The third in an occasional (OK, you caught me, weekly) series. I'm not going to sit here and try to defend Shea Stadium as one of the best ballparks of all time. I can honestly tell you, though, that I never walked into Shea and thought, "This place is a dump." The bottom line is, Shea is where the Mets play, and for me, it will always be special. I realize these are pretty individual memories, but I hope reading them stirs up something in your mind about some place that you may take for granted.
I've done some research and concluded the date must have been Tuesday, May 13, 1997. (The attendance that day according to the box score I found was 13,997. Think that's accurate, or someone was just having fun with numbers?)
The low attendance number also helps explain why my dad and I were able to get walk-up tickets, and sit about twenty rows from the field in the orange seats (field level), a little bit behind first base.
I was able to identify the game because of one notable thing that happened - Armando Reynoso started the game for the Mets...and he also hit a home run. I remember that very well.
What I didn't remember was that future Mets NLCS hero Mike Hampton started the game for Houston. He pitched well in that game, according to the box score (except for the homer to the opposing pitcher). We also saw John Franco notch his 11th save of the season, in a Mets 4-3 win.
But the reason this game stands out is not something you can find in the box score. And it happened during the first at-bat of the game.
Like I said, my dad and I bought tickets the day of the game. I had just come home from college, and we decided to catch the Mets...and we decided to get good seats. So there we were, 15 rows from the field, when Craig Biggio stepped in to lead off the game.
He fouled a pitch off, and it headed our way. I had been close to foul balls before, but this one looked really close. My heart started to beat faster. I put my arms up, and it was more than just the obligatory reach-out - this one I had a legitimate shot at getting.
It was a pop-up type of foul ball. So when it started its descent, it was weird - it was getting bigger and bigger, like it was coming straight down towards me. So my hands went straight up, with a crowd of other hands. And then I felt it right in my palm - stinging - and then it was gone. I missed it, I think because I was tippy-toeing trying to outreach everyone else and I wasn't focused on catching the ball.
I turned to look at my dad, disappointed. And there he was, holding the ball.
"Wow, Dad!" I said. "18 years, and I finally got a foul ball!"
"I don't think so," he said. "48 years, and I finally got one."
He still has it. And I'm glad my only foul ball opportunity happened at Shea. Hopefully I'll get another at Citi Field. Or my dad will.