Hamptons Doc Fest, Southampton Arts Center To Present First Half Of ESPN’s Newest 30 For 30 Doc ‘Once Upon A Time In Queens’

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People either loved or hated the 1986 World Series Champion New York Mets, there was no in between. Longtime fans of the Miracles certainly loved the charismatic swagger that nearly every player on the roster embodied, whether they liked it or not, and which opposing teams, and their fans, could not stand.

Keith Hernandez, a Sag Harbor resident, along with his cat Hadji during the filming of “Once Upon A Time In Queens.”                                   COURTESY ESPN

It’s the polarizing nature of that Mets team that will be featured in ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 docuseries, “Once Upon A Time In Queens,” which the Hamptons Doc Fest will co-present with the Southampton Arts Center this Friday, September 10, in a special, free outdoor screening — the only one on Long Island — on the arts center grounds at 25 Jobs Lane. Two of the four-part, never-before-seen series will be shown, with gates opening at 6 p.m. Screening of Part I of the series will run from 7-8 p.m., followed by speakers from 8-8:45 p.m., then screening of Part II from 9-10 p.m.

“Who doesn’t love a ballgame,” said Jacqui Lofaro, founder and executive director of Hamptons Doc Fest. “When ESPN 30 for 30 offered us an exclusive screening of Parts I and II of their newest series ‘Once Upon a Time in Queens,’ about the amazing 1986 Mets, we jumped at the chance and built a fun, ballpark experience around the evening, complete with classic Cracker Jack, popcorn and beverages. And best of all, it’s free.”

The evening will feature special guests, including prominent sports writer and novelist Mike Lupica, named to the National Sports Media Hall of Fame in 2017, who will serve as emcee. He’ll be interviewing the film’s director/producer Nick Davis and former Mets pitching ace Dwight “Doc” Gooden, who led the Mets to their second World Series championship in 1986 and later two titles with the New York Yankees, in 1996 and 2000.

“Our film is a portrait of a team and a time and a place,” Davis said, through a prepared statement released by ESPN. “The 1986 New York Mets were a baseball team like no other — more than any sports team in memory, they captured the spirit and ethos of the time and city in which they played.

Dwight “Doc” Gooden is a main fixture in the upcoming documentary and will be a part of the panel discussion on Friday night. COURTESY ESPN

“1986 in New York City marked a collision of the grime and grit of the near-bankrupt “Ford to City: Drop Dead” New York City of the 1970s with the high-flying, yuppie-and-cocaine infused neon 1980s,” he added. “The city may have had a cleaner and more glamorous “greed is good” sheen, but the dirt and danger were still everywhere. That was the ’86 Mets — full of swagger and talent and star power, but with demons and disaster always looming. The team’s miraculous comeback in that World Series — made famous by the Mookie Wilson ground ball that trickled through the legs of Bill Buckner in one of baseball’s most iconic moments — was the perfect climax.”

The docuseries, which has won numerous awards, including a Peabody and an Emmy, will debut nationally om September 14-15 on ESPN and will be available to stream on ESPN+ and the ESPN App immediately after its premiere. The series includes interviews with a number of Mets players from that season including Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Ojeda, Darryl Strawberry, manager Davey Johnson and others.

Also among the interviewees is Ann Liguori, a pioneer in New York sports talk radio, being the first woman to host a call-in sports show on WFAN-NY, where she hosted a weekly show for over 24 years and continues as the host of ‘Talking Golf with Ann Liguori,’ on Sundays from 7-8 a.m. Liguori, who hosts her annual Foundation Charity Golf Classic at the Maidstone Club in East Hampton, also still serves as the station’s golf and tennis correspondent at The Masters, the PGA Championships, the U.S. Open Golf Championships and the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. And she hosts the “Sports Innerview” radio show every Saturday morning on NPR’s WLIW 88.3 FM.

Prior to all of that, Liguori was covering every pro team in New York at the time as a freelance reporter/producer for ABC Radio Sports Network, covering every home game of that Mets-Red Sox World Series in 1986. She recalled being up in the press box toward the end of the fabled game six.

“The reporters started leaving the press box to pile in the elevator to go to the locker rooms, to get in position to interview the players after the game. But I vividly remember George Foster, who was released by the team earlier that season and was up in the press box dressed in a suit, came over to me and said, ‘Don’t leave yet. It’s not over.’

Keith Hernandez, a Sag Harbor resident, along with his cat Hadji during the filming of “Once Upon A Time In Queens.”                                   COURTESY ESPN

“He then proceeded to tell me that the Mets lineup — Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight, Mookie Wilson — were going to keep it alive,” Liguori continued. “I wish I could remember exactly what George Foster said that night, but it was enough to prevent me from heading down to the clubhouse and I stayed in the press box to watch the exciting, miraculous events unfold. Thinking back to that evening, which was 35 year ago, it was uncanny that George Foster was even up there, let alone predicting that the Mets would rally.”

Liguori said she went into Manhattan during the height of the pandemic last year for what she thought was going to be a 20-minute interview for the documentary.

“Two hours later, I was still there, answering their questions about covering the team that year,” she said. “The taping was a while ago and you always wonder if your answers will make the final edit. This game happened 35 years ago, so you really have to reach far back in the memory bank. It was a lot of fun to remember that great year and I’m so happy I was there, in-person, to still talk about it all these years later.”

Liguori will be in attendance Friday night in Southampton and it will be the first time she’ll be seeing the documentary.

“I’m very excited for the screening on September 10. There’s a major element of curiosity as to which soundbites made the final edit. I know that Nick and his team worked on the film for a long time and had to cut a lot out, even with the four-part series. It will be a lot of fun to hear what others have to say and how the players remember it. I’m delighted to be a part of it.”

Nick Davis, director/producer of “Once Upon A Time In Queens.”                                 COURTESY ESPN

Friday night’s event comes complete with complimentary popcorn, Cracker Jack, beverages and swag — a snappy ESPN 30 for 30 baseball cap. Registration is required through hamptonsdocfest.com or southamptonartscenter.org. Those attending are asked to bring their own beach chair or blanket and picnic. In case of rain, the event will be held indoors, with limited seating and COVID restrictions.

“With the benefit of hindsight, the Mets’ magical 1986 season has come to seem like a fairy tale, almost like a fun heist movie about a charismatic band of loveable scoundrels who came together for one big score — hence our title,” Davis explained. “But at the same time, much was being swept under the rug — on the team, and in the city. Huge problems were bubbling up — race problems, crime problems, drug problems — the AIDS menace was looming, though few in the mainstream of the city seemed troubled by it. This tension — between the exhilaration of that time and place and the tensions that were largely hidden — animated our film. The hope is that we can let viewers have their cake — the magic and charisma of the 1986 Mets — while also eating it — some perspective and wisdom that only deepen the emotional impact of their ultimate triumph.”

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