In the early 70’sthe Mets were in the World Series for the second time. I was in my early teens, and watched fervently, as my grandfather, a former NY Giants baseball fan, had switched his allegiance to the Mets. I could root for them as a loving grandson could only do; with the demand that they must win for Grampa. The added excitement included two new twists, the hated Baltimore Orioles as an opponent, with Willie Mays in the Mets lineup. The Say Hey Kid! The player who could do anything on a diamond and do it with style and grace. Never having seen him play before, who could resist the pull of watching Willie play in the Series? Not this child.
This was the first time in my life I faced with mortality- and the memory of it is seared into my brain. Willie Mays up at bat in a run situation; he was pinch hitting of course, but this was Willie Mays– the Orioles were dead meat– or so I thought.
Pitch one; a high hard one, right in the wheelhouse; Willie steps in the bucket and swings like my old great grandma. Strike one!
The second pitch; another gopher ball, Willie swings as hard as he can, and falls down(I swear he closed his eyes!). Strike two!
Here comes pitch three, a repeat of the last two pitches. Willie steps in the bucket again, and somehow… SOMEHOW, he nicks the ball and it takes a crazy bounce over the mound, evading the pitcher. In a rage– (this sorry old man miraculously hit the baseball !) the Oriole pitcher takes his glove off and hurls it to the dirt in disgust. The ball squibs into the edge of the outfield very similar to a suddenly freed spiny hedgehog. Willie fell down again after the swing but amazingly reached base safely.
Had I witnessed the destruction of the Second Temple? No, but as a stupid kid, I doubt very much that I would have been more horrified at what I had seen. The Say Hey Kid; Willie Mays; THE number 24; was washed up, and showed it in a spectacular way. The results of the play are eroded away in the detritus of my neural net. Who on or lost the game? Don’t know. Who won the Series? Could not say.
All I can recall is my reaction to that earthshattering episode in my young life:
“When I get to be 41 years old, like Willie is now,” I promised myself, ” I am going to commit suicide, rather than be such a sorry specimen of humanity”.
Every birthday since, with increasing trepidation I remember that moment, and what I had vowed. Of course as I matured the wistful recollections took on a more tragicomic tone, rather than the sanguine horror felt at the time. I can assert here and now that it has been forty two years since then; I have not acted upon that solemn promise of so long ago: nor do I intend to. Thus the monolithic touchstone of Age within my existential realm. I am washed up and a functional shadow of my past. Yet somehow life is just as precious as ever before with substantive differences and yardsticks. I cant bend a horseshoe with my bare hands any more, but I can pray with more concentration and fervency. There is more hair in my ears than on my head; yet I know what true love is. I cant snap a waspy bronc an longer; but I am getting to be a real hand at riding mercy and compassion almost to a standstill. I have shed the costume of a boy, and am in the process of putting on the working clothes of a man.