In the summer of 1969, I was a 14-year-old Long Island girl. I had just finished eighth grade. I played softball, ran track and loved the Beatles, but had no interest whatsoever in baseball. But it was during that summer that I not only discovered the game and fell in love with the Mets, but connected with my dad in a way I had never thought possible.
It all began when Tom Seaver was pitching against the Chicago Cubs on July 9, 1969. My mom kept calling my dad, Joe Holtzman, to the dinner table in our four-bedroom Cape Cod house in Wantagh — and finally sent me into the living room to see what was keeping him. He was glued to the television and nervously explained to me that star pitcher Tom Seaver had given up no hits, no runs and no walks. Nobody from the Cubs had reached base in seven innings. It was a perfect game in the making, and there was no way he was getting up from his chair.
I took a seat, and as each out was recorded, our excitement grew — and my mom could get neither one of us away from the TV. (I did run into the kitchen during a commercial to explain why dinner just had to wait.)
Of course, with one out in the ninth inning, Cubs rookie Jimmy Qualls hit a single. It spoiled Seaver’s perfect game — but it was a perfect game for me. My love affair with baseball and the Mets was born that night. More important, I suddenly realized what it felt like to connect with my dad in a way we never had before.
From then on, we sat and talked strategy and rules, and his enthusiasm was contagious. As I reflect back, I realize that he must have enjoyed teaching me the game as much as I was just plain happy to have his attention. It could have been fishing, golf or chess, but it happened to be baseball.
Joe Holtzman was a wonderful man, but he was a product of an era when affection wasn’t easily displayed. I was the middle child of seven, and time alone with him was rare. Baseball gave us something to share, discuss and enjoy together. Each morning from April to September, the first thing Dad and I would discuss was the Mets game from the night before. This was something no one else in the family could quite understand. A special relationship and closeness evolved that lasted almost 25 years.
My dad passed away in 1993, but I still love the game and the Mets — maybe because these were a gift my dad gave me, or maybe because they keep him alive in me. Either way, many times after a particularly good Mets game, I think about how he would have enjoyed it and, oh, the discussion we would have had!
When Citi Field opened in 2009, I purchased a commemorative brick in the walkway outside. It says, “Mets fan in heaven, Joe Holtzman.”
Reader Suzanne Wallace lives in Yardley, Pennsylvania.