April 9, 2009

The Mets, Shea, and Me

WARNING: This is riddled with inaccuracies accentuated by them being the memories of a child. This is not about fact, but about my fandom and the inaccuracy of memory. Enjoy.

The year was 1986, I was a young boy who decided to start watching baseball. Granted, I was a bit older than most kids getting into baseball, but that's what happens when you grow up in a household that doesn't watch sports, despite my extended family being die hard Yankee fans. Well, I guess you can't win them all. Anyway, that summer I watched Met games, I watched Yankee games. As it turns out, the Yankee games were dull and Mets games were exciting, what with guys like Daryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, not to mention running away with the National League Eastern Division. Of course, there was also that dramatic World Series victory over the Red Sox.

Ever since that year, I have been a fan of the Mets. During the 21 subsequent seasons there was no other team for me, nor will their be for the foreseeable future. Over the years my attention has followed a reverse bell curve pattern, beginning high in 1986 and continuing through the late 1980s and early 1990s before dipping through those horrid teams in the mid-90s before rebounding in 1999 and 2000 and reaching an even higher peak over the past few years.

In 1987 my father began to take me to Mets games, it was only one or two a year, but they provided great memories, even if they lost most of them. However, my greatest game memory came from that first year. I don't remember who they were playing (although, I want to say it was the Pirates), but I remember how it ended. Before we could get to that end, I remember getting to the stadium, seeing that glorious structure get bigger as we got closer to it. I remember buying a scorecard and a yearbook, taking my father's hand and walking up the ramps. I remember taking those last few steps up the ramp towards the seats, the field opening up in front of me, the sun shining down, the green grass, the dirt, everything just leaping up to great me. I tell you, it was awe inspiring, and every time since then I have had the same reaction.

The game was a blast. I had no idea how to keep score, or notice any of the finer points of the game, but it was great just being there. Somewhere in the sixth or seventh inning, it began to rain, resulting in a two-hour rain delay. It was looking dire for the Mets as they were trailing. Lee Mazzilli came in and drove in the tying run with a big pinch hit, the crowd went wild. The game would remain tied until the thirteenth inning (yes, it was a long day). In the bottom of the inning, Kevin McReynolds came up and hit a game winning, walk off home run. To say I was happy would be an understatement. Of course, that was one of the last winning games I saw until this year.

When this year began, I was determined to get to at least one game. I was fortunate enough to attend three. Not only that, but they won all three! Man, it had been so long since I had been to a winning game. I have to say it was pretty special seeing a Mets win.

The first game was May 29th against the Dodgers with a pitching match up of Brad Penny (who may be good, but the Mets own) against Claudio Vargas. Sure, I wish I had seen one of the regular Mets starters, but I will settle for a win (wouldn't you?). The game was a blast, especially seeing a two-homer performance from David Wright.

It was August 21st when I was able to get back to the Stadium. This time they were facing the Braves with Pedro Martinez (not exactly an ace anymore, but still fun to watch when he is on) facing down Mike Hampton (Booo!). This game proved to be a bit more exciting, despite a good performance from Pedro, we won it in walk off fashion. Very exciting. This game featured another offensive performance from David Wright, who homered and doubled twice.

Now, that brings me to the third game of 2008 trifecta, September 27th. It was one of the most important games of the season. Mets versus Marlins, with the Mets trailing the Brewers by one game in the race for the wildcard. The game was the second to last regular season game that would be played in Shea Stadium. Johan Santana stepped up to the plate and delivered one of the single best games of his career.

The game aside, as great as it was, it proved to be a much more emotional experience than I had anticipated. It is hard to tell what will make you react emotionally. Before this game if you had told me that a baseball game could nearly move me to tears, I would tell you that you were crazy. However, as Michael Amante sang the National Anthem, I found myself getting a little choked up. It would happen a few times throughout the game as I realized that this would be the last time I would set foot within the friendly confines of Shea Stadium. There were moments I could not cheer for fear that tears would fall from my eyes. Being a part of that crowd during this final weekend of Shea just really got to me. It was a spectacularly moving experience that I will not soon forget. It may not have been the offensive game that would have been nice, but it allowed me to see Johan Santana toe the rubber and deliver a performance of the ages. Simply amazing.

Now, with all of those games aside, the final game of the season is here. Going in my beloved Mets were tied with Milwaukee for the wildcard, due in no small part to Santana's phenomenal performance on Saturday. I sat there watching every inning, every pitch. We went down 2-0 and came back to tie, thanks to a clutch home run from Carlos Beltran, but then the bullpen did what they have done so many times this year, back to back home runs by Marlin batters drove the final nail into the coffin of the 2008 season. The bullpen does not solely take the blame, as our offense hardly showed up for this game, or this series, but it does point to one of, if not the biggest weakness of this team down the stretch and across the season. I was, I am, heartbroken. The season is over, Shea has been permanently shuttered and we head into the off season with dreams of what could have been, thoughts of what needs to be done, and hopes that perhaps 2009 will be the year that the Mets finally put the right pieces together to make it to the post season.

With the game in the rearview mirror, there was one final piece of business left to attend to.Following the loss the final closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium took place. It was special, it was magical, it was sad, but it also helped point out all of the good things that have happened here. The stars were out in force. Each one announced by Howie Rose, as the entered through an opening in center field before making their way down the sidelines to the infield.

Among the stars present were Ed Kranepool, Ron Hunt, Jerry Koosman, Felix Millan, Cleon Jones, Ron Swoboda, Dave Kingman, Al Leiter, Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman, Daryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, John Franco, Tim Teufel, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Lee Mazzilli, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile, Sid Fernandez, Jesse Orosco, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, and The Franchise Tom Seaver.

All of them were given a chance to touch home plate one more time before a ceremonial final pitch was thrown by Tom Seaver to Mike Piazza, two of the biggest players to ever where a Mets uniform. Together the headed to the outfield, towards the open gate in centerfield and towards Citifield. As they made their way, the stadium lights began to go out. Once at the gates, Seaver and Piazza closed the gates signalling the closure of the stadium, fireworks lit up the sky, launched from the upper rim of the stadium, the crowd cheered one last time and it was all over.

For as disappointing an end to the season as this was, these final moments with the stars of the team was very special. I was left something of an emotional wreck, something I did not think would, or could, happen. I felt as if a chapter of my life was being closed, and in a way it was.

Well, Citifield, here we come. It is time to begin a new chapter and start making new memories.

Here are some photos I took at the three games:
IMG_0752 IMG_0749 IMG_0733 IMG_0713 IMG_0691 IMG_0679 IMG_0671 IMG_0649 IMG_0648 IMG_0635 IMG_0610 IMG_0601 IMG_0594 IMG_0590 IMG_0588 IMG_0582 IMG_0418 IMG_0412 IMG_0383 IMG_0347 IMG_0336 IMG_0310 IMG_0290 IMG_0243 IMG_0229 IMG_0222 IMG_0221 IMG_0188 IMG_0185 IMG_0895 IMG_0893 IMG_0891 IMG_0869 IMG_0866 IMG_0855 IMG_0847 IMG_0806 IMG_0804 IMG_0800 IMG_0788 IMG_0795 IMG_0786 IMG_0769 IMG_0765


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