Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Finding Ecstasy in the Strangest Places

Almost thirty years ago, which is somewhat alarming to entertain, I experienced one brief shining moment of pure, unadulterated bliss. You see, my team, the New York Mets, had been down and out for several years, a laughingstock in Major League Baseball, and, worst of all, playing second banana to George Steinbrenner’s Yankees—the quintessential Wall Street sports organization then as well as now. The parsimonious and increasingly incompetent Mets’ upper-management of the mid- and late-1970s had, in essence, killed the goose that laid the golden egg. So, when the old ownership at long last unloaded the team to individuals who intended on restoring the Mets to their former pluck, we fans heaved a sigh of relief and dreamed of better days ahead.

Show us, don’t tell us, was all that we asked of the new ownership. And in the winter of 1982, they did just that by trading for, and then signing to an incredibly lucrative long-term contract for its day, a slugger named George Foster—the last man in to have hit fifty or more home runs in either the American or National League.

When Foster accomplished this feat in 1977, it was a bona fide achievement. All one had to do was look at the guy. He was razor-thin but incredibly muscular with Popeye forearms. Foster’s Herculean deed was realized without performance-enhancing drugs and that ubiquitous, modern-day fat head so familiar on the mega-millionaire celebrities who play today’s game. It was a time when such grand successes weren’t even remotely suspect and records actually meant something.

For Met fans, the Foster trade and his subsequent signing to a long-term deal were big—really big. It was a moment of true ecstasy for me. But, alas, as is the case with moments of ecstasy in general, they are always just that—moments. In other words, they don’t last forever. Some, in fact, last for at least a measurable span of time, but most go up in smoke before you ever know what hit you—no pun intended. In the case of George Foster, the ecstasy moment was short-lived to say the least. It lasted until he took the field in a Mets’ uniform—or, to be fair, not very long after that. After a wretched 1982 season, and the sense that this fellow had not only seen better days as an athlete, but didn’t much care, the ecstasy moment seemed like a bad dream.

But what I wouldn’t give to feel the way I felt on that day some three decades ago—at the precise moment when I learned my beloved Mets had signed an All-Star slugger for a whopping sum of money. Sure, he would fast disappoint us all. Ecstasy, nevertheless, can be found in the strangest places. So, enjoy it wherever you find it...and while you can...because nothing lasts forever…nothing.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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