"Summer of '69" (1985), All-Nighter, Atlanta Braves, Back To The Future (1985), Bryan Adams, Darryl Strawberry, Davey Johnson, Dwight Gooden, Eleanor Bumpurs, Escapism, Fireworks, Gary Carter, Howard Johnson, Independence Day, It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988), Jesse Orosco. Cy Young Award, Keith Hernandez, Lenny Dystra, Michael Stewart, Mookie Wilson, New York Mets, Public Enemy, Rafael Santana, Ron Darling, Tom Gorman, Wally Backman
Since this is Independence Day Weekend, it makes thirty years since the official release of Back To The Future. And with me beyond the forty-five-and-a-half year mark, I am officially middle-aged. Funny, though. I don’t feel that different. My knees ached when I was fifteen sometimes, and so also did my feet. We had gas-guzzling cars in ’85, and we still have plenty of them on the road in ’15. White Americans treated Black lives cheaper than manure in ’85 (e.g., Michael Stewart in ’83 and Eleanor Bumpurs in ’84), and evidence from the police shootings and acts of White terrorism — especially in South Carolina — in recent years/days show that it still “takes a nation of millions to hold” Blacks back because of their indifference in ’15.
One thing that has changed in the past three decades has been me as a fan. I loved — I mean, LOVED — the New York Metropolitans in ’85. I was a baseball fan through and through, and had become a diehard Mets fans by the time I finished my first stage of pubescent growth in the spring of ’84. I read the Daily News for box scores. I would get peeved hearing bad commentary on WABC-AM 770 — from listening to the late Art Rust, Jr.’s show — about the terrible hitting of shortstop Rafael Santana or the constant criticism of Darryl Strawberry (they were the Yankees radio station). I’d schedule my spring and summer afternoons and evenings around whomever the Mets played that day.
The summer of ’85 didn’t truly start for me until June 11, when the Mets proceeded to lose a game to the Phillies by the score of 26-7. I’d been working with my older brother Darren for my father down in the city, and was on the 2 Subway and on my way home before I learned of the news. They were down 16-0 after two innings, with Mike Schmidt, Juan Samuel, Von Hayes and company having had as many as three or four at-bats in those couple of innings. The Mets managed seven runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings but with our then weak bullpen, had no chance to hold the Phillies the rest of the way. “If only I’d been home to listen to the game from the beginning,” I thought. “Then maybe they wouldn’t have been down so many runs.” Those are the thoughts of a fan whom lived and died with his team. I’m sure my blood pressure went up to 135/80 (mind you, I was fifteen, still a teenager) on days like that day.
But as I wrote in Boy @ The Window, that was hardly the end of my second full summer of Mets, Mets, and more Mets.
After the hungry end to tenth grade and three weeks of torture with my father, I had more important things to do. Watching Dwight Gooden pitch the Mets into a pennant race they’d almost fallen out of, for starters. I either listened to or watched Gooden win sixteen straight decisions between May and the end of August. And the Mets…made the ’85 season one to remember. Despite working nights, I managed to watch a rain-delayed Independence Day game with the Mets playing the Braves in Atlanta at the old Fulton County Stadium. The Mets won in nineteen innings, 19-16. The game ended at 4:05 am on the fifth of July, and the Braves still set off their fireworks at the end of the game.
Actually, the final score was 16-13 in nineteen innings (will correct in an eventual new edition). Originally scheduled for a 7:35 pm start, the game had been delayed by thunderstorms in Atlanta for nearly an hour and a half. There were at least two other rain delays during the game. Gooden was the Mets original starter that Thursday, but after two and a third innings, had stiffness in his throwing arm, had left some runners on, and left the game. The rest of the game was a roller coaster ride, as the Mets jumped out to a 7-4 lead thanks to Keith Hernandez’s cycle, then Jesse Orosco, our shutdown closer, gave up four runs in the bottom of the eighth to yield the lead to the Braves. Then the Mets scored a run in the top of the ninth to send the game to extra innings.
Scoring runs in the 13th and 18th innings didn’t help, as the Braves matched the Mets run for run, thanks in part to a pitcher with a .060 career batting average who hit a home run. When I saw Ron Darling (whom had started two nights earlier) warming up in the bullpen around 3:30 am, I knew this game had been on too long. I stayed up just long enough to watch the Mets score five more runs in the 19th inning, then dozed up until the fireworks went off at the end of the game.
(Note: just watch the first four minutes, including Marv Albert’s ’80s hair while still doing sports anchor work for WNBC-4 in New York)
I’d never been up that late into the next day before. Since no one at 616 was up with me, I’d been able to do for once what I’ve done most nights as an adult in the nearly three decades since. I thought about the future, and laid down some plans to ensure it. In this case, I planned to keep working for my father so that I could escape more into the world of the diehard Mets fan. I hoped that Bryan Adams was wrong, that the days of my Mom’s second trimester with me, the “Summer of ’69,” (a bit hit in the summer of ’85) weren’t “the best days of my life.”
But, as I correctly wrote in the memoir
Yeah, you could say that my summer was going better than expected, having worked and watched my Mets play quality baseball in July and into August. I had my usual set of chores to be sure, runs to the store, weekly washings of clothes and watching after the kids. I took Maurice and Yiscoc out for walks, would sometimes respond to the occasional bill collector on Mom’s behalf, would check the mail and give Sarai and Eri baths. I’d cook weekend brunches of fried beef bologna, scrambled eggs and grits and occasional spaghetti and broccoli dinners for my siblings. I’d long since known that I’d become the first-born of the family, in that I was filling Darren’s role on so many levels.
Hence, the welcome relief of Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Howard Johnson, Gooden, Strawberry, Fernandez, and the rest of the ’85 Mets crew. While I may not like everything going on in my life and world now, I don’t need to escape it through baseball — or any other form of entertainment, really — to deal these days. At least there’s that.