“This seemed like a good idea six weeks ago,” Lynn Cohen observed as she snapped a picture of me and my mother and my wife at a picnic table in the picnic area. Lynn wasn’t seriously complaining. Her fundraiser for her garykeithandron.com charity was an enormous success. The whole picnic tent, and soon the whole warning track, and the whole picnic area were filling up with people wearing Gary, Keith, and Ron t-shirts. I was in the tent, with my mom, my wife, my daughter, and my sister. We also had my father’s old Mets cap. So he was with us at our last game together as a family at Shea. At his actual last game, Melvin Mora came home from third on a wild pitch and the Mets tied for the 1999 Wild Card.
It was thanks to Lynn that we were all there. Lynn had read my Mother’s Day blog piece about how much of a Mets fan my mother was. She knew that my mother had gone to National League games in New York since the thirties but that she wasn’t planning to go to any more games because she couldn’t walk well enough. Lynn convinced me to try and bring her to her fundraiser. I did and I will never regret it.
I had a meltdown as we were waiting with all the other GKR t-shirt wearers to go onto the warning track for the Star Spangled Banner. There I was under a grey sky at Shea, right by the home run apple, standing behind my 80-year old mother in her wheelchair. Here I was, for one of the last times, at a place I had been coming to since I was 9 and she was 35 and my dad was 39 and what the hell was all this and what the hell had happened? And where was big Shea going to go now and what were they going to do with it and how many things that were once real can become memories before you just want to jump off a bridge? I asked my mother how she was doing and she said she was so happy.
They opened the outfield fence and I wheeled her onto the warning track and we looked and there was the wet and noisy stadium and there was the smooth, soft, bright green wonder of the field. We just looked, seeing it all from this side for the first time. Here is where it all had happened. Over there is where we watched it from. Here is the spot where Cleon caught the last ball of the series. There’s the wall that Endy climbed. There’s the right field line, made so famous by a single unforgettable moment. Here it all is and now we turn around and go back through the wall. Shea will live a little longer if we win today. But soon it is finished. And none of what is right here right now will ever be here again.
We rode up to our seats in a strange little elevator. We got settled and there it was again, all before us. My mother asked, looking to the left, “That’s the bullpen?” “Yeah.” “They should put a lock on it,” she muttered with disgust.
First we cheered for Jerry Koosman, as he took down the second-to-last number. Then we cheered for Cleon Jones who threw out the first pitch. My mother puts her hand on my arm and says, “I’m so glad to be here. I love it here.” Then after the first inning, when that voice tells you that the New York Mets appreciate your support, my mother said “If they appreciate our support, they shouldn’t aggravate us so much.”
This is true. But this is the way it is. The Mets got two runs up onto the board really quick, but how could I avoid the sense that aggravation was on its way? Johan Santana, as good as he was, had thrown 125 pitches only 3 days ago. There was no way to avoid aggravation. What if we could only score two runs?
As the game went on, and as the lights came on, there was a general brightening of our souls. Blessed with a particularly magical change-up, Santana held the Marlins speechless. They were lost. For all that they hated us, they could do us no harm. I began to feel, and the crowd began to feel, that we were watching the gutsiest most brilliant and most important Mets pitching performance since Leiter’s two-hit shut-out in Cincinnati that won us the Wild Card in 1999. We were cheering every strike and booing every umpire mistake. We were swiveling our many hips to the Carlos Santana song that is Johan’s trademark. We were chanting “Johan, Johan, Johan, Johan.” The rest of the Mets were out there, but we were riveted by this one single superhuman effort. I watched him through the dim soda fuzz of the rain on my glasses. I couldn’t believe what was happening but I heard it and felt it in the stamping of the picnic bleachers. “We’re gonna have to clone him,” my mother pointed out.
We roared with approval when he came to bat in the seventh. In the eighth, we sang “I’m a Believer,” with proud, loud belief. “Are they singing about Tom Seaver?” my mother wondered. They might as well have been. That’s who it looked like on the mound. It’s true that we never scored a run beyond the two we got early. But as the ninth began, we really believed that it didn’t matter. Endy came out to stand in front of us and we welcomed him. You could tell from the way Johan stood on the mound that he would not be denied. He was stepping up, and in our great communal gratitude, we pounded and cheered and chanted. There was an uninterrupted wall of sound in the ninth. Everyone was standing, except my mother, who couldn’t. I stayed sitting down with her and it was as if we were hiding in a meadow during a storm of locusts. All around us, people were so happy they were screaming. And then there was a double. And at the last minute, a ball was hit terrifyingly deep into left field. But Endy caught it against the wall. Once again he saved us. We slapped each others’ hands. We slapped strangers hands. But it seemed, in the picnic area, as if there were no strangers. Every one in those t-shirts were as much my family as the four women around me. I was so happy, so grateful, and so surprised. The Mets had lived. The Mets would continue. Shea wasn’t over.
My mother and I went down in that sound-proof, slow-moving elevator. She nodded happily to me. “That was a wonderful game,” she said. “Thank you so much for taking me. But I didn’t see the end. They were all standing up. But I don’t blame them. I would too if I was them. They should have stood up. It was wonderful. At least they weren’t doing that stupid wave.”
I’ll be there tomorrow. And if there has to be a Monday, I will do what I can to be there as well. I will stand. I will go to the window. I will do what I can to help Shea live as long as it can.