My favorite Opening Day memory is the first one I attended in person: April 8, 1991, Mets 2, Phillies 1.
By that time, I had become a full-on obsessed baseball fan. I’d started my first fantasy league a year before, after reading about them in some magazine. So I negotiated with my parents to let me miss school so my dad could take my friend Will and me to the ballgame. To my utter delight and amazement, they agreed. (It helps that they share a deep love of baseball and would, a year later, take the family to Cooperstown for Tom Seaver‘s Hall of Fame induction.)
So Dad drove us the two hours from Monmouth County to Queens, but by the time we got to Shea Stadium, the parking lots (or at least the one we tried to enter) were full. Dad dropped Will and me off so we wouldn’t miss the first pitch and went to find parking. He didn’t miss much of the game, but thankfully we didn’t miss the start of it.Embed from Getty Images
Dwight Gooden was on the mound, and he retired the first three Phillies in order — Lenny Dykstra on a fly ball, then Darren Daulton and Von Hayes on strikeouts, swinging. In the bottom of the first, Vince Coleman stepped to the plate in his first at-bat as a Met. He was the first big free-agent acquisition since I’d started following the team closely (and obsessively), and something of a consolation prize for the loss of Darryl Strawberry to the Dodgers. Coleman made a (good) impression right away, doubling into the right-field corner.
Up stepped Gregg Jefferies, my favorite player at the time. He was the first Met I followed from his first day in the big leagues, back in ’87; his was the first name I remembered hearing from his time in the minor leagues and the postgame “down on the farm” reports after Mets games on WFAN. The 23-year-old switch-hitter, batting right against Phillies southpaw Terry Mulholland, doubled down the left-field line — toward where we were sitting in the mezzanine — to drive in Coleman for a 1-0 lead.
Gooden dealt from there, allowing just two singles through the fourth inning, when Hubie Brooks stole home on a double steal with Tommy Herr, increasing the Mets’ lead to 2-0. Doc’s only hiccup came the next inning, when John Kruk led off the fifth with what I remember as a monster home run to right field that cleared the Mets’ bullpen and hit the Phillies’ bus in the parking area behind the ‘pen.
But Gooden recovered, allowing only three singles and a walk (but inducing two double plays) the rest of the way, completing eight innings before leaving the ninth to John Franco: groundout, strikeout, groundout. Mets win!
I remember it as a perfect, sunny spring day. The wind was brisk (the box score says 15 mph) and the temperature pushed 90 (89 at first pitch). Dad led us back to the car, somewhere across Roosevelt Ave., into the Flushing neighborhood near the ballpark. It was a new world, adding to the experience.
I didn’t skip any more days of school to go to Opening Day, and the four years I was in college my first trip to Shea each season came in May or June. But in 2000, after the Mets had split two games against the Cubs in Japan, I went to the home opener with a few friends and co-workers … and I haven’t missed one since. I’m at 20 in a row, 21 overall and, hopefully, counting.
(In watching the start of that broadcast, I learned something I never knew before: The night before, on the eve of the season, the Phillies made the trade that would land them Mitch Williams. Just two years before …)