Been hearing a lot of talk a lot of places about a lot of fathers (and mothers) who were figuring out ways to keep their kids out of school Thursday and sneak them to Yankee Stadium for Opening Day.
Also been hearing a lot of verbal hand-wringing about whether that’s the right thing to do. And I am here, as a secular Father Confessor, to tell you one thing with the certainty of an omniscient narrator:
You did the right thing.
(Note to all humorless teachers and education administrators: I am NOT promoting widespread hooky-playing. At all. So as a wise man once put it: “Lighten up, Francis.”)
There are few traditions that have survived a century of change in American sports. But this is one of them: Opening Day in New York is always in the daytime, and it is always during the week. There is always a day off baked into the schedule the next day because the weather didn’t always cooperate, but that one’s in the afternoon, too.
And across the years, how many millions of fathers (or mothers) have intercepted their kids on the way to the breakfast table, or to the bus stop, and handed them two priceless gifts: a ticket to Opening Day, and the opportunity to spend a Ferris Bueller-like day driving or walking or training to a ballpark with Dad (or Mom)?
And does the son (or daughter) ever forget even one minute about those games?
For me, that was 40 years ago this Wednesday, April 5, 1983. In my house, we did two games a year: one to Shea Stadium, one to Yankee Stadium. In 1983 I was 16, and soon enough trips to the ballpark would be in the company of my friends — this would turn out to be the last game I ever saw with my father in person. I didn’t know that on April 4, 1983, when my father asked, “Do you have any tests tomorrow?”
I did not.
“Good,” he said, then took the tickets to the next day’s game out of my pocket.
(Bated note to the kind Marianist brothers at Chaminade: I will turn myself in for detention first thing tomorrow, if necessary.)
The next day wasn’t just Opening Day at Shea. It was Tom Seaver’s first game as a Met since he’d been traded away six years earlier, easily the darkest day of my childhood. My father was empathetic. When he heard the news about Seaver going to Cincinnati, he turned to me and said, “They traded your DiMaggio away.”
Now he would be coming back and he would face the Phillies, destined to win the NL pennant, backed by a Mets team destined to lose 94 games. Didn’t matter. Pop and I had breakfast at the Lantern Diner, we cruised in to Shea, we parked in his old neighborhood in Corona, in front of an old neighbor’s house, and hoofed it the rest of the way.
What did we talk about? I wish I remembered. I wish for one day my dad would’ve had an iPhone in his hand so he could’ve snapped 100 pictures of the day, as is a 2023 requirement. We bought a scorecard, because my father was an inveterate scorekeeper. We got there just as the doors opened: My father loved watching batting practice, and in those years teams still took fielding practice.
And we settled in, joined 46,685 of our closest friends (a rare huge crowd in those days at Shea), gave an extended standing ovation to Seaver as he walked in from the right-field bullpen, right in front of us sitting in the first-base mezzanine. Then roared a roar that started in our toes as Seaver struck out Pete Rose.
I hear that roar still.
Seaver was terrific that day, of course: six innings, three hits, zero runs, five strikeouts. He got a no-decision, of course, because the Mets didn’t nick Steve Carlton for the winning runs in a 2-0 victory until after Seaver had left the game.
Years later I told Seaver that story.
“I remember I walked out from the bullpen,” he told me, “and the ovation, it was like the greatest thank-you card anyone has ever gotten.”
Yeah. Dads? Moms?
You did the right thing Thursday.
There were many, many suggestions for adds to last week’s list of actors who excelled in multiple sports playing characters:
Robby Benson: Hoops in “One in One,” runner in “Running Brave.”
Ronald Reagan: Football in “Knute Rockne, All American” and baseball in “The Winning Team.”
Helen Hunt: Football in “Quarterback Princess” and surfer in “Ride.”
Charlie Sheen: Baseball in “Major League” and “Eight Men Out,” football in “Lucas.”
Rodney Dangerfield: Golf in “Caddyshack,” diving in “Back to School.”
James Caan: “Rollerball” and football in “Brian’s Song.”
Woody Harrelson: Probably the worst oversight since he’s been convincing in five different sports — football (“Wildcats”), basketball (“White Men Can’t Jump” and “Semi-Pro”), bowling (“Kingpin”), boxing (“Play It to the Bone”) and, if you count poker, “The Grand.”
Tatum O’Neal: This one was from my outraged wife since O’Neal was equally good as a pitcher (“Bad News Bears”) and an equestrian rider (“International Velvet”).
What was worse than calling that foul at the end of Creighton-San Diego State last week was the use of a stopwatch to determine if there was any time left a few minutes later. What are we doing?
After five months of seeing their smiling faces eight times every time I watch a game, I can’t be the only one to think: “the Antonellis had better be selling some damn good cheese at Antonelli’s cheese shop.”
Saturday was 39 years since me and millions of others were duped by the great George Plimpton in Sports Illustrated and couldn’t wait to see Sidd Finch’s 168-mph fastball at Shea Stadium. File that one under “stuff that would never fly in 2023.”
Jalen Brunson, man. Jalen. Brunson.
Whack Back at Vac
Alan Fassler: I’m a 60-year baseball fan, Mets. The pitch clock on Day 1 was just incredible. For a moment, just forget the time of game, the flow was just so much better, the game moved, it’s a home run in my book. As good as the shot clock in basketball, many don’t remember that game without it. (It was awful.)
Vac: It feels like I’m watching games the way I’d used to on my DVR, when you could fast forward between pitches. Now you don’t have to!
Bob Wallace: As a former beer vendor, I loved slow games. More time equaled more sales which equaled more income.
Vac: It is fair to point out there are some who liked it the old way, and for good reasons.
@RobertJ0301: Rob Manfred is now possibly my favorite commish in all sports. Didn’t see that coming.
@MikeVacc: You and me both, my man.
Alex Burton: Now that Volpe and Gardner have had a happy hookup over the use of No. 11, and Judge publicly weighed in by saying there’s “no better guy to keep that legacy of Gardy going,” maybe it’s time to do that column on the possibility of a Yankees’ “Thanks Gardy Day?”
Vac: Column to come. Consider this the seed being planted.