Vincent Pugliese badly wanted to attend Opening Day for the NY Mets. Little did he know that the mob would help him get in for free.
There comes a time in every kid’s life when they make their first adult decision. For me, that occurred on April 7th, 1987.
That was Opening Day for the New York Mets, my favorite baseball team. Six months after winning the World Series, they were set to receive their championship rings and raise the World Series banner at Shea Stadium. I needed to be there and I devised a plan.
It was a day game, so I would have to convince my parents for me to miss school. I enlisted my friend Scott to go with me to the game, in anticipation of my ambush. At breakfast, I gave my presentation. I described the history that would be taking place. I added that Scott would be with me.
The answer was a resounding NO! As my brother Steve giggled into his cereal while I pleaded to my mom, I received a lifeline from an unexpected source.
“Maybe we should let him go?” my dad wondered, to the surprise of everyone. I flashed the you-are-the-greatest-dad-in-the-world look, but he brushed it off while giving it more thought.
“Scott is going with him,” he continued. “Maybe we should let him.”
My mom relented after getting the approval of my father. She was nervous but was going to allow me this opportunity.
“Only if Scott goes,” she demanded.
My parents left for work and I ran over to Scott’s house two doors down. He answered the door angrily. It was obvious that I arrived during an argument.
“I’m not allowed to go,” he yelled, loud enough for his parents to hear. I tried talking to his parents, but they gave me a look that was equivalent to a poisonous laser beam through my eyes.
Standing in his driveway alone, I had a big decision to make. I was going.
I’d heard the phrase that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, but this was the first time that I actually got to use it.
Walking to the bus stop, I sensed that something great was going to happen. I didn’t even have a ticket yet. All I knew was that I was going to try.
I did my research and learned that two bus rides and a subway trip was all that stood between Shea Stadium and me. The first bus was nearly empty, as was the second. The only people on those buses were the driver and a large Italian man involved an animated conversation with the driver. I tried to keep to myself.
Staring nervously out of the window, a voice boomed towards me. “Why aren’t you in school, kid?” the giant man asked loudly, like I was a guest on a talk show.
“I’m, um, I’m going to the Mets game.” I stuttered, not sure what to make of this guy.
“By yourself?” he laughed; looking at the driver like this was a joke. I nodded affirmatively.
Now he was getting interested.
Do you even have a ticket?” he said while turning towards me.
“No, but I’ll find one,” I responded, acting like I knew what I was doing.
“This game has been sold out for months,” he stated, almost annoyed.
I saw him glance back to see my reaction. The conversation ended and I stared out of the window. As my stop approached, I moved towards the door. Now just a few steps away from this character that could be in one of those mob movies.
“Hey kid”, he stopped me, now looking me dead in the eye.
“When you get to Shea, go to gate B. Ask for Vito. Tell him “Funzy” from the Waterfront sent you. That’s all, he instructed.
I thanked him as I exited the bus, but I wasn’t sure what I was thanking him for. I kept repeating those names to myself on the train. Vito. Funzy from the Waterfront. Vito. Funzy from the Waterfront. Over and over, I didn’t even know where the waterfront was. Vito. Funzy. Got it. I exited the train and headed towards Shea.
In a sea of blue and orange, I weaved through the enormous crowd. It was a mad house. I saw a couple of scalpers selling, and when I heard the prices of the tickets, I knew I didn’t have enough money. I continued towards Gate B, having no idea what to expect. I was met by a security guard. He gave me a once over, and questioned me harshly.
“What do you want, son?”
“I’m looking for Vito. Funzy from the Waterfront sent me.” I didn’t know what that meant or if he had any idea who I was talking about.
With a long look and then barely a pause, he gave me a half smile. I watched as his hands separated the cold, grey gates barricading the crowd and motioned for me to walk through.
If there was a secret password, I found it. Within minutes, I was escorted by a lady who walked me to my seat. It’s like they were expecting me, but they couldn’t have been.
She took me to the concession stands and loaded me up with food before walking to my seat directly behind home plate.
This had to be a dream. I was in the front row as the Mets were given their World Series rings, close enough that I can see the sparkle of the diamonds. I screamed with the sold out crowd as the championship banner was raised.
Daryl Strawberry drilled a three-run homer in the first inning and the storybook day continued. The Mets defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 3-2. I left Shea, battling the massive crowd and the New York rush hour to make it home.
I was officially the happiest kid on earth. But I wondered how I would explain this to my parents.
As I walked across our lawn in darkness, I didn’t appreciate my parents concerns until it was over. The adrenaline was flushed out of my body through an unforgettable afternoon. I now saw the potential for danger to a naive teenager. I learned a lesson by not having to learn a lesson.
I opened the front door to the smell of my mother’s sauce as my parents and my brother were already putting pasta onto their plates. I ran in to tell them everything. From Scott not being able to go, the bus ride, Funzy, Vito, my VIP treatment, the banner, the home run. Everything.
My dad sat silently. He asked me to repeat the name of the man.
“Funzy” I said.
“Where was he from?” my dad questioned.
“The Waterfront!” I yelled, like it was the new Disney World. They make dreams come true!
I excused myself from dinner to run over to Scott’s house, my friend who wasn’t allowed to go. I displayed my free program and told him the entire story.
“Mom!! He screamed, slamming the door as he ran to tell her what he had missed.
As I re-entered our house, I heard my parents talking. I listened quietly from the other room as he answered the question that I wondered about all day.
“He doesn’t have any clue that the Mafia got him into that game,” my dad told my mom.
I learned many lessons from that one afternoon. I learned that a baseball game is much better from the front row than the nosebleed section. I learned that, when in doubt, go to Gate B. I learned that my parents were cooler than Scott’s parents.
One lesson though, changed me forever.
That lesson has three parts. First, you need to have a specific vision for what you want out of life. Next, you need to chase that vision with all of your heart. Hunt it down with all of your conviction. Naysayers be damned. Finally, you need to search for the open door.
If you do steps one and two, step three will happen. You never know. It might even come disguised as a New York City mobster.
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