Dar-ryl! Dar-ryl! Or, How I Became a Met Fan Darryl Strawberry has been released from prison after his umpteenth prison term. Growing up, Darryl was my favorite position player, and his partner in crime (literally), Dwight Gooden, was my favorite pitcher. Watching their careers implode during the '90s is one of my least favorite baseball memories. How is it possible that these two men could be the favorites of a young boy in suburban Maryland? Well, that calls for a story...
Once upon a time, Cable was this mythical invention that promised at least a dozen new television channels devoted to things people were interested in, like sports or news or movies. Children might incidentally hear on the news about this magical creation. Or, a friend might travel to a istant land to visit their rich father, who, for all we knew or cared, had divorced his mother solely to live in a land where Cable was available. As stoned college kids question the existence of God, we kids would debate whether Cable even existed and when it might appear in our neighborhood. "This is just another 'Tooth Fairy!'"
In the early 80s, in suburban Maryland, the closest we came to the magic was SuperTV. The magic box promised to pipe-in movies to your home from roughly 7:00 pm to midnight seven days a week (a little earlier to a little later on weekends). In those days, we could watch countless reruns of "The Apple Dumpling Gang" and "Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang" at 7:00 pm. Much later, we could catch the magic of "Emmanuel" and "The Bitch." Like a Jurassic Skinemax. (Note: Cliff from Cheers is in "The Bitch," which means you should do everything possible to see it.) I vaguely recall some sports programming, but as you can tell from the movie samplings, it can't have been anything major.
We had seen men driving in trucks around the neighborhood. Marking the ground between the sidewalk and the street. The white cargo vans label read: Jones Intercable. My God, they're coming! And then one day, in about the Spring of 1985, it happened. We went outside to play football in the front yard, and there it was: a green box planted in the ground with the magic word--CABLE. Like a union Santa Claus, cable was finally a reality. Or, nearly. Like every Christmas, it's not Christmas until the parents come downstairs; so, we waited a respectful number of months for our parents to give in.
I hovered over the two-man crew that ran the wires through the house and hooked up our first cable box. A lovely beige. With a sliding channel selector and numbers that went into the 60s (by 2s, with dots for the odd-numbered stations). The little orange light indicating our magic box was alive and well, like ET. A sign of goodness. A sign of peace.
Though the box went into the 60s, the higher numbers were all snow. They brought everything from the broadcast world! And with our little friend the Cable Box, we were now able to watch not just ESPN and MTV and CNN. No, we were able to watch actual broadcast channels from exotic places like Chicago, Atlanta, and Seacaucus, New Jersey. And these magic stations, Super Stations as they were called, happened to carry baseball games.
Although I watched games from all three stations, I became a Mets fan for four simple reasons:
Cubs games were on in the afternoon, which conflicted with Gilligan's Island and General Hospital. Also, I had swim practice in the afternoons, so I couldn't watch much t.v. then anyway;
the Braves sucked; and,
the Mets were winning, and they had the 1983 Rookie of the Year, Darryl Strawberry, and a young pitcher who would win the 1985 ROTY, Dwight Gooden.
My cousin had me pegged early on as a frontrunner, and he couldn't have been more right.
I watched Tim McCarver, before he went national, and experienced the delightfully daffy Ralph Kiner. Night after night, I'd bully my sisters into letting me have control of the t.v. viewing for the night. If I was lucky, the Mets would travel to Los Angeles or San Diego so I could stay up until 1:00 to watch them play (though I'd usually pass out in the sixth inning after a full day of school, swim practice and homework).
Even more than the World Series victory, I remember Game 6 of the '86 playoffs against the Astros. Listening to the game on the radio going to practice and in the weight room. Pulling the speakers onto the deck so we could catch updates between sets. Delaying the start of a set to hear the Mets score in the top of the 14th. Finishing the set only to hear the Astros had caught up. Fretting during lap after lap about facing Mike Scott in Game 7. (See the Ultimate Mets Database to relive the magic for yourself.)
I was such a freak that in 1988, I transcribed the box scores for each game after school and hand-calculated player averages and recorded them in a three-ring binder. A boy had to do this because The Washington Post only printed batting averages on Sundays, and no box score carried exotic extra columns like BA or ERA through the current game. Who'd ever want to know that?
So it was, through many countless innings between 1985 and 1988, that I fell in love with Darryl Strawberry's home run swing and Dwight Gooden's curve ball. I had pennants from many teams and colleges on my wall, but only ever bought two posters from the Sports Illustrated poster series. Walter Payton. And Darryl Strawberry.
After I went off to college (1988), I returned to the Land without Cable. I followed the '88 Mets and their fall to the Los Angeles Hersheisers. Faced with all these outsiders who mocked the '88 Orioles and their horrid 0-21 start, I would adopt my hometown team just in time for the great "Why Not?" year. (I watched them on WMAR and Home Team Sports, but I rooted against them until 1989). In fact, the next year I would get see a young fella named Ken Griffey, Jr. play for the first time and come face-to-face with my first celebrity, Bob Costas, who had called a Saturday afternoon O's-A's game at Memorial Stadium. But those are stories for another day.
Over the next several years, Strawberry's production would decline, as would mine. His was due to drugs, and mine was due to my disinterest in personal accomplishment. But throughout his many bouts with the law and rehab, I have always rooted for him. A boy has his heroes. And his heroes must always win.
Take care of yourself, Darryl. posted by RSaunders at 4:57 PM⇒