Matt's Greece Travel Blog Talkin Greek Baseball Following baseball in Greece these days is much easier with most games streamed live over the internet, as long as you don't mind the game starting at 2am. But it wasn't always so easy.
I am a long time Mets fan, ever since my father and grandfather converted me from the Yankees when they took me to a spanking-new Shea Stadium somewhere around during the NY World's Fair. I went to a few games. I remember these tough Queens kids standing outside the stadium, where they had a view of the bullpen, razzing relief pitcher Larry Bearnarth, who was my cousin's neighbor in Huntington, LI, and being sort of shocked that anyone with the opportunity to be close to a baseball player would use that opportunity to insult him.
To me they were gods. Even Larry Bearnarth. We were the Kifissia Team.
Actually there were two teams from Kifissia and the base people hated us. We had long hair and the base commander, Col. Harris would turn white when we showed up in the cafeteria after the game for real American milkshakes and burgers.
The teams from the base were pretty much the kids of the th support group and whatever other military people were in the Glyfada area. They had short hair though some of them were as wild as we were, they were just not allowed to look the part because their parents were sergeants, and officers in the military.
Of course the people in the stands saw it as clean-cut Americans vs drug-crazed hippy commies. When I would get up to bat they would shout "hair-hair-hair" from the stands like it was some kind of insult. Their nickname for one of our pitchers was 'Romilar-mouth' after a popular recreational cough-syrup and the spectators at the base would yell this in an effort to rattle him, which it didn't.
I was the catcher. I never wore a cup because I never believed I would get hit there, and never did.
Either sheer luck or a case of creating one's reality through positive thought. The umps hated us and had no problem making calls that favored the base kids.
One game I was beaned in the head. I picked myself up and started for first base, feeling proud that I had taken one for the team and the ump yelled "Get back here!
That's strike one. One of our pitchers was Chris Spheeris yes that Chris Spheeris for all you New Age music fans who are still reading this. He was doing his warm-ups while the ump was talking to the manager of the opposing team, probably telling him about how he could not wait to make some terrible calls against the hippies from Kifissia.
Chris threw a pitch that sort of slipped out of his grip on the way towards the general vicinity of the plate and made a lazy arc and hit the ump right in the hand. It was almost like a miracle. There is no way a pitcher could ever hit an umpire who is standing in foul territory half way down the 3rd base line.
The ump glared at him with hatred. I walked to the mound and told him not to expect too many calls to go his way today. We lost of course. My first year I was a really good hitter. Our best pitcher was Glen Raphael who was the best athlete in the whole school and was virtually un-hittable.
The first 4 games I had 6 homeruns, which on the airbase field meant that it went over the head of the outfielder and towards the parking lot of the PX. Glen took me aside for a little pep talk. I know I can go 10 and O and you can probably hit 30 homeruns.
Glen's family decided to go back to the states for the summer and that pretty much killed our season. That was a common problem.
You could have a great team when you started out but with kids going back home for the summer and parents getting re-stationed, the best team at the beginning of the season might not even have enough players to field a team by the end.
When my best friend Peter was called for putting his finger to his mouth and ejected from the game, the rest of the team followed him off the field because they did not have enough guys to play and certainly nobody else who even knew how to pitch. In my junior and senior year my drug use somehow affected my game and I was relegated to the outfield where I could do little damage.
I really did not think it would end up that way. The first time I ever smoked hash was in the Plaka at the Golden Key and the next day I went five for five with a bunch of extra-base hits and I wondered if maybe in some weird way drugs could make you a better player just like it seemed to make Hendrix a better musician.
Perhaps this was just a foreshadowing of the steroids issues that now plague major league baseball, like many things having its roots in Greece.
But to be honest about it once I started getting high it was a lot more fun to watch baseball then to play it and the next year I went back to live in the USA where there was plenty of baseball to watch.
Being a baseball fan and spending summers in Greece did not go together that well especially in the eighties. You could get the International Herald Tribune but often they did not even have a baseball section, just these mini box scores that only gave you the barest information like who won, winning pitcher, who pitched, who hit a home run, who lost and who saved the game.
You would also get it a couple days after the game was played so if your team was in a pennant race they could have a 3 game losing streak before you found out about it.
But in my team, the Mets, had a commanding lead and everyone knew they were going to the playoffs and were favored to win the world series. I spent the summer in Sifnos and stretched it out until the last day of September. On the day of the first playoff game I was in London.
That night I was in my favorite chair at home in North Carolina watching the first pitch of the first game against the Astros in what is said to have been the greatest six game series ever. I even watched the critical Mookie Wilson vs Bill Buckner ground ball in my friend Jimi Quidd's apartment with a couple of his friends from Boston and had front row seats to the agony of true Red Sox fans.
I would have to say this was the pinnacle of my baseball watching career to that point and since then I have been a Keith Hernandez fan, whether on the field or in the broadcast booth or his books which I have on my bookshelves on the island of Kea where we spend our summers, in the hopes that he may show up there one day on holiday.
The summer after the Mets won the World Series was probably my most amazing baseball experience ever. I was in Corfu with my friend Dino Nichols and starting my journey back to the states after another summer in Greece.
I stopped in Bologna, Italy to see my friend Janet Dickman who was spending a year in a study abroad program. I was wandering the streets of the city when was I stopped dead in my tracks by a poster in the window of a rent-a-car company of a black ball player in a NY Mets uniform.
It was a really amazing poster, very powerful with the bat moving in slow motion. When I looked closely I saw it was autographed by Lenny Randle.