The Rockland Boulders had a fantastic announcement this morning: former 36th round Mets draft pick Glen Johnson is set to join the team this weekend for the final two home games of the season. He’ll be joined by his father, Howard Johnson, who you might remember as this guy.
Let me be clear: a hurricane couldn’t keep me away from the chance to see Howard Johnson hit again. My expectations couldn’t be any higher for this, and that’s probably not fair. Johnson is 50 years old. The player from my youth who hit bombs was 30 back in 1991, when he hit 38 home runs and stole 30 bases.
But that same summer, I attended Rich Martin’s All Star Baseball Camp. That alone was a thrill, and somewhere I still have a number of baseball-shaped pins I won for consistently taking first place in the camp’s trivia contests. (Even at 11, I had a pretty good idea that my future in baseball resided off the field.)
But each week, a special guest came, and I’ll never forget when Frank Howard gave a talk, then thrilled us with a batting practice display. Howard was easily the most impressive human being I’d ever seen in person- 6’7″, huge in both strength and voice. He was a coach for the Yankees at the time, if memory serves. I remember nothing of his speech. But I remember seeing those long home runs. Hondo was about to turn at the time.
Baseball provides both a timelessness and a constant reminder of the passage of time for us at once. Hearing that Chris Capuano’s gem last Friday night was the best-pitched Met game, per Bill James’ Game Score, since David Cone’s 19-strikeout performance back in 1991 reminded me that I’d been sitting in the outfield seats at Veterans Stadium for that one with my dad. I was 11 at the time; 31 now. The idea that 20 years had passed since then was inconceivable to me.
Meanwhile, Frank Howard is 75 now. It seems unlikely that he could put on a power display anymore- though if any 75 year old could do it, you’d figure it to be Howard. As real as his home runs are to my memory, they are inaccessible to those who didn’t see them.
And trying to capture those moments for those who come after us is usually a fruitless exercise. I can tell my 17-month-old daughter what it was like to see Frank Howard launch those home runs over the fence at Rider College 20 years ago, but she cannot see them for herself. I brought her to yesterday’s doubleheader, motivated by many things- the dwindling of the season, the chance to watch two baseball games in one day- but most of all, for the chance to see Jose Reyes up close. Alas, by the time Jose got his first hit late in the second game, my daughter had lost consciousness for the night, and we’d begun our return trek to Rockland.
Chances are good that Jose Reyes will play for someone else next year. And really, by the time she’s old enough to remember what she sees, Jose Reyes probably won’t be nearly as fast as the Jose Reyes I’ve watched for the past decade, whether in orange and blue or some other color scheme. Her earliest memories, like mine of Howard Johnson, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, could be Brandon Nimmo- or someone the Mets haven’t even drafted yet.
But still, I wanted her to experience the most exciting player I’ve seen in my lifetime in hers as well, to lock in that shared experience. For the same reason, I’ll take her to see the Boulders next Monday, hoping to see HoJo turn on one last fastball as if it had come out of the hand of Todd Worrell.