Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shea Hey

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, a local cable channel, SNY, supplied me with a mini-marathon of New York Mets’ highlight films from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. I initially recall seeing these—by today’s standards—rather amateurish productions on WOR-TV, Channel 9, during rain delays in the 1970s. They were puff pieces, for sure, narrated by venerable announcers Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner, and written by local sportswriters like Dick Young. They accentuated the positive when, quite often, it was a stretch, and they envisioned light at the end of countless dark tunnels that turned out to be, to put it mildly, mirages. But they were nonetheless highly entertaining, ever-optimistic, and a microcosm of what were, dare I say it, simpler times.

Yes, simpler times when fans came out to the ballpark to see baseball games—period and end of story—that were at once affordable and not part of some interactive and costly theme park experience with perpetual, ear-shattering racket and the wafting aromas of exotic fare far removed from the pedestrian frankfurter. You know: the hot dogs at the ballpark that Humphrey Bogart deemed more scrumptious than “roast beef at the Ritz.” As I sat through these flicks from yesteryear—one after another showcasing teams and players that I fondly remembered from my boyhood—I felt a palpable loss. I really and truly wished that I could switch on a game in the here and now and feel the way I did once upon a time. But I can’t. God knows, I’ve tried.

I didn’t plot in advance to turn in my fan card at some such time and never return to the game that I loved so much. It just happened—inexorably—as the contemporary times intruded on, and ultimately imploded, the American pastime with its generally serene ambiance and quietly unfolding strategy, sprinkled, of course, with unpredictable bursts of high drama.

Recently, I spied a headline in a local daily that read: “Jeter, Yankees $50 Million Apart.” Now, the emphasis here should be on the word apart. The humble St. Derek evidently wants to be recompensed on par with some egomaniacal, smarmy teammate of his who shall remain nameless. Ah...but I’d rather hark back to the radio my godmother bought for me—as a First Holy Communion gift—with a super-cool dial on it. I listened to many, many Mets’ games on that radio—WHN carried the games in the mid-1970s—including during the “Ya Gotta Believe” 1973 comeback season. With the Mets in last place on the last day in August, manager Yogi Berra opined, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” and he was right. That man was a philosopher! When all was said and done the Mets won the eastern division with only 82 wins (against 79 losses). On the final weekend of the season, five teams out of the divisional six had a mathematical chance of coming out on top.

To tie a not so neat bow around this unexpected stroll down memory lane, I remember for some reason the recurring radio spots on old Mets’ broadcasts from a company called Household Finance (HFC). Its jingle will be forever lodged on a YouTube loop in my brain: “Never borrow money needlessly, but when you need to borrow, you get more than money from HFC. More than just money…Household Finance.” Someday when I'm suffering from dementia, I won't remember my name, but I'm certain I'll be able to sing that commercial jingle word for word. Also, I seem to recall the same ad effortlessly segueing back into the broadcast booth where, for several seconds, all one could hear was the din of the crowd and—when home at Shea Stadium—a passing jet plane taking off or landing at nearby LaGuardia Airport. The back to Nelson, Murphy, or Kiner for more play-by-play. Those were the days all right.

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