By Phil Hecken
No, that’s not a picture of me and my Dad at a baseball game — but it could be. Before I was even in little league, my pop took me to my first ever game at Shea, and I was decked out in my first uniform just for the occasion. Since that time, I’ve been to dozens of games with my dad; they will always be one of my fondest childhood memories, ones which I will always cherish. Sadly, there will be no more Met games with dad.
Fortunately, he’s still with us, but his health has been steadily deteriorating over the past two years. I won’t go into details, but it’s tough to watch this once vibrant, athletic guy who taught me how to have a catch, throw, serve a tennis ball and strike a golf ball (and to properly blouse my baseball pants), now reduced to being an armchair spectator. Up until about five or six years ago, when the ravages of time forced him to have knee replacement surgery, I played tennis with him about every two weeks; until two years ago, when a blood disease and West Nile Virus put him in a coma with a resulting 100-day hospital stay, we’d still play 18 holes on the weekends; now, when I see him, it’s to watch those events we once played, and the only competition between us is a spirited game of bridge. Walking is now a chore for him, as he must use a cane. But he’s been a fighter through it all — never once complaining or being an imposition, even though it wouldn’t be imposing at all. Last Father’s Day I was certain would be his last, but he’s surprised me yet again.
I’m not sure how I became a “Uni Watcher,” but I’m pretty sure it’s in my blood. Dad was always pointing out little uniform details, especially when I was young and impressionable, even explaining the (now pretty much disproven) reason the Mets wore blue, orange and pinstripes as an ode to the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s we attended lots of games at Shea; he taught me how to score, the nuances of the double-switch, and how the foul (fair?) poles were painted orange. When my buddies hit their teens and twenties, and it became “uncool” to do things with their fathers, my dad and I always stayed close, and we’d always see at least one ballgame per season at Shea, and we played tennis and golf together occasionally. Even after I’d moved out of the house and got married, we remained very close and had our fair share of uni watching moments together.
Many of those moments stand out, but none more so than back in 1999, when dad had acquired tickets for the Mets Turn Ahead The Clock night, and he didn’t quite understand the promotion. The Mets had already been wearing their god-awful black jerseys earlier that season, but these special ones were, according to pop, “just awful — the Mets don’t wear black.” He made a special point of telling me how bad they were. As it turned, out, that was the last Mets game we ever saw together.
I always figured we’d have more (although I saw plenty with my wife and my friends, dad always preferred to watch at home). After 1999, Dad and I caught some minor league games, but somehow, we never made it back to Shea. Once the plans to to build
Citi Field new Shea were announced a few years back, I told him I’d get us tickets, but by the time it was officially open, he wasn’t healthy enough to make it to the park. We had tickets to the US Open at Bethpage last summer, but he couldn’t join me. We did watch, as we have every Father’s Day, the final round on television, but it wasn’t the same.
I’ll be spending most of today with the man who’s been a great father and a better friend than anyone could ever have asked for. I’m lucky I’ll have at least one more Father’s Day with him, although I have a feeling it’ll be our last together. But I’ll fire up the grill, we’ll cook out, then watch the final round of the Open, as we have always done, and probably play a dozen hands of bridge. And somewhere in there we’ll be hoping the Mets ditch the black in the Bronx. It’ll be great.
I hope all of you readers have a great Father’s Day — whether you are one or you have one, consider yourselves lucky. I now have far too many friends who’ll be without their fathers today, and I’m extremely grateful I’m not one of them. If you’re not spending time with your dad today, give him a call and tell him you love him.
The floor is open — feel free to talk about your dad or anything else uni-related that’s on your minds. Apologies to anyone hoping for the usual smorgasbord today, but I’ve got a bar-be-que to start, some TV to watch, and a card game to play. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Any man can be a Father but it takes someone special to be a dad. — Anne Geddes