After The Last Play at Shea

February 23, 2012 § 3 Comments

I was a quiet kid with few friends, and baseball was my link to the world at large.  I followed terrible NY Mets teams that only a true fan would enjoy watching.  It was never about how well the game was played, but the simple joy of watching the game. As I got older and developed more and more friendships, baseball was often the connection.

Last week, Gary Carter, the great NY Mets catcher died at 57. I felt a sadness I’d never experienced for someone I did not know personally. Coincidentally, I recently seen the documentary, “Last Play at Shea, “ which culminated in a fast motion dismantling of Shea Stadium that brought an equally sad feeling. So often over the years, I had described the dilapidated Shea in derogatory terms, particularly when describing the lovely smell that emanated from the surrounding areas. Neither the death of a former catcher nor the demolition of a stadium should have evoked much emotion, but they did for me—and it left me asking why.

Gary Carter was part of a Mets team that should not have won the World Series. He was the team cheerleader; the “never give up” hard-nosed guy who always kept going. He was my emblem of what happens when you keep trying, when you do your best, and just let the Universe play out the game of life. Although I never realized it as I watched him play, Gary Carter represented hope for me. It was the hope that things would work out all right. Keep playing hard until the last out. Don’t quit. And with his demise, I lost a symbol of hope. If you are the fan of another team, your symbol of hope has a different name. If you are a fan of dance, theater, art, music, or literature, your symbol will come from a different walk of life. But wherever your symbol comes from, I know you understand what I mean. So often, our symbol of hope has a name and a face.

Shea Stadium held a different meaning for me. I once saw a tee shirt that read “Shea Stadium: It may be a hole, but it’s our hole!” I laughed at that then, because Shea really was a hole. But it wasn’t until watching the scoreboard drop upon demolition that I realized that along with the crumbling scoreboard, a place chock full of memories was disappearing as well. Shea was where I saw my first baseball game and my two oldest kids saw theirs. It’s where I first understood the joy of just watching something that no one had to tell you to enjoy. And when I saw the footage of that scoreboard coming down, I realized that those days were gone forever; all that was left were the memories. Everyone has place like that. For you, it might be a beach, a restaurant, a park, a theater, or the local neighborhood hangout. But I know you understand what I mean. So often, places and memories are inextricably linked.

What I am left with now, whenever I think of Carter and Shea, are wonderful memories of hot summers without air conditioning, and watching Met games on a small, low quality screen. With all the technology we have today, I have yet to see a game I have loved any better. I will always remember a wild, wind-blown ride in a convertible on the way to Shea with my old friend John. It was a day when we were carefree and our lives were in front of us; a day when neither of us knew that this past year, he’d be sitting with me at my mother’s funeral. I will always remember walking out of Shea with my friend Paul, taking one player’s name forever in vain on a needed break from a doctoral program and a mentor that nearly killed both of us. I’ll remember my son Drew pretending to be a New Yorker, and abusing the other team so much that fellow New Yorkers just stared in horror. I’ll remember my laughter when the cup of peanut shells I’d collected fell over the ledge and down below. When I remember Shea, I’ll remember it like a good donut, never thinking about the hole.  And I learned that long after the last play at Shea.

Gabriel García Márquez said it best: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” So today, do yourself a favor and think about your best memories and smile. Think about the days you laughed best and laugh again. Remember the people who made your life better and say a prayer of gratitude for them. Remember that today will be the yesterday you recall years from now. And on that day, you will understand something critical about happiness. It is small things that count, small things that have significance, and small things that will make you wonder why you spent time on anything else. It will be moments, small moments that you collect and hug in your memory.

There are many joys you will appreciate long after they happened. But pay attention: Appreciate them today. Hug the moment as it happens.  Don’t wait until after the last play.

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