My First Game

As I’ve mentioned here before, I keep the tickets from sporting events I attend. Come visit my Sports Memorabilia Room and you can page through the four binders filled with tickets and my comments on the games. Notables include the 1996 World Series clincher, the 2007 Rose Bowl, and the 2013 MLB All-Star Game. What you won’t find is the ticket from the first game I ever went to. What’s worse, I don’t even know what my first game was. I didn’t think to start saving my tickets until I was about 10—perhaps the age I was able to hold on to my own ticket at a game—there is no record to check.

I was interested in whether other people could recall their first game, regardless of whether they have the ticket, so I asked my readers last summer.* Many of you clearly enjoyed writing about your experiences and I had fun reading them.

*I asked for recollections of their first “big-time” sporting event (professional or college) and noted I was particularly interested in baseball, hence the baseball slant in the responses.

It’s not always the details of the game itself, but souvenirs and food that are remembered. Elisabeth H. remembers her parents pulling her from kindergarten for Opening Day at Yankees Stadium, which fell on her fourth birthday. “I got a hot pink Yankee hat I still have to this day.” Adam K. knows the Mets played the Cubs but not other specifics from his first game, other than the pennant he still has that reads, “Shea Stadium, Home of the New York Mets.” Brian K. remembers that a hot dog fell from the upper deck at Shea and hit him in the head, but that’s about it. Andre S. was a 10-year-old who had just moved from Brazil when he went to his first sporting event in the U.S., a New York Giants game. “I had no idea what was going on, having only really watched soccer my entire life up to that point. Only thing I really remember from that day was the awesome tailgate my dad’s friends put together. They roasted a whole pig in the parking lot.”

Ryan S. was all about the uniforms and bought a teal Detroit Pistons Allan Houston jersey in the mid-90s, only to watch Houston leave for the Knicks shortly after. His replacement Stacey Augmon jersey lasted a few months longer before he was traded. During a Cubs-Cardinals game at Wrigley during the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home run chase, he “wore a new Cubs hat all game except when McGwire came up to bat. I would switch hats just for his at-bats and I remember the gentleman next to me saying, ‘We’ve got a politician here!’ I have no idea who won that day, but apparently everyone was a winner in my heart.”

While Ryan witnessed the McGwire-Sosa battle, Sandy F. saw the original home run race: Mickey Mantle vs. Roger Maris. His first game was September 9, 1961 at Yankee Stadium. Maris hit No. 56 that day off a pitcher named Mudcat Grant. A baseball game in New York around that time period was popular among my responders. Larry A. attended his first in ’61 as well, and remembers looking down at Mantle and Maris from his upper deck seat. Tony K. saw the Yanks win that same season (they won 109 games and the World Series that year).

Marc S. remembers going to Yankee Stadium with his dad for the 1967 Mayor’s Trophy Game between the Mets and Yankees on his 12th birthday. “My dad was building a business and travelling a lot. He was rarely home. I felt like a king that day.” On May 31, 1964, Bill G. witnessed an epic doubleheader in the brand new Shea Stadium. Juan Marichal and Willie Mays helped the San Francisco Giants beat the Mets in the first game, but it was the second game that made the day memorable. It lasted 23 innings and took seven hours and 23 minutes, still the longest in National League history. The Mets turned a triple play, Mays played shortstop for three innings, and Gaylord Perry pitched 10 innings of shutout relief to help the Giants win 8-6. “I started with seats high in the grandstand, but by the time the game ended, we were right behind the plate with the few fans who remained. I was in fourth grade at the time, and got home so late that I was allowed to sleep in and go to school the next day at lunchtime.”

Before the Mets existed, the Giants and Dodgers played in New York. In 1956, Dennis S. saw the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe dominate on the mound and Duke Snider hit a home run. “Ebbets Field was the only ballpark in my mind.  What a great place to watch a baseball game.” Hank A. and his dad, who grew up a Giants fan, seized an opportunity to see their team while living in Boston in 1952, the year before the Braves moved to Milwaukee and National League left the city for good.

More recently, Tom H. remembers attending a Yankees-Royals game with family. “Mark Gubicza pitched for the Royals, and that name has stuck with me forever.” Looking up the game online, he realized he saw Bo Jackson hit a homer. Despite his first game being a Cardinals home game in 1993, Rob B. now roots for the Brewers and despises the Cards. Perhaps that’s because the game didn’t leave much of an impression on him. All he remembers is the plastic replica St. Louis batting helmet he got.

As noted, not all responses were about baseball. Scott B. recalls seeing Michigan upset Michigan State by one point in 1979, the year the Spartans would win the national championship behind Magic Johnson. Mike B. remembers a Notre Dame football game at which the two flask-drinking fans seated next to him were kicked out before halftime.

Dick M. recalls the details from the 1946 Army-Navy football game. He entered the Naval Academy that year, and he and his classmates were subjected to constant hazing. Should Navy beat heavily favored Army in the November 30 game, hazing would be suspended until Christmas. Arriving at Philadelphia Municipal Stadium hours before kickoff, he and his fellow midshipmen stood in a dim tunnel under the stadium. “Toilet facilities were minimal and many of us had used the empty cardboard milk cartons from our box lunches. So we all had to watch where we stepped. The order finally came to march off. Suddenly we were at the entrance and we burst on to the field to the blinding sunshine and the sight and sound of 102,000 cheering fans. It was overwhelming.” After playing music and executing several cheers and salutes, the game began. Navy lost 21-18 in a controversial ending. “Hazing continued unabated to the end of the year.”

While I know I couldn’t top that story, I wish I at least knew the date and location of my first game. There’s a good chance it is something like Josh. R’s, who watched the Mets play the Pirates at Shea Stadium in August of 1993. “The Mets would go on to lose 103 games that season and it might have been 103 degrees that day. I don’t remember who won or lost, but the next season I was obsessed. I had to watch/listen to every game, and play baseball whenever I could. And here I am today: bruised, battered, beaten, but still holding on.”

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