A cat named Nolan

M.K. Guzda

May 10, 1991|By M.K. Guzda

AS A KID growing up in suburban New Jersey, I named our cat "Nolan," for New York Mets pitcher Nolan Ryan.

I was 11 and played in a pink baseball jersey with the Flamingos. The league was started for a bunch of mouthy kids who wanted to play ball but were shut out by the regular guys. We were rookies at that point in the late '60s and early '70s: an all-girl league. Teams were named after birds, and fate made me a pink Flamingo rather than a more respectable Blue Jay or Oriole.

Ryan was 22 and soaked his middle finger in pickle brine to toughen the skin. The kids in our family kept a jar of the stuff in the refrigerator just in case anyone wanted to try it.

The cat was a kitten.

My dad and I used to go out to the front yard after dinner, use the wishing well as a backstop and see how many fastballs I could smoke past the boys on the block. He wanted to be a ball player when he was younger, getting as far as catcher in a semipro league in Connecticut. He taught me how to pitch low and inside. I learned my windup from watching Ryan. The boys were ungracious.

Every night, we'd watch the Mets on a TV in the spare room so my mother could watch her shows on the big TV in the living room. Twi-night double headers were the best. Dad and I would stay up late, yelling and spitting and cussing at the hopeless team.

WOR-TV announcer Lindsey Nelson's plaid sports jackets would go wild like radioactive polyester on the old TV screen. My mother would holler from the other room for us to quiet down.

Ryan seemed to take it a whole lot better than we did. He'd throw strike after strike, and the Mets would still lose. We'd be crestfallen. He seemed to take it in long, jet-fueled strides.

I stayed loyal to the Mets through boyfriends who were Yankee fans (very brief relationships), through college in Missouri (where major-league teams were two hours away) and through the heavenly '86 World Series when Bill Buckner let Mookie Wilson's grounder roll right through his legs.

I'm 33 now, living in Baltimore and rooting for the Orioles. When I can sneak out of work early, I play on the company softball team in a gray jersey.

I miss those nights with my dad and the Mets, illuminated by the flicker of an old TV set. But as an Orioles fan, I find the level of frustrating entertainment is very similar.

Ryan's 44 and still pitching supersonic no-hitters.

The cat passed on so long ago that we wouldn't remember him if it weren't for his namesake.

M.K. Guzda is a copy editor for The Sun.

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