Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Writing the pages

The Mets' 2016 season ended last Wednesday in a heartbreaking one-game playoff against the San Francisco Giants, who, in turn, had their own heartbreaking denouement last night against the Chicago Cubs. When we experience trauma, it is a common human response to bury ourselves in work or other preoccupations so we don't have to face our own pain. I'm not sure fi that is exactly what I've been doing for the past week, but as my mom will be selling her house in the next few weeks, and I must clean out my childhood in the process, that outlet for keeping one's head in the sand is certainly available.

I have been at this, on and off, for several months now, and each trip uncovers a new bevy of new gems, be they a fantastic unused homework organizer that features Bill Pulsipher, a Devils championship and Bryan McCabe, Wade Redden and Todd Bertuzzi in Fisherman jerseys, an inside look at your artistic skills when you were nine or your nuanced grasp of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The true gems, however, are the ticket stubs. My obsession with pristine ticket stubs is a curious quirk to many, but I feel quite strongly about their utility as record keepers. As I like to say, "Our lives are a book and ticket stubs are the pages." Of course, I didn't really feel this way when I was younger, but the idea must have been percolating, as I've discovered stubs dating back as far as a circus I attended in 1991.

I was hoping to find more ticket stubs over the course of this search than I have, but the few I've come across as well as references to games I attended in letters to and from my mother while I was at summer camp, have helped me color in my sports experiences more than I would have thought. On my most recent trip this past Monday, I found one of the true white whales of my youth. Late in the afternoon I was sifting through papers and tests from my middle and high school years, much of which would head straight to the recycling bin. It's astonishing that my attic has so many old algebra testss in it to go along with the occasional paper examining Catch-22 from Mr. Pedulla's sophomore-year English class. Lost in the muck of those old papers and Five Star Notebooks, however, was one of the white whales of my youth.

On Monday, I found the ticket stub from my first hockey game.

As a Devils fan, it is curious that I would be so excited about finding a photo of Mark Messier smiling with the Stanley Cup, but such was the norm when the Rangers decorated their ticket stubs following their curse-breaking season. Like most ticket stubs, this one has a story, but it is a pretty unusual one all things considered. I know this is my first hockey game because it is dated April 7, 1995, and painstakingly researched years ago to find the exact date that my father took my sister, my friend Matt and I to the Garden for the first time. I remember much about the experience: the woman telling ref Don Koharski that he sucked, the Islanders winning 4-3, that we ate stuffed crust pizza at Pizza Hut for the first time on our way home, that the jukebox in that Pizza Hut played "Touch Me" by the Doors on repeat the entire time. I had pieced those details together long ago to find when, exactly this game happened, and as a result, I know it was on April 7, 1995.

However, it doesn't take much initiative to look at the ticket stub above and see it has the Rangers scheduled to play... the Ottawa Senators? I may not have looked my most respectable at the time, but I know for fact, backed up by virtually any source you could research it, that the Rangers played the Islanders that night, meaning this ticket stub, my first ever from a hockey game, is somehow, for a game that never happened.

I had a theory as to how this was possible, which, if you know hockey history, isn't too hard to piece together. As most NHL fans know, there was a lockout that wiped out the first half of the 1994-95 season. What resulted was a 48-game abbreviated campaign, a full postseason tournament and my beloved Devils lifting the Cup for the first time on June 24, still the latest date in the year that Stanley has gotten to skate around the rink. That didn't necesasrily solve the mystery, but it isn't an enormous leap of faith to assume the Rangers might have been scheduled to play the Senators in the NHL's original 84-game slate, only to have the opponent changed when the abbreviated schedule came out and for the Rangers to simply tell season ticket holders to keep their initial tickets. After all, the arena was already booked for a Rangers game that night. Why wouldn't they keep the same show with only the cast changing?

Confirming this, however, is not terribly easy. One of the great things about the internet is the bevy of information available at your finger tips and the number of nerds like me who are willing to put real problems on hold so they can provide resources for the trivial. After all, this is how I was able to nail down the date of my first baseball game. The internet is an amazing place. Still, many searches for the 1994-95 schedule only turn up the abbreviated version or nothing at all. If you have patience and sift hard enough, however, you might find what you're looking for since you're probably not the first person to undertake the search. My research led me to a relatively obscure message board where, indeed, someone else had stalked for this same information. I learned the NHL's pre-lockout schedule that year isn't found in many places, not unless you have the NHL's annual record and fact book or a copy of NHL 95 on Sega Genesis.

One hardy soul, however, kept searching, and on another obscure hockey message board, found exactly what we were looking for. Aside from the curious selection of neutral site games the NHL planned for that season (Portland? Saskatoon? San Antonio?), near the end of the listing, there it was: Ottawa at New York Rangers, 7:30 pm, April 7, 1995. My assumption was correct, which either means I am a master sleuth, or I have too much time on my hands. You can pick which.

The discovery interests no one but myself, and that is fine. All I know is I'm happy to have found and added another missing piece to my collection. My brain is still racked by a determination to find ticket stubs to my first NFL game (Giants vs. Ravens in 1997) and my first NBA game (Kings at Nets in 1995), but those will probably prove elusive. Then again, this Rangers-Islanders ticket, curiously mislabeled though it might have been, was sitting in a box with a report I did about dingos in fifth grade for roughly 20 years. The other older pages in the book must be somewhere.

NFL Picks from last week

Arizona (-4) over SAN FRANCISCO
New England (-10) over CLEVELAND
Philadelphia (-3) over DETROIT
INDIANAPOLIS (-4.5) over Chicago
MIAMI (-3.5) over Tennessee
MINNESOTA (-6) over Houston
PITTSBURGH (-7) over NY Jets
Washington (+4) over BALTIMORE
DENVER (-5.5) over Atlanta
Cincinnati (even) over DALLAS
OAKLAND (-3.5) over San Diego
Buffalo (+2.5) over LOS ANGELES
NY Giants (+7) over GREEN BAY
CAROLINA (even) over Tampa Bay

NFL Picks Week 6

Last week: 7-6-1
Season: 36-40-1

Denver (-3.5) over SAN DIEGO
BUFFALO (-7.5) over San Francisco
Jacksonville (+2.5) over CHICAGO
DETROIT (-3) over Los Angeles
TENNESSEE (-7) over Cleveland
Pittsburgh (-7.5) over MIAMI
NEW ENGLAND (-8.5) over Cincinnati
Carolina (-3) over NEW ORLEANS
NY GIANTS (-3) over Baltimore
WASHINGTON (+2.5) over Philadelphia
OAKLAND (-1) over Kansas City
GREEN BAY (-4) over Dallas
SEATTLE (-6) over Atlanta
HOUSTON (-3) over Indianapolis
ARIZONA (-7.5) over NY Jets

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