As a long-time Reds fan – going back to my Big Red Machine, I’ve never been much on the New York Mets. I still remember those rude Mets fans during the 1973 NLCS, and the Pete Rose – Bud Harrelson fight. Of course, I remember those same Mets fans – for the most part – filling Shea Stadium during a lousy period in Mets history, in order to graciously cheer Pete Rose with standing ovations when he tied and broke the modern N.L. Hitting Streak record during the summer of 1978; Rose would go on to an N.L. Record 44-Game Hitting Streak.
I admired the Mets in years to come – when they won the 1986 World Series over the Boston Red Sox. I felt bad for the Red Sox as well, as they were soooo close to a World’s Championship. I felt good for Ray Knight and for Keith Hernandez – I was always a grudging admirer of his, and he could play both 1B and the man could hit.
I would love to say that I enjoyed the 1986 Fall Classic, BUT I was busy as a brand new trainee – I was in Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, from 17 September – 21 November 1986, so I missed the entire Series. Actually, I saw about 2 minutes of one game – I was peering in my Drill Sergeant’s office with the game going on one evening. I got caught, and was lucky I didn’t have to do push-ups. I had to appreciate MLB’s postseason by reading the newspapers on Sunday – training took up the rest of the week from before sun-up to past sundown.
As for subsequent years, well…let’s just say it’s been hard to enjoy MLB these past years with the Reds having such a LONG period of losing (since 2000). I did get to appreciate the 1990 World Champion Reds – once more, from a distance. This time, I was in Saudi Arabia, as I was called up from my then Tennessee National Guard Unit (130th Rear Area Operations Center) for Operation Desert Shield, later to become Desert Storm. Sweet Lou Pinella, Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo, the Nasty Boys, and the rest of that great gave me something to cheer about during a tough but victorious period that kept me away from my wife, Lynne for several months.
I’m still a Soldier, and Lynne and I are still going strong – 21 years now – and I’m having the opportunity these days to work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. From time to time, you can see some celebrities come to WRAMC to visit our “Wounded Warriors” – those who have been seriously wounded, injured during our deployments into Harm’s Way. The Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints paid a visit to our Heroes a few weeks ago. I stay away from these events – the celebrities come to see “Our Celebrities,” and I’m strong in my beliefs that “it’s not about me.”
Well, just a few days ago, I saw some familiar faces in civilian dress walking outside towards our main pavilon, hospital building – I was returning from visiting patients, Etc. These guys came in large groups – big giveaway. They were wearing different modes of neat attire – from suits to blue jeans, and they had hospital reps with them. They were clearly V.I. Guests.
I did recognize the Met’s manager, Jerry Manuel – can’t mistake him, and said hello. He smiled back and returned my greeting – very kind man, and I was very appreciate of their visit.
BUT…the one ballplayer – out of all the stars who were there, and I believe I recognized David Wright and others as well – was a great NY Met from the past – Keith Hernandez.
I wasn’t carrying a pen on my uniform – of all the times – and I asked a fellow Soldier to borrow a pen and I asked another for a scrap of paper. I got an index card, and I covered the 50 or so yards in no time – thank God for Army training/staying in decent shape. I got to Mr. Hernandez in just enough time before they entered the back of the building.
Keith Hernandez has aged some – like the rest of us, but he’s done it with grace; there’s no doubt who he is today. I called out his name, and he turned around. I quickly asked for his autograph, and he graciously supplied it. I thanked Mr. Hernandez and the rest of the Mets for coming to see our Soldiers, and I left. They had important people to see…
Mr. Hernandez, if you read this, or someone alerts you to this, “Thank YOU, Sir, and the Rest of the Mets. As for your signature, I’m not one of those fans who will “turn a kindness into a buck.” In fact, I’m giving your autograph, along with a good photo I can purchase, and card – to my eldest son. Will is an Army ROTC Cadet at a University in Illinois. I’m very PROUD of Will, and my younger son, Bobby – They are my Heroes. Will is a big baseball fan, and I want him to have a great autograph of a great ballplayer.
People go out of their way to speak about how athletes and other celebrities can be rude and self-seeking. Well, here at Walter Reed, I get the opportunity to see some selflessness from great celebrities from time to time. When I hear of great baseball players, I’ll always Keith Hernandez – for his great play on the field, and his many clutch hits and solid career.
Still, Keith Hernandez, for all his accolades, will always be TOPS in my book – for taking time to visit America’s Heroes…and for giving an old fan an autograph.
Keith Hernandez & the New York Mets: This Old Soldier Salutes YOU. God bless you and yours.
More on the Cardiac Reds tomorrow, or soon – always busy at WRAMC, and this shows in very few blogs over the year. Oh well…Great 2010 Season so far. Don’t lose hope, Votto and Company – keep your heads up. 2010 has been really Fun!
GREAT MOMENT IN REDS’ HISTORY: Pete Rose hustles around the bases with clenched fist in the 12th Inning, after hitting what became the game-winning HR against Mets at Shea Stadium, Game #4, 1973 NLCS – Shea Stadium, October 1973.