Making the Most of Playing Hooky for the World Series - OZY | A Modern Media Company
World Series champion New York Mets dash for safety of the dugout, trying to outdistance jubilant fans who swarmed past guards onto the field.
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Baseball has a way of making memories last.

By Noam Freedman

It was Oct. 16, 1969, my seventh birthday. It was also Game 5 of the World Series, and my favorite team, the New York Mets, held a three-to-one series lead against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles. A Mets win that day and they would be World Series champions.

The game was scheduled for an early-afternoon start, which means I wouldn’t make it home from school in time to see any of it. I told my parents I didn’t want gifts for my birthday and I didn’t want a party, I just wanted to stay home from school and watch the game.

My mother was an assistant teacher at the local YMHA, so I would have to be left home alone. I was what they call a latchkey kid: I had my own set of keys to our apartment, and after school I would walk to the corner luncheonette, have a bite to eat and then go home to an empty apartment to do homework and entertain myself until my parents returned.

In a world divided between Good Kids and Troublemakers, I was most definitely in the second category. Leaving me unattended for long was a crapshoot.

Since my being home alone wasn’t a huge departure from my normal routine, my parents reluctantly agreed to let me stay home all day. Their trusting me for an entire day was a huge leap of faith, and I am sure it was my mother’s doing. In a world divided between Good Kids and Troublemakers, I was most definitely in the second category. Leaving me unattended for long was a crapshoot.

While I was a capable, responsible child, there were many times, as most of my teachers could attest to, when I was incapable of controlling my impulses.

My mother let me sleep in, then woke me with a kiss before she left for work. She wished me a happy birthday and read me the riot act regarding my behavior if I was going to stay home alone all day. I assured her I would behave. When I got out of bed I found she had put up some birthday decorations and left a couple of treats on the table for me, including a quarter to buy myself something from the bodega. I had a bowl of cereal for breakfast and then spent the morning pacing the apartment, talking to myself and jumping around, attempting to work off the ensuing sugar rush and the nervous energy that was building up while I waited for the start of the game.

I was desperately trying not to do anything destructive or irresponsible, both things I had trouble avoiding.

Around noon, I walked over to Joe & Gladys’ for lunch. It was a tiny place with a four-stool counter and just a few tables. The staff consisted of Joe and Gladys. Both were right out of central casting. He was a former Army cook: white T-shirt, pack of cigarettes rolled in one sleeve, blurry tattoos on both arms, greasy apron, paper cook’s hat, and a cigarette hanging off his lower lip, wagging as he spoke. One eye was usually closed against the smoke that licked up the side of his face.

Gladys wore a blue waitress’ uniform with a white apron and a paper service hat, the kind worn like a tiara. She was funny and brash, very New York and somewhere between Lucy and Hazel. She always referred to Joe as “The Bum,” which she would accompany with a simultaneous head snap and thumb point in his direction.

I had my usual — tuna sandwich on white bread, and chocolate milk — after which I told them, “I have to run!”

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The author (in blue jacket) at Shea Stadium the following year.

On my way home, I stopped at the bodega and bought five packs of baseball cards with the quarter. I couldn’t wait to open them, hoping there would be some Mets.

It was nearly game time by the time I got home. I turned the TV on and waited for it to “warm up.” We had an older black-and-white TV, with tin foil on the antennas, that sat on a wobbly rolling TV cart. The image was normally kind of ghostly, and every time the network would post stats on the screen, the TV would get buggy and buzz loudly.

The game was on national TV, but I recognized the familiar voice of Lindsey Nelson, a local Mets sportscaster who was working the World Series. I didn’t know a lot about baseball at the time, but I had a favorite team and favorite players. I’ve always been too distracted to be the kind of fan who remembers all the details of specific games.

I do remember that Jerry Koosman was pitching and that he had won Game 2. I remember Dave McNally hitting a home run, and I knew it was a bad sign when the opposing pitcher hit a home run. Then Frank Robinson hit one to make it 3-0 in the third inning.

I was sure that life as I knew it was over.

But Koosman shut them down from that point on, and the Mets hit a couple of homers of their own on their way to victory, one by Donn Clendenon, a new favorite, who the Mets had gotten from the Expos midseason, the other by Al Weis, who had only hit two all season. I jumped around the living room like a lunatic, celebrating the Mets’ 5-3 win, their first World Series championship.

My parents had other presents for me, and we went out for my birthday dinner later that week. It’s been 50 years and I have yet to receive a better birthday gift than the one the Mets gave me that October afternoon.

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