Tom really was terrific

3 Sep

Tonight we received word that New York Mets legend Tom Seaver died at the age of 75. As a remembrance I’m reprinting the following article, one that I’d written for another website before Seaver’s passing.

“They were both Mets fans, and the hopelessness of that passion created a bond between them.” —Paul Auster

On October 17th, 1986, sometime in the early afternoon Rome time, I was queued up at the Alitalia check-in at Fiumicino Airport. Beside me was my newish wife Joan, in front of me a stocky man wearing a bright blue hoodie and jittering in a highly agitated state.

“Let’s hang back a couple steps,” I whispered into my wife’s ear. “Give that guy a little space.”

I do not recall the exact circumstances of the airport’s delays that day, only that they were many. This seemed a minor inconvenience to my wife and me, as neither of us was in a hurry to leave Italy and fly back home to New York. 

Not so for our hoodied friend. Anxious does not begin to describe the man’s position on catching the next flight to JFK.

“C’mon man, let’s get going,” he pleaded to no one in particular. “If I don’t get to see my Mets in the World Series tomorrow I’m gonna kill somebody.”

This is the moment that my opinion of our animated friend changed entirely.

“Excuse me,” I said, moving closer. “Did you just say the Mets are in the Series?”

As soon as he turned I had my answer. On the front of his blue hoodie was the very distinct and very orange Mets logo.

“Are you kidding me?” cried Hoodie. “Them and Boston, yeah. I’m from Jersey. Paterson. You?”

Never have I wanted so desperately to lie about my residence, which was far closer to the Mets’ home field than Hoodie’s. Worse, the Mets were my father’s, my brothers’ and therefore my team. Forever. And always. Their 1969 World Series championship—a bona fide Act of God “miracle”—ranks among the most treasured memories of all my years.

Now I would have to explain to a total stranger how, for the recent few years, baseball had occupied not a single square yard in the fabric of my life. Nearly six months into an NL championship season and I was utterly clueless about my team’s accomplishments!

“Brooklyn,” I answered sheepishly—and softly enough so that nobody but I could hear.

“Sorry, say again,” said Hoodie, moving closer. “Didn’t catch that.”

Inches now separated the man and me. I was trapped. My baseball demons had traveled across an ocean in order to torment me. Their chosen human vessel? An overweight, balding, hoodied New York Mets fan from Paterson, New Jersey.

What fresh hell is this?

“Brooklyn,” I repeated loudly and properly this time. “Born and raised.”

Hoodie’s eyes opened wider than a 747 but before he could scold me I spoke up.

“I know, I know. Just that it’s been a while since I followed the game. Once they dealt Seaver in ’77…”

This evoked an appropriate response, if you are familiar with New York Mets baseball, that is. 

“Darkest day ever!” Hoodie yelled, startling an elderly Italian couple ahead of him in line. “Seaver was God, the best. They should’ve executed the scumbag that traded him. Firing squad. Gas chamber. No, guillotine. Bring me the head of M. Donald Grant!” 

It was Grant, the team’s then chairman, who had sent George Thomas Seaver packing back in 1977, just 10 years into a Hall of Fame career that lasted twice that long. Seaver was, and is, the greatest pitcher in Mets history; he isn’t still called The Franchise for nothing. Grant’s shocking decision to trade him sent shockwaves not just through New York’s five boroughs and the tri-state region, but through all of Major League Baseball. It remains the worst move ever made by a team that to this day is best known for its ability to make all conceivable kinds of worst moves ever. 

Only Mets fans of a certain age, like Hoodie and me, have suffered through ALL of the team’s many indignities. We are brothers in this way. Lifelong, I suspect. 

Hoodie’s eyes went down to my shoes and then slowly worked their way up my body until we were again eye to eye.

“Still, no excuse for not even knowing they made it to the Series. Seriously, man, Seriously.”

My new friend was right, of course. I had been wrong on so many levels and told him so. More than a few times, as it happens, what with the hours it took for our flight to make it out of Rome. Before we said goodbye, somewhere around Customs at JFK, Hoodie grabbed me by the shoulders with both of his impressive hands.

“The past is the past, so get over it,” he told me. “Come home, brother. Just come home.”

I am not in the practice of taking advice from strangers, certainly not agitated ones who wear logoed MLB merch when traveling abroad, but in this case I decided to make an exception. Between October 18th and 27th, 1986, the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox played a full best-of-seven series. I watched nearly every inning of every game, and when the last out was recorded—a strikeout in the top of the ninth at Shea Stadium—my Mets had won their second (and last, to this date) World Series. 

As it happens Tom Seaver wore a Red Sox uniform that year, his last as a professional baseball player. A knee injury prevented the 42-year-old from pitching against the team that he had led to the 1969 World Series that I had watched with my father and my brothers. 

I am forever grateful that Seaver did not end his career by taking the mound that October.

I could not—and would not—have rooted against him.

Even Hoodie would have to back me up on this.

3 Responses to “Tom really was terrific”

  1. Linda September 3, 2020 at 4:03 am #

    Thank you. What a great story. My dad was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and so we became Mets fans. I love baseball because of Tom Seaver. And I also lost heart after they traded him. But I came back to the fold, just like you.

  2. Patti Aliventi September 3, 2020 at 3:52 pm #

    Mets fan here started following them in 74 or 75 when I was 8 or 9. I remember a sign that said “Bury Grant, Bring Back Our Tom!” Those were pretty lean years after he left. Almost feels like now where they are so close but yet so far because of the owners milking the team for what they can get out of them.

  3. LeAnne September 3, 2020 at 8:26 pm #

    My dad, from Brooklyn, was a Mets fan. He loved rooting for the underdog and had a deep appreciation for Tom Seaver.

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