July 9, 2006 -- YOU can
never be certain just how well these things will work
out. You hope for the best. You hope that you give a kid
the ball one day and he'll start making magic right
away. That's all it really is, of course: hope, and
wishful thinking, and the fervent belief that one of
these days, another Tom Seaver will drop out of the sky,
another Dwight Gooden, a kid around whom you can build
That's the special magic of a kid pitcher, after all.
It's why, in 1969, there was never any doubt that Seaver
was the heart and soul of the Mets, even though Cleon
Jones hit .340 that year. It's why, in 1985, it was
Dwight Gooden who got his picture on the side of a
building in Manhattan, while Darryl Strawberry had to be
content with milk ads.
It's why, if Mike Pelfrey is everything the Mets hope
he is, if he becomes everything they so desperately want
him to be, he'll be the one around whom Mets fans will
plan their weeks in the years ahead, more than Lastings
Milledge, more than Jose Reyes, more, even, than David
Wright, who's as close to Roy Hobbs as you'll find
without a movie script.
Pitchers are just different. They've always been
different. Their starts are an event. Their games are a
happening. Wright plays every day. Reyes plays every
day. You miss them today, you'll catch them tomorrow.
Not so with a starting pitcher, who gets 34, 35 times a
year to do what he does, only 17 or 18 of those at home.
When you get a good one, he's a must-see.
Maybe Pelfrey can be that some day. He's certainly
been the object of an inordinate amount of interest,
publicity and fan speculation. Mets fans have been
waiting for another Seaver, after all, from the moment
the last Seaver went away.
What's funny, of course, is that part of the reason
the last Seaver was able to become what he became is
that he did it with hardly any fanfare at all. Mets fans
knew he was good. Maybe they could believe he'd be
great. But how could anyone guess that Tom Seaver would
become Tom Seaver, the Franchise, the guy who made the
Miracle possible, the man who caused an entire city to
lapse into a deep depression when he was traded away on
June 15, 1977?
Because here's the thing:
Nobody could know. Nobody did know. Would you like to
guess how many people showed up at Shea Stadium for Tom
Seaver's major-league debut? Here's a little background:
it was the second day of the season. It was April 13,
1967. The Mets were coming off the greatest year in
franchise history, which is to say they finished in
ninth place rather than 10th, had failed to lose 100
games for the first time in team history, and had
clearly established ownership of the town, since the
Yankees had finished dead last in '66.
Seriously. Take a guess.
Five thousand and five people were there. Alfred
Hitchcock was one of them, and he got himself a good
seat, right behind the Mets dugout, and it's likely that
as brilliant as Hitchcock might have been at knowing how
to thrill the hell out of people, he wasn't remotely
sure what he was watching. Because nobody was.
Not even Seaver, who received only one piece of
advice from manager Wes Westrum before taking the mound:
"I told him that they use the same bat and the same ball
and the same home plate in the big leagues," Westrum
After allowing two runs on six hits and four walks,
and striking out eight, Seaver left with one out in the
fifth inning (proving that even supposed superhero
pitchers of yesteryear didn't always go nine), but the
Mets wound up winning the game 3-2, and moving to .500
(at 1-1) for only the second time in their history.
"I just ran out of gas," Seaver, all of 22, said,
There was twice as much interest at Shea when Gooden
made his home debut on April 19, 1984: There were 10,705
in the park that night. He went five innings, threw 118
pitches, struck out seven, and allowed four unearned
runs in his last inning of work after Ron Gardenhire,
then the Mets' shortstop, fumbled a two-out grounder by
Andre Dawson. There were no K cards, and nobody stood on
strike two. All of that would come later.
"I had trouble locating my fastball and curve until I
broke a sweat," Gooden, 19, said apologetically. "Once I
got loose, I was OK."
Mike Pelfrey walked into a different situation
yesterday due to the Mets' enormous lead in the
division. He put forth a similar effort to his ancestral
predecessors, going five innings and getting the win,
while Seaver and Gooden settled for no-decisions.
What he does from here is up to him. And that'll be
the fun part.
Mike Vaccaro's e-mail address is email@example.com.
His Yankees-Red Sox book, "Emperors and Idiots," is
available at bookstores everywhere.
spent too much time suffering over the semi-professional
basketball team that plays its home games at the Garden,
then you deserve a chuckle or six, and you'll thoroughly
enjoy the following site:
I can't guarantee that the folks who go to today's
France-Italy finale in the World Cup are going to see
any honest-to-goodness goals before they get to the
penalty-kick phase of the game, but I am pretty certain
that the tailgate food beforehand should blow away
anything you see at Giants Stadium.
Tonight wouldn't be a terrible night for "Entourage"
to start getting its fastball back, by the way. And any
time they want to bring E's girlfriend back in play
would be A-OK by me, too.
People who moan about the All-Star Game deciding the
World Series seem to forget that the old system was even
dumber, alternating the home-field between the two
leagues regardless of who had the better record.