Baseball can be the ties that bind people in friendship. This past week, I met a wonderful woman who shares my love for the National Pastime in general...and the New York Mets in particular. Her name is "Tutti" and not long ago she sat on Ed Kranepool's Lap!
The Winds of Fate
Being the Sports Editor at a small country newspaper is more of a vocation than an occupation.
I’ve been sitting here at Keith Sutton’s old desk for nearly a decade now and the job continues to surprise me. From Little League to Missy Softball, Midget Football to AAU basketball...you just never know what each day will bring with it.
For example: last Friday morning, I received a call from an old friend who works as a cardiac nurse at Wayne Memorial Hospital. She told me there was a patient in her ward that I?just had to meet. Could I?come over and spend a few minutes with her that very afternoon?
The day was a busy one, but with a bit of juggling, I?managed to clear out half an hour late in the day. And, boy am I?glad I?did!
The moment I?stepped off the elevator, Cherie Gilbert was there to greet me with a big smile. She thanked me for coming, then led the way to a room bathed in sunlight and decorated with dozens of “get-well”?cards.
Sitting in a chair by the bed, clad in a hospital gown and robe, was Annie Laffin. “Tutti”?as she’s lovingly called by friends and family alike, didn’t exactly look sick. Her eyes sparkled as she said “hello” with a big smile.
We’d never met before, but I?knew instantly we were destined to become friends.
Why??Because...on a table right in front of her was a slew of New York Mets memorabilia.
There was a rumpled, but much-loved hat, a jacket and a thick scrap book...all conspicuously displayed for me to see.
That I’ve rooted for the Mets all my life is probably one of the worst kept secrets in Wayne County history.
Some of my very earliest memories revolve around the team. I can recall bits and?pieces of the ‘69 World Series, when I?was just three-years-old. I?watched it with my Mom & Dad on an old black &?white TV.
One of my favorite pastimes as a youngster was trying to emulate Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.
Each time Tom Terrific took the mound, I’d don one of my Dad’s old wool uniforms and pretend to pitch the game myself. Standing there in front of the television, I’d toe my imaginary rubber. I’d wind-up and let loose with a blazing, invisible fastball.
My memory is much sharper when it comes to the ‘73 Series. In that one, the Miracle Mets took the Oakland A’s to seven games before finally losing.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see an aging Willie Mays kneeling in the dust behind home plate. His batting helmet lies on the ground next to him as he pleads in vain with the ump.
Annie Laffin never missed an opportunity to see a ballgame.
She grew up in Brooklyn, the daughter of two die-hard Dodger fans. As a child, her favorite player was Gil Hodges...ironic, since it was Hodges who would later guide the Mets to their first-ever World Series title.
She witnessed many games at hallowed Ebbets Field before “Evil Incarnate” (Walter O’Malley) broke the city’s heart and sneaked “Dem Bums” off to LA in the middle of the night.
I?grew up right here in the Maple City, the son of another rabid baseball family. My Mom worshiped Johnny Pesky and the Red Sox, while my Dad cheered for the Phillies.
Somehow, I ended up a Mets fan and was trapped somewhere between them. My favorite player was “Steady”?Eddie Kranepool, a first baseman who wore #7 and figures prominently later on in our story.
Years later, when her family lived in Queens, Annie would meet her children after school. She’d march the kids up to a ticket window, purchase $1.00 bleacher seats for everybody, then escort them inside.
And there they’d sit...the Laffin children in their Catholic School uniforms...one eye on the game and one eye on their notebooks. They’d cheer for the Mets, finish their homework, then head for home.
Of the literally hundreds of games the family attended over the years, several stand out. At the top of the list, though, is a marathon contest against St. Louis.
The date was September 11, 1974 and the Cardinals were in town for a late season series. The ballgame got underway innocently enough at 7:05 p.m. ... then went on and on and on.
Twenty-five innings later, the Cards finally prevailed. It was 3:13 a.m. when Bake McBride finally scored on an error and St. Louis won. Back in those halcyon days before MLB-imposed curfews, there were just 1,000 fans left in the stands at the bitter end.
“She still made us go school the next day,”?daughter Eileen said glumly.
“You’re darned right I?did,” Annie chimed in, a twinkle in her eye.
When the time came to plan for Tutti’s 80th birthday bash, the Laffin Clan assembled and brainstormed.
Before long, they came up with a brilliant idea:?why not see if they could track down a genuine New York Met to be the special guest? As it turned out, this proved much easier than anyone had anticipated.
“We called an agent and worked it all out,”?Eileen said. “It cost us a little bit more than a game, but boy was it worth it!”
So...last August in Medford, Long Island, more than 120 guests arrived to wish “Tutti” a Happy 80th. No one was admitted unless properly attired in New York Mets regalia. Even the caterer, a lifelong Yankees fan, turned his hat around in deference to the “Birthday Girl.”
Then, at the height of the festivities, an announcement was made and in walked...Ed Kranepool! “Tutti,” who stands all of about 5’ tall, took one look at this living legend and did what any Mets fan would do:?she fainted dead away.
Thankfully, Eddie is still “Steady” and he scooped her like a short-hopped throw to first. “Tutti” quickly regained her composure...and consciousness... and sat down at his side. According to Kranepool, her official job was to wear his ‘69 World Series ring while he posed and signed autographs.
This was a dream come true.
“He is the nicest man,”?Tutti said of her Shea Stadium hero. “He couldn’t do enough for us. I?even got to sit on his lap...”
By the time you read this, Annie Laffin will be out of the hospital and back at her home in Narrowsburg.
While she can’t go to Shea anymore, “Tutti” has already been to Citi Field. She loves this current crop of ballplayers (especially David Wright and Jose Reyes) and even her heart specialist can’t keep her from watching the Mets on TV.
“I’ve led a good life, I really have,”?she said with a smile. “I’ve seen some pretty amazing things in my day.”
What “Tutti”?is too modest to say is that she herself is pretty amazing...as her family and all the staff at Wayne Memorial hospital will attest.
Here’s hoping that “Tutti” enjoys many more years rooting for our beloved, Amazin’ Mets!