Every April Fools' Day, Joe Berton knows, without fail, the phone will ring."There was one April 1st a few years ago, we hadn't heard from anybody until about four in the afternoon," Berton said Wednesday at the Brooklyn Cyclones' MCU Park. "I thought it was going to be the first
Every April Fools' Day, Joe Berton knows, without fail, the phone will ring.
"There was one April 1st a few years ago, we hadn't heard from anybody until about four in the afternoon," Berton said Wednesday at the Brooklyn Cyclones' MCU Park. "I thought it was going to be the first year no one called, and then some Rogers Sports Network guy up in Canada called. I guess the Sidd story was a pretty big deal even up in Canada."
Baseball fans know Berton, a 62-year-old retired art teacher, as Sidd Finch, the New York Mets pitching prospect created by author George Plimpton. Finch was part spiritual yogi, part French horn virtuoso and part flamethrower. Though he may not have brought Finch's mythical 168-mile-per-hour fastball with him, Berton was on hand Wednesday as the Cyclones, a Mets affiliate, held their Sidd Finch 30th anniversary celebration.
Plimpton's story on Finch first appeared in the April 1, 1985, issue of Sports Illustrated and has since etched its place in Mets lore.
"Everybody knows the '69 Mets. Everybody knows the '86 Mets. But there are other parts of [Mets history] that people don't necessarily know," said Billy Harner, the Cyclones' director of communications. "This was one of those things, where if you're a true fan, you know the story behind it, but it's something everybody should kind of know, especially if you're a fan of the Mets."
According to Harner, the idea for a Sidd Finch night came together in April, after an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary short on the subject revived interest in the famous hoax. If you've read Promo Preview or Ben's Biz Blog through the years, you know that Minor League Baseball has a long history of offbeat promotional nights, and the Cyclones have hosted more than their share. In the past, the team has honored popular TV shows like "Saved by the Bell" or "Seinfeld", the latter of which was named Best Overall Promotion at the 2014 Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar.
Given Finch's connection to the Mets organization and the story's anniversary, the promotion was a natural fit.
"When you're given the credit of being the best of the best by your peers, it's a great honor," Harner said. "But it's also a very daunting task of 'What do we do next?' This night is something we're all incredibly proud of."
The national anthem was played by French horns Wednesday night in Brooklyn. (Brooklyn Cyclones)
Prior to the game, the Cyclones paid homage to Finch's zen-like tendencies by inviting fans on the field for yoga. Bobblehead dolls of Finch throwing with his cap backwards and his bare front foot up in the air, as he appeared in the article, were given to the first 2,500 fans in attendance, the national anthem was played by a group of French horns and Berton signed autographs for fans throughout the game. Fans named Sidd had their tickets discounted to $1.68, and any fans wearing a Harvard T-shirt were given priority for the postgame run around the bases in honor of Finch's attendance at the university.
Cyclones players wore jerseys modeled after the Mets' 1985 spring training uniforms with patches on the right sleeve signifying the occasion. Some jerseys were raffled off after the game while others will be auctioned online.
According to Berton, the Cyclones will also be donating money to earthquake relief in Nepal.
"The Brooklyn Cyclones have been fantastic," Berton said. "I love baseball, so just being a part of the Sidd Finch story that has become part of baseball lore -- baseball history even -- it's just totally exciting."
Joe Berton's place in baseball lore is reiterated every April 1. (Brooklyn Cyclones)
The night also proved an exciting one for fans, some of whom arrived in Finch jerseys and shirts they purchased specifically for the event.
Howard Alper, a 46-year-old admissions counselor from Brooklyn, remembers reading and believing the hoax when it first ran in Sports Illustrated. He had his Finch shirt ready months in advance.
"I was getting tickets and I wanted to wear it to this game," Alper said. "Getting the bobblehead is awesome, and I heard Sidd Finch was going to be here, so that's why I'm here, too."
Ira Lamel, a 68-year-old retiree from Manhattan, wore a Mets Finch jersey he had picked up Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of the promotion.
"I laughed hysterically when it was exposed as a hoax and admittedly felt somewhat foolish when originally, in reading it, I didn't realize it was a hoax," Lamel said. "It had baseball fans back in 1985 hoodwinked for a couple of days, and every time I hear it I get a smile on my face."
Finch never appeared in a Major League game, but 30 years after appearing in Sports Illustrated, he took the mound in Brooklyn, as Berton, along with Plimpton's son, Taylor, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Cyclones' public address announcer said Finch's offer would come in at 168 miles per hour, though it appeared much slower. Berton admits a few years ago he pitched in front of a radar gun simply hoping to beat his age. At the time he was 59, a number he hit it exactly.
When Finch first came on the scene, Berton did what he could to keep the legend alive.
"When the story first hit, one of the local Chicago guys came out to my school with a radar gun," Berton said. "He goes, 'Well, Sidd, look at our gun. We got you. It only says 68 on it.' I said, 'Yeah, Chuck, you just need a new radar gun. The 1 is out on that sucker.'"
David Kalan is a contributor to MiLB.com. You can find him on Twitter @davidkalan.