I'm a National League fan. I'm a product of Dad's love of the old NY Giants and his heartbreak when they snuck out of town way back when. 1962 dawned with a new National League franchise: The New York Mets and I have been in love ever since. My Dad took me to games at the old Polo Grounds and then to beautiful spanking new Shea Stadium in 1964.
I was all of 10 years old in '64 and was as crazed about baseball then as I am now. We went to an afternoon game, Mets vs. Milwaukee (the Braves at that time) and had an elegant lunch in the Diamond Club during batting practice. As all folks say, I remember how green the grass actually was, how big the Diamond vision screen was, I couldn't wait to have my first glass of Rheingold Extra Dry beer (beer of the Mets). It was a time when you wore a jacket and tie to the ballgame, the business men all had on their snap fedoras and smoking was allowed and even encouraged with tons of advertising on billboards and even in the programs. Programs were .25 and you could just get a scorecard with pencil for .10....everyone kept a scorecard.
The Mets were lovable losers but no one seemed to give a damn, just to have National League baseball back was enough, for now. Casey was still at the helm, usually snoozing on the bench by the 4th ininng. Jim Hickman was my main man, later to be replaced by Ron Hunt. "Little" Al Jackson was pitching...Clarence "Choo Choo" Coleman was catching...."Marvelous" Marv Throneberry guarded the 1st base bag, all was as it should be.
Lunch at the Diamond Club was great as you could sit by a picture window and watch batting practice...my 1st game of the season and I was psyched. I had my cap on and my baseball glove, fully expecting to catch a foul. A very distinguished looking gentleman came up and said to me (being a cute little red headed boy) "Who's your favorite team?" "The Mets!" I shrieked. "And who's your favorite player?" "Jim Hickman!"..."How would you like to meet him?"....My jaw dropped and my eyes became wide as dinner plates. He introduced himself to my father, it was none other than M. Donald Grant, Chairman of the Board and a minority owner of the Mets. He asked Dad if it was ok to take me to the dugout, "Sure" was Dad's reply. Only later did I learn that my Dad wanted to go to, but didn't have the courage to ask.
My memory of how we actually arrived at the dugout is fuzzy at best, at any rate somehow I found myself standing in the dugout with every player of my dreams doing what they do before games...kidding each other, spitting huge wads of tobacco juice, scratching their balls...all the great things a kid needs to see. I stood there dumbfounded. "Hey, Casey...c'mere and meet Mr. Hofmann"...Casey looked around in a daze and prepared for his usual dog and pony show.."how ya doin, kid" old, crotchety, a fucking legend...here he was...every wrinkle on that weathered face visible...the smell of sweat, leather and neetsfoot oil all swirling through my nostrils. "Hi, Mr. Stengel"...I thrust my baseball at him with a pen, a crusty hand accepted the ball and he signed it. "Hey, Casey...where's Hickman?" Mr. Grant said, "HICKMAN! Get over here, will ya!?" Jim bounded down the stairs from the field. "What's up skipper?" "Sign this ball for the kid, k?" Jim Hickman was a young, talented, genuinely nice guy, in his early 20's. He seemed to get a bit of a thrill that a kid saw him as his favorite...it probably wasn't too long ago that he was in my shoes. He signed my ball, asked my name, and talked a bit about hitting curves, change ups etc. I sat on the dugout steps and was one with my heroes, I wanted to grind as much spit and dirt into the seat of my pants as possible.