My “Al Jackson Story”

Mets fans who are readers of mainstream and social media no doubt found many detailed tributes to Al Jackson today. Jackson, an original Met, passed away yesterday at the age of eighty-three. My husband, a rabid reader in general and a consistent consumer of Mets-related media, began reading the tributes to Jackson as they began to pour in online late last night. At that time, he remarked to me, “It appears to me that every beat writer and Mets blogger has his or her own personal Al Jackson story.”

Providing consistently insightful, elegantly written, and often moving posts chronicling all things Mets, Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing did not disappoint in his tribute. In it, he alludes to the late pitcher’s longevity and devotion to the Mets. Prince’s detailed description of Jackson’s long tenure with the team, along with the title of the post–“Family Man”–conjured, for this reader, an image of an athlete who had experienced challenges resembling those of a parent.

Jackson had been there from the team’s conception, earliest contractions and painful birth, had experienced the mind-numbing weariness and frequent exasperation that accompanied its infancy, had endured the “terrible twos” (and “threes”), its hormone-addled adolescence, and had stayed long enough to witness the team reach some manner of maturity and responsibility.

Jackson was one of thirteen children. He is survived by two sons and two grandsons. Similarly, his baseball “family tree” has many branches with countless connections to current and former players, coaches, staff, and media personnel.

In the very same year that the Mets were born in New York, I was born in Kansas. My connection with the Mets family would come much later in my adult life. Even so, I too have an Al Jackson story:

My family and I travelled to Port Saint Lucie for Mets Spring Training games in 2011. Having seen Al Jackson with the other pitching coaches seated near the mounds just outside the third base line, my husband pointed out Jackson to my daughter and me. He told us that he had seen Jackson play and that Jackson had been an original Met.

Armed with this info, before the start of the game, my daughter walked down to the row of seats just above where Jackson was seated, got his attention, and politely asked him for an autograph.

He obliged, signing the baseball she proffered. As he did so, she mentioned that her Dad had seen him pitch for the Mets. According to her, Jackson smiled broadly, wryly asking, “Are you sure that wasn’t your GRANDDADDY who saw me pitch?!”

These photos captured that special moment. May Al Jackson’s family and friends be blessed and comforted with the memory of their own Al Jackson stories.

Fifty Years Ago Tomorrow, I Cried Myself to Sleep

by guest blogger Garry B. Spector

We just celebrated the 1969 World Champion New York Mets with a marvelous ceremony at Citi Field. Unfortunately, Tom Seaver could not be there. It was announced in March that Seaver, suffering from dementia caused by Lyme Disease, was retiring from public life. But he was there in spirit–and with his daughters and grandchildren in attendance, when the Mets announced the new address for Citi Field at 41 Seaver Way in a ceremony last week.

There are countless memories of that 1969 season that remain with me. Maybe the most exciting one of all took place 50 years ago tomorrow–July 9, 1969, when Seaver took a perfect game into the 9th inning against the first place Cubs, a team with 3 Hall of Famers in their starting 8 (Santo, Banks, Williams). The Mets had won the day before with 3 runs in the 9th inning off another Hall of Famer, Ferguson Jenkins. A crowd of over 59,000–far beyond the seating capacity of Shea Stadium, was there to witness Seaver’s gem.

The Voice of the Mets, Howie Rose, was in attendance that night and wrote about it brilliantly in his book, Put it in the Book. He had been attending Mets games since 1962, and had never seen anything like it.

Scorecard ©2019 Ultimate Mets Database (www.ultimatemetsdatabase.com)

Seaver retired the first 25 batters, needing only 2 more outs to achieve perfection. To that date, 50 years ago, there had only been seven perfect games pitched in the modern (post-1900) era. In fact, there had been no perfect games pitched in the regular season between 1922 (Charlie Robertson of the White Sox) and 1964 (Jim Bunning of the Phillies against the Mets at Shea); Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 World Series was the only one that took place in 42 years. This eleven year old Mets fan knew enough baseball history to realize what was happening, and how rare the feat actually was.

After Randy Hundley tried to bunt his way on base leading off the ninth (Seaver threw him out), Jimmy Qualls, a rookie, stepped to the plate. He was playing only because Don Young, the regular CF, had been castigated by Leo Durocher and his Cubs teammates for losing the previous day’s games. Qualls ruined the perfect game by slicing a line drive single to left center field. Seaver got the next two outs and completed a one hit shutout.

Listen here for Lindsey Nelson’s radio call for WJRZ-AM 970.

Luckily, the game was televised in the Albany, NY, area where I grew up.

My mother assured me that I would see a Mets perfect game someday (I’m still waiting). And this eleven-year-old cried himself to sleep.

No July 9 has passed since without my remembering that game. What a thrill it was then–and it remains so today.

“I’m Tired, Tired of Playing the Game…”

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My daughter in cognito in Section 318.  The photo was taken in September of 2013, but is appropriate for July 2019.

It’s the All-Star Break and this Mets blogger is about as inspired and productive as her team.  Sigh…

I am, however, proud to announce that Garry Spector, inspired from the previous week’s 1969 Anniversary celebrations, will be a guest blogger on this site in the very near future!

If you are interested in the past and history beyond the realm of baseball, I invite you to view a second blog I created today which is to be informed by and devoted to another of my passions–genealogy.

Check it out and, if you like what you see, please subscribe!

A Place for Storytelling

In the meantime, watch this space for an upcoming post on Tom Terrific from my terrific husband!

David Wright: A Tribute

David Wright

David Wright waves to fans during batting practice. © Susan Spector.

In 2005, my family and I purchased a Mets partial season ticket plan. A lot of wonderful things were to follow.

Some of them even involved the games themselves.

The following year, anticipating the ticket demand resulting from the team’s upcoming move from Shea Stadium to Citi Field, we ponied up and became full season ticket holders. We have continued to renew our plan every year since then.

At first, my husband and I didn’t always see as much of the games as we might have liked, our young daughter’s attention span often limiting us to four or five innings at most. Her interest–and longevity–increased with age. She learned more about the game and its history. She read and learned about our players and their positions, and she developed a particular affinity for certain players. Her involvement with and appreciation for baseball reached an even higher level when her father taught her how to score and she began keeping a score book.

With each passing year and season, our shared experiences have brought our family closer together. We have made new friendships—with those regulars seated near us, with members of the media (particularly the Mets Radio personnel), with members of the Citi Field Season Ticket Account Services staff, as well as with members of the Security detail and Concessions staff. Some members of our “summer family” have become year-round friends. We have made road trips to see the Mets, our travels taking us to see them play in every single National League ballpark and even a few American League parks. Those road trips have been coupled with side trips to historical and cultural attractions in those cities and have provided opportunities to see family and friends in the area.

From a personal standpoint, my interest in the Mets rekindled my passion for writing, resulting in the creation of this very blog. Going to an average of eighty games a year, I found myself looking for images that were unique to each game or home stand and wanting very much to document what I saw.  I was inspired to take photography classes, and I acquired more sophisticated equipment.  The results were images that were a step above those I had previously shot:  in composition, control, and resolution.

With years of photos on my hard drive, it took me a while to assemble some of my favorite photos of David Wright for this slide show. These photos (and videos) were shot during games and batting practice at Shea Stadium, Citi Field, and in Port St. Lucie; at RFK Stadium and Nationals Park; at Dolphin Stadium and Marlins Park; and at Citizens Bank Park, Turner Field, Wrigley Field, Great American Ballpark, Miller Park, PNC Park, A T & T Park, PetCo Park, Dodger Stadium, and Minute Maid Park, as well as at special Full Season Ticket Holder events.

Because my family and I have been Mets season ticket holders since just about the time David Wright came up to the big leagues, in some ways it feels like we watched him “grow up” in Queens. Being at Citi Field for his final game and farewell to Mets fans this past September—after watching him play his entire Major League career with our team–it was impossible not to shed a tear.

You will be missed, dear Captain. 😢

A Lost Teammate

18-055Dallessio-e1525373955168-768x1024Commentary on baseball, the Mets in particular, from the perspective of a professional orchestral musician is what one usually finds on this site.  This particular post, though, will focus on a colleague and close friend of mine and the ways in which he was a great “teammate.”

My orchestra has lost a great musician and colleague.  Rich Dallessio was a freelance oboist who played for numerous orchestras here in New York, most notably the New York City Ballet.  He was also a frequent substitute player with us at the Metropolitan Opera.  Rich battled liver cancer for almost an entire year; he passed away last week.

Substitute players at the MET and other professional music ensembles, including Broadway shows, are like bench players:  they are called on in a pinch and often don’t have a lot of time to prepare for the gig.  Veteran ballplayers often shine when given those opportunities, as did Rich.

If a regular MET musician called in sick to a rehearsal or performance at the last minute, Rich could be relied upon to answer his cellphone quickly and rearrange his schedule in order to be of assistance.  Once he got to the MET, he would play whatever part was needed, without any fuss, making for a seamless performance that put everyone around him at ease, not the least of whom was the Orchestra Manager who is responsible for “fielding” a full orchestra every night!

Rich was an exceptionally fine player and an inspiring musician. He also had many years of experience playing our somewhat unique repertoire, thereby making him an especially valuable commodity to the wind section of the MET.

In addition, he was, hands-down, the finest sight-reader I have ever met.  I remember one performance in particular that had all of us in the orchestra, the conductor included, in awe.

Some years ago, our regular English horn player called in sick to a performance of Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schattten.  Rich was asked to come in to sight-read the part for the performance, and he bravely took up the challenge.

All of Strauss’s operas feature extremely challenging virtuosic orchestral writing, often in very unusual keys.  Beyond the inherent difficulty of the part itself was the fact that it had been many years since this lesser-known and less frequently performed opera had been presented at the MET.  Rich had not played any of the rehearsals of the opera that season nor had he played any previous performances in the run.

The entire night, Rich was his usual unflappable, solid, reliable self. He never lost his place, which is remarkable in and of itself, but he also played the numerous solos (which he was hearing for the first time as he was playing them!) with sensitivity and nuance.  It was a stunning performance that many of us in the wind section still speak of to this day.

Even as a sub, Rich certainly had the chops for solo English horn and solo oboe playing. When he found himself in the Principal chair, there was nothing apologetic or timid about his playing whatsoever.  And yet, he could just as easily assume the role of Second Oboe and deftly defer to the Principal player, matching pitch, note lengths, volume, and style without ever a word being exchanged between the two players.

I know this because he played Second Oboe to me.  And I played Second Oboe to him as well.

And that’s because Rich knew the joy that being a part—any part—of a winning team can be.  It really didn’t matter to him where he sat or what part he played.  He was in it for the team.  “Put me in coach! I’m ready to play today.”

He was a utility player on the order of former Mets Kelly Johnson or Justin Turner.  And, as in baseball, a player who can field more than one position can be of tremendous value, especially if he/she can perform well in the clutch.  Rich was that guy.

Rich loved being part of a team.  And he loved playing music.  And he had an infectious laugh.  I loved when all of those things came together—which they often did.

I’ll never forget the times we both played onstage in the Don Giovanni bandas together.  Mozart’s Don Giovanni calls for small instrumental ensembles—bandas—in each of the opera’s two acts.  The score calls for two onstage oboes in both acts.  The musicians appear onstage and in costume and, for that reason, they are often involved at least peripherally in the staging.

Rich was involved in playing the Don Giovanni bandas just about every time the opera was performed at the MET.  The other onstage oboe assignment usually fell to a colleague of mine, but in 1997, I lucked into my first and (so far at least) only run of performances of Don Giovanni in which I did not play in the pit but had the pleasure of playing onstage in costume along with Rich.

It was always a delight to play with Rich:  his sound had a spinning, vibrant quality that reminded me of a really good coloratura soprano—Judith Blegen, Kathleen Battle, Barbara Bonney.  It was a sound that was very similar to what I aim for myself, actually.  That’s probably one of the reasons it was always such a pleasure playing with him and why blending with each other’s sound was so effortless.

These performances, then, were a treat for me, musically.  But that was only the half of it.  The fun of being in costume and part of the stage action was never lost on Rich, even after many performances of this work.  Once I had gotten a few performances under my belt and became more comfortable onstage, we both had even more fun.

Near the end of Act I, Giovanni is hosting a party at which many instrumentalists are playing, e.g., the banda. Giovanni dances with Zerlina and leads her into an adjoining room to try to seduce her.  She screams for help and pandemonium ensues about the time our music has ended at which time we were instructed to react in surprise and exit stage right.

While we always followed our stage directions, it seemed that with every performance, Rich and I took a little more poetic license, if you will, and made more of our very little time onstage as court musicians than we had in the previous performance.  Our looks of astonishment became ever more exaggerated—wide-eyed, mouths agape. We played off of each other:  he looked left, I looked right, each of us feigning an intense curiosity as to what had prompted Zerlina’s cries. While the rest of the musicians had shrugged their shoulders in a bored manner and shuffled offstage, he and I pantomimed exaggerated and extended inquisitiveness about the kerfuffle resulting in our being the last banda members to exit the stage.

I don’t think this was apparent to anyone else, and the Stage Manager certainly didn’t need to come after us with a hook, but we definitely had some great times and some hearty laughs, channeling our inner thespians for those two nights every week when that opera was being performed that season.

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Mozart:  Don Giovanni, Act II – Metropolitan Opera, 1997 Rich Dallessio, front row, left; Susan Laney Spector, front row, center.  Photo @Beth Bergman

Rich was a mirth-filled, down-to-earth, kind and generous person. As fine as his oboe-playing was, he was an even finer human being.  He will be missed at the MET, at the NYC Ballet and other ensembles in which he played, and by all of his many students to whom he devoted much time and energy.

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Personal Best

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    Hey, I know this guy!!

I’m the proud friend of several prolific baseball writers.  In the past, I’ve referenced here the fine work of Greg Prince and Jason Fry   My seat for Mets games is in Section 318–right in front of the WOR-710  Mets broadcast booth.  Over the years, the fact that I always have the Mets Booth radio guys in my ear during games–and often pantomime my reactions to their always insightful and entertaining commentary–and that I regularly trade tweets with “the immortal” Chris Majkowski during games, have resulted in a friendship with the radio personnel, including sportscaster and author Howie Rose.

Mark Newman does not write about the Mets exclusively, but he has spent a fair amount of time at Citi Field.  He has been a longtime Hall of Fame voting member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.  He is the recipient of the National Magazine Award for General Excellence.  He has worked twenty-five World Series for Major League Baseball.  It was through his position with MLB’s Advanced Media–for which he is currently Enterprise Editor–that I got to know him.  Mark was a guru/”cheerleader”/problem-solver for all of us novice fans starting to blog about our teams for the first time.  He was most helpful in providing guidance, encouragement, and helpfulf feedback to this Mets blogger. Since starting Perfect Pitch, I’ve had a chance to share some memorable games with Mark at Citi Field, and he and his wife Lisa have attended a few Opening Night Galas at the Metropolitan Opera as well.

Suffice to say, Mark has been around baseball and is accustomed to posing questions to ballplayers.

But for almost as long as I’ve known him, when he’s not involved in a specific work assignment for MLB, Mark’s been meeting one-on-one with players in pursuit of their answers to a single query:  given the opportunity to cite a single at-bat as the most memorable of your career, which one would you choose?

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        Mark Newman (right) poses his oft-repeated question to Mike Schmidt.

He’s talked to current players, players who retired long ago, and Hall of Famers.  He’s met them at batting practice, at foundation fundraisers, on golf courses, over lunch, dinner, or a cup of coffee–any number of scenarios that afforded the time and place for a bit of introspective reflection, “off the record” and away from the player’s team, his family, and the public.

The resulting answers, Mark found, were intriguing, fascinating, and quite often, they came as a surprise.  A publisher had the same reaction.  A book, entitled Diamonds from the Dugout, envisioned and written by Mark–with encouragement from Brooks Robinson–is the happy result.  It came out just this week.

Fans, the media, statisticians, bloggers, and baseball historians have time-honored criteria for quantifying or qualifying an individual athlete’s performance relative to his peers.  They are also afforded their respective platforms for self-cultivated “highlight reels” of their own selection.  Some of the crowning points shared with Mark by these ballplayers might be seen as relatively unremarkable, from a strictly baseball point of view; what is noteworthy is the reason why this is the hit selected by the player himself and given its own chapter in Mark’s book.

The subject of each chapter is certainly a measure of athletic accomplishment, but more often a player’s selection had more to do with the context in which the hit was made. Mark skillfully weaves together the specifics of the play with anecdotal information from the player.  Reading these vignettes, one can easily visualize the whimsical grin playing across the face of a player or the slight misting up of a player’s eyes involved in the hit’s memory and his retelling a story that, for that player at least, has obviously become the stuff of myth or legend.  The inclusion of each player’s “back story”, the opportunity for him to “set the stage” and to add personal embellishments to his saga:  this is what makes the book fascinating reading.

The book is a veritable Who’s Who of baseball royalty, but as a Mets fan, you’ll particularly enjoy reading chapters devoted to David Wright, Mike Piazza, Ron Swoboda, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Rusty Staub, Ed Kranepool, and Ralph Kiner.  I particularly liked Staub’s tale involving a multiple-hit game as a young player for the Astros in May of 1967.  The legendary Ted Williams was in the house–not as a player, but as an award presenter.  Williams had scouted Staub in high school for the Red Sox, and on that day, he witnessed Staub go 3 for 3 with a run scored in the 6-2 victory.  Staub recalls that his efforts that day garnered words of high praise from Williams that he remembers vividly to this day, “You’re gonna be OK, kid.”

Conversely, Mets fans will enjoy Chipper “Larry” Jones’ favorite hit for the mere fact that it did not take place against Mets pitching. Considering the plethora of killer at-bats inflicted by him upon my team, I was relieved to find that his chapter does not constitute a nostalgic recounting of a nadir of Mets family lore.

It’s a hard time for Mets fans:  we had high expectations and low return this season.  Meanwhile the team across town has powered its way to the ALDS.  Trust me, there’s no better time to get lost in a book, if you’re a Mets fan.  And I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Mark’s book today!

UPDATE:  The hardcover edition of the book is once again in stock at Amazon.  For shoppers in the New York City area, Barnes & Noble stores expect to have the hardcover available in its tai-state area stores and for free delivery to select area zip codes by Wednesday, October 11th.

NOTE:  As of this writing, Amazon is temporarily out of stock of the hardcover edition of the book.  However, it is available on Kindle for instant download.  The hardcover edition is currently available on Barnes & Noble’s website , and it is also available as a download for Nook.  

For more information about Mark Newman and his book, please check out his website as well.

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