Social Distancing 1986 Style

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Absent live events to televise, sports networks are trying everything they can to engage the sports fanatic suffering withdrawal symptoms. The Major League Baseball Network recently spent an entire Saturday of programming on the incredible 1986 postseason, which of course, was the last time that the Mets won a World Series. Included was the complete rebroadcast of Game 6 from the National League Championship Series between the Mets and the Houston Astros, all 16 innings and five hours of it.

Watching the replay reminded me of how I was able to share the experience with my father, from a distance, back in 1986. We were miles away from each other, but thanks to a little black and white TV and an old fashion landline, we were able to share an unforgettable experience while social distancing, 1986 style.
I was an IT manager at Coler Hospital on Roosevelt Island, and we were having major technical problems with our computer hardware. The disk packs, which were about the size of pizzas, had to be monitored and manually changed periodically. Knowing the game was on ABC at 3:30 p.m. that afternoon, I brought my portable black and white TV with the tiny five-inch screen.

As bad as things were in the computer room, it was worse for the Mets. They were losing 3-0 in the top of the ninth inning and had just two hits the entire game. As they rallied in the ninth inning to make it 3-2, I called my dad, and when he picked up the phone, I said, “Are you watching this?”
“Of course, I’m watching it,” he said.

We stayed on the phone as the Mets tied the score, laughing and clapping like we had seats behind home plate. When the game went into extra innings, I had to tend to the disk packs and we hung up. A few innings later, I called him just as the Mets took the lead in the 14th inning. “Are you still watching?” I said.
“Of course. Your mother is yelling at me to be quiet,” he said.
Now trailing 4-3, the Astros Kevin Hatcher hit a home run in the bottom of the 14th to tie the game and keep it going. “Can you believe this?” my dad yelled into the phone. I could hear my mother yelling at him in the background. It was time to change the packs again.
As the game continued into the 16th inning, I called again, and we spent the next 45 minutes on the phone together, cheering as the Mets scored three times, only to almost blow it in the bottom of that inning. We shared the ups and downs together from a distance, as the Astros slowly made it 7-5, then 7-6, and now had the tying run on second.
What did we talk about? Probably nothing. We were watching separately but listening together. It was a shared experience I will never forget.

Jessie Orosco, the Mets pitcher, got two strikes on the Astros Kevin Bass as together, we held our breath. On a 3-2 pitch, Orosco struck out Bass, and the Mets were jumping and hugging each other. Although we couldn’t dance and hug each other from 40 miles away, we were doing that in our minds.
It’s incredible how a sporting event can create a bond like that between father and son. It’s one thing to share a ballpark experience or be together in a living room, but over a phone line? I guess it’s more common today, in the age of cell phones and video apps, to still be together while apart.

I was lucky enough to share the experience of the 2015 World Series with my boys at Citi Field together. As I looked down the aisle at them during one of those games, I thought about sharing that 1986 playoff game with my father from a distance. How I wish he was still around so I could have used my cell phone to call him and say, “Are you watching this!”

Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.

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