Meet: Mike Piekarski

I would like to introduce myself to the Amazin’ Prospects fan base: My name is Mike Piekarski, and I’ve been a Mets’ fan for a long, long time—so long, in fact, that I remember when Casey Stengel was the team’s first manager. (No, I don’t remember him as a player, wise guy!)

I was born in the fall of 1955, and though I can’t claim that I was a Mets fan since the team’s inaugural season, I do have in my possession a New York Mets scorecard from 1962, when the team faced the St. Louis Cardinals. The printing style of the players’ names indicates that my older brother Tom (age 12 at the time) was at the Polo Grounds then, keeping score. And the Cardinals’ signatures on the back, including Stan Musial, my dad’s favorite player, lead me to believe that my father was the one who took my brother to that game. (In separate phone calls, neither one recalled attending it.)

In any case, though I can’t remember rooting for the Mets in 1962 or ’63, I do recall rooting for Ron Hunt in 1964 and being especially pleased that the scrappy second baseman was selected to start in the All-Star Game held at newly opened Shea Stadium that year. That also was the year that the New York World’s Fair came to Flushing Meadows, and on a school trip, I remember being impressed by the gleaming ballpark right next door. Everything at the fair seemed new, futuristic, and full of possibility – and that included the Mets and their shiny new home.

Though I was born just north of New York City (in Yonkers), I wasn’t able to go to a lot of games when I was young. I made sure, however, to watch the Mets whenever the games were televised. (Thank you, Channel 9!) And late at night, when the Mets played on the West Coast, or their games went into extra innings, I listened to the team’s exploits in bed on my small, white transistor radio, trying desperately to muffle the sound of the announcer under the covers while pretending to be asleep.

Rooting for the Mets in the 1960s was a labor of love and, to my mind, a badge of honor. It was easy to root for the Yankees, who always seemed to win either the pennant or the World Series—or both—back then. But it was extremely difficult to stay loyal to a team that found more ways to lose than the number of pickled peppers that Peter Piper could pick. In those days, I took nearly every Mets’ loss personally, and as much as I tried, I couldn’t prevent myself from bursting into tears over some particularly heartbreaking loss when it seemed that victory had been secured.

Rooting for the Mets came with the understanding of lowered expectations. I didn’t tune in to their games thinking I was listening to a pennant winner on the rise. I listened hoping only that the club would win enough games to get out of last place. One of my earliest Mets’ memories occurred in 1966 when the Mets seemingly were headed for yet another blowout loss. Trailing 7-1 to the first-place Pirates in the fourth inning, the Mets strung together three singles to score a run, and when a walk loaded the bases, then-manager Wes Westrum summoned pinch-hitter “Hawk” Taylor to the plate.

C’mon, Hawk. Hit a home run, I thought to myself. At the time, I had no idea that the Mets had never swatted a pinch-hit grand slam. Even without knowing that, based solely on my game-watching experience, my brain told me it was a nearly impossible long shot. My heart, though, against all odds, still clung to hope. And then it did happen: Taylor hit a grand slam! I was 10 then, and you’d have thought that I had won the lottery—or at least gotten a bump in my allowance! Ron Hunt (there’s that name again!) later singled in two runs, and the Mets held on to win, 8-7. It seemed to me afterward that anything really was possible. Like golf, a sport at which, for most of us, you try to forget your innumerable bad shots, a Mets’ fan in the ‘60s had to overlook the uncountable bad days and recall the few good ones.

Still, when one year after another resulted in 100 losses (or 95 in 1966), I questioned my loyalty—and my sanity. It wasn’t until 1968, with the emergence of pitchers Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, that the Mets showed genuine promise. And then there was 1969. I have a lot of memories of that year, but suffice it to say that, on October 16 of that year, one day after my 14th birthday, the Mets had taken on and beaten all comers, and all my suffering was quickly forgotten. The Mets were world champions, and what could be better than that?

It has been many, many years since that first title, and a lot has changed. I’m just a bit more critical than I was back then and definitely more objective. But I’m still passionate about the team, and I see or listen to nearly every game. I hope I can impart some perspective and, possibly, insight into the conversation about the upcoming season. Yes, the 2019 Mets face a daunting task to get back to the top of the heap, but like that long ago grand-slam-fueled comeback victory in 1966 or that well-known “one word” phrase of the late major-leaguer Joaquin Andujar: You never know!

• Year I became a Mets fan: 1964
• Favorite Met: Tom Seaver
• Favorite Mets Moment: Winning the 1969 world championship
• Least Favorite Mets Moment: Losing the seventh game of the 2006 NLCS to the Cardinals.

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