Thursday, August 8, 2019
MR. MET AND MR. MILLER
A tribute to teachers
Last February, while visiting New York, I slipped into a souvenir shop and picked up a Mets t-shirt off the sale table. The other day, I was wearing it on the trail out behind our house when an on-coming hiker said, “Hey, we beat you guys last night.”
I looked down at the logo. “I’m not… I’m… Well, I used to be…”
In 1960s Chico, everyone was either a Giants fan or a Dodgers fan. I didn’t want to be an everybody, so when, in 1962, New York was granted an expansion franchise, I decided I’d pull for the new New York Metropolitans. Their uniforms were old school and even recalled the two teams that had departed five years before: blue coming from the old Brooklyn Dodgers and orange from the Giants.
Fast forward seven years and I’m a senior in high school laboring all the while with cellar dwelling Mets. Only once in their entire existence had they not finished last in National League East. Occasionally, I’d wear a blue and orange sweater my mother had knitted – one with the word “Mets” scripted on the front and back, only backwards on the back so I could see it when I backed up to a mirror. I suspect that my choice of this attire had much to do with my lack of dating prowess as a teen.
During that senior year, a young Mr. Ken Miller, was my Civics teacher (they taught Civics back then – and they still do, Frank Zappa). Mr. Miller had, at one time, roomed with Tug McGraw. Country heart-throb Tim, Tug’s son, probably hadn’t been born yet when Ken and Tug played for the Buffalo Bisons, the Mets’ AAA affiliate. (Or maybe it was the Binghamton Mets in AA.) Tug, with his tick-tock wind-up would become a go-to reliever with a team former manager Casey Stengel called “Amazing.”
Ken would go on to teach high school civics.
In late September, the Mets were locked in a grueling – and, yes, Amazing! – divisional race with their rivals the Chicago Cubs who had been in first place for 156 games. With a week left to go, the Mets were a few games out of first but within striking distance and the Cubs’ gas tank was near empty. That week, each day before first period, I snuck into Mr. Miller’s classroom and chalked a headline onto the board. The next morning, whatever comment I written the day before would be dutifully erased by the night custodian. The last Friday before the end of the season, I pulled on my sweater, snuck into the room and wrote: “Mets Cop 1st from Fading Cubs!” Mr. Miller looked from his desk – surprising me – and said, “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Met.” Then he walked over to the board and scribbled the word “save” next to my headline.
It was a good long time before that corner of the chalk board was erased. Certainly, it was up there the night Tug McGraw and a bunch of Ken Miller’s former pals whooped it up on the pitcher’s mount at Shea after a decisive and historic game 5.
I shipped the sweater off to the Mets organization because I knew I didn’t need it any longer, though I didn’t tell Mom. Tug McGraw went on to pitch for the Phillies and Ken, I think, moved from the classroom into administration.
Since my encounter on the trail, I’ve thought about the ’69 Mets some, but I’ve thought a lot more about Ken Miller and the countless other Chico teachers who, in spite of my geekiness, helped me to become.
And as my teacher buddies enter the 2019-20 school year, I, again, offer my admiration and encouragement to the many who, like Ken Miller, will help our young people to become.
Church of the Open Road Press