SHEA STADIUM, NY – She may be gone but I can still smell her familiar smell see her friendly facade. We shared many days and nights; some great, some not so great. She let me laugh and yell and smile and sulk and then one grand day, she helped me with a dream. That’s right, one Tuesday, a couple three years ago, the old girl granted a lifelong wish:
6:10 AM: Wake up before the alarm, look out the window and beg the gray skies to hold their bursting insides until noon, at least.
6:12 AM: Turn on NY1 (Local TV news) to get weather report â€“ morning showers likely.
6:15 AM: Bathroom stuff.
6:20 AM: Make sure uniforms (Met uniform included â€“ just in case) are in tact; socks, hats, belts, cup, spikes, catcherâ€™s mitt (only glove I have). Check this out for more on our team –The Harlem Shaskys.
6:30 AM: Ice the sore pitching shoulder; its yelling because of previous two nightsâ€™ games: caught 6 innings, and pitche the 7th on Sunday night. DHâ€™d and warmed up the pitcher each inning Monday night – that entails throwing.
6:45 AM: Put uniform on (They want us dressed and at Press Gate by 8:30 AM)
6:50 AM: Phone ‘Fish‘ (Joe Fravola, aka Joey The Fish Guy). He’s been at work (Fulton Fish Market) since 2 AM. Fish is ready.
7:00 AM: Phone â€˜Nailsâ€™ (Frank Dâ€™Angelo). Nails is ready.
7:10 AM: Leave apartment in uniform and go to McDonaldâ€™s on 1st Avenue between 53rd & 54th. Order Big Breakfast and Egg McMuffin for me, Egg McMuffin Meal for Fish. Sit and start eating… Breakfast of Champions.
7:25 AM: Fish double-parks convertible Jag (roof up) and bops into McDonaldâ€™s. We are both smiling broadly.
7:40 AM: We climb in the Jag and head to Shea Stadium.
8:00 AM: Exit off Grand Central and enter Shea parking area. Fish says, â€œWeâ€™re going to work. Imagine doing this for work everyday. Playing baseball everyday for a living.â€ I look out at the taunting heavy skies knowing it WILL NOT RAIN.
8:04 AM: Parking attendant looks us over and says, “Playersâ€¦ Just follow the sign.â€ We see an All-star sign posted on a parking cone.
8:07 AM: Park behind the Press Gate, between Gates B & C. Other players in various uniforms and some fans are gathered. Fish and I join them.
8:20 AM: Nails joins us. We are all smiling.
8:25 AM: Friend Michelle joins us. Sheâ€™s a huge Met fan.
8:30 AM: We enter Shea through players’ entrance, make a right turn, follow hallway to field entrance just off home plate toward the third base side. Enter 3rd base dugout. (We are the Visitors).
8:35 AM: Put cleats on, grab glove and join players warming up, lined up on left field line throwing to others in left field. Fish and I throw from outfield to Nails and Candy, (on left field line), respectively.
8:40 AM: While weâ€™re still throwing, Fish says to me, “Matt-sta, nothing hurts today.â€ He is referring to our myriad of collective aches and injuries. He is right. Nothing hurts.
8:50 AM: Manager/DH Brian Mejias (who put this all together and will get Tall Matt’s 4th born) calls us in to dugout to give us basics and starting lineup. Nails is picked to start in Right Field (heâ€™s a 2nd baseman) and bat 2nd. He is a tad apprehensive about the position choice but stoked, nonetheless. Fish, Candy and Mugsy will go in later. Mejias tells everyone that “All pitchers willl throw one inning. Matt will be our starting pitcher.â€
9:05 AM: The teams lineup along our respective foul lines for the National Anthem. The Shaskys stand together. Iâ€™m between Fish and Nails.
9:15 AM: The Long Island All-stars take the field. Nails waits in the On Deck Circle. We are all on the dugout steps. Joe from the Seminoles just misses one and pops to short. Nails then hits a hard grounder on a 2-2 pitch that the shortstop makes a good play on for the 2nd out. Our 3rd hitter hits a foul homerun to deep right (heâ€™s lefty), and then flies out to right to end the inning.
9:23 AM: We take the field. I trot to the mound. The Pitching Rubber is freshly painted white. It does not protrude from the mound. Behind the mound, at its base, is a fixed-in-place cleat cleaner (it looks like stiff broom bristles).
9:24 AM: I throw warm-up pitches to Fish because the starting catcher is not yet ready (not a good sign). The catcher replaces Fish and we deem what the calls for a curve and fastball will be. He is nervous.
9:26 AM: After good luck glove-smacks from infielders, I turn toward the outfield, look at the retired numbers on the left field wall (Stengel, Hodges, Seaver and Robinson), exhale and turn to face the batter. The catcher calls for a fastball. The shoulder is not barking loud enough to drown the adrenaline.
9:27 AM: All that’s missing is Bob Murphy calling the play:
“Marvelous day for baseball, everybody. We’re ready to go. The crafty right-hander rocks, he deals…”
I sneak a fastball for a strike. The dream is realized; I am pitching at Shea Stadium.
And yes, he’d use crafty just this once.
P.s…. This is a cool one.