Thursday, May 18, 2006

Grandma, scalpers and the first interleague series

I’ve never been good at scalping tickets.

But I learned quickly on June 17, 1997, the night of the second-ever interleague game between the Mets and Yankees.

Whenever the teams square off, as they will this weekend, I think about that night and my Grandmother.

I didn’t plan to go to the game, or even be back in New York. But Ella, my grandmother on my father’s side, had passed away earlier in the week and I returned to Massapequa Park for the funeral.

I had covered a number of funerals as a reporter, but this was the first time in close to a decade that we had lost someone close, certainly my first time attending one as an adult.

It wasn’t unexpected. Grandma was in her 80s and had been in poor health for some time. I reluctantly bought a suit earlier in the year, expecting this day was not far off.

Grandma had lived with us for a while when I was younger, and she was a big baseball fan, adopting the Mets after the Dodgers went west. She took me to Opening Day several years in a row to see Tom Seaver pitch, and we would often talk baseball. Actually, anyone around me for any period time is forced to talk baseball, but I digress.

Of course, the hype surrounding the first interleague series was incredible These were the biggest games the Mets were playing in a decade. The team was starting to rise from the disaster that was the early 1990s and the Yankees had won the World Series the year before.

The series was supposed to be pure carnage. These were the pre-Piazza Mets of Huskey and Hundley, Gilkey and Baerga. I remember listening to WFAN as I drove from LaGuardia, with Mike and the Mad Dog openly belittling the Mets during the pre-game show.

Francessa was saying that all the pressure was on the Yankees, because the Mets were so bad that the Yankees proved nothing by winning and would be shamed if they somehow got beat.

“You think the Yankees are afraid of the Mets?” I remember Chris Russo saying. “You think the Yankees are in the clubhouse right now worried that they have to face Dave Mlicki? No way.”

I went from the airport right to the visitation. And I was not prepared for the emotion of the evening. We talked about getting a Mets cap to place in Grandma’s casket. I had one of the new white alternate caps in my luggage, but that didn’t seem proper. It needed to be one of the traditional blue ones.

After arriving at the hotel that night, we learned that the Yankees did indeed have a reason to fear Dave Mlicki – he pitched the game of his life, shutting out the vile Bombers 6-0. I should have been euphoric, I was just emotionally drained.

The next day there was another visitation, then the graveside service and a reception at my cousin Mike’s house. We all talked about the game, and how Grandma would have enjoyed it. At that point I decided I had a mission: Get into Game 2.

I didn’t think I realistically had a chance at getting a ticket. But I figured at the very worst I could soak up the atmosphere around the ballpark, buy a program and other souvenirs.

My experience scalping tickets was limited to Hartford Whalers hockey games. And that was never much of a challenge because Hartford used to browbeat local corporations into buying season tickets to boost attendance at the Civic Center.

So before every game you’d have a bunch of guys in suits looking to get rid of extra tickets that they didn’t pay for in the first place. They were typically looking for some extra beer money and little else. In fact, my buddy Rich and I often bought tickets that way because it was cheaper than getting the ducats at the box office.

I knew this Subway Series game would be completely different.

I’d walk up and down that area between the stadium and the parking garage looking for the obvious sellers. I knew that people who ask you if you are selling tickets are actually the ones doing the selling.

The first couple guys I approached were just outrageous, which I expected. They’re picking off the big spenders who didn’t care what they had to pay. I knew that the real deals come closer to game time when scalpers get desperate.

Finally, just before game time I approached a guy I’d seen earlier, and he lowered his price to $50 for a $38 seat in the lower level, deep, but behind first base.

That was way more than I had been planning to pay, especially since I had not planned on anything like this. But I was caught up in the moment, caught up in the history, and was thinking about Grandma.

I took out my wallet and he guy said “Put that away!” and looked around nervously. He then said to follow him and pointed to stairs leading down to the subway. He walked quickly down the steps about half way, I stopped at the top.

“You’re going to beat me and rob me.”

The guy rolled his eyes and waved me down and said something to the effect of “You trying to get me arrested?”

It never occurred to me that police would be cracking down on scalpers. It was all pretty open in Hartford.

Ticket in hand, I practically danced to my seat. And the atmosphere inside was absolutely electric, crackling with excitement. The only time I had experienced anything like that was during Tom Seaver’s 300th win.

I confess I was sheepish – maybe just too emotionally drained to fight with anyone -- wearing a cap that had both Met and Yankee logos commemorating the series. I expected there to be some horrible behavior, like I had seen at a couple Yankees-Red Sox games. But it was surprisingly friendly, possibly because the Mets had embarrassed the Skanks the night before.

The best part was the dueling chants. Yankee fans would throw out that lame, sing-songly “LET’S go YANKees” and the Mets fans rapidly responded with the proud, noble “Let’s Go Mets.” When the two were intermingled it seemed like the whole crowd got into it and it brought goose bumps.

Mets fans erupted when Lance Johnson started the game with a single. Then Bernard Gilkey hit into a double play and things pretty much went down hill. The Yanks scored four in the bottom of the second, chasing Armando Reynoso before even recorded six outs.

We made it a game in the top of the third when Gilkey launched a two-run bomb, but the Yankees scored twice in the seventh on errors by Matt Franco and Carl Everett, and it ended 6-3.

I watched part of the third game on a television in the airport, which we lost in extra innings.

People said the Mets earned a moral victory by taking the first game and sticking close in the other two. But we know there’s no such thing as a moral victory when the Yankees are involved.

The year before she died, I was able to repay Grandma for taking me to all those games by finally taking her to one, a spring training contest at Vero Beach. We had a wonderful time.

And as silly as it may seem, I think of that night with the Mets in the Bronx as one last game together, and a more fitting goodbye than the service that morning.


G-Fafif said...

Beautiful. Let's win three for Ella this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Nice Post Dave.
your cousin Tim

G-Fafif said...

Sorry for Saturday, Ella. You deserved better.

We all did.

mike said...

I miss her too Dave. I can't believe it has been nine years since she left us. She loved baseball and the Mets. I will always remember going to Shea with her. Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Just read that beautiful article about grandma. I sat here crying because the mets are on as I am writing. Every game we watch her name comes up(especially to talk about the players she didn"t care for).Thank you again
Dot and Jim