O'Reilly: Santana, a shooting -- and minding history

The scoreboard after Johan Santana pitched the Mets' The scoreboard after Johan Santana pitched the Mets' first no-hitter. (June 1, 2012) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Johan Santana's no hitter at Citi Field Field Friday night came as a jolt for more than one reason.

The event itself was amazing enough. No Mets pitcher had recorded a no-hitter before Friday's performance, and the team has had some damn fine pitching throughout its history.

But more than that, Santana's "no-no" (no hits, no runs) reminded us that the Mets turned 50 this year. How did that happen? The Mets are supposed to be the new kids on the block. They were founded to ease the pain of losing the old-guard Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to California in 1957. Yet, at the half-century mark, the Mets are beginning to approach the ages the Dodgers and Giants were when they packed up and headed out for the then-promising Left Coast, 73 and 74 respectively.

I was invited Saturday to go to a Mets game, and so I did. But I first stopped to pick up a friend in the Pelham Manor neighborhood where my family lived from 1972 to 1989. The street looks identical to how it did when we first moved in, only with different faces behind the brick and stone house walls, save one where a friend's mother remains.

I met one of the newcomers. She lives in the home next door to our old Tudor. She's been there 18 years and had never heard of us -- we, a vibrant family of eight that once ruled the local roost, or so we liked to think. Nor had she heard of our former neighbors who had occupied her home for decades.

Surely she knew, though, a week before the Belmont Stakes, that Secretariat owner Penny Tweedy had been raised in our house. My parents bought the place from her. The entire neighborhood had watched, enraptured, a year after our arrival as Big Red crossed the finish line 31 lengths ahead of Twice a Prince to take the Triple Crown in inarguably the greatest equestrian performance in American history. Nope. This bright, warm, and articulate woman knew nothing about that moment of neighborhood celebrity.

The shooting in the yard next to hers, on the other side of her house? It happened 10 steps from where we were speaking. Her eyes widened. This was clearly news, too.

It was the spring of 1976 or '77. My best friend John was riding his skateboard in his driveway when the car came up our leafy, dead-end street. It was moving quickly and erratically, with a police officer hanging onto the driver's door and the driver, who had commandeered the car after robbing an area bank, veering the vehicle wildly in an attempt to shake him off.

The noise of the gunshots knocked John from his skateboard -- his mother thought he had been shot. The car crashed into the yard next to John's, with the man's body spilling onto the ground. Before police units arrived from a half-dozen surrounding jurisdictions, including New York City, and before the news crews rolled up, John and I stood over the bullet-ridden body watching it grow pale. It began to rain after a small crowd assembled. I'll never forget watching the umbrellas go up for everyone but the man on the ground, who no longer needed one.

To us, that shooting was the biggest thing that ever happened in the history of history -- yet the people who mow that lawn today know nothing of it. John, who died three summers ago at age 46, is no longer around to recount his unique memories of it.

On the way through the Citi Field parking lot, we stumbled upon a marker of where home plate had been in the old Shea Stadium. Right there -- on that exact spot -- Ray Knight crossed the plate to win Game Six of the 1986 World Series against a stunned Boston Red Sox team. Ninety feet away lay another marker -- the site of the former mound where Jerry Koosman released his final pitch in the 1969 World Series. Baltimore Oriole batter Davey Johnson popped it up for the final out. Sixty-six feet and nine inches from the mound marks where second base once stood -- along with the Beatles who, on August 15, 1965, played before 55,000 screaming fans in the first major stadium concert in U.S. history.

Markers are a good thing. We need more of them.

Bill O'Reilly is a corporate and political communications consultant who works on the Republican side of the aisle.

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