When Rockville Centre resident Ed Loud stepped onto the Citi Field turf on Sept. 9 to be honored as Veteran of the Game, his presence on a Mets diamond was anything but unique.
The 53-year-old Queens native spent four years as the team’s batboy, transitioning to the Navy in 1983, where he spent the majority of 20 years working with catapults used to launch aircraft from ships.
“It kind of culminated my two favorite jobs in the whole world together in one night with my friends and family,” he said of the September evening, during which he waved to a crowd of thousands of fans, 100 of which had come to support him. “It was a celebration of my career.”
After filling in for a friend, who happened to be a New York Mets batboy, Loud, 16 at the time, ended up getting a permanent job with the team in 1980, becoming a valued member of the squad. Though a dream job for four seasons, Loud decided he had other aspirations to see through.
“I was growing out of that uniform,” he said, “and college wasn’t in my plans.”
Giving the Mets about nine-months notice that he would be leaving to join the Navy, he spent much of the 1983 baseball season getting in shape to the amusement of his Mets buddies. “They used to make me stop and do push-ups,” he said of coaches Jim Frey, Frank Howard, Bobby Valentine and Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver. “Getting me ready for boot camp.”
On his last day as a batboy, Loud recalled, it was Eddie Loud Day at Shea Stadium. A limosine picked him up from his home — courtesy of former Mets co-owner Nelson Doubleday Jr. — he threw out the first pitch, and the Mets had a farewell party for him, he said.
Following in the footsteps of his brother, who had already been in the Navy for nine years at that time, he then shipped off to boot camp in San Diego, where he began a two-decade career traveling the world on aircraft carriers. While there, Mets pitchers Mike Torres, Doug Sisk and Jesse Orosco tried to visit Loud at the base, he said, but were not allowed in to see him.
Originally stationed in Jacksonville, Fla., Loud was deployed to Iceland, Portugal and Bermuda. He transferred to the brand-new USS Theodore Roosevelt, where he witnessed its commissioning in 1987. He was also on the ship the night the Mets won the World Series the year before, a game he said he couldn’t watch. He was then moved to Sicily, where he spent three years.
“You transfer a lot,” he said, chuckling.
From there, he was assigned to work on the USS Saratoga. Aboard the ship in 1990 and 1991, Loud and his crewmates were involved in the Gulf War — codenamed Operation Desert Shield for operations leading to the buildup of troops and defense of Saudi Arabia and Operation Desert Storm in its combat phase — a war waged by coalition forces from 35 nations, led by the United States, against Iraq in response to its invasion and annexation of Kuwait.
Loud was a “cat captain,” responsible for hooking up aircraft to catapults and ensuring a safe launch, as well as the maintenance of the catapults and arresting gear. “A lot of late nights and long days,” he said, “but you weren’t going anywhere when you were out on the water, so it doesn’t matter.”
He recalled watching missiles fly in the night sky while out at sea during Desert Storm and Desert Shield. “They’re not shooting them at us,” he noted, “but they’re shooting them at somebody else.”
Loud served at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Lakehurst, N.J. from 1993 to 1996, where he worked at test sites with the catapults and arresting gear. He then worked on the USS Nimetz during a six-month world cruise, where he became a lead petty officer. While on the ship, he recalled watching CNN and learning that “the Nimitz battle group is underway toward the Red Sea going to Iraq to enforce flying restrictions on the Iraqi Air Force.”
“We were still at anchor in Hong Kong,” he said with a smile. “It was like, ‘I guess we’re going to the Red Sea tomorrow.’”
After the cruise, during which the Nimitz hit 23 ports, Loud said, he transferred back to Lakehurst as an instructor at the Naval Air Technical Training Center and ultimately retired in 2003.
Though often not in harm’s way, Loud said, the job on the aircraft could be dangerous, as he noted a fatal accident when a cable snapped. “We used to have a saying,” he said. “Look around at the guy next to you because he may not be coming home.”
The biggest challenge was being away from his family, he said, but back in Rockville Centre, he is busy with RVC Titans, coaching his son’s 10-yeard-old football team. He has also served as a Little League coach for the past two years, and is active in Cub Scout Pack 31. He said he imparts some of the wisdom he learned in the Navy, including being punctual, showing respect to people and our country and paying attention to detail.
“I was 20 years old when I joined and then I was 40 when I retired,” Loud said. “I definitely learned to be independent and not take things for granted.”