Editor's Note: I'd like to welcome contributing writer MetsFanSZ back to the blog. Please direct any comments or feedback to him. - Mike S.
Going to baseball games at Shea Stadium growing up, I saw many foul balls fly into the stands. We all saw fans with baseball gloves, bare hands, hats, beer cups, and whatever else they had reach for that ball, whether a screaming liner, a spinning pop, or a sharp carom off the concrete. Their chance would come, and hit those gloves or hands or whatever, and spin out and land on the ground, and a dozen people would swarm in, grabbing, grasping, groping, and one lucky strong person would wrench it out. And you knew, you KNEW - that fan had their chance, and they blew it.
I always believed that one day I'd get my chance. I don't know if I ever dared to say it out loud, but inside, certainly, I always swore to myself: one day I'd get my chance, MY chance, and I wouldn't blow it.
I had a friend in high school, Larry. Larry was one of those guys who just did what he wanted to do. He had an uncanny knack of deciding to do something on the spot, and then going and doing it. I was always one of those kids that had to plan everything, schedule things. My dad was one of those guys that leaned on the horn when he was ready to leave and the rest of the family wasn't ready. So I became a planner and could never do anything impulsively.
I had tickets to a doubleheader early in the season at Shea, back when they still scheduled doubleheaders and they weren't only for rain make-ups. The irony was, despite being a live-and-die Met fan, these tickets were for the Yankees. Yankee Stadium - not the current one - was being gutted and rebuilt, and for two years the Yankees were going to be playing at Shea. I thought it might be a novelty to see what it was like to see the Yankees play at Shea.
I got the tickets and I didn't think Larry ever went to baseball games, so I invited him. It was the mid-70s, and the Mets had made it to the 7th game of the World Series the year before, so their tickets were hard to come by. The Yankees were terrible in those days, just after Steinbrenner had bought the team, so it was easy to get their tickets, especially early in the season, and the Baltimore Orioles were in town.
I don't remember where we sat for the first game, or even who won. Probably loge reserves, because those were generally my seats of choice. You could purchase upper deck seats, sit somewhere in the loge, and if someone came for the seats, you'd simply move. Ushers would be helping people to their seats, so you could usually find a few empty seats when they didn't notice.
The first game of the doubleheader ended, and there was something like a half an hour or 40 minutes between games while the players killed time in the locker room and the grounds crew cleaned up the field. Larry and I decided to get high - literally. For fun, we decided - impulsively - to head up to the upper deck and go to the very top row. I hadn't gone up there in years, and you really felt like you were halfway to outer space at the top of the stadium. There was a gorgeous view of the New York City skyline on the first base side.
We got to the top row and admired the view. There weren't too many people up there. We hung around for a little while and then - FATE struck. My good friend Larry, my impulsive buddy, declared: "I want to get a foul ball." I said, yeah, sure Larry, right. But Larry grew insistent, so I said, "Fine. Let's go sit in the best spot in the stadium to get foul balls. Okay?" What the heck. May as well take a shot, right?
So I told Larry we'd see if we could go behind home plate in the loge, just above the screen, as plenty of foul balls headed straight back over the screen into those seats. Larry was placated and we headed downstairs for the start of game two.
We reached the loge behind home plate just as game 2 started. In those days, ushers would be around to chase kids from seats, especially right behind home plate. But being a Yankee game, with so few people there, and game two of a doubleheader, most of the ushers had headed home.
With so many empty seats, I picked one directly behind the screen, right behind home plate, in the reserves, about the third row behind the main aisle, so that people walking in the aisle wouldn't be too much of a distraction. I took the second seat off the ramp railing and turned around - No Larry. Larry stayed behind, standing on the ramp. He wanted to be ready. Because we were right behind home, there were a few other people hanging around, standing on the ramp.
I said "Larry, come on." The row in front of us was mostly empty, the row behind us was mostly empty and several seats to my right were empty as well. I said we'll be able to move fast enough if a foul ball came our way. But Larry was obstinate, and insisted on staying on the ramp.
In the bottom of FIRST inning - THE FIRST INNING - Jim Mason, the Yankee shortstop, came up to bat. Bang - foul ball, straight back. Right down the ramp. I was in SHOCK!!! I couldn't believe it! I went over to the railing and looked - two small kids were running after it, one tripped over the other and they both went down. Some guy in a blue sweatshirt burst past them as the ball caromed out of sight. While there were people walking around under the stands, going to concessions or rest rooms, I surmised that none of them would have reacted fast enough and the guy in the blue sweatshirt probably got the ball.
About 20 second later, my friend Larry comes back - in his blue sweatshirt - and HANDS me the baseball. I hadn't even realized it was him, wearing the blue sweatshirt. It happened so fast. Larry, who always decided to do something and just did it, had decided to get a foul ball and HE DID IT! I was beyond ecstatic, elated for Larry, astounded at his success, inspired by his determination. They guy just always did what he wanted to do and succeeded.
A great story, right? For some reason, probably fate, I had brought my glove with me that day. I was too old to carry it by then, but I had brought it anyway. So now I had my glove on, and the ball Larry got was in my hand. My bare hand.
In the TOP of the SECOND inning, Elrod Hendricks, the Oriole catcher, came to bat. Guess what. Not hard to guess, right? Foul ball. STRAIGHT back. Everyone in the area stands up, including me. TIME FROZE. My brain is screaming, this is coming to me, THIS IS COMING TO ME!! It wasn't a screaming liner, it wasn't a spinning pop up! It was a lazy little floater.
I reached into the seat to my right with my glove on my left hand, backhanded. I felt the ball hit my glove. AND STICK IN MY GLOVE.
My mind raced. I froze. It seemed like ten seconds - it could have been two. I KNEW I got my chance. AND I KNEW I didn't blow it. I KNEW it. The people around me were poised to pounce, had I made even the slightest move to pick up the ball. I didn't. I turned to Larry, who had moved from the ramp when THIS foul came back and was now standing right next to me. I showed him the ball in my glove while I held his in my hand.
And I SCREAMED! MY chance had come and I didn't blow it. And Larry, who had gotten his foul ball barely a few minutes earlier, gave me my glorious moment at Shea. A lifetime dream come true. The crowd around gave me a pretty good hand for what really was a pretty easy catch.
Before that and since, I had many moments of glory at Shea - getting kicked out of the stadium and sneaking back in, extra-inning game-winning home runs, Darryl Strawberry's first game in the major leagues, Opening Day wins and losses, sneaking into the clubhouse twice and getting kicked out by Jerry Koosman both times. But the memory that stands out the most was getting MY chance at a foul ball, and NOT blowing it. THANK YOU, Larry, wherever you are.