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24 October, 2011

The Year of 25 Years Ago- Buckner

   by Tom McConville

It was one of the greatest days of my life. And my sister got married, too.

It was a cold and rainy Saturday in northern New Jersey. And while my mother worried about what the weather might do to my sister’s hair and wedding gown, the majority of people, including my sister and her new husband, at the church were more concerned about what the rain might do later in the evening – potentially cancel Game 6 at Shea.

Rain be damned, the ceremony went off without a hitch. Around noon, the reception started and I turned into Spalding from Caddyshack. While my parents were busy entertaining, the open bar was calling my name, and I took full advantage of the fact that my underage drinking was #4589 on the list of things my parents (re: my mom) would be thinking about. When the reception ended, my parents invited the entire wedding back to our house for an after party and another 20 or so rounds of drinks to toast the happy couple.

My dad, not wanting to drive (wisely) asked me to drive our large, lime green station wagon home. Me, not wanting to drive (very wisely) suggested my brother be the driver. My brother, who also decided Spalding should have company, inexplicably suggested the 3 of us walk home from the wedding reception. Shockingly, my dad thought that was a splendid idea, even if it was a 3 mile walk in the rain.

But, walk we did. Three guys in tuxedos walking home from a wedding reception. And just to make it more interesting, we were each carrying various bottles of liquor with us. While the catering hall supplied the food, it was my dad who supplied the drinks. And after loading up the big lime green station wagon, affectionately called the “Muchus Mobile”, with cases of beer and bottles of booze (which a tee-totaling neighbor drove), there were still more left over. It was then my dad enacted the “No Bottle Left Behind” law that he fully expected me and my brother to carry out without complaint.

By the time we got home, neighbors, relatives and guests were already there, and the second leg of the celebration began in full swing. While the house was wall to wall with people, the TV room and back porch were especially crammed to the gills. Vin Scully could scarcely be heard, which was a good thing, if for only this one night. You see, there was already a big discussion in our house about whether Scully was actively rooting FOR the Sox that particular Series, or if he was just caught up in the whole alleged curse stuff. It was genuinely agreed upon by everyone at the party that we were all tired of Scully telling us how Wade Boggs was more dangerous with two strikes on him than anyone in the history of baseball.

Then, the game began. The rain had mostly held off, but I remember it felt as if the game was being played in a perpetual light mist. It seemed foggy at Shea, but, as I was still taking full advantage of my Spalding like ways, it could have been me.

The nine innings had everything you could have wanted. The Sox took a 2-0 lead, the Mets clawed back to tie in the fifth, and then the Sox got another run in the seventh. By the seventh, all the rooms in my house that did not have a TV were abandoned, and those that did have a TV resembled a Walmart at 4am on Black Friday.  When Gary Carter tied up the game in the eighth, the house shook. Now, I realize that could have been me, since I had basically turned into Foster Brooks by this time. But to this day, I firmly believe the back porch shook as much as the cameras at Shea when Carter hit that sacrifice fly.

The rest of the game seemed like an eternal blur. When Dave Henderson homered and Marty Barrett singled in Wade Boggs to make it 5-3 in the top of the tenth, I was stunned, and with the help of Budweiser, near tears. So I made what I thought was the best decision possible at that time. I went to bed.

I was seventeen years old, and the last thing I wanted was anyone – relatives, family friends, new in-laws – to see was me start to cry over the Mets. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was way too invested, a way-too-over-the top fan that lived and breathed the Mets for the entire season. So I made my way upstairs, and sat on my bed, fought off tears, and lay down. There was no way I was going to see the Sox celebrate on our field.

But as soon as my head hit the pillow, I got up again. Mad. What was I doing was being a coward?
Suck it up, sissy boy. Go down there, take your medicine, and watch the Sox wrap it up. It’ll be good for me, toughen me up. So that’s what I did.

Bottom of the 10th. I miss Wally Backman’s at bat. But the silence that greets me when I get back to the TV room tells me everything. 1 out. I watch Keith Hernandez at bat. Liner. Fall, please fall, please drop. Nope. 2 outs.

At this point, I reconsidering my decision to be brave. I walk out the TV room, and into the adjacent dining room.  I can’t watch. I can only hear Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola wax rhapsodic about the Sox and the broken curse.

Then, Gary Carter singles. Too little, too late, I’m thinking. Kevin Mitchell singles. Now God is playing with me. Knight goes down 0-2. Just put me out of my misery. Single up the middle. Carter scores.  Oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man. I have not moved from the dining room.

There’s tension and anticipation in Scully and Garagiola’s voices. There’s tension and apprehension in every face I see in that overstuffed TV room.

Mookie’s at bat. I can’t stand it anymore. I have to watch. I start inching back toward the TV room. My brother looks at me, and says, loudly, that if I do not stay where I am, he will kill me. My father looks at him, then at me, and says, “Tom, don’t even think about it.” 4th pitch. Alone in the dining room. 5th pitch. Staring at the china cabinet. 6th pitch. Can’t…take…this… anymore.

Screw it. If the Mets lose, then it is all my fault, but there’s no damned way I'm staying in the dining room one second longer.

I walk back into the TV room. The look my brother gives me is almost thoughtful, as if he’s seriously thinking of the way he will maim me first instead of simply delivering a final, fatal blow. Thankfully, my dad is too wrapped up to realize I have turned my back on the baseball gods who reward superstition for my own selfish needs.

Bob Stanley throws the pitch. Mookie leaps out of the way, Gedman fails to block it, Mitchell runs home tying the game.

Our house, which the original builders must have reinforced with 67 tons of reinforced concrete, nearly shakes out of its moldings. Hugging, shrieking, middle aged white people moshing. You name it, it happened. The game was tied and I would not be murdered in my own home. I was overjoyed, relieved, drunk, sober and wired. All at once.

But wait. The count is still 3-2. Mookie is still up. Knight is leading off second. He’s taking a big lead. Spike Owen is creeping up behind him. A collective shout in our house of “Get back!!!” can be heard back at the catering hall where the wedding took place. Stanley doesn’t even look at second.  8th pitch.  Foul. 9th pitch. Foul.

10th pitch. A dribbler to first. Mookie takes off, tearing up the first base line, Buckner bends down to field it, and then……………

It was one of the greatest days of my life. And my sister got married, too.

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