It all started back in 1997 when I was just a little boy. I was seven and I can distinctly remember holding my father’s hand as we trekked across the Shea Stadium parking lot with thousands of other fans. It was a hot summer day and, as we often did, my mother packed some sandwiches for us to eat during the game (that ballpark food has always been expensive).
My uncle, a diehard Mets supporter, has had season tickets since 1989 and I would frequently attend games with him. When I wasn’t going with him, I was using his tickets to attend games with my parents or my grandfather. On this occasion it had been with the latter.
For the majority of our time at Shea, we were Lodge Section 7, Row 13, seats one through four. Before that we were down on field level, jus six rows behind the Mets batting circle. It was during this time in 1997 when I experienced my first life altering (or so I thought it was as a kid) event at Shea Stadium.
The game itself is somewhat of a blur but I do remember it was against the Pirates. At that time Todd Hundley was hands down my favorite player. I was my little league team’s catcher and I wore Hundley’s number nine with glaring pride. When I passed through the gates and began watching the game, I had no idea what was about to happen.
In the bottom of the second inning, Hundley walked out to the on deck circle and began to take some light practice swings. I wanted Hundley to hear me so bad and yet I knew he would not want to acknowledge me. He was in his element. As the inning started and Hundley marched up to the plate, my dad urged me to yell his name. I mustered up all of the courage I could from six rows away and shouted “hit me a homer, Todd!”
His music blared over the speakers as he stepped into the box and I was sure he couldn’t have heard me. He took a couple of half swings while waiting for the pitch. A few pitches into the at bat, Hundley took a thunderous swing and launched the ball over the left field wall. As the Mets home run apple popped up from its hat and Hundley rounded the bases, I screamed, “He did it! He did it!”
Just as he crossed home plate, he smiled and high fived his teammates waiting for him outside the dugout. But before he walked down the steps, he took his batting helmet off, and looked directly at me, pointed his finger, and winked at me before turning to his left and disappearing into the dugout.
I began to scream in excitement as my father gave me a high five, both of us in complete disbelief. Roughly 15 years later I remember very few things from my early childhood, but I will never forget that day.
This small seed, planted early in my childhood, was the catalyst for a long relationship with the New York Metropolitans, one that I cherish. Over the years I have seen many great moments in Mets history. I was there the night John Franco recorded career save number 400, just three days before my ninth birthday; I remember seeing Mark Clark crush his first and only career home run into the second deck in left field; I witnessed Mike Piazza’s first game as a Met; and I witnessed my first playoff baseball game when I saw the Mets defeat the Braves in Game 4 of the 1999 NLCS.
Even now, at 21 years old, it is the small memories that make up a lifetime and a labor of love with the team I call mine. And despite the fact that I have not seen the Mets win at Citi Field yet, I am looking forward to adding new wonderful memories to my mental scrapbook so that I can look back and smile at all of the good and bad times I have had with the good old orange and blue.
And although Todd Hundley no longer plays baseball, each time I enter those gates to Citi Field the fleeting memory of that single pointed finger from a man I so admired will live with me until the end of my days.