- Playing for The Mets
- I grew up in a Yankee town. A small town, but a Yankee town. Long before baseball
players lived in mansions, they lived in smaller things called homes. Not far from my familys home, down Blanche
Avenue, across the railroad tracks past Johns Pizzeria not far from where I first
kissed the tough, but cute red-headed Roxanne Stoeckler, lived Catfish Hunter. Across from
Hunter lived Gene Michael. A Yankee. In fact, Norwood was the home to several Yankee
players; Thurmon Munson, Ron Guidry, Don Gullet to name a few. Every shop in town had
pictures of the Yankees. You couldnt get away from it. In short, it was Mets fan
- However, this was August, 1978, and if I remember correctly, it was a hot, humid sticky
summer day. Andy Widholm and I were bored as two sugar-induced ten year-old demons could
be. Andy was a schoolteachers worst nightmare, and when we got together, we were a
regular Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,
high on sucrose, glucose, concentrated corn syrup and red food dye #3. Of course, this was
long before parents succumbed to medicating their kids with mind-altering drugs when in
fact they could have just as easily refrained from pouring that gallon of RC Cola down our
- As Andy and I sat on the curb munching our Pop Rocks and counting how many spider eggs
we found in our Bubble Yum, a blue Chevy Nova rumbled down Carter Street; Catfish Hunter.
The car pulled up the driveway next door to Andys home. Catfish got out with another
buddy of his, Graig Nettles. Yankees. They were just coming back from a day game against
the Kansas City Royals.
- Seeing them was nothing special, since Catfish lived next door to Andy. But, somehow I
knew this day would be different. And different it was. Catfish picked up a Wiffle-ball
from his front porch and threw it over to Andy. Heres your ball, kid, he
said. Andy looked over at me, through his devilish, dirty-blond hair and menacing grin and
said, Lets go! I grabbed the bat leaning against his moms Delta 88
and we darted for the street.
- As Andy and I played ball in the street, Nettles and Hunter cracked beers in the
driveway. After a couple of tosses, Andy yelled over, Hey Catfish, what are you
looking at? Youre pitching. Nettles, youre playing outfield. This is the World
Series. Game seven, bottom of the ninth, tie game 3-3 at Shea. Me and Frankie are the Mets
and were gonna kick your Yankee butts in!
- Catfish and Nettles took to the street. Andy was up first. He was a feisty kid. One who
didnt like being placated either. Pitch me something real, Catfish, he
yelled. Nettles, beer in one hand, shouted from his spot as the designated outfielder for
our impromptu World Series game on Carter Street, Up and in, Fish. Dont let
the kid make me run.
- After settling in, Andy cracked a 2-1 change-up over Nettles head, past Mr.
Rainies Pinto and deep into Mrs. Lutzos tomato plants. By the time Nettles dug
through the vines and relayed the throw back to Catfish Hunter, Andy had made it safely to
third base. Andy was beaming, Mrs. Lutzo was screaming and I was up next.
- Cmon Frankie, you could do it, hollered Andy. My hands began to sweat.
Catfish pitched a fastball just outside the home plate manhole cover. I could tell it
wasnt going to be a dead give-away. Andy and I were going to have to earn this win
or lose everything. In short, this was the real
thing. The count was one ball, one squished tomato under Nettles foot and one
cute redhead peering from the outfield bleacher-box windows of our Carter Street
- This is it, I thought. Im gonna do it. As I pushed the
strands of hair from my face, Nettles moved closer to the third base bag, hoping to get a
tag on Andy should I pop the ball up. Full count, bottom of the ninth inning, game seven
of the World Series, the go-ahead run at third base and its all up to me and my
filthy, pop-rock, sugar-glazed hands and Grand Way special sneakered feet.
- I took a deep breath and settled in, focusing only on hitting the ball. Andys
hollering faded into the background. For a moment, it was just me and Catfish. And I was
going to do it for my team, the Mets.
- Hunter served a belt-high fast ball over the plate and I swung. All I remember is Andy
jumping for joy as the ball lined past a diving Graig Nettles allowing Andy to score the
winning run. We had won the World Series! Andy and I hugged each other, jumping up and
down, hollering so loud the neighbors came out to see what in hell was going on. Andy
pumped his fists high in the air as we did imitation mock laughs of Vinnie Barbarino and
- Nettles and Catfish picked up their beers, smiled, then one of them said, Kids, go
home and eat now. Good game. You deserve it.
- Later that evening, walking home, heading down Carter Street, around Broadway, cutting
through the railroad tracks, I heard a familiar voice coming from the friendly, yellow-lit
porch door of Roxannes house. Hey Frankie, she said, running over to me.
Congratulations. You won! Then, she planted a kiss on my cheek. Before I could
even blush, she ran back inside. The door closed and I continued on my way; the hero, the
slugger, the dreamer, the newly indoctrinated, die-hard baseball fanatic. Just a kid, but
one who just tasted the quiet glory of being a Mets fan.
copyright 2006, Frank Messina
from Full Count: The Book of Mets Poetry