Oh, Darling

Hi, I wanted to share quick impressions of the inaugural Queens Baseball Convention, which took place Saturday at McFadden’s at CitiField:

12The program highlight undoubtedly was a revealing interview from Ron Darling, helped along by excellent preparation and questions from interviewer Jason Fry. Darling acknowledged the sometimes ugly singlemindedness and ego required to be a successful pro athlete and the challenges that brings: A rookie-year locker room encounter with Tom Seaver, who dropped a New York Times crossword in his lap with instructions to finish by the end of the week; feelings of confusion upon being traded; of fierce determination on the mound; and of helplessness at the prospect of being released. He described his admiration for Gary Cohen; how encountering his National Guardsman father on the Fenway Park field prior to Game 4 of the 1986 World Series helped to overcome a rattled confidence and a poor pre-game bullpen session; and what it was like to play for a phenomenal team like the 1986 Mets, using the same language teammate Gary Carter once did of saying what ultimately made the difference was love for one another. How great is that?

Darling in addition to being a favorite of mine when he played, is also becoming a terrific broadcaster and establishing a perspective, voice and an accessible presence truly unique among ex-Mets. I was thrilled to hear he signed a five-year contract to continue calling Mets games and that he’s currently at work on another book.

In the brief Q&A session afterward I asked about the rare accomplishment of having worn three different uniform numbers during the course of a single, uninterrupted tenure with the team (quite unusual as the chart on this page illustrates): He relayed the familiar story of pitchers of that era gathering numbers in the teens to surround young Dwight Gooden; but said his change from 12 to 15 some years later was a matter of playing a trick on Mets pr man Jay Horwitz, whom he knew would panic when he couldn’t explain who the guy wearing No. 15 on that mound that day was. (In contemporary accounts, Darling always seemed to me to be less-than-forthcoming, telling writers then that “12 hasn’t been showing up this year.”) Great stuff, Ron!

I was briefly mortified to have forgotten the players to have followed Dwight Gooden in the No. 16 jersey (David Cone slipped my mind) during the session on uniforms in which I participated, but it was only a speedbump in a wild and wide-ranging discussion including Todd Radom‘s discovery and subsequent re-creation of the Mets’ logo in its original — pink and black! — colors. The event also placed me in a seat next to Russ Gompers, whose Whitestone sporting goods firm Stitches is the official embroider to the Mets and so a giant in my line of research. I’m happy to report he’s also a terrific guy whom I intend to meet again soon, to discuss certain matters relating to … Doug Saunders.

We were hooked off the stage so the show could go on, and those who stayed for Mark Simon‘s presentation were treated to a well-researched and well-told tale of unusual Met victories and heros … like Chris Jones. I owe a writeup of a uni-related discovery Mark shared with me recently that was one of the things inspiring my recent return to this project.

I’m in agreement with many who noted the overriding best part of the event was the mere gathering of so many fans in January. I’m happy to have personally met a few longtime readers of the MBTN project including the immortal Alex G., Internet personalities with whom I’ve encountered virtually for many years (Shannon Shark, Mark Healey); and seeing some old friends again. My wife and son showed up and got themselves photographed and quoted. Thanks, guys!

McFadden’s vast expanse and advantageous location made for a good site to gather but some challenging acoustics for events held in the main dining room. That said I was impressed they basically opened an entire restaurant on the fly for a day. Do they ever really need a men’s room attendant? I wish they’d promote this worker to the kitchen or bar and allow me to gather my own paper towels. That goes for any day of the season.


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