Dad, Peter Ueberroth & John Mitchell
My Dad is a retired schoolteacher and for as long as I can remember his summer job has been caddying at an exclusive golf course on Long Island. Over the years he has caddied for everyone from Bill Clinton to Bill Murray to David Dinkins.
One summer while I was still in college my Dad caddied for Peter Ueberroth who, at the time, was the commissioner of Major League Baseball. My Dad, in the course of talking to him, mentioned that our family are huge Mets fans. Ueberroth generously offered my Dad his private commissioner’s suite for a game at Shea!
Feeling like we had won the lottery, we excitedly rounded up a group of about fifteen people; family and friends. I remember the little old lady who lived a couple doors down from us, Delores, came too. She was a huge Mets fan and would sit out on her stoop smoking cigarettes and listening to the Mets games on transistor radio.
The commissioner’s suite was amazing. I remember big televisions, big leather chairs, an open bar and a never ending supply of hot dogs and hamburgers. It was nothing at all like sitting down with the riff-raff in the regular seats.
I don’t remember who the Mets were playing or even if they won but I remember feeling like royalty sitting up there and watching the game from a completely different vantage point than what I was used to. The baseball purist in me preferred the regular “open air” seats but for a one time experience, this was amazing.
When the game ended we took an elevator down to exit the building. An usher took us toward the door and I realized we would be exiting from the same door the players exited from. Fans would wait outside the doors, hoping to get players to sign an autograph. Suddenly, and I’m not sure why, an idea hit me. I saw the fans lined up outside the door and I told my brother, Dave, and my sister, Trish, to address me as “John Mitchell”.
John Mitchell was a rookie pitcher who the Mets had just called up from the minor leagues. He was around my age at the time, about twenty-one, and nobody really knew who he was or what he looked like. So when we walked out toward the fans my sister and brother asked for my autograph, which I politely signed as “John Mitchell”. They then informed the other fans “That’s John Mitchell!” and the word spread pretty fast because within seconds I had about fifteen or twenty fans surrounding me asking for my autograph.
I signed hats, yearbooks, shirts. One woman even took off her sneaker and I signed that. In the midst of this wave of humanity surrounding me I looked up at my family and friends off to the side stifling laughter as I dutifully signed John Mitchell’s autograph for one fan after another.
It was a rush to be putting one over on people, wondering whether I would be busted at any moment. What made it even funnier was the fact that, standing about twenty feet away from me was a real Mets player, a relief pitcher named Jeff Innis, and he only had about four autograph seekers while I had a mob.
Realizing that the jig might soon be up my Dad came over and nervously said “Um, John… we should go. The car is waiting.”
I signed a couple more items, apologizing and explaining that “The car is waiting”. Luckily, the fact that we had to walk a half a mile to my Dad’s Dodge Dart, which was parked under a bridge to avoid paying for parking, seemed to go unnoticed by the throngs of fans for whom I had just signed. No Major League Baseball player, even a rookie, would have to park a half a mile from the stadium or drive an off-yellow Dodge Dart.
That was my night in the commissioner’s suite at Shea Stadium, which is right now in the process of being demolished with the opening of brand new Citi Field set for this spring. I will miss Shea and the many cherished memories from a lifetime spent attending games, but none moreso than the night my Dad took us to the commissioner’s suite and I left as John Mitchell.