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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Remembering a great Met moment a quarter century ago

As everyone under the sun knows, I am a diehard Met fan. I'm a long-time season ticket holder who bleeds orange and blue. I try to evolve historical moments in my life and tie them to some sort of Mets moment.

Well, a great moment took place 25 years ago today. In Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Oct. 25, 1986, the Mets staged perhaps the most dramatic comeback in the history of baseball, scoring three runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to defeat the Boston Red Sox and stave off the Red Sox capturing the World Series. Two days later, the Mets won the Series.

But on this date, as I've heard Vin Scully say thousands of times over the last 25 years: "slow roller up the first base line...behind the gets by comes Knight and the Mets win it."

I was just listening to Mike Francesa on WFAN with Darryl Strawberry, talking about that night. Francesa said that everyone remembers exactly where they were the night that Mookie Wilson's little dribbler got past Bill Buckner.

I will never forget that night.

Earlier that Saturday, my good friend from high school, Dave Viggiano, called me and asked me if I wanted to go out to watch the game together and have a few beers. But Vigg had one request.

"Hague, you can't wear any of your Met shit," he said. Vigg was a Yankee fan and hated the Mets. "I want you to get somewhat dressed up and we'll go to have a few, then go somewhere else after. So get dressed."

That included wearing shoes. Now, as anyone who knows me, I don't wear shoes. I'm sneakers 365. Unless it's a really formal affair, like a wedding or a funeral (even that's not a given), I don't for the life of me wear dress shoes.

And yes, to my friends in the Midwest, they are sneakers, not tennies. One of those quirks about my time in Milwaukee that I never understood, like ''pop" instead of soda, and ''bubbler" of all things instead of a drinking fountain.

So anyway, I put on a pair of nice slacks, a collared dress shirt, a new sweater and yes, shoes to go out that night with Vigg. Why? Because he asked me. No Met hats, T-shirts, wristbands, underwear, nothing. I left my Met allegiance and paraphernalia home on the night of the most important game of the 1986 season.

I met Vigg in a place in Secaucus called El Torito, a Mexican restaurant/cantina that had great tap beer, good snacks, TVs all over the place. It was a fun place. It's now Red Lobster in Secaucus, for historical purposes. But El Torito was a popular stop back then. It didn't hurt that two of my friends bartended there and gave me excellent drink prices. I won't dime them out, but they were giving away the joint and I wasn't a pretty girl.

The beers were fine. Vigg and I started talking to two pretty girls. The cost was perfect, like zero. It was the start of a good night and no reason to go anywhere else.

As the game was about to begin, some clown wearing a T-shirt that stated "American League Supremacy: Three Years in a Row" came up to me.

"Your team is going down tonight, fat boy...they're going down....going down."

I have no idea how this moron knew I was a Met fan, because I hadn't cheered a lick at all. I didn't want to piss off Vigg and I certainly had no idea what team the pretty girl I was trying to hit on (unsuccessfully of course) was rooting for. But he came up to me of all people and issued his taunt.

The game is going on. Dwight Gooden looked like crap and was getting knocked around. He was in a cold soaking sweat and it was like 35 degrees out. It was also the second inning. It was the first time that there was some question about him doing cocaine. It was a totally unfathomable idea at that point. I mean, he was Dr. K, the greatest pitcher in the game. Cocaine? No way, I thought. Naive? Oh, yeah, as I'd find out only a couple days later.

So we're losing, come back to tie the game at 3-3, then Rick Aguilera
gives up a homer to Dave Henderson and another run and we're now losing heading into the bottom of the 10th inning, 5-3. The Red Sox are three outs away from their first World Series championship since before World War I and the Mets were on the verge of being a team with 108 wins and nothing to show for it.

Wally Backman pops out for the first out. Keith Hernandez flies out for the second out. We're doomed. The people are preparing the Red Sox clubhouse for a champagne celebration. Marv Albert is standing outside the clubhouse to interview Series MVP Bruce Hurst. Even "Congratulations, Boston Red Sox, World Series Champs" appears on the Diamond Vision scoreboard.

With that, my friend with the T-shirt rears his ugly head once again. He proceeds to pour his beer on my head. Don't forget, I'm dressed nice.

"It's not champagne, fat boy, but it will have to do," he said.

That was it. I grabbed the guy, threw him to the ground, put my knee in his chest, ripped that T-shirt off his body and blew my nose in it as I had my fat knee still embedded in his chest. I threw the shirt in his face, then turned to the TV screen and pointed at my beloved team.

"You guys won 108 games this year," I yelled. "Don't you dare go down without a fucking whimper."

The crowd at El Torito's roared in approval. Sorry, Vigg, it was time for me to be what I did best, be a Met fan.

With that, Gary Carter lined a single. There was life. Kevin Mitchell lined another single, moving Carter to second. More life. Ray Knight, who would become the REAL Series MVP, singled home Carter to make it 5-4 and moved Mitchell to third.

With that, Red Sox manager John McNamara took out beleaguered closer and former Met Calvin Schiraldi and brought in Kearny native Bob Stanley to face Mookie Wilson.

One of Stanley's first deliveries almost hit Wilson, went to the backstop and the wild pitch scored Mitchell with the tying run and moved Knight to second base.

What ensued was baseball history. Wilson fought off pitch after pitch from Stanley, in some instances swinging like an old lady with a fly swatter at a summer picnic. But Mookie stayed alive, fouling seven different Stanley offerings and sending those foul balls all over the place.

Wilson then managed to get wood on another Stanley sinker and hit a slow roller to first base. I still believe to this day that even if Buckner fielded the ball cleanly, Wilson would have beaten him to the bag to keep the rally alive.

But we'll never know. As we do know, Buckner booted the ball and it rolled into short right field. Knight raced home and the Mets had the improbable, impossible 6-5 victory, sending the World Series to a seventh game and sending the Red Sox into a complete state of shock.

Back in El Torito, there was bedlam. In my dress shoes, I don't think I ever jumped higher. White men can't jump. Fat white men can't jump even worse. But I certainly got up there as Knight was racing home.

I turned to look for Vigg. He was gone. He left without even saying goodbye.

As for the guy with the T-shirt, he was getting absolutely pummeled by about seven Met fans. One asked me if I wanted to get in a punch. There was no need. I was celebrating too much to want to get involved with that.

Beer was flying all over the place. The place felt like it was shaking. The management had to announce that the place was closing, strictly for safety purposes. It was a madhouse.

I then headed to my home away from home, the Park Tavern, to continue the revelry. Two of my best friends joined me there. Glenn Gardner and John Matsikoudis were at a party in Bayonne, but once the Mets won, they headed to the PT to partake in the joy.

Two nights later, all three of us celebrated winning the World Series together.

And incredibly, 25 years after the fact, we've never enjoyed that kind of celebration since. There were close calls in 1988, 2000 and 2006, but nothing like what we had in 1986.

So when Francesa said most people remember where they were on this night 25 years ago, there's my memory. And it won't go away anytime soon, especially now since the Mets are a mere shell of what they were 25 years ago. It's a great memory that will never diminish and will stay with me until the Mets get another World Series trophy, if that ever happens.


You can read more of my stuff at, and I promise you it's not as entertaining as writing this blog was.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another tough loss to swallow in a year of sadness

The last time I spoke with my friend Tony Ferrainolo, the all-time winningest coach in the history of New Jersey high school baseball, was in mid-August.

I received word that Ferrainolo had taken a turn for the worse in his battle with lymphoma and that he wasn't doing well. So I reached out to call Ferrainolo on his cell to see how he was handling everything.

"I'm doing alright, Jimmy," he said. "Why don't you come up and we'll have lunch. Call whenever you can. You're a true friend."

In reality, I wasn't that good of a friend, because Tony passed away this morning after battling cancer for a little over a year. He was 66 years old.

Tony Ferrainolo was your quintessential West New York athletic legend. He was a football and baseball star during his playing days at Memorial High School. He went from Memorial to Villanova University and played both sports there.

After a fine career in college, Ferrainolo knew where he belonged and returned to his native West New York to become a teacher, a coach, an administrator.

He became the Memorial baseball coach at a very young age and then became the head football coach as well. While Ferrainolo enjoyed some success as a football coach, it couldn't scratch the surface of what he did as a baseball coach, leading the Tigers to umpteen HCIAA titles, winning several state sectional titles and capturing the overall NJSIAA Group IV title in 1988. In the process, the Tigers won the mythical national championship that year, a feat that will never be duplicated in Hudson County baseball.

It was a glorious season, one that I had the fortune to watch and cover many times that year. I was there when the Tigers defeated Elizabeth in the Group IV semifinals and was given permission by Ferrainolo to travel on the bus with the team to Princeton to watch a guy named Ralph Perdomo hit a three-run homer into the sunset at Princeton to clinch the state and national title.

It was also the beginning of a good friendship that I enjoyed with Ferrainolo over the years, a friendship that lasted more than 25 years. It wasn't just reporter-to-coach. It was friend-to-friend. We talked about everything over the last two decades.

He also opened up to me about being diagnosed with lymphoma, like he was a little over a year ago. He told me that he was going to beat it, that it wasn't that serious.

Apparently, that wasn't the case.

I wanted to write a good tribute here tonight. I wanted to give him his proper due. After all, he's the all-time leader in New Jersey high school baseball coaching victories.

The man he passed this season was also a friend, a great coach from Morristown named Harry Shatel. Harry passed away in early May. Now Ferrainolo is gone. I have said goodbye to too many close friends this year, people I truly loved.

It's almost like I'm burned out from writing about friends who have died.

I feel awful that I didn't get the chance to spend time with Tony like he wanted. We never had that lunch. Life got too busy for me to take the time to spend time with a friend who was dying.

Shame on me.

I will write a better tribute to Tony in the morning. I'm too sad right now to even concentrate on giving him his proper due.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Moneyball hits a home run

I want to start this by stating one clear fact:

Most movies based on true sports stories are generally awful.

There, I said it. For some reason, Hollywood puts its spin on things and make the movies less than factual. As a sportswriter, it really irks me. It makes me feel like I know too much for my own good or that the moviemakers are just plain idiotic.

For example, in "Cinderella Man," a topic I happen to know a little about, Ron Howard , yes the Oscar-winning Opie Cunningham that we all grew to love, made James J. Braddock's son 9 years old for some reason and had a scene where the kid stole a salami and Braddock made the kid return the salami to the store owner from where he stole it. Only problem was that when Braddock shocked the world and beat Max Baer for the heavyweight championship of the world, Braddock's three children were 4, 2 and an infant. No 4-year-old, not even Baby Face Finster, is stealing a salami.

They also had Mae Braddock traveling from North Bergen, N.J. to Long Island City, N.Y. to give her husband encouragement before the fight. Well, how did she get there? Motor car? Subway? Taxi? She wasn't there the night of the fight, especially with three toddlers at home. In fact, she hated to watch her husband get beat up and hardly ever saw him fight in person. Especially after Baer bragged in the pre-fight hype that he was going to send the "Cinderella Man'' home in a body bag. She was truly worried about the well being of her husband and was not present for the big fight. Besides, she had no way of getting there.

There are other examples. In the recent "Secretariat" movie, it made it look as if Peggy Chenery put everything she owned into the horse and if the horse failed, the family would lose the farm. No such thing. The year before Secretariat won the Triple Crown, the Chenery family owned Riva Ridge, who merely won both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. How could they overlook that major point?

There are others, like two hideously poor Babe Ruth movies, the first one with William Bendix and the second one with John Goodman. Neither looked like a baseball player at all, nevermind the greatest player to ever live.

There are other awful biopics that are too painful to list. A litany of disappointment, one after another.

So when I saw the advertisements for "Moneyball", I have to say that I was very skeptical. And the commercials were so diverse. Some showed the movie as a comedy and others portrayed it as a heart-warming drama. And then there was Brad Pitt, who never impressed me at all with his acting skills. He was a pretty boy, but certainly no DeNiro, Pacino or even Leonardo DiCaprio.

Needless to say, I had absolutely no hope or expectations for the movie. But as a sportswriter and a baseball fan in the truest sense, I felt obligated to go see it.

And all I can say is "WOW!" I was blown away. I was captivated by Brad Pitt's portrauyal of Billy Beane, who I've had the chance to interview a few times and he's even more eccentric and out there than Pitt played him to be. I came away with a better appreciation of Pitt as an actor. He was brilliant.

As for the movie, I was amazed at the precise, almost fanatical sticking to the details that director Bennett Miller worked into the movie. I mean, he had to teach some actor how to pitch with the bizarre, submarine style of Chad Bradford, to the point where I sat around to watch the credits to see if the players actually portrayed themselves.

In most sports movies, the opponents are complete afterthoughts with the names on the backs of their jerseys not synching with the real names. Not the case here. Miller even had an actor playing Twins reliever Eddie Guardado who pitched exactly like Guardado.

It was so totally uncanny for a sports movie and so true to life.

I'm not going to give away anything else, other than go see "Moneyball."
It already climbs into my list of the best sports movies of all-time. Pitt is definitely worthy of an Oscar nomination in a role that he obviously thought he was fit to play, considering he admittedly said he knows nothing about baseball, yet served as the movie's executive producer, sinking his own cash into the project.

It's definitely a ''must-see" and it's the best movie I've seen since "The King's Speech," which swept last year's Oscars. Take my advice. Go see it as soon as you can. You will not be disappointed.

You can read more of my work at, and The Observer this week has articles about the Kearny-Harrison soccer matches at Red Bull Arena. I also did an interesting piece for the Daily Record about Madison football players who double in the marching band. Check them out.