Sheptock, Rudy

Pastor Rudy Sheptock.

There have been two constants in my life from the time I was a little boy growing up in northern New Jersey. If you knew me then, you would recognize that they still play a huge part in who I am now.

The first is music. I didn’t go anywhere without my transistor radio, and the songs are still playing loud and clear from the jukebox in my soul.

My love for the tunes is still expressed whether I am on the air on LIFT FM or choosing the worship chorus and hymns for another Lighthouse Church weekend of services. From the time I wake up until after I fall asleep, it's Motown, Soul, Show tunes, Country and Rock and Roll, creating the soundtrack for my days.

If you catch me out and about in Cape May County, chances are really good that you’ll catch me singing. I am a terrible dancer, but I can hit the high notes of every Barry Manilow hit.

The other mainstay of my journey is my devotion to baseball. I remember vividly the day my dad introduced me to America’s pastime. I drank it all in as my father shared his love for the Brooklyn Dodgers and going to Ebbets Field and the many years those bums came close to beating the Yankees in the World Series.

By the time I came along, there was a new National League in town called the New York Mets. We bonded immediately.

I began to listen to every broadcast as Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner and Lindsey Nelson described the action of these loveable losers who, if they didn’t finish last in the standings, they finished next to last. I didn’t care. They were my Mets.

Every day after school, I would play the game. Every night, I would follow the game. Let’s just say, I became a fanatic.

In 1967, the Mets added a pitcher who I immediately connected to. He was brought to the orange and blue in a miraculous fashion.

They were the team whose name was picked out of a hat when a signing snafu kept him from playing with the Atlanta Braves. From the get-go, this ballplayer carried himself in a manner that just oozed “winner.”

George Thomas Seaver changed the whole climate of the Mets. When he was on the mound, he exhibited such poise that you knew he was in charge.

His fastball exploded into the catcher’s mitt. His slider was a thing of beauty.

His cerebral approach to pitching made it a work of art. Seaver was the 'Rookie of the Year' with 16 wins.

My first game at Shea Stadium was in 1968 and I made sure that dad was taking me to a game that Seaver would be pitching. I remember driving to the ballpark that day feeling like I was in Heaven.

It was the first time I saw a baseball game in color because we still had a black and white television. The field was so green.

Our seats, although in the upper section, might as well have been first class because I was so enamored with everything I was experiencing.

I wanted to be Seaver. He was my hero.

I had a Seaver style Spalding’s glove when I played Little League. I wore the uniform number 14 because Seaver wore 41 and our team didn’t go that high.

Seaver’s poster adorned my bedroom wall. I collected the magazines that featured his stories. I could imitate his every move on the mound in my sleep.

I drank Royal Crown Cola because Seaver did. Everything about him was who I wanted to be.

And in 1969, the year man walked on the moon, the Mets pulled off the unthinkable. They not only won it all, they did it in unbelievable fashion.

The amazing Mets won the World Series. My baseball team was the best in the land.

Seaver was in his mid-20s in 1969. He won the Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in the league. He nearly pitched a perfect game on a summer night in July of that season.

I cried the moment some Chicago Cubs player named Jimmy Qualls spoiled the masterpiece. How could he do that to Seaver? 

Seaver was the kind of individual who could carry the weight of being a role model. He was a patriot, as he served in the Marines.

He married Nancy and treasures her still, as his closest companion. He was close to his parents. He adores his daughters. He was a real family man.

He also was an artist when it came to pitching. He painted the corners of home plate. He would analyze every pitch and always think through what he was going to do next.

There was no pitch count for Seaver. He pitched into the extra innings.

He would go on to win 308 baseball games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Seaver is everything I love about the game.

In 1977, the Mets broke my heart when they traded my childhood hero to the Reds. In many ways, it was the day I woke up to realize that Camelot was not here on Earth.

Baseball was a business. The Mets banished ‘The Franchise’. It would never be the same and it wasn’t.

The Mets brought Seaver back in 1983, but once again dropped the ball when they left him unprotected and he would be gone again by 1984 pitching for the Chicago White Sox.

He won his 300th game in New York but at Yankees Stadium. What should have been could have been if only the suits would've treated the game like we, fans do.

While the Mets would become World Champions again in 1986, the innocence had long since ended. And recently, my heart broke again when it was announced that Seaver was retiring from public life because of his battle with dementia.

My children bought me tickets to what was going to be a celebration of the 50th year reunion of the 1969 Mets. I was hoping to get another glimpse of the man who brought me so much joy through the years.

It doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Tears rolled down my cheeks when I began to come to grips with the reality that the older I get, I am having to say, “goodbye,” way more often than I am comfortable with.

At The Lighthouse Church recently, I preached in my Seaver jersey. I did so to honor Seaver. I did so to also make others aware to pray for the Seaver family and all who must deal with the horrors of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

I closed my eyes and for a moment, it was 1969 again. Dad was still alive and we were at Shea for a Mets doubleheader. It was a magical day that I never wanted to end. I kept score and cherished every moment. Unfortunately, when I opened my eyes, it was gone. But I am grateful to God that I was blessed enough to grow up in a time before technology and money and greed took precedence in our country.

I’m not against progress but I will debate anyone who says that it has led to success. I’m not so sure.

Please pray for Seaver. Cherish the moments that you get to spend with family.

Enter fully into the life that is happening all around you. It goes by way too fast.

Because of my faith, I will someday go home. You see, baseball really is life.  

ED. NOTE: The author is the senior pastor of The Lighthouse Church, 1248 Route 9 South, Court House.