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Archive for the tag “Remington Arms”

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.

Ten Facts About the Baseball Hall of Fame

After today’s disappointing BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results, I’ve decided to avoid commenting on that issue directly, but to instead make a simple list of ten facts about The Hall that will be (hopefully) less depressing to read.

So here are ten facts you may or may not already know about the Baseball Hall of Fame:

1)  The HOF is located in Cooperstown, New York, which is hundreds of miles from nowhere.  If you wanted to make a place less accessible, you would have to choose a location perhaps somewhere in  Albania.

2)  The current Chairperson of the Board of the Hall of Fame is 58-year old Jane Forbes Clark.  In the early 1930’s, her grandfather, Stephen Clark, was one of a band of conspirators who attempted to bribe two-time Medal of Honor winner marine General Smedley Butler (shown below) into leading a right-wing fascist coup de’ tat against newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt.  The money to purchase the weapons to be used (provided by Remington Arms, where my dad worked for over 20-years) was to be fronted by, among others, the Dupont Corporation, and the House of J.P. Morgan.  The plot collapsed when General Butler informed certain members of Congress about the plans for this coup.  Also allegedly involved in the plot was future Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, grandfather of President George W. Bush, who would, of course, go on to own the Texas Rangers baseball team.

3)  A few years after this coup plot, the Clark family, the most prominent family in Cooperstown, bought into the idea of a baseball Hall of Fame, proposed by Clark’s business partner Alexander Cleland, in part as a way to counter some of the negative publicity (little though it was) regarding the coup attempt.

4)  Jane Forbes Clark’s great, great-grandfather helped start the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which, like Remington Arms, was also in my hometown of Bridgeport, CT.  She still uses a Singer sewing machine today.  That company was the genesis of the (enormous) Clark family fortune.

5)  The building that today is the Baseball Hall of Fame was originally a high school gymnasium.

6)  Cooperstown’s normal population is just 2,200 people, but on HOF induction weekend, it swells to over 30,000.  The HOF’s annual operating budget is 12 million dollars, and it has a full-time staff of 100 people.

7)  The Baseball Hall of Fame has three floors, over 38,000 artifacts (of which only a small percentage are ever available for viewing), 2.6 million library items and over 130,000 baseball cards, (but I’ll bet they don’t have this one.)

On the back of this card, we learn that “George likes marshmallow milkshakes.”

8)  The Baseball Hall of Fame first opened its doors in 1939.  In that year, future Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski, Lou Brock and Phil Niekro would each be born.  Also, Hitler would launch WWII.

9)  One baseball HOF’er, Catfish Hunter, has no team represented on his baseball cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.  He refused to choose between the A’s and the Yankees because he was on good terms with both teams and didn’t want to offend either of them.

10)  In eight of the past ten years, the Baseball Hall of Fame has operated at a financial deficit.  In 2011, The Hall posted a two million dollar net loss.  Dozens of area businesses depend either entirely or in large part on the tourists who come to Cooperstown for the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  Public services, in turn, which depend on tax receipts, can also be negatively impacted by a local economy hurt by a lack of tourists.  One has to wonder if the voting members of the BBWAA took that possibility into account when they self-righteously decided to punish the entire class of 2013 for the transgressions of some of their contemporaries.

Caught With My Pants Down (A Tale of Baseball Youth)

When I was around eleven or twelve years old, my friends and I in Bridgeport, CT used to play a lot of baseball.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, we were playing what others called “sandlot” ball, though I never saw any sand around the streets of Bridgeport.  Mostly I just saw gum-stains that looked like blood-spatter, used condoms (which, as a kid, I mistook for miniature balloons), dead cats with maggot-infested eyes, and toothless negro winos who would offer to “suck your dick” (whatever that meant) for 50 cents.

English: A German Shepherd waiting for someone...

English: A German Shepherd waiting for someone to play with him. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those reasons, and several others, there were times when it was just as easy to stay close to the neighborhood and play ball.  The problem, though, was that the overgrown lot right next to my house on Colorado Ave. wasn’t exactly Wrigley Field.

Though it had once been a vegetable garden (who knew vegetables didn’t come from cans?), it was now a crab-apple orchard redolent of dog-shit (the fat lady across the street owned the only German Shepherd this side of Europe with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.)  But at least no one would come along and bother us.

A chain-link fence separated our modest little backyard from this larger space on a line extending about 100 feet, until it met up with a low piece of barbed wire, long since unceremoniously trampled under foot by Converse All-Stars, if not the inevitable Pro Keds.  So it was an easy hop from the sidewalk in front of our house into the semi-swampy morass that was our ball-field.

For some reason, a few girls would often stop by to watch us play ball.  They were around our age, perhaps a bit older, and they spent most of their time giggling and whispering behind their hands as we smacked the partially round sphere into the bushes behind what we decided would be second base.  To me it was strange and interesting that these girls would come over to watch us play.  They didn’t seem to belong to anyone; no one among us would claim them as sisters or cousins, yet there they remained all afternoon, cheering us on, regardless of our worthiness at the bat or in the field.

Then, disaster struck.  A small slick of mud which we had all managed to successfully navigate for much of the afternoon, claimed me as its first victim as I rounded third and headed for home, a brown-stained, embarrassed young man.  My feet had slipped out from under me, and I had gone down hard, ass-first, into the fetid, brown goo.  It is a moment I’ve since edited out of my personal highlights-of-my life mental movie reel.

English: A pice of chain link fence over some ...

English: A pice of chain link fence over some railroad tracks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What to do.  No way I could continue to play with my pants soaked through, so I told the guys (never once glancing in the direction of the girls) that I had to go inside for a few minutes to change my pants.  After the usual exchange of pleasantries between my friends Scott and Johnny regarding who should bat next (“Scott, you dumb-ass, it’s my friggin’ turn!”  “The Hell it is you midget moron!”), and on and on as I climbed the fence into my backyard.

The washing machine and the dryer were down in the basement on the side of the house where, if one looked up out the window, one could see across into the adjoining yard where my friends were still yelling and playing a little ball.  The distance was just five or six feet, and though I could see them all just fine, it somehow didn’t occur to me that they might be able to see me as well.

I didn’t go directly up into my house and on into my bedroom because my parents were neat freaks, and I knew I’d never hear the end of it if I left a trail of muddy, dirty blue jeans and underpants in the house.  So I decided instead to simply change right there in the basement.  There were always clothes drying either in the dryer itself or on the clothesline suspended in the basement between the furnace and grandpa’s workbench.

At least that’s what I must have subconsciously counted on as I kicked off my sneakers, pulled off my damp socks, and gingerly climbed out of the rest of my dirty clothes.  I threw the entire mess into the washer, dumped in a sufficient amount of powdered soap, and pulled the dial that got the old machine pumping and humming.

Except that, once naked, I glanced around and to my heart-pounding dismay, there were absolutely no clothes at all on the line, nor in the dryer.  What overly efficient domestic would do such a thing?  Then I remembered, my father had taken his annual August week-long vacation from his job at Remington Arms.

When dad was home, no one and nothing was safe from his legendary Deutsch cleaning rampages.  Lint, dust-mites and random loose threads were no match for his overworked Hoover, and the very idea of dirt inside our house was as unthinkable as my Catholic mother attending a protestant church.

So I just stood there for several minutes, completely unaware that at about this time some of my friends, and the modest retinue of girls, had now spotted me in the basement.  It took far longer than it should have for me to catch on to what all the excitement was about.  I just had to figure out how to find some clothes.

And that, of course, was when my previous level of embarrassment now blossomed into full-blown mortification.  As the throng sauntered, skipped and squealed toward the three rectangular basement windows for the free, unscheduled performance, all I could think to do was to duck behind the washing machine.  I sat down on the cool cement floor, bare feet extended out into the sunlight from my protective shadows, wondering how I could just will myself into oblivion.  It couldn’t get any worse than this, could it?

My father’s voice broke my pitiful reverie.

“Billy, where the hell are your clothes?”

I suppose I still owe him one to this day for going back upstairs to retrieve some fresh clothes, and because I don’t think he ever told my mother.

Back outside in the late afternoon sun, now softly resting upon the orange horizon, one of the girls called out to me just as I landed back on their side of the fence, my fingers careful not to get spiked by the sharp points on top.

“Hey, boy, do you wanna sleep with me?”

What an odd question to ask, I thought to myself.  Why the hell would I want to do that?  I’m sure I didn’t respond at all, but simply strode back up to the plate to take the biggest, most masculine cut I could ever take at a baseball.  I like to think that I hit it out over the trees in the distant outfield in front of the old, shuttered servant’s quarters from days gone by.  More likely, I put it in play and ran as hard as I could to first base.

One thing’s for sure.  For the rest of that day I took it easy going around third base.  But the next day, and the day after that, we took our chances back out on the streets of Bridgeport.  Riskier, yes, but the prospects for naked embarrassment paled in comparison to my recent experience back home.

Meanwhile, the girls continued to follow us around quite regularly for the rest of the summer, mysteriously glancing, winking and even blowing the occasional kiss at me.

Couldn’t they see that I was busy?

When Second Base Was a Handbag

My friend Scott was nothing if not resourceful.

After we climbed the hot metal fence with the spikes on top into the parking lot of the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, we counted our blessings.  This lot was one of the biggest and the best in which to play baseball from Maplewood Ave., over to Clinton Ave., and on up to North Ave. (which became the more regal King’s Highway once you crossed into Fairfield.)

English: St. Augustine Cathedral Bridgeport Pa...

English: St. Augustine Cathedral Bridgeport Patrick C. Keeley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On this happy occasion, we also happened to have a full complement of neighborhood boys, including a couple of kids from way over on Howard Ave. whom I didn’t know too well.  It was rare that we had enough kids (not to mention bats, gloves and balls) to play an actual game between two teams.

Normally, we’d play four-on-four, with anything hit to right-field an automatic out.  Fewer than eight kids meant mere batting practice for the day, desultory fly balls dropping well out of reach of our de facto outfielder.

Scott was the first one to notice it.  The smooth handbag rested, discarded and disgraced, near the green metal dumpster under the stained glass image of Jesus extending His hands, sans glove, for what must have been a low line-drive.

We had the usual piece of damaged roofing tile for first base, Johnny’s mother’s Neil Sadaka L.P. for third base, and, despite our proclivity for high scoring games, what was left of a ONE WAY, DO NOT ENTER sign for home plate.

But Tony’s mom would no longer let us use his grandma’s crocheted Lord’s Prayer on a doily for second base.  So we knew we would have to improvise.

Except for the one used Kleenex tucked hopelessly away in the loose change compartment in the front, the brown leather handbag was empty.  If we could pull the strap off (which the Jelliff brothers did, quickly and efficiently), we’d have ourselves a satisfactory keystone to slap down in the middle of the steamy asphalt.

Scott, craving the validation from his friends he never got from his bastard of a step-father, let out an adolescent, voice-cracking war-whoop as he raised the handbag over his head like an Algonquin war trophy

Johnny, always quick to kick the chair out from under Scott’s skinny legs while the self-induced noose was wrapped firmly around his neck, shouted, “Shut the hell up, Scott!  Let’s freakin’ play!”

Remington Arms  demo Bridgeport, Ct.

Remington Arms, Bridgeport, Ct. 

Johnny was the youngest of our group by an unheard of four years, but he could hold his own with even the 7th graders.  His dad actually hung around with my dad on similar turf in the days when Bridgeport’s impending collapse was delayed by the still sinewy bonds of church, work and family.

Once the work went away, to Taiwan, Malaysia, and even fucking Arkansas, the families fragmented, leaving only the churches to sort through the scattered bones and abandoned souls of the old, neglected neighborhoods.

But at least we had our second base.

At precisely 4:00 p.m., Tony hit a shot that approached, on a line, the red and orange stained glass windows of what we thought of as the Diocese H.Q.  It was the mysterious place that only priests and the occasional civilian grownup had ever set foot inside of, and we couldn’t even begin to imagine what Holy Rites and adventures went on inside that place.

Even my grandpa, who seemed to go to church whenever he was awake (and he didn’t sleep much), had never entered that cloistered universe.

Tony’s line-drive, perhaps aided by the irregular shape of the lopsided nine-month old baseball itself, curved away from the window, slamming into the stone border just six inches away from Jesus’ outstretched hand.

We knew it was exactly 4:00 p.m. because at the exact moment that ball hit stone, the bell inside the office chambers tolled four times.  For a second, our young minds searched for some connection between the line-drive and the bell but, of course, there wasn’t one.

Until one of the priests, a middle-aged man wrapped in a black cassock with white trim, approached us purposefully.  Without a word, he strode up to our pitcher, one of the boys from over on Howard Ave., and held his hand out for the ball.  Assuming that excommunication would probably follow close on the heels of the surrendering of the baseball, I was just glad it wasn’t one of my buddies.

English: Fred Russell, Sadaharu Oh and Sparky ...

English: Fred Russell, Sadaharu Oh and Sparky Anderson in Tokyo, Japan in 1981 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the quiet priest, tall and calm, held out his hand, doing his best impersonation of Reds manager Sparky Anderson, purple clouds bruised the sky above us.  I thought, “Holy shit, we’re sunk.  We’re gonna lose the baseball, and it’s going to freakin’ rain.”

The priest stood, shadow-less in the diffused sunlight, with his back foot planted on our pitcher’s mound (a paper-plate from Carvel Ice Cream.)  When his left leg came up to his belt, his head sank slightly into his left shoulder as his right arm began to arc high over his head.  His fastball exploded into the mitt of Matt, our 13-year old catcher.  Matt just blinked as he tossed the ball back to this still-silent priest.

Now he had our attention.

He motioned for Tony to get back in the “batter’s box,” a crude outline of chalk on pavement.  Tony, perhaps feeling what the guests of the Inquisition might have felt in 16th-century Spain, held the Chris Speier model Louisville Slugger high and back, his right arm cocked at the elbow.  This time, the pitch started heading for Tony’s face, then about eight feet out, it curved over home plate, catching the outside corner for a strike.

English: Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Bruce S...

English: Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Bruce Sutter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scott and Johnny surreptitiously glanced at each other, a silent and respectful “WHAT THE FUCK?” mouthed behind their baseball gloves.

Strike three was what appeared to be that new pitch, the split-fingered fastball, recently made prominent and popular by Cardinals relief pitcher Bruce Sutter.  Tony looked at strike three, his bat never having left his shoulder.

The priest walked over to Tony, and loud enough for most of us to hear, simply said, “Thanks for letting me play.  It’s been a while.”  With that, he handed Tony the baseball, then calmy strode back inside the priestly vault.  At first, no one said anything.  We weren’t even sure if this was some kind of unspoken message on his part that we should get the hell out of there.

This was, after all, priestly property, and we weren’t exactly invited.

Finally, Johnny broke the ice, yelling at Tony, “You just gonna stand there, or we gonna play some ball?!”

We played until our hands were raw and our shins were sore, until the universal call of mom’s announcing supper rang throughout the neighborhood, and encroaching darkness dimmed our enthusiasm.

As for the priest, despite playing in that parking lot several more times throughout the summer, we never saw him again.

Wherever he ended up, though, I like to think he’s still mixing fastballs and curves on a sandlot in some half-forgotten town that exists on the periphery of the American Dream.

Related Posts:

Jabbar’s Traveling Baseball Circus

Baseball Summers In the 1970’s

Baseball, and the Neighborhood Girls

Baseball, and All That We Leave Behind

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