When I was in seventh grade, I was sent to a boarding school in Tampa, FL. It was 1986 (consequently, my second try at seventh grade for any body that wants to ask the obvious boarding school question).
It was 1986 and I a transplanted New Yorker found myself in a school full of and ran by Boston Red Sox fans. Keep in mind that the school year starts in late August down there so "The Ball Gets Through Buckner" had yet to happen.
Being away at school was one thing. A New Yorker surrounded by a bunch of God Bless-ed Sox fans was a little more than I could take.
A funny thing about that time period. To the Boston fans, the Yankees were the true enemy. It seemed to me that as a Met guy I was treated as the illegitimate step brother of their birth nemesis' the Yankees. I would plead my case saying that I did not like the Yankees anymore than they did.
By comparison that did me about as much good as saying that I didn't even like clam chowder so sure theirs is better (a lie). Or suggesting that I was half Irish and that is pretty much the same thing as being from Boston.
I refused however to abandon my team. This took me to and through many arguments that become shouting matches that ultimately became fist fights. And man could those Boston kids fight.
The school year proceeded. We had limited availability to baseball games as the rules were strict about television. Not that that mattered because any time I stayed in line long enough to gain a pass to the T.V. room on a Saturday there would always be a Red Sox game on.
At the time WWOR would televise many Mets games in South Florida so when I would visit my father in Ft. Lauder dale I could watch my boys then. To this day I have no idea if WWOR was available in Tampa because it was either Red Sox or a VHS copy of Rocky IV...again.
As you might have put together by now, the stage was set for my all time Met moment. And what could be a better circumstance for this story to play out. Surrounded by Sox fans and what was about to happen.
I would have had them all silenced. (Because I would get up early on occasion and say I had to get something from the nurse, I would sometimes manage to find the newspaper in father Pat's garbage, this was enough to keep me informed that the Mets were taking the division by a convincing margin.)
As it has been known to do, fate dealt me a hand but did not tell me the game. I got to go home to my father's house for the weekend of Game Six. Looking back, the powers that were may have manipulated that for my own safety.
This was fine with me because if I was going to see the Mets win the world series against the Bo-Sox there was no other company I wanted to be in than that of my Dad. A former New York Baseball Giants fan, he had slowly migrated to the Mets. Partially on my insistence and partially because of good old channel nine in Florida.
Sitting on the couch watching Game Six go into the eighth inning, I was in a full-on panic. How could I go back to school and answer for this? Is second place going to win me any arguments?
Well, let's just say that from Gary Carter's single on, I probably took about 100 trips around the rosary. This was much more than a baseball game. The rest of my school year was to be decided with the outcome of this game and the next one if I were to somehow draw an empty chamber and see a Game Seven. We all know what happened at the end of Game Six.
As kind of a foot-note I should mention that when Mookie hit the ball and five holed Bill Buckner I jumped up and screamed a sigh of relief and began my scream for celeb rational purposes.
So did my dad. But he was wearing his old pajama bottoms. For some reason yet unknown to man, they did not start to make "accidental exposure proof" pajamas until around 1999.
So let's just say that as I began to celebrate the postponement of the end of my life, I got a better look than I ever cared to have of where my life began as a swimmer.
That memory repressed and (I cant stop myself) tucked away for therapy in later life I waited out my last fingernail to see Game Seven. Then fate decided that the game was Rain Storms in NY or better.
The game got postponed due to rain and I would have to go back to school with the world series yet undecided.
At around 8:40 PM the night I got back, I overheard one of the priests say that the Sox were winning. That was it. My life was over. There was no way for a come back to repeat itself in consecutive games. I was 12 and I figured I had a good run. I had my place in the field all picked out.
I would simply lay there and wait for my medicine/treatment and ultimately poison in the form of fists word or a more likely combination of both. Always preferred the fists myself.
I know that the game was over by the time lights went out that night. I also know that the priests (from Boston) who ran the school were aware of its outcome. All any of the kids knew was that the Sox were winning.
When the dorm got dark and quiet I started to hear the whispers. I did not respond. It was only October. I had several months to endure. I figured it wise to pace my punishment intake. I slept about 20 minutes. How could this have happened? W
e had Doc, Mex, the Kid, BackmanDykstra (one word), Daryl...DARYL WE HAD DARYL They had...Clemens? (I admit this thought process is quite bias and dated but still. These were my guys. Ooh Marty Barret, wowie.)
Funny thing; I never found out if the priests kept the outcome of the game to themselves to let the majority sleep well or to make sure I did not. They were by no means bad people, but Red Sox loyalty shined through the cloth. They were probably all in the chapel praying to undue Game Seven and change the outcome.
I woke up fully aware of what the day was likely to bring. Soon my executioners would arrive. No degree of humility or sportsmanship, or gracious in loss could save me. But they never came.
Did these kids get visited by three ghosts last night and decide to show compassion for the fallen New Yorker? Everybody was quiet. Nobody looked at me. I felt like they were slowly preparing.
Cautiously and deliberately letting me sit in the fear of what was sure to be a good old fashioned New England witch burning right there in Central Florida. The hour between wake-up and breakfast seemed like a lifetime.
And it was looking more and more like the end of mine.
After morning prayer that Father John lead he made an announcement with the same tone of voice a doctor would use when he was telling you that he was going to have to cut off your leg.
The Mets had somehow did it again. It took about 40 seconds to set in. THE NEW YORK METS WERE THE 1986 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS. Not only did I get to live, but I was now the executioner and mercy when it came to pre-teen expletives was all out of stock. I won.
I was on the horse that only I and George Washington shared for the better part of 3 weeks. Then fate shuffled up and dealt. This was a new hand and new game. The name of the game "Your heroes are no more than common criminals. Topps NY Met Baseball Cards are Wild."
My school was within five miles of the University of South Florida. Periodically we were invited to attend the USF Bulls games at the Sun Dome. At the time I did not care about any kind of basketball that did not involve Patrick Ewing.
It was nice to go to the dome and look at the girls who I had recently taken a peculiar interest in. On this particular night, with these motives, I vaguely remember not being too disappointed with the lovely USF ladies.
One of them even smiled at me when she walked passed me on the runaway. My night was made.
My Mets hat still glued to my head as a reminder to any of the kids that I was there with that any hostility or even disagreement would end in futility when I would merely point my king of the school Mets Crown.
Growing bored of the game, and having my self-esteem ignited by the smile I was ready to make my way back to the bus. Suddenly, the crowd in the section I was in all started pointing at the section next to me as if they were pointing out somebody in attendance who had just been identified by the crowd.
Personally I could have cared less if it was Don Johnson. (1986 that is about as famous as you get.) I had my beloved crown on my self esteem trying to take in as much as possible. I might have upstaged Mr. Crockett. But it was not Don Johnson.
I heard somebody say pitcher. Another, they won the World Series and finally a third voice that said the word that shot through me like a flare gun. "Doc."
In less than a second I changed out of my laid back "too cool for school." attitude and into my neck slowly, nervously, moving over the section drawn to my attention. I spotted him in about eight seconds.
There was no mistaking the great Dwight Gooden. Within a few minutes the buzzer had sounded to end the game.
I already had my map drawn. I was going to have to jump over a few seats and perhaps people but I saw my angle. I vaguely remember a chaperone's warning us not to get separated.
For all I cared they could have left me there. The Doctor was in the building and I was getting an appointment.
I got a slight laugh at the other kids I was with. Sox fans, every last one of them suddenly star struck and wanting to encounter celebrity. But I got the drop and after a few wiggly slick moves i found myself in the section I expected him to be walking in.
I could not find him. What if he left? I thought considering a swan dive down the escalator to make up for time in hopes of catching him in the parking lot.
"Nice hat kid." I heard in a very well spoken low voice as I noticed a tap on the brim of my cap. "You are..." He cut me off to prevent me from saying his name too loud "Yes I am. How are you doing?" (Uh....?)
One of his friends tried to usher me away from him. Mr. Gooden put his hand up and said "No this one is alright." It was then I realized that I had maneuvered my way into his entourage circle.
I looked behind us (me and my new friend) and I saw a bunch of other kids from school being slowed down by security. Some even jumping to get a better look (Sox fans).
All I can tell you about the ensuing 15 minutes is that me and the Doc walked down the ramp and talked about baseball. He was actually asking me questions like do I play any other sports, what position did I play.
I even got bold enough to tell him that he was my second favorite player behind Keith Hernandez. He did not seem to heartbroken. Actually he seemed impressed when I referred to Hernandez as "Mex," his clubhouse nickname.
Looking back I am glad that my favorite player was not Tim Teufel as his clubhouse nickname would not have been appropriate language for a 12 year old.
When we got to the parking lot I told him that it was very nice to meet him and that I looked forward to seeing him pitch that summer when I got back to New York. We shook hands like two adults. (I was riding this wave all the way in.)
It did not even occur to me until later that I forgot to ask for an autograph. He patted my hat again and said good luck.
When I got back to the bus I did not even talk. Not at first. I didn't have to. The envy was so present that I swear you could see it in the air. At my own pace I started to answer questions. It was like my own World Series press conference.
None of the kids could do anything but idolize me. The Mets won. I just hung out with Doc Gooden and Roger Clemens was not even in the state. It was the perfect end to the perfect childhood baseball story.
Only it wasn't the end. As well as I slept that night, I wished I had known that it was going to be the last good night sleep I was going to have for the duration of the school year.
The very next morning well...Let's just say that the newspaper was no longer a prohibited possession. I counted at least eight students with there very own copies. During assembly Father Mike while addressing the student body showed the cover of the Tampa paper.
On the cover was a beat up Dwight Gooden holding up the numbers for his mug shot. He and his friends apparently got pulled over by Tampa Police after the game. I heard something about them finding drugs in the car.
On top of that Doc was apparently not in the mood to be arrested. Picture made it look like the police did a pretty good job of convincing him. I forget the exact charges. I believe it was two felonies. One on drug possession and the other felony resisting arrest with intent to harm an officer of the law.
I was not there so I do not know what exactly happened. But that was it for my reputation. All the Sox guys grew their guts back. I never heard the end of it. By the end of the day I did not look much better than Gooden did in the papers.
Worst of all was the fact that kids of that age all seem to have innate law degrees. This meant that in a schoolyard setting the fact that one of the Mets got into some trouble meant that the World Series was won by a guy that got into some trouble.
This hereby disqualified the Mets and made the Red Sox the champions by default. Because in the court of the playground, a point does not have to make sense, it only requires a majority agreement.
I was king of the hill for a few weeks and I guess I misused my power. Funny thing was that this was the first time we ever heard of Gooden getting into any kind of trouble a few years would pass and it was barely page 26 material.
A few years later still Dwight Gooden was charged with felony betrayal when he signed on with the Yankees as part of George Steinbrenner's "Let's stick it to the Mets fans any way we can campaign of the mid 1990s."
As a Yankee he threw a No-Hitter. A feat that no New York Met has ever achieved. Ironically the happy ending did not come until the last Sunday of the 2008 season when they closed down She Stadium permanently.
D-day part II as most fans remember it.
The Mets had just accomplished their second last game of the season collapse in as many years. In the post game ceremonies they brought back several Mets icons who have meant so much to us over the years.
And there I saw Doc. He was wearing his Mets jersey and waiving to the crowd who responded with thunder-like applause. He looked good. Wiser, more humanized, humble. I hear he is doing well.
I saw in his eyes the same gentleman who took the time to walk the runaway at the USF Sun-Dome with a 12 year old kid awestruck that he was an actual human being.
I only stayed in Tampa for one school year. I had some maturing of my own to do. Plenty of my own trouble to get into. None of mine was worth the newspaper's time. Looking back, that three weeks was worth everything that came with it.