  He coughed as he pointed to a pile of papers on a desk on the edge of a shallow kitchen.  It was a story he and I’d been working on, but it wasn’t coming together. Like our story, he and I would soon go our separate ways, connected only by the fiction that friendship lasted forever.

“So, what did you think?” I asked, although I already knew the answer.

James sighed a lot.  (Only my dad sighed more often.)  There were levels to his sighs.  Small sigh meant things were typically O.K., but never would be great.  Medium sigh, shorter in duration but more intense, meant he had actually given the subject some thought and predictably wasn’t impressed.  Long sighs followed by a trip to the refrigerator for a glass of milk indicated categorical failure on your part from which there might be no return.

What followed was a long sigh, followed by a trip to the bathroom.  That was a new one, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I knew it couldn’t be good.

Good times with James only happened more or less by accident now.  A friendship formed between a pair of fourteen-year old loners in a Catholic high school populated by medieval nuns, creepy lay-teachers and sadistic jocks was a friendship defined under duress in the trench-warfare of adolescence.  Now that we’d been freed from the petty tyranny of our education, our bond had begun to dissipate, though neither of us had the guts to completely face up to it.  Getting on each other’s nerves was about all we had left.

When he emerged from the bathroom several minutes later, dressed in blue jeans and a Pink Floyd tee-shirt, I chose not to ask for specific feedback on my portion of the story.  It would be a hopeless and depressing waste of time.  So I pulled the glove out of my duffle bag and tossed it over to James.  He briefly examined it without surprise or excitement.

“Where the hell’d you get a left-handers mitt?”  he asked, because I was right-handed.

“Babe Ruth’s fucking grave.  What the hell difference does it make?”

Babe Ruth's grave in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

Babe Ruth’s grave in Gate of Heaven Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Without a word and to my everlasting astonishment, James led the way outdoors to the mostly empty parking lot around the back of his apartment building.  Only a lone, ’76 Nova stood in the way of the spot where we last played nearly a year ago.  Luckily, it had its parking brake off, and with the driver’s side window smashed in, it wasn’t too difficult to manipulate the abandoned vehicle out of our way, if you were careful about the broken glass.

I started off with a split-fingered fastball, the way Bruce Sutter used to do it.  That pissed James off ’cause he wasn’t expecting it, so he fired a two-seamer back at me which nearly ripped the webbing of the glove I’d had since sixth-grade (and still have today.)  I smiled, which I think was the first time either of us had smiled that day.

“Asshole!” I called out to him, the echo reverberating off the silent brick buildings.

I threw him my best change-up, which never fooled anyone I ever threw it to.

“That all you got?” he shot back, a faint hint of a smile nearly creasing his lips.  “No wonder you never got laid in high school.”

“With those Amazons?”  Christ, even the nuns looked better.

“Donna would’ve let you at least touch her.”  He was getting comfortable now, his arm angle the familiar three-quarters I remembered from the high school ball-field.

“Yeah, with your dick,” I called back.  A pretty standard, unoriginal response expected by both parties in a conversation such as this.

“Got one for you,” he warned.  But I knew what was coming.  A tight curveball, small but perceptible break to it, creased the March breeze and smacked into my tan George A. Reach Co. mitt.  It felt like home.  Not the one I actually lived in, but the place I imagined must be just around the corner from the park, where kids played in actual sunshine on real grass.  Home.

A middle-aged black man came down and sat on a stoop just watching us for several minutes, followed by a pair of young, twin sisters with pink barrettes in their hair.  James and I had nothing more to say to each other, but I like to think the sound of baseball — the final game of catch we ever played — yet reverberates off silent walls in a crumbling, forgotten part of town accessible only through faulty, imperfect memory.

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Mediocrity, and a Mets Fans Life: Part 3

Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, if you need catching up.

1983:  Is a hard year to write about.  Not because anything truly awful happened back then, but because it was such a waste of year.  For the past couple of decades, my best friend, James and I have always maintained that 1983 was the worst year ever.  Neither of us could provide you with specific reasons or examples of this awfulness, yet we definitely felt this in an almost visceral way as ’83 unfolded around us.  In other words, we’d hit bottom.  Tired of ourselves.  Tired of our aimlessness.  Tired of wasting time.  It was fun once, but now we simply hated where it was all headed, which is to say, precisely nowhere.

But, as they say (“they” have a lot of wisdom, and, apparently, a lot of freakin’ time on their hands), you have to hit bottom before you can bounce back up.  So, in keeping with that old adage, I started to do something I’d never done before.  I started to think about going to college.  Frankly, I’d had enough of the Working Class Hero bullshit.  Since Reagan, it was clear there was no money in it anymore.  Now, as the song said, “All you need are looks and a whole lot of money.”  Several people I’d known in high school were now halfway through college, and these folks were not what anyone would call the Kolbe High School Brain-Trust.  So, for the first time in my life, I started to save up money for college.

Apparently, the Mets had also finally had enough of their losing ways.  Sure, they finished the year 68-94, another last place season.  But more importantly, they’d begun to set the foundation for future success.  Rookie Darryl Strawberry, the first excellent position player the Mets had ever developed, enjoyed a fine season, slugging 26 home runs in just 420 at bats.  Perhaps even more importantly, the Mets traded pitcher Neil Allen to the Cardinals for first baseman Keith Hernandez.  Keith instantly gave the Mets a credibility they’d lacked since they’d traded away Tom Seaver several years before.

1984:  Nothing much happened.  It took a year like this to make 1985 possible.  I guess I must have saved up some money.  I worked for most of the year at a light-industrial shop making some sort of things that were sold to the Department of Defense.  All the big money was in defense in those days.  But I was sticking to my plan.

As for the Mets, a shooting star named Dwight Gooden exploded onto the scene.  In his rookie year, he led the N.L. in strikeouts with 276 in just 218 innings.  He just made it all look so easy.  And the Mets, astonishingly, won 90 games for the first time since their improbable 100 win season back in ’69.  Clearly, happy days were here again.

1985:  In the mid-80’s, not a lot of culturally very important moments were taking place, though blues guitarists Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan were shining bright for anyone who cared to notice.  As for me, well, I’d landed a new job at a local bank through a friend of mine.  It was perhaps the coolest, easiest job I’ve ever had.  Automatic Teller Machines were just becoming nearly universal at that time, and the banks decided that they needed a stable of on-call drivers to attend to the simpler tasks of refilling the machines with cash, clearing jammed bills, changing the receipt tape, etc.

The beauty of the job was that we could camp out in a local bar and wait for our beepers to go off before we hit the road.  I worked the late shift from 5:30-midnight with a friend of mine.  We’d drive from Fairfield down the Connecticut coast all the way as far as Greenwich, or as far west as Danbury.  Some of the girls who rode with us were very cute, and, strictly against the rules, sometimes we’d even occasionally pick up a friend and bring him with us.  I was 22-years old, the money was easy, the summer was a lot of fun, and I was still sticking to the plan.

Dwight Gooden at Candlestick Park in San Franc...

Dwight Gooden at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Shea Stadium, the Mets were having a fantastic season, ultimately winning 98 games, but couldn’t quite catch the damned Cardinals.  New addition Gary Carter, along with Keith Hernandez, Gooden, Strawberry, Mookie Wilson, and pitchers Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez as well as a brash young rookie named Lenny Dykstra, were playing with a swagger never quite seen before in Queens.

Gooden finished the season with 1.53 ERA and lost just four of 35 starts.  In my mind, it was the greatest pitching season I’ve still ever seen in my life.  The Mets were now New York’s team, and it felt great to be a Mets fan.

1986:  An odd and fantastic year.  My gig at the bank continued through the summer, and I now even had a radio show on a college radio station with my friend Dave, WVOF-Fairfield.  It was a college radio station, and we got to play anything and everything we desired, from bits of Monty Python albums, to Classic Rock, Prog Rock, Alternative Rock, and the Blues.  “Take the Skinheads bowling, take them bowling!”  I was also going to make a break for it, escaping southern Connecticut for the comparative wilds of Maine.  But that wouldn’t come until the day after Thanksgiving.  Until then, I got to enjoy the Mets epic adventure of a season.

In the National League, there really was no competition against the Mets in 1986.  The Mets led the league in most offensive and pitching statistics.  They won 108 games.  Gooden became the first pitcher in MLB history to post three consecutive 200-K seasons to begin a career (and he had just turned 21.)  Their clubhouse was a mess, and Davy Johnson, though he did his best and was a very intelligent manager, was probably in a bit over his head with this group.  Game Six of the N.L.C.S vs. Houston is still the greatest game I’ve ever seen played in my life.  It was a roller-coaster ride, an epic 16-inning classic.

For the benefit of any Red Sox fan who might still be reading, I won’t recount the history of the ’86 World Series.  I will say, though, that when Dykstra hit a lead-off home run at Fenway Park in Game Three, my friend Gregor dunked his beeper in a pitcher of beer, and there it remained until the game was over.  Just a few weeks later, I landed in a distant corner of snowy, York County, Maine.

Luther Bonney, Masterton Hall, and the Science...

Luther Bonney, Masterton Hall, and the Science building at USM’s Portland Campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1987-89:  I combine these years because they were all a bit of a blur.  It seemed like, except for a few short, warm days every year, it was always winter.  Also, I’d never seen so many white people in one place in my entire life.  Being a white guy myself who’d moved from a place where white was just one color in the social fabric, it quickly became apparent that the denizens of York County (and later, Cumberland County, just up the road where they had roads) were of a species I’d never encountered before.

Meanwhile, I had finally enrolled at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham / Portland, Maine.  I was to major in Political Science, though I wasn’t really sure what the hell I was going to do with a Poli-Sci degree.  All I knew was that it felt right to finally be going back to school, long after many of my high school classmates had already graduated.  I had also begun working at L.L. Bean in Freeport.  But we’ll save that story for later.

Next up, a wild ride through the ’90s!

Mediocrity, and a Mets Fans Life: Part 2

If you read Part 1 of this series, you already know what to expect from the next three installments.  If not, here’s the last paragraph of the introduction:

Looking back over the nearly fifty years that I’ve been alive, I can’t help but feel a certain affinity for this extended mediocrity.  What I’ve decided to do is to take a look back at the last 38 years of my life, and compare them to that same year in Met’s history.  I hope you enjoy this casual biography of a man and his baseball team, in four excruciating installments.

When last we met, I was in my final year of high school, had smoked pot for the first time in the bathroom of my Catholic high school, had attended a dance with a girl I didn’t particularly like, and witnessed perhaps the worst pitching staff in the history of the New York Mets.

Shall we proceed on to 1981?  I will do so with mixed feelings of trepidation and nostalgia.  You’re going to want to sit down for this one.

1981:  In October of 12th grade, a yearbook form was distributed to each of us to fill out so that the traditional non sequiturs, meaningless dates, pledges, lyrics from our favorite Rock songs and other forms of generalized nonsense could be included under our final high school picture.  I sat there with a couple of friends of mine, who happened to be Hispanic-Americans, and we brainstormed what kind of junk we could include.

One of my friends suggested the Spanish translation of “My Penis is Itching!”  (something like, Me Pica La Pinga!)  So, of course, I duly noted it on my form, in Spanish.  The lead editor of our yearbook (who was very cute; I asked her to the Prom, but she turned me down), was also one of the Spanish teachers, so I figured this would be a cool way to cause her some minor embarrassment when she inevitably edited out that particular statement.  I assumed she’d come to me in a week or two, form in hand, and kindly request that I write something else to put under my picture.

Except she never came to see me.

As the weeks went by, I completely forgot about what I had written on that form.   Christmas Vacation came and went, and the final countdown to graduation day was upon us.  By the end of March, with the first hint of spring in the air, I was already making plans for summer vacation, except it wasn’t going to be summer vacation, it was going to be the rest of my life, a concept I still couldn’t quite grasp.

Then, sometime in April, my name was called over the school intercom.  I was in the middle of Mrs. Wulster’s English class (I liked her very much; she regularly called us barbarians,) when my name was called sometime around late morning.  Not once in my four years of high school had my name ever been called over the school intercom.  Usually, this was not at all a good thing.  When Sister Jeanette, the principal called you down, the odds were about 1 in 3 that you had spent your last day at Kolbe-Cathedral High School.  Around 30% of the boys I had started Kolbe with were already long gone.

Sitting in Sister Jeanette’s office, I could tell she was not about to ask me to make the commencement speech at our graduation ceremony.  Her face was waxy and her hands seemed fidgety, yet carnivorous.  She looked at me and said, “William, do you know why I called you down here to my office?”  I quite honestly responded, “No.”

“William, the yearbook staff was here until nearly 6:30 yesterday evening trying to undo the damage you’ve done to the yearbook. ”  I looked at her blankly, awareness just beginning to dawn regarding what she was talking about.

“Are you even aware what words appear in Spanish under your yearbook picture?”  I murmured, “I don’t think I remember,” an outright lie at this point.  Easily forty lashes in Purgatory.

I watched her steel herself to tell me, in English, the heinous words that appeared under my picture.  I felt sure that she’d never uttered any words like this before in her life.  Assuming the floor beneath my chair wasn’t about to open up and drop me straight into Hell’s Everlasting Fire, I couldn’t wait to tell my friends.

“William,” she started, then paused dramatically, though perhaps not intentionally, “You wrote, ‘My Penis is Itching.'”

She then informed me that the only reason she wasn’t going to expel me from school then and there was because graduation was just five weeks away.  She told me I had to apologize to each and every member of the yearbook staff, and…that was it.  I apologized to her, the bell rang signaling the end of Third Period, and I went directly to first lunch to tell my friends what had happened.

A week or so later, we all received our yearbooks.  Everyone went directly to the page which included my picture.  Under my picture, in every single yearbook that year, was a little white piece of white-out tape covering the infamous words.  First thing everyone did, of course, was peel off that tape.  Under the tape, the short, four-world declarative sentence had also been inked over by some sort of black marker or felt-tip pen.  Then someone realized that if you held the page up to the light, you could still read it!  After that, I couldn’t walk down the hallways of Kolbe without someone either high-fiving me, or sneering at me, depending on their point of view of the situation.

As you can imagine, I still count this as one of the few outright successes of my life, a true high point if ever there was one.  I also knew that Instant Karma was gonna get me, sure as you can say, “Me Pica La Pinga!”

Fortunately, 1981 also saw a work stoppage in Major League Baseball, so the awful Mets were mercifully allowed to play just 105 of their scheduled 162 games, more than enough as it turned out, as the Mets winning percentage was just .398 in ’81.  The lone bright spot this time was rookie third baseman Hubie Brooks, who batted .307 in Joe Torre’s final season as Mets manager.  I like to think that both Torre and I managed to escape our awkward circumstances the very same year, and we each had a prominent place in a yearbook as well.

1982:  Well, freedom from Catholic high school was not all fun and games after-all.  I had quit working at Carvel Ice Cream during the late summer of 1981, and had gone on to work at U.P.S.  I had no idea what else to do with my life.  Neither of my parents had made it past tenth grade, and we didn’t have a lot of money for college, so I thought I would work for a living, just like everyone who had ever come before me in my family had done.  Only, UPS sucked.  After nearly two years of being harassed by managers who wore brown shirts, black boots and herded us to and from our ten minute breaks under watchful eyes, I’d had enough.

Image representing UPS  as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

On a side note, my cousin Jimmy had bugged me for months to get him in to UPS, because the money was good.  I told him repeatedly that he would hate it there.  He kept pestering me until I finally told a union rep that I had a cousin who wanted a shot at loading the big-rigs from 10:30 pm to 2:30 am, the same shift as me.  Jimmy got his opportunity one late summer night, meeting me in the dirt parking lot out back in his ’78 Camaro.  We were assigned different departments, so I didn’t see Jim again ’till break-time.

At around 12:40 am, I saw him walking towards me, slump-shouldered and defeated.

“I’m done,” was all he said.

I just said, “What?  Man, you’ve only been here for two hours.”

“No, I’m all done.  Your were right, this place is terrible.”  Jimmy walked out of the huge warehouse, and went on to work for Bradlees over at the Dock Shopping Center in Stratford.

On my final night, about a year later, an assistant manager came into my steamy truck, frowning purposefully.

“Miller, you allowed this package into this truck.  The zip code is for Stonington.”

Packages fell off the conveyor belt into the back of the truck at a rate of around a dozen per second.  I had two rigs to load in the next three hours.  I just looked at him and said, “I didn’t ‘let’ in into my truck, it fucking fell on its own,” which was clear even to a douche-bag like him, since he had to step over a mound of packages to come see me.

“Miller, you have to sign this form right here acknowledging that you allowed this unauthorized package into your truck.”

“What if I don’t?”

“Then I’ll have to fire you.”  He was clearly moving in for the kill.  Another notch on his fucking belt.  Clearly pushing for district supervisor some day.  Then he could sit in his fucking little office, going over the days production forms, sipping crummy coffee, day-dreaming of the day he could afford a split-ranch in Trumbull.  Fuck him.

“What happens if I sign it?”

“Then the manager will decide what disciplinary action is appropriate.”

“I want to talk to my union steward.”

“Well, you can’t.  Sign this or you’re fired.”

“I have a right to speak with my union steward.”

“Sign this form, or you’re fired.  Last warning.”

Before I could really think about what I was doing, I threw the small, brown package I had in my hand during this entire conversation at him as hard as I could, narrowly missing his head.  He looked stunned, then said, “You’re fired!”  I burst out of the back of the truck, climbed over the wall of packages that had formed there, and left.  On my way out, I saw my union steward.

“Where the fuck were you when I needed you.”  His mouth opened to respond.  “I just got fired,” I told  him.

“Come to the manager’s office tomorrow morning” he told me.  “I’ll be there.”

On my way out the door, the radio that piped in Rock music for the workers was playing, “Train in Vain,” by The Clash.  It was one of my favorites, and felt right to hear on my last night at UPS.

Next morning, I had already made up my mind that I was all done with this place, but I thought I’d get my say in any way.  Walking in to the manager’s unremarkable office, I was told to sit down.  My union steward was already there, and it was clear that the two of them had been discussing this situation for a while before I got there.

“We’ve decided that, if you sign this form, we’ll give you another chance,” the manager, a half-digested piece of carrion informed me.  Every worker he had ever dug a knife into was a pockmarked scar on his face.  I looked over at my union steward for guidance, though I really didn’t give a damn at this point.  He shook his head no at me.

“Don’t sign it,” was all he said.  Now I was confused.  Clearly, if I didn’t sign it, I’d be all done.

“Sign here, ” the manager said as he leaned forward, pen and paper in hand, acidic coffee breath escaping into my face.  Again, I looked over at the union man, expecting him to explain to me exactly why I shouldn’t sign it.  He said not a work, just stared into space, and shook his head again back and forth.  What the fuck was his problem?  Was he having a mild stroke or something?  I looked back and forth at these two men, each in their thirties, and decided I’d had enough of this pantomime little opera.

“O.K., guys,” I began, not knowing exactly where I was going with this.  I looked at the manager and said quietly, “You can shove that paper right up your ass.”  Then I turned to union man and added, “Thanks for nothing, asshole.”  I got up, walked out the door, which I did not slam behind me, and left that place for good.

I can’t say for sure if I got fired, or if I quit, so I’ll call that entire episode a draw.  Not the best of times, but surely not the worst of times, either.  I was still only nineteen-years old.  I went down to Seaside Park, cracked open a beer, and watched the sun burn away the day.

That same year, the Mets upped their winning percentage to .401.  Thirty-seven of Dave Kingman’s forty-seven extra base hits that year were home runs, but in 607 plate appearances, he hit just .204.  Free agent bust George Foster slugged just 13 homers while posting a .247 batting average.  Staff “ace” Craig Swan managed to win 11 games.

Clearly, over in Queens, things were faring no better for the Mets than they were for me.  Perhaps 1983 would bring better times.

And so, my friends, let’s end this post right here and right now.  I’ve had enough, and in all probability, so, too, have you. We’ll resume this series when I can remember what the hell happened to me in ’83.

Thanks for riding along with me.

Mediocrity, and a Mets Fan’s Life

Mediocrity is nothing to brag about.  We don’t normally start out as kids seeking the truest, straightest path towards mediocrity.  We are proud and happy when, as my older son just experienced, we come home from school with straight A’s on a report card.  We enjoy it very much when our boss gives us a glowing annual review.  And when our spouse is happy, we understand that it’s a good idea to be happy, too.

Yet, if one was to measure one’s life in retrospect in any objective way, it might become all too apparent to many of us that we’ve lived thoroughly mediocre lives.  Surely, we’ve had our high points.  The birth of our first child.  The one time we dated that really hot girl at work.  (Note that the first example is not often a direct result of the second example.)  The moment when we received our high school, or college diploma.  The time when we didn’t forget our boss’s wife’s name at a dinner party.

The failures are there, too, ready to sabotage our happier moments with their dreadful memories.  Dropping what would have been the winning touchdown pass in a high school football game.  Nervously stuttering through a presentation among colleagues at work.  Drafting Bip Roberts instead of Robin Roberts in your all-time fantasy baseball draft.  Mistaking her harmless friendliness for something more personal and intimate.  I’ve got a truckload of those types of memories.

Which brings me to the Mets.

As far as I can tell, (and I wasted nearly fifteen minutes researching this on Baseball-Reference.com), I became a Mets fan on or about August 12, 1974.  Since that date, the Mets have won exactly 3,012 regular season games, and have lost 3,065.  That works out to a .496 win-loss percentage.  That’s just 53 more losses than wins, spread  over 38 seasons.  I will be rooting for the Mets to win their first 53 consecutive games this year just so I can say that they’ve been the most perfectly mediocre team in baseball since I’ve been following the Great Game.

Looking back over the nearly fifty years that I’ve been alive, I can’t help but feel a certain affinity for this extended mediocrity.  What I’ve decided to do is to take a look back at the last 38 years of my life, and compare them to that same year in Met’s history.  I hope you enjoy this casual biography of a man and his baseball team, in four excruciating installments.

Shea Stadium

Shea Stadium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1974:  I am eleven years old, and make a baseball card of myself and my brother.  Apparently I hit .725 that year in sandlot ball.  I sit behind Joanne Beaudry in Math class.  She spends the entire year turning around flirting with me.  Her fingernails are often dirty.  I am terrified of Joanne, and of girls in general.   I’m also terrified of the snarling, frothing dog that is barely contained behind a short metal fence I pass on my way to and from school.  The Mets finish the year with a record of 71-91, in fifth place.  Tom Seaver has a rare off-year, posting a record of 11-11.  John Milner leads the team in runs scored with 70.

1975:  My friends Scott and Johnny have an argument over which member of the Rock band Kiss is the coolest.  Johnny, nearly four years younger than Scott, and a foot shorter, grabs Scott by the mid-section, wrestles him to the ground and pummels him.  Apparently, it turns out that Ace Frehley really was the coolest member of the band.  Tom Seaver rebounds to win his third and final Cy Young award.  The Mets tantalize on a daily basis, finishing the year 82-80, holding out tenuous promise for better things ahead.  Rusty Staub sets a Mets record with 105 RBI, and owns a restaurant in Manhattan.

1976:  My body begins to change in several different embarrassing ways.  I discuss this with no one.  My Catholicism convinces me that everything that I might do, think, or say about this topic would be a mortal sin.  Anna Corrales, three rows and several romantic light-years away from me, never looked so good.  My family and I vacation in Quebec, and I witness an elderly woman getting hit by a car.  Also on that vacation, a small boy at a table next to ours in a restaurant falls and hits his head on the table’s edge, blood all over the place.  Meanwhile, the Mets perform unexpectedly well, posting a record of 86-76.  They wouldn’t have a season that successful again for seven years.  Waive goodbye to Rusty Staub, and hello to 35-year old pitcher Mickey Lolich, who manages to win eight games.

Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1977:  I graduate second in my class from junior high school, winning numerous academic awards, then receive the first “D” and the first “F” of my life in my first semester of my first year in a Catholic high school.  I tryout for the school baseball team.  My job is to run a mile or two in the cold March mud, then drag a huge duffel bag full of bats down several flights of stairs to the supply room after each practice.  I decide I hate organized baseball, and quit the lousy team after three weeks.  David Johnson, a kid who sits and draws comics almost all day throughout all of his classes, becomes my best friend through high school.  The bottom absolutely drops out at Shea Stadium.  The Mets trade Tom Seaver for a clutch of Romanian strippers, four Mars Bars, and a case of orange Fanta.  The Fanta is flat.  The Mets fall to last place, posting a 64-98 record.  Lenny Randle, who hits .304 and steals 33 bases, is the sole reason to watch this miserable team.

1978:  Almost every kid in my high school is hooked on disco (except for one girl who dresses like David Bowie.)  My mom gets a job downtown as a secretary, and I visit her sometimes on my way home from school, just four blocks away. We have two major snowstorms that year, and miss around two weeks of school, which is fine with me because I’ve come to the conclusion that Catholic school sucks.  Unfortunately, the public high schools in my town are more famous for their crime reports than their academic records, so I keep my mouth shut and tolerate the experience as one would tolerate a novocaine-free root-canal.  The Mets are completely hopeless as well, finishing 30 games under .500 under manager Joe (It’s All About the Eyebrows) Torre.  23-year old center-fielder Lee Mazzilli becomes the heart throb of Queens.

Remington Arms

Remington Arms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1979:  My dad comes home early one summer day from his job at Remington Arms.  He surprises me by not saying anything at all, going into his room, pulling the shades down, and going to sleep.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that a friend of his had accidentally blown himself in half at Remington Arms where they both worked.  Apparently, some gunpowder had ignited in the heat.  They had given dad a tranquilizer and sent him on his way, half a day off with pay.  See you bright and early tomorrow morning.  I got my first, considerably safer job slinging ice cream at Carvel’s on Park Ave.  At $2.25 an hour, I would now be able to hang out with my friends in style.  The Mets slog through a 63-99-1 season (yes, an official tie, like in hockey.)  Craig Swan is by far and away their best pitcher, going 14-13.  Their roster is littered with the sorry remains of Elliot Maddox, Willie Montanez, Richie Hebner, Kevin Kobel and Dock Ellis.

1980:  I am now straddling the line between my junior and senior years of high school.  A kid named Mike, apparently a refugee from Central High School, introduces me to marijuana in the school bathroom.  Well, it was either that or Ms. Ligouri’s English class.  I also attend my first high school dance, and spend most of the evening discovering that while I like slow-dancing, and the physical sensations it creates,  I generally dislike my dance partner, creating an awkward, alternating series of dance-couplings followed by strict and severe avoidance of said date.  Her dad picks us up from the dance at 10:30, and neither she nor I ever speak of this event again.  The Mets successfully avoid 70 wins for the fourth straight season.  Their starting rotation of Ray Burris, Pat Zachry, Mark Bomback, Pete Falcone and Craig Swan might just be the worst in the history of the franchise.  And with youngsters, Roy Lee Jackson, Juan Berenguer and John Pacella in the ‘pen, help is decidedly not on the way.

And that’s all for this installment.  Join me next time, if you can stand it, when I survive the 1980’s with my dignity mostly intact.

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