Sometimes I think if one more muscle-bound jock says to me, "Gee, you sure know a lot about baseball for a girl" I will hit him over the head with an Omar Moreno Louisville Slugger. I happen to know a lot about baseball for a guy, because the game has been a lifelong obsession for me.
My father, Richard Winston, was named the New York Metropolitan Area MVP by the World Telegram and Sun, in 1945, the year he graduated from Horace Mann School; his runner-up was a kid named Whitey Ford. Though Dad signed a Yankees contract that let him choose his own farm team, a "war injury" ended his career before it started. He developed a plantar wart on his foot while stationed in Cleveland as a lifeguard at the Waves' pool. And instead of having a son whom he could teach how to throw a curve he had a daughter whose baseball card collection put the boys to shame and whose first childhood crush was not on Paul McCartney but on Yankee third baseman Clete Boyer.
I attended my first baseball game when I was four years old. In those days, you could turn your red, white and blue popcorn box into a megaphone by knocking out the bottom. When Mickey Mantle came to bat that day I grabbed my popcorn-box megaphone and yelled at the top of my lungs, "Come on, Mick! Get a hit!" My mother turned to me and said, in perfect Jewish-mother syntax, "You know him so well you can call him by his first name?" In addition to being my first ball game, this incident also marks my first recollection of public embarrassment. I am no longer so easily humiliated, and now at Shea Stadium people within three rows of me head for the concession stands when Keith, Gary or Raffy steps up to the plate or Dr. K gets another strikeout.
Over the years I've rooted for as many different teams as Bobby Bonds has played on. When I was still young enough to be influenced by my father, I cheered for the Yankees, toasting Mantle's and Maris's home runs, I with my Coca-Cola, he with his Ballantine. When my alltime idol, centerfielder Paul Blair, was still active, I followed him from team to team—Baltimore to New York to Cincinnati—and finally became a free agent when he retired.
August 4, 1985
As a teenager I also rooted for certain teams for less pure and more girlish reasons. I liked the Cardinals because I thought Ted Simmons was cute. Foul pops were great because Simmons had to throw off his mask to run after them. I liked the Reds because I thought Dave Collins was sexy. Yet my love of the Game—its excitement, its intricacies, its strategy—survived these adolescent passions. Now that I'm older, wiser and married, I root for my teams, the Mets and the Blue Jays, for nobler reasons—their youth, their energy, their teamwork. The fact that Danny Heep is no strain on the eyes doesn't enter into it at all.
My library contains all the literature indispensable to the consummate baseball fan. No season can begin without my annual reading of Jim Bouton's Ball Four. My greatest wish is to see Bouton elected to the Hall of Fame. When I feel umpire Terry Tata's legs should be broken for an outrageously called third strike on Darryl Strawberry, I calm down with one of Ron Luciano's books: They remind me that umpires are only human. Of course, the bible—my Complete Handbook of Baseball—is always within reach when I'm watching a game.
From the last out of the World Series until the first pitch of exhibition season I become a lost soul. When spring training starts I begin to perk up, and by April I'm in full bloom. On summer weekends while my friends are at the beach drenching themselves in Bain de Soleil, I am firmly ensconced on my living-room couch riveted to the game of the week. There's no such thing as blue Monday for me, not with Monday Night Baseball to look forward to, and I pride myself on the fact that I always "Make The Call." When friends want to make evening plans, I don't consult my little black book but rather the large orange Mets calendar that hangs on the refrigerator.
Although baseball has curtailed my social life, it has added benefits to my personal life. My husband's ploy for asking me out on our first date was to buy two tickets to a Yankees-Blue Jays game and casually call me up, saying he "just happened to have an extra ticket." Shortly after the Blue Jays left town the White Sox came in, and Wayne and I became engaged while Harold Baines was at bat. We considered Take Me Out to the Ball Game as our first dance tune at our wedding reception but opted for Stevie Wonder's Creepin'. Also, my aunt finally talked me into wearing a wreath of flowers in my hair rather than my Mets cap.
A few weeks ago Wayne and I had our first fight in 1½ years. The Yankees were playing Detroit on Channel 11 and the Blue Jays were playing the Red Sox on Channel 38. Both games were scoreless, and Wayne kept flipping back and forth between stations. Jesse Barfield was batting for Toronto with an 0-and-2 count when Wayne committed the cardinal sin—he flipped back to the Yankee game. Fortunately, when we got married we received two full sets of dishes. I just hope that when his cousins come to dinner they don't ask, "Whatever happened to the lovely china we gave you?"
My father keeps asking us when we're going to have children. He can't wait to teach his grandson—or daughter—to throw a curve. We're thinking more along the lines of having a little third baseman, because that is the Mets' traditional need. So now that we've decided what our yet-to-be-conceived son will be when he grows up, there are only two things left to do—pick a name (I think Mookie Wilentz has a nice ring to it) and have him. Let me just check my calendar to see when the Mets have their next night off....
Lisa Winston Wilentz works in the Office of Special Programs at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. She and her husband live in Tuckahoe, N.Y.