April 10th, 2008


Memories of Shea

As baseball season starts up in earnest, I can't help but think about my own history as a fan of the sport.

When I was growing up, my younger brother Josh was the real instigator when it came to baseball. I suppose that left to my own devices, I could have just ignored baseball for the most part; I was more into comic books and Star Trek.

But Josh fell in love with baseball at an early age, and due to his urgings, my family began following our beloved team: the Yankees.

You read that right. In the beginning, despite living in Queens, the Burstein clan were Yankees fans as well as Mets fans.

There were legitimate reasons for this. We grew up in the 1970s, and in 1977 the Yankees had one of the major success stories of their career. That was the year of Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson, and the year of the World Series. I vividly remember the whole family shlepping to the Bronx to see a game or two; I remember how much we cheered for Thurmon Munson and how tragic it was when he died; and I remember how we idolized Reggie, and his eponymous candy bar.

However, by the time the 1980s rolled around, we had started to mostly follow the major league team in Flushing. I think it was the return of Tom Seaver to the Mets for the 1983 season that caught our imagination, although I do recall that Josh was also a big fan of Danny Heep. Josh started following the Mets regularly, and the rest of us followed suit.

Josh was eager to attend games at Shea Stadium, and so my parents took a step that still boggles my mind today. They bought season tickets to Mets games. Now, we didn't buy tickets for the whole family, nor did we buy tickets for every single home game in the season. Rather, we bought a package of tickets for all Saturday games, and we only bought two seats for those games. The theory was that Josh would get to go to each game, and someone else in the family would take him. Most of the time either Mom or Dad would take Josh to Shea, but occasionally Jon or I would do so.

And to my mind, Shea was the most beautiful stadium in the world. It was big, and blue, and always (believe it or not) very clean. The fans felt united in our love of the team, something I felt whenever the announcer spoke or when they played "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch. Our seats were a bit far up, so the field looked somewhat far away, but the view from our seats (along the first base line) was unobstructed. When I sat with Josh at a game, I would take in the expansive, deep blue sky, breathe in fresh parkland air, and root, root, root for our home team. And if they didn't win, it was a shame.

Now, baseball fans are aware that we all have our own little superstitions and idiosincrasies. And it did not escape my notice that every time I attended a Mets game at Shea, the Mets would lose. Rationally, I knew that my presence in the stadium had no effect whatsoever, but in the back of my mind, I felt like a jinx.

So when 1986 rolled around, and the Mets ended up in the World Series, and my family acquired tickets to games one and seven, I was torn about whether or not I should accompany Josh to the games.

For about one second. World Series? I'm there, baby!

Josh was amused when I "offered" to take him to the World Series games, but the fact was that both Dad and Mom didn't care that much about attending in person, and neither did Jon. (Mom's only concern was that we would be safe among the crowds, and I promised her that I would look after Josh.) Josh and I attended game one on Saturday, October 18, and I recall how raucous and boisterous the other fans were. There was something magical in the air – at least, until the Mets lost to the Red Sox 1-0.

We watched the rest of the games on television with trepidation. On the one hand, we wanted the Mets to win the World Series, and as quickly as possible. On the other hand, we had tickets to game seven, and if the Mets won too soon, we wouldn't be able to attend game seven as it would not be played. So we watched, as the Mets lost game two, then won game three and four, then lost game five...

I won't reiterate the details of game six here, except to note how quickly we went from depression to elation. Game seven was delayed by rain and held on the evening of Monday, October 27, and Josh and I went. I remember how disappointed we felt when the Sox took an early lead in the second inning; how delighted we felt when the Mets scored three runs each in the sixth and seventh innings; how nervous we felt when the Sox scored two more runs in the eighth; how pleased we felt when the Mets scored two more in the bottom of that same inning; and how the stadium erupted in joyful cheers when the game ended with a Mets win. The Mets were champions again, for the first time within our lifetime, and we dearly hope to see them win a World Series again at some point soon. (Please.)

The last time I was in Shea was to see the Mets in one of the 1988 playoff games. I don't remember which game it was I saw, or even who I was with. All I remember is that they lost that game, and went on to lose the pennant.

And now, I'll probably never return to Shea again. For this season is the last one that will be played at Shea, as in 2009 the Mets will take up residence in Citi Field, just next door. And of all the news sites to praise Shea Stadium and William A. Shea, oddly enough, it's the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana with the best tribute. Check out the article "Mets shouldn't forget Shea when new stadium opens" by Bob Estelle, and learn about how Bill Shea worked to replace the Dodgers and Giants. If it weren't for Bill Shea, I wouldn't have the fond memories of the Mets – and of Shea Stadium – that I have today.

Thanks, Bill.

What's in a Name?

Have you ever searched your own name on the Internet to see what would pop up?

I imagine it wouldn't surprise the people who know me that I have done this numerous times. When you write fiction, you tend to want to see what sort of public picture you're creating on the Internet.

But I've also run searches on my name to find other Michael Bursteins out there. I'm not sure why I've done this, although I always felt an odd sort of identification with the others who share my name. For example, I'm a fan of the Israeli actor and singer Mike Burstyn because we share a name. (Burstyn's original name was Michael Burstein; I believe he changed the spelling for his career, since it was easier to fit on a marquee.) I make a point of seeing Burstyn perform whenever I can.

Burstein is not a common name, and my father used to tell me that there was a time when the only Bursteins in the Manhattan phone book were our family. I tended to think that there weren't too many other Bursteins out there. But with the rise of the Internet, I've found many others.

Including other Michael Bursteins.

Why I am sharing this? Because today's New York Times has an interesting article on the topic of finding people with your own name: Names That Match Forge a Bond on the Internet by Stephanie Rosenbloom. I'm apparently not the only person who's done this. In fact, according to the article, a writer named Angela Shelton has just published a book about meeting 40 other women with her same name. The article also notes why we might feel an odd kinship with someone who shares our name – social psychologist Brett Pelham has done studies that show that our names, and the letters within them, are influential in our lives.

In my own experience, the most amusing incident involving a "Googleganger" happened when I got an email from the teenage daughter of another Michael Burstein. She had been searching for her father's name on the Internet, and was delighted to discover me. She emailed me and clearly wanted a reply, but I was concerned about the appropriateness of me, a total stranger, writing back.

So I tracked down her father's work number, and gave him a call.

"Hello, I'd like to speak with Michael Burstein please."

"Certainly. May I ask who's calling?"

"Michael Burstein."

It turned out that Burstein-the-other had given his daughter permission to contact me. And I found out that he had lived in the Bronx as a kid, but had later moved with his family to Brookline, where he attended the Maimonides School for a year.

The Times article also mentions how a student named Jon Lee would like to turn up first on a Google search, but how there are too many other Jon Lees he would have to beat. In my case, my websites are usually the first ones to turn up, probably because I've had a website for longer than any other Michael Burstein, and also because you're more likely to want to find me if you use my name. In the case of many of the other Michael Bursteins, they're lawyers, and I imagine you're more likely to want to find one of them if you were looking for a lawyer who specializes in their kind of work. I've also found a company CFO, a few executives, a scientist or two, and a dentist who share my name, which does get my science-fiction writer brain pondering if there's a story in all this.