August 27, 1974. A small bungalow in Lavalette, NJ. We spent 3 weeks a summer here, gathered with cousins, aunts and uncles. I was 6, my brother was 4, my mother was 32. My father wasn't with us, he only came down on weekends, not wanting to miss work. Ironworkers didn't get vacation, they got stamps in their paychecks that they could cash in. If you worked a full year you got enough stamps to make up a week or 2 salary so you could take some time off. But, ironworkers usually didn't work full years, the work was dependent on demand and competition was stiff. Even if you did work enough to accumulate the stamps you needed to make up a week's salary, why would you take a week off when you could just cash those stamps in for some extra cash and keep on working? That was my father's viewpoint. Maybe that's why he died before he hit 60. Maybe that's why the two most important lessons I learned from my father are:
- work hard
- take vacations
Anyway, back to Benny Ayala. The Mets were playing the Astros at 8:05 PM at Shea Stadium. I know we were in the bungalow, we probably spent the day at the beach rafting and catching rock crabs in hand nets. I don't remember much (I was only 6) but I recall the game was on the radio. My Mother was a Met Fan, a huge Met Fan. She was possibly the biggest Met Fan of all time. She is gone too, listening to the Mets in Heaven. Because, as we all know, if anyone deserves to go to Heaven, it's Mets Fans. We have suffered enough.
In the second inning, with no one on, Benny Ayala came to the plate for his first Major League at-bat. I don't know what the count was, I don't know who was pitching for Houston. I do know, and can recall it as clear as if it happened yesterday, Benny Ayala deposited one into the left field Loge seats, just to the right of the foul pole. I remember my Mother jumping around, happy as can be. I knew, in my 6 year old brain, that Benny Ayala was going to be a star. This was our Babe Ruth. How could he not be? He just homered in his first at bat. Benny Ayala was the first Met to homer in his first MLB at bat. Benny Ayala was the first Puerto Rican player to home in his first MLB at bat. Benny Ayala was great.
This is my first Mets memory.
This is when I became a Mets fan.
The next year, 1975, was the first year I collected baseball cards. I still have the Benny Ayala Rookie Outfielders card from that set. It's possibly my favorite card of all time.
As for Benny Ayala, he went on to hit one more homer for the Mets in 1974 and after spending 1975 at Triple A Tidewater, he hit one more for us in 1976. On March 30, 1977, the Mets traded Ayala to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for second baseman Doug Clarey, who never played a game for the Mets and who has, incidentally, no baseball card. Ayala subsequently landed with the Baltimore Orioles, where he played until 1984. Ayala retired after playing in 46 games for the Cleveland Indians in 1985.
They won yesterday Mom, I know you were watching.