Like most people who love baseball, I discovered the game primarily through my father. I had brothers and uncles who chipped in and indeed a mom, an aunt, a sister, and a sister-in-law who helped out as well. It takes a village to raise a child who can explain the infield fly rule. But as is the case with just about everyone who loves the game, it was my dad who really wired me up for it. Naturally, I have a collection of memories that would rate as Hallmark-level saccharine if they hadn’t actually happened: playing catch in the backyard, going to Clifton Park, the ballfield a block from my house in Sea Cliff, New York, to work on my hitting, going to a ton of games together including my first one (a rain-soaked Fireworks Night back in 1980; Mets 7, Expos 5 at Shea; half the teams and the ballpark involved no longer exist). It’s a classic everyday American myth and it really was a huge part of my upbringing: my dad and baseball.
Now while for sure my father taught me to love the game itself, I never really credited (many, including my wife would substitute the word “charged”) him with my passion for the team I love, the New York Mets. For one thing, the Mets are not my dad’s first team. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he was a diehard Dodgers’ fan who came of age when the Boys of Summer were at the apex of their glory in the late 40s and early 50s. After Walter O’Malley cheerfully yanked my father’s still-beating heart from his chest when the soulless little skinflint did his Horace Greeley routine and took the Dodgers west, my dad like a great many traumatized Dodgers’ fans threw his lot in with the Mets when they were born in 1962. I always knew my dad liked the Mets just fine. He was happy when they won, attended games at Shea Stadium regularly, and the Mets had a place of honor on his television and his car radio. He still follows them as closely as I do, always has. But even as a kid, I always had the sense that the Mets weren’t quite his team in the same way that they were my team. The Mets would do– National League, not the Yankees, and Queens was nice enough– but there could only be one Brooklyn Dodgers to anyone who remembered them, at least the way I figured it based on the stories he and my mom and my aunts and uncles told.
For another thing, while from a very early age there were things my dad was devoted to– my mom, us kids, the Church, his country, organized labor, Irish republicanism, the Democratic Party, more or less in that order– I never really thought he was passionate about anything. That’s because to my razor-narrow little kid and teenager brain, you were only passionate about something if you screamed and yelled and carried on like a lunatic about it, the way I did, and still do, scream and yell and carry on like a lunatic about the Mets. My dad never screamed, yelled, or carried on like a lunatic about anything. It’s only as an adult that I was able to look back and realize that what I mistook for a lack of zeal was in fact only his preternatural calm about absolutely everything that ever happened anywhere near him. I can remember us visiting family in Ireland, having to drive over the border to the north, and my dad making pleasant small talk with a British soldier who was holding an awfully realistic-looking automatic rifle about two inches from my father’s nose. There is a family legend involving one of my siblings as a toddler practicing letters on the living room wall. My mom was understandably livid. My dad just wanted to know how the kid’s handwriting looked.
This is my father. He is simply one very reserved cool customer. Not to impugn the Dohertys, but I have to figure the run-your-mouth-like-a-total-nutbar gene that had has such a field day in my cells all these years must come from my mother’s side of the family because I sure didn’t get such blabbermouth tendencies from my dad. He doesn’t say much and is generally very relaxed, not one to run too or too cold.
All of which finally brings me to my favorite baseball-related memory involving Dad. He lost his mind during Game 7 of the 1986 World Series.
Now as anyone who has known me inside of five minutes can tell you, every Mets’ game is like Game 7 of the World Series to me. I’ve broken major pieces of furniture over games in May. Once while watching a mid-season game in a bar with some non-Mets’ fan friends, one person who didn’t know me well looked at me flipping out and asked “what, does he have money on this game?” A friend replied, “no money, just his soul!” I was screaming and yelling and carrying on like a lunatic, the way I do every day from April to October. As a kid when I would launch into an episode after a loss, my dad would pretty much ignore it. When I would launch into an episode after a win, my dad would high-five with me, but even then I could sort of sense that he was just humoring me as I all but behanded him while “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang blared over the PA system at Shea. He reacted to wins and losses the same way he reacted to everything else: barely. I would never say so, but I would often think to myself something on the order of: “dude, did you see that or didn’t you? Fourteen innings, a brawl, like 207 ejections, and they pulled it out! Why aren’t you helping me wake up the whole neighborhood right now?” It never occurred to me that no matter who was making the noise, he would be the one to talk to the cops so he had a vested interest in quashing the celebrating and the agonizing.
So I never saw my dad as a passionate Mets’ fan, at least not by my standards. And then Game 7 happened.
Dad and I were lucky enough to be on hand at Shea for Game 7 in 1986 between the Mets and the Red Sox. Considering how every game was like Game 7 to me, you can imagine how I acting during an actual Game 7. I yelled with every pitch Ron Darling threw in the first inning. I cheerfully participated in the sardonic standing ovation afforded Bill Buckner (still kind of regret that one). I despaired to the point of tears when the Red Sox built an early 3-0 lead. I revived– loudly– when Sid Fernandez authored arguably the most clutch middle relief performance in baseball history. I went bonkers when a Keith Hernandez single made it 3-2 in the 6th, utterly bats when Ray Knight gave the Mets their first lead with a home run in the 7th, stark raving mad when Daryl Strawberry added an insurance run in the 8th with a homer of his own. Through most of it, my dad was his usual laid-back taciturn self.
And then at one moment, he wasn’t.
I’m still not sure, but it was either Rafael Santana’s single to make it 5-3 Mets in the 7th or Jesse Orosco’s butcher-boy act that resulted in an RBI single to make it 8-5 Mets in the 8th. I know it had to have been a play in which a runner raced home from second on a base hit because at one point I looked over to the seat next to me– and saw my dad standing on it.
Maybe you still don’t quite understand what I’m saying here. My father was standing on his seat at a baseball game. Yelling. Screaming. Carrying on like a lunatic. I swear he was waving the runner around third every bit as manically as Bud Harrelson was in third base coach’s box. I and about 50,000 other people present were flipping out each in his or her own way, but none of those people were my man-of-few-words cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow dad. For a few seconds, he looked like I did all the time. And what is still to this day best of all, he looked like he was having a great time doing it. When I high-fived him some minutes later after Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett for the final out, I knew he wasn’t humoring me this time. He was as over the moon as I was. He had watched his team, his team, our team, win the whole thing. Strangely, to this day I don’t know if he was there in ’55 when the first team that was his team won the World Series, so I don’t know if he had ever experienced anything like this before. Sadly, I know neither of us has experienced it since.
The night of October 27, 1986 I was a newly-minted thirteen-year old. I would go on in my teen years and even my young adult years to have plenty of moments when I would be convinced that my dad didn’t get it, whatever “it” happened to be at the time. In those instances, I would’ve done well to remember that night at Game 7. My dad clearly got it. He absolutely understood how I felt, felt the same himself. He just chose to save his emotional bullets for the really important moments, like Game 7 of the World Series, whereas I was a weirdo 24/7. I’m sure he did and still does understand how I feel in lots of other ways. We’ve always had baseball and the Mets in common. We have even more in common today, with both us fathers now, both of four children as it turns out. I think I understand his way of doing business better now too. Consider this: a couple of weeks ago my son Eamon drew on a closet door in pencil and I didn’t bat an eye.
Consider this also: there was that night at Shea Stadium, during the World Series, when my dad jumped on his seat.