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Phil Rice: The Mets, Maggie, and Me

In early spring 1968, when I was seven, my brother Hal, five years my senior, showed me how to read the statistics on the back of baseball cards. He didn’t exactly explain ERA or batting average, but he taught me the basic rating scale. For instance, I learned that a batting average of .300 is really good, while .199 is not so good. I took to it immediately. For the next five summers I studied the box scores in the paper every day while I sorted through my ever-expanding collection of cards. My favorite player, for no real reason other than his was the first card Hal gave me, was Tom Seaver of the New York Mets. He would prove a worthy baseball hero for the next 20 years or so.

During this first summer of baseball-card mania, I had my first introduction to the concept that the players on my cards and in the morning boxscores were actual people. I had never seen a big league ballgame live. There were no teams nearby, and the only televised games were the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week broadcasts. My interaction with the sport of baseball rarely left the printed realm, and I was happy with that reality. And that’s when Maggie entered my life.

Maggie was in her early twenties and then married to an Episcopal priest; my father was an Episcopal priest. Thus one evening Maggie was at our home for some sort of social gathering. Seeing me with my baseball cards in hand, and possibly bored by the priest chatter, she struck up a conversation. When I said my favorite team was the Mets, she said something that shook my young world: she had actually seen the Mets play at Shea Stadium. The only person I knew who had even been to New York City was Dad, who was there when the lights went out and who brought me a pretty cool picture book of skyscrapers as a souvenir – but not even Dad had seen the Mets live and in person.

Before that night of introduction was over, Maggie had shown me how to locate the address for the Mets and then compose and mail a letter to Manager Gil Hodges. Could he send me a signed team photo? Two weeks later a publicity photo with printed signatures arrived in the mail. This was a momentous occasion, and it had all happened because of Maggie. (The team photo stayed tacked to my wall until we moved.)

Such was the auspicious beginning of one of my most endearing and enduring kinships, and the years have only led to ever-increasing adoration. Maggie was and remains my sister, friend and teacher. Always older but never condescending, she has shown me how to power through days and events that would otherwise sever the path. Feelings are real but never let the pain define you … bring a little art into every endeavor … love is always the right choice—these are but a few of the learnings I have taken away from my experiences with Maggie.

Maneuvering my way through the planet is more comfortable knowing Maggie has my back. I love her dearly, and I’m beyond grateful for her love.

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