Last Sunday, Shea Stadium lowered it curtain for the last time, closing the book on 44 years of memories.
While the ball club crashed their own party by failing to qualify for postseason play for a second consecutive season, Sunday was as much about remembering and celebrating the life of a ballpark that saw it all, from baseball to concerts to religious royalty.
When it opened in 1964, the still infant New York Mets finally still lacked the talent to compete, but no longer lacked a home of their own.
Located on Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing, Queens, Shea and it’s surrounding area leave little to be desired aesthetically, in fact more often than not the ballpark is referred to (being kind and keeping this appropriate) an eye sore (among many other lovely names).
When stadiums and ballparks go up today, the buzz word surrounding them is often ‘state of the art’, and while the Mets new home, Citi Field, will certainly fit the description, back in 1964 upon opening, Shea already seemed to appear outdated.
It didn’t help that less than 10 miles away sat another ballpark where another New York team played. A ballpark they said was built by some guy named Ruth. A ballpark where guys proclaimed they were the luckiest man on the faith on earth”. A ballpark that saw championship flags raised and a ballpark that saw both records and legends fall.
Ok, so Yankee Stadium has the history, the mystique and aura and the ghosts.
While Shea lacked all of the above, what it had was a team that gave New Yorker’s lovable losers, who brought National League baseball back to a National League town.
Those early years were as brutal as the traffic is getting there these days, but those Metsies (as Casey Stengal lovingly referred to them as) had charm.
It didn’t take long for Shea’s theater to feature its first true performer, as the right arm of Tom Seaver toed the rubber for the first time in 1965, the same year some kids from Britain sold the place out. From what I hear, they weren’t bad.
Beatlemania was fun, but it was four years later when miracles were made.
Led by Gil Hodges, who had already captured the hearts of New Yorker’s for so many years wearing Dodger blue, made those National League holdovers proud again with an Amazin’ finish in 1969, giving Shea some much needed interior decoration.
It won’t be soon forgotten that Shea hosted football too, and the Jets flying overhead had nothing on the
Just four more years later, another New York baseball legend, who told us it wasn’t over ‘til its over, had the Mets just a win away from a second championship.
Behind a rallying call so often still uttered, the ’73 edition of the orange and blue gave us “Ya Gotta Believe”, but ultimately gave us bitter disappointment.
The next decade saw icons take their final curtain calls (Willie Mays ’72 and ‘73), and also saw hometown heroes make unexpected exits (Seaver in ’77).
As Shea was hardly enjoying its teenaged years, it would be some teenaged stars that would be called upon to revive a drowning organization.
With a Doc and a Straw, the energy was back, even if the magic wasn’t (true Mets fan will appreciate the reference to one of the teams countless ill-fated marketing campaigns).
An MVP from St. Louis along with a ‘kid’ from Montreal, and the pieces were finally in place for Shea to host another October party.
With a game six groundball and game seven comeback, Shea was once again a house of champions, and once again the center of the New York baseball universe.
Another crushing playoff defeat in ’88 saw the end of an era in Queens, as young stars were quickly becoming troubled veterans.
As disappointment turned into embarrassment, and money couldn’t buy success, the dawning of a new era was arriving in the spring of 1998.
A Piazza delivery had a rejuvenated fan base buzzing, looking to quench it’s postseason thirst.
Just a year later, it was Piazza who delivered, as Shea prepared to get ‘wild’.
Never shy from dramatic, the Amazin’s brought with them back to playoffs some magic, as the names Pratt and Ventura were forever etched into both Mets and Shea Stadium lore for homeruns and grand slam…singles.
Another year, and another trip to the playoffs, this time with a National League crown to show for it.
A meeting with those cross town rivals scheduled, with more than titles on the line.
And although a mighty drive from Mikey fell harmlessly in the glove of Bernie Williams, the Yankees may have had their three-peat, but the Mets once again had significance (hardly compensation, but important none the less.)
Fast forward another year, to events that forever changed our lives.
September 11th, 2001 saw time stand still, and when it picked up again in the baseball world, Shea Stadium would serve as 55,000 seat therapist’s office.
Whether or not we should have been there was certainly a question, but by night’s end, doubts were erased with what many agree was the most significant swing Shea ever saw.
With broken hearts beating and crying eyes watching, Mike Piazza’s 8th inning home run might have given the Mets a lead, but more than that, gave a city a much needed chance to smile.
It didn’t win a playoff series, and didn’t clinch a championship- but it didn’t have to.
That swing was about more than baseball, and for the first time since those towers had fallen, New Yorker’s spirits were lifted.
After coming up short in 2001, Shea went silent again for another 5 years, surpassing the big 4-0 without any playoff celebrations.
Before there was talk of a new ballpark, there would be talk of the “New Mets”.
A superstar shortstop and a hot corner cornerstone, along with a hall of fame ace and all star centerfielder made up the framework of a new generation in Flushing.
Led by a GM from Queens and a manager from Brooklyn, it would take only two seasons for the “New Mets” to be National League East champions, dethroning 14 years of consistency down south.
In what few expected to be its final postseason party, Shea was home to a pennant clinching celebration it hadn’t seen in 6 years.
What few also expected, was watching the winners wearing the wrong colored caps, as a called third strike would make a legendary class go for naught.
Seeing it’s replacement finally take some shape, Shea watched it’s own demise slowly resurrect in its parking lost, while it watched the demise of its favorite tenants painfully play out within its walls.
Known simply as “the collapse”, the numbers 7 and 17 would forever be infamously synonymous with the Metropolitans, having nothing to do with a shortstop or a ‘stache’.
In 2008, Shea’s swan song wasn’t the only music playing, as the Piano Man hosted Shea’s last play…twice. With the help of some friends, including one who hadn’t seen Shea’s stage since he first graced it in ’65, Billy the Kid had the house rocking like it had some 40 years before.
Two weeks ago, we bid farewell to Yankee Stadium, known to many as the House that Ruth Built and baseball’s cathedral.
Among those who called it home included the Babe and Iron Man, a Clipper and the Mick. From Reggie and Thurman, to Donnie, Derek and Mo.
That other park in town, the one with the airplanes and the one that looked like it needed to be torn down not long after it went up, might not have been built by sultan of swat, or proclaim itself as religious arena.
Among those who call IT home were Tom and Tug, Daryl and Doc, Mookie and Mike, David and Jose. Not a Hall of Fame guest list per se, but not bad either.
To those who called Shea home, this author included, it might not have been the best looking and might not have fanciest.
It might have lacked mystique and aura, and it might have lacked a pretty white facade.
For all Shea might have lacked, it made up for with its familiarity and unexplainable charm.
To those who have called Shea home for any period of time, what it lacked in physical appeal it made up for with emotional sentiment.
Although few will argue it’s no longer up to the standards set by the new era of ballparks springing up, few will also argue that Shea will be torn down not having lived the fullest of lives.
It saw baseball and football, championships and heartbreaks, religious icons and rock and roll immortals.
But most of all, it was place where millions of people would gather for whatever the reason, not caring about what that place looked like, but more just how they felt once inside.
And more often than not, thanks to 44 years of moments and memories, they felt like they were home.
Flip the switch, pull the curtain down and tear it up already.
Shea Stadium was given an early farewell last night, thanks in part to yet another devastating loss by the New York Mets.
In falling 9-6 to the Chicago Cubs, this loss hurt as much if not more than any other this season.
And for all the blame the bullpen has (rightfully) earned this season, last night’s loss primarily gets credited to the offense, who failed miserably late in the game.
In the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, the Mets had runners on third base with nobody out, yet combined, they were able to muster only a bases loaded walk in the 8th, which at the time tied the game at 6-6.
There were two very questionable decisions made by the manager and one of his coaches, which were not sending Jose Reyes- the franchise’s all time stolen base king in the 7th inning which in turn led to Daniel Murphy lining out into a double place, as his rocket line drive landed harmlessly in the glove of first basemen Derek Lee, who stepped on first to retire both Murphy and Reyes.
In the 8th inning, following a Carlos Delgado lead off double, Carlos Beltran ripped a single to center, which could have potentially scored Delgado. Unfortunately, third basemen Luis Aguayo held Delgado at third without hesitation, preventing the tying run from even attempting to score. While Delgado would eventually score following a bases loaded walk, Jose Reyes couldn’t produce any bases loaded magic two nights in a row, grounding out weakly to second to end the threat.
And then came the ninth inning, where its safe to say and hope of the Mets making the playoffs came to a near dead end.
Murphy lead off, and laced a ball into right-center field, hustling his way all the way to third for a triple. Nobody out, runner on third, and up came the face of the franchise, the captain in waiting, the guy Mets fans wanted at the plate: David Wright.
Lou Piniella decided to allow his reliever, Bob Howry, to pitch to Wright instead of walking him and Delgado, in attempt to set up a potential double play with forces at any base.
Despite the fanfare surrounding him and the MVP talk which once again picked up some steam during the last week, Wright has been anything but valuable this season with runners in scoring position, hitting an inexcusable .242 in those situations, worked the count to 3-0, before fouling off a couple of very hittable pitches, only to chase a fastball well out of the strikezone, stranding Murphy at third. Piniella decided to have his reliever walk both of the Carlos’ to load the bases, and Howry proceeded to get Ryan Church to ground out to second, forcing Murphy at home, while Ramon Castro struck out.
If all of the air wasn’t sucked out of Shea following the Mets’ inability to score more than one run during those final three innings, it certainly was a half inning later, when with two outs and nobody on, Luis Ayala , in his second inning of work, allowed a single to Ryan Theriot, who after stealing second, scored on a bloop single to right by Lee. The final knockout punch was delivered by Aramis Rameriz, who crushed a home run off Ayala with a runner on, punctuating what would turn out to be a very forgettable night at Shea for New York.
The loss was crippling, not only becasue it was once again of the self-inflicted variety, but because with the Phillies getting mauled at home by the Braves, the Mets could have tied up Philadelphia in the loss column, while also maintaining their one game edge in the Wild Card- something of course they were unable to- as the Brewers took care of the Pirates in Milwaukee.
This loss certainly tops them all, and despite how bad the bullpen has been, and even despite Oliver Perez coughing up the 5-1 lead his team gave him, the Mets were gift wrapped an opportunity to put themselves in prime position to erase the nightmares of last season, needed nothing more than a fly ball from their third basemen.
For what it’s worth, and its hardly consolation after a loss last night, Carlos Delgado all but put penciled his name in next seasons opening day line-up after coming up huge once again last night. With the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the third, Delgado took advantage of a distracted Carlos Zambrano, who seemed to allow Reyes’ antics running down the third base line get into his head, as he served up a grand slam to the Mets first basemen.
Delgado also doubled to lead off the 8th, and eventually would score on that bases load walk, and did all he could to help get his team past the demons of last season’s collapse which seem to taking in Shea’s final days along with the fans.
Johan Santana can’t pitch every night, but it seems like down the stretch unless he’s on the mound, the Mets find ways to lose these pivotal late season games. Jerry Manuel seems hesitant to pitch his ace on short rest this weekend, although the situation may force his hand if come Saturday the Mets find themselves in an elimination game.
It just doesn’t get much worse than it was last night at Shea Stadium, which will now likely host it’s finall games Sunday, following another brutal loss which took the Mets’ playoff destinty officially out of their own hands, and puts their postseason hopes very much up in the air. And ironically, had David Wright done just that with a fly ball, we would likely be having a very conversation this morning.
But he didn’t, and the team took one step closer to missing out on playoff baseball for the second time in as many years, doing so in an eerily similar fashion, while taking all of the life out of ballpark dying to breathe some October air one more time.
Sadly, it appears those hopes, along with the team, are already flat lining.
The great thing about sports is how often history likes to repeat itself.
Off the top of my head, I think of the countless times the great athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger woods find ways to overcome adversity and come out victorious.
I think back to 2001, when the Yankees found themselves in the same situation on back to back nights, trailing the Diamondbacks in the ninth inning and hitting two out home runs to help win World Series games.
I recall Adam Vinitiari drilling not one, but two game winning field goals to clinch Super Bowl victories for the Patriots.
And wouldn’t you know it, here in 2008, history has once again poked it’s ugly head up, this time in the case of The New York Mets.
I don’t think anybody can forget their epic collapse last season, which of course is highlighted by the fact they could not capture a division crown, no less a playoff birth, despite having a 7 game lead with 17 games left to play.
The fell harder and faster than a brick off the top of a hundred story building, and sure enough, a full calendar year later, they find themselves with a healthy (although not as hearty) lead in their race for a National League East title, with- you guessed it- 17 games left to play.
They’ve played 145 games to this point, splitting them between a season that has really been the combination of to individual era’s: The end of Willie Randolph’s, and the beginning of Jerry Manuel’s.
Of course you could also argue the Mets really picked things up when their first basemen decided he had been hibernating long enough.
Carlos Delgado has gone from being asked out of town to the talk of it.
His numbers since June 27th are eye-popping, as it was that afternoon he hit two home runs and drove in nine against the Yankees in the first half of a two stadium double dip in the Bronx.
That would be the final game the Mets would ever play at Yankee Stadium, preparing to lower its curtain a month earlier than expected with the Yankees all but dead, and their slugger left it looking an awful lot like the guy they claimed built it.
OK, so Carlos Delgado is no Babe Ruth, but his performance down the stretch has put the Mets in prime position to put the nightmarish end to last season behind both his team and their fans.
These Mets can’t seem to figure out whether or not they are in fact a reincarnated version of last year’s losers. Despite many of the same faces, it’s the fresh ones who seem to provide the most hope in avoiding another dreaded September disaster.
They have a new manager (Manuel) who has a new go-to guy (Johan Santana) in his rotation, which is something the last guy (Randolph) didn’t (no, Tom Glavine fell a bit short).
Ryan Church, Dan Murphy and Luis Ayala have all helped their new team in a variety of ways, however it’s also been the guys who were hear that have been contributing.
Jose Reyes, who seemed to fall in love with popping out for the last month of last season, looks fresh and energized, and has continued his potential MVP pace (that’s right, Delgado isn’t the only guy who should be in that discussion).
Carlos Beltran has been ever so quietly putting up the same consistent numbers he has the last two seasons, and while his home run numbers are down, his batting average is up.
A quick note about Beltran- for all the talk about him being overpaid and out of place in New York, the guy will once again finish the season with over 100 runs scored and 100 RBI, while hitting between 25 and 30 home runs and (at current pace) hitting between .275 and .285. You can debate whether or not that’s worth the contract he signed, but the fact of the matter is he has been playing his best baseball over the last 3 weeks (when the games have counted most) while also continuing to play gold glove defense in center field.
Mike Pelfrey, whose face we saw last year but without the results, has been a savior of sorts with his solid numbers since June, winning 11 games to an ERA of less than 3.00 since.
With 17 games left, the team also has a number of question marks surrounding it.
Their closer, Billy Wagner, underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week and likely has pitched his final innings as a Met.
David Wright, despite his 4-4 performance the other night, still needs to cut down his swing and go back to driving the ball up the middle and to right field. Doing that successful with runners in scoring position wouldn’t kill him either.
The bullpen? Still a heart attack waiting to happen each and ever night, and can certainly be credited with Manuel’s recent anointment of his team as “Team Tightrope”.
Forget about the velocity issues with Pedro Martinez, right now he needs to remember where the strike zone is if he wants any hope of getting another contract offer from the Mets, as he becomes a free agent at seasons end.
Oliver Perez has been relatively reliable since Randolph’s firing, however another recent meltdown against last place Washington signaled a potential warning for the organization. Perez is also in his contract year, although based on his potential and agent (Scott Boras) he’s likely all but assured an overpriced deal.
The Mets have 17 games left to do what they were unable to last season, which is simply hold on.
They lead the second place Phillies by 4 games in the all important loss column, and wrap up their season playing 13 games against the Marlins, Braves and Nationals, teams a division winning team should beat.
Then again, facing the same teams down the stretch last season, the Mets were unable to take care of business, making unprecedented, unwanted history.
The Mets now look to make sure what happened last season isn’t repeated.
I went to bed a little after 1am on the east cost, the Mets having just won 9-6 out in California, and as far as knew, manager Willie Randolph had survived another day of rumors and speculation surrounding his job status.
Sure enough, roughly two hours later, in the middle of the night, following a 3,000 mile flight and a win, Willie Randolph was fired.
Regardless of whether or not Willie deserved to be fired, and cases can be made for and against his dismissal, the way in which it was handled was an absolute atrocity.
Mets management, headed by owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, along with General Manager Omar Minaya who reportedly flew out to Anaheim to meet his ball club, had the nerve to allow Randolph, and his entire coaching staff, to travel cross country, manage and coach on Monday against the Angels, only to announce this decision at midnight in a hotel room.
It was a classless move by an organization that really shouldn’t wonder why they continue to be seen as second rate in a city that features another organization that has had it’s own share of bad press in the handling of a managerial move when Joe Torre left the Yankees last fall.
In the Mets’ handling of Willie Randolph’s firing, they once again proved to be a bigger story off the field than on it, which has seemed to be the class all season.
Before a single pitch was thrown this season, the talk was about last season’s epic collapse and the impact it was going to have on the team heading into a new season.
There was Billy Wagner calling out his teammates for lacking accountability after losing 2 of 3 to the lowly Washington Nationals, supposedly pointing in the direction of the lockers of Carlos Delgado, among others, when stating that
“You should be talking to the guys over there,” he snapped to reporters in the clubhouse…”Oh, they’re not there. Big shock,”
There was the self-inflicted controversy surrounding some comments Willie made to a reporter regarding the criticism he was receiving, and whether or not race was an issue worthy of being considered.
“Is it racial? Huh? It smells a little bit…I don’t know how to put my finger on it, but I think there’s something there. Herman Edwards did pretty well here and he won a couple of playoff [games], and they were pretty hard on Herm. Isiah Thomas didn’t do a great job, but they beat up Isiah pretty good. … I don’t know if people are used to a certain figurehead. There’s something weird about it.”
Randolph did apologize, and a press conference was called simply to announce he had been spoken to, marking the second press conference called by the Mets organization to give a public vote of confidence to Willie, although neither time (the first being following the end of the last season) left you feeling like management was fully backing their manager.
It is more than fair to have questioned the job Randolph had done between the lines, and his firing wasn’t unjustified. However, the manner in which it was handled was almost sickening.
One report out states that The Mets had already made this decision prior to their leaving for the west coast, and if true, that only epitomizes the lack of any decency this team could have shown three of their employees.
Randolph, his coaches and his players, had endured weeks of questions and wondering amid a disappointing start to their season, and the uncertainty around Randolph’s job was clearly a distraction to a team that needed nothing less than something other than baseball games to focus on.
Willie will likely be more remembered for the way his team collapsed last season, losing a 7 game lead with 17 games to play and relinquishing an opportunity to win back to back division titles for the first time in franchise history.
His record of 302-253, with a winning percentage second only to Davey Johnson in Mets history, is now a thing of the past, as Randolph can take another 3,000 mile trip back across country to finally rid himself of the sorry excuse for a ballclub he had probably lost the ears of.
The word being most thrown around the press this morning is cowardly, referring to the way in which the Mets handled this whole thing, and a more fitting word doesn’t exist. I probably sound redundant but the way in which this was handled was just without class and without any sense of professionalism.
As a Mets fan, and as somebody who has bled Mets orange and blue and both follows this team and supports it as closely and and as hard as anybody, I can’t feel worse for Willie, in spite of the fact that finding justification for his firing isn’t all that difficult.
But somebody who has invested lots of time, energy and no shortage of money into this team, I find myself utterly ashamed of the team I root for, and quite frankly, pretty upset with the way in which this all happened. If the team wanted to fire Willie after the collapse, fine. That would have been understood. If they wanted to fire him back in New York a few weeks back when the media was all gathered and a press conference had been called at Shea to announce his staying as manager, that would have been acceptable.
But this was, for lack of an original word on my part, just completely cowardly and disgraceful.
To announce this decision in the middle of the night, in all likelihood to avoid the publicity disaster which awaits Omar Minaya and the rest of management later today, and to avoid the newspaper headlines and media circus sure to present itself at the team’s 5pm conference.
Maybe it’s ironic or maybe just meaningless coincidence, but Willie’s final days at Shea Stadium as manager took place with his predecessor, Art Howe, sitting just a few feet away in the opposing dugout. Howe was no stranger to a similarly graceless exit, as the team had announced with two weeks left Howe would be fired at season’s end, yet stayed on to manage as a lame duck.
For a team that has lacked consistency on the field, they certainly have shown it off the field, and for all the wrong reasons.
On a day in which the world of sports showed us that humility and grace still exist in the form of U.S. Open runner-up Rocco Mediate, the Mets reminded us that the other end of the spectrum is very much alive as well.
The team’s hierarchy should be embarassed and ashamed of the way they handled themselves, looking only to protect their image in the process, while showing no regard for the people whose jobs they were taking away.
And for a team that has always played second fiddle to the other team in town, they can pat themselves on the back because they finally found a way to upstage their crosstown rivals, by giving their manager an exit only George Steinbrenner could have executed.
This was a classless move, by a classless franchise, and the only positive thing I can think of coming out of this is that Willie and his dismissed coaches can rid themselves of the real disaster here.
The team itself.
But I have to say that my time with the Mets wouldn’t have been the same without the greatest fans in the world. One of the hardest moments of my career, was walking off the field at Shea Stadium and saying goodbye. My relationship with you made my time in New York the happiest of my career and for that, I will always be grateful.”
Mike Piazza, while announcing his retirement from professional baseball
A hero is defined as “an illustrious warrior”; “a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities” as well as “one that shows great courage”.
Living in New York City, the term hero underwent a facelift after the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001, as the brave policeman, fireman and other rescuers took on the hero role, and fittingly so. With all due respect to those men, as well as the soldiers overseas and those probably more deserving of the hero title, but from the minute he arrived on May 22nd, 1998 Mike Piazza became my hero.
Everybody has their own interests, whether its music, movies or sports (among countless others) and within those interests, chances are everybody has a favorite artist, singer, actor, actress, athlete and so on and so forth.
Well, as a young kid growing up in Queens, there was no thrill bigger than going to Shea and watching Mike Piazza play baseball for the New York Mets.
From the day he was acquired in May of 1998, through all the memorable home runs and accomplishments, up until his fareware back in ’05, Mike Piazza was always larger than life for me.
Before Mikey was traded to the Mets, my favorite players were rather generic, whether it was Ken Griffey Jr. or Cal Ripken Jr to name a few. The Mets weren’t very good and certainly did have the household name- big time star player who I could brag about having on the team I root for.
But when Mike Piazza arrived, and singlehandedly changed the culture in Queens, making the Mets matter again, he had no bigger fan than me.
I must have spent hundreds of dollars on his baseball cards, t-shirts and plaques, while the very authentic jersey I got as a gift was a pinstriped Mets home jersey with the number 31 and Piazza’s name on the back of it.
You have to understand, I wasn’t just a fan of his, I did anything and everything I could during my childhood to watch him play and get close enough to him for an autograph, because that was what was important to me when I was 12.
My first Piazza memory came a year after the Mets traded for him, as the team held their annual photo day at Shea, where you were allowed to walk around the field before the game and take pictures of – not with- the players.
Well, Mike was standing there, among the final players you could photohgraph, and standing jus a few feet away was a shaking, nervous 12 year old.
As nervous as I was, I realzied this was probably the closest I was ever getting to him, so I ran up to him, shook his hand, and had an absolutely perfect picture taken of the moment, with both Piazza and myself looking directly into the camera.
After Piazza arrived, I had my parents drag me to batting practice before games, desperately trying to get his autograph.
Finally, when the Mets took a trip up to Boston for interleague play in 2000, divine intervention was at work as I just so happened to be staying in the same hotel as the Mets.
Upon walking out of the hotel, I, along with a storm of other Mets fans, followed Mike halfway down a block as he got on the team bus.
I managed to push my way right beside him, asking him for an autograph, with his response being “sorry bro, I got a game to play” (exact words, forever engraved into my memory) and proceeded to get on the bus.
As disappointed as I was for Mike not signing an autograph for me I knew I wasn’t giving up in my persuit. Sure enough, when i got to Fenway, I made a mad dash for the visiting dugout, where I was fully stretched out, arms and legs, smothered by dozens of other fans, trying to toss Mike a ball to sign.
And wouldn’t you know it, in what is among the greatest single moments of my childhood, he reached out for the baseball I was holding and signed it.
To this day, I cannot remember a single moment- sports related or not- which had me smiling ear to ear the way I was after getting Mike Piazza’s autograph. Just thinking about it brings me back.
It may not sound like much, but to a 13 year old kid, having his idol sign a baseball for him was about as big as it gets. I can’t really put into better words how incredible a moment that was.
I could probably fill up a book with Mike Piazza moments, but there are a handful which standout.
I was at his second game ever with the Mets. I remember that being the first time I had asked my parents to specifically get tickets to this game. Piazza was now on the team and I needed to be there to see him in person.
Remembered a lot for the big home runs he hit, for whatever reason, Mike Piazza seemed to have power outtages when I was there to see him. I probably went to somewhere between 100 and 150 games between when he arrived in 98 and 2005, and I think he probably hit less than 10 home runs in those games.
That being said, the ‘quality over quantity’ argument holds true, because of all the home runs Mike Piazza hit, there is one that will always stand out above all the others.
Im not talking about a walk off against Trevor Hoffman, or the capper in the 10 run 8th against Atlanta.
I’m not talking about the grand slam off Clemens in Yankee Stadium, or the shot which gave him the most home runs ever by a catcher.
No, I’m talking about an 8th inning homerun he hit of Braves reliver Steve Karsay on September 21st, 2001.
Just 10 days after the attack on the World Trade Center, baseball had made its first appearance in New York City. Shea Stadium was the site, and with emotions running high, the Mets and Braves provided New Yorkers with their first chance to escape, live and in person.
I was lucky enough to be at the game, and between the pre game ceremonies, the sining of God Bless America and New York, New York and the fact that the Mets happened to be in the midst of a pennant race, it was an overwhelming night to say the least.
Through 7 and a half innings, The Mets were struggling to put anything together offensively, trailing the Braves 2-1.
With a runner on, Piazza stepped up to face Karsay, who left a fastball just a little too much over the plate, and with one swing, an entire city was lifted.
Piazza crushed a bomb of a home run to left center, getting a reaction from the crowd that you had to be there and experience first hand to fully understand.
With everything going on, just a short 10 days after the most horrific attack on this country, a city that had been devastated was on its feet, cheering and screaming, while also crying and praying.
For me, not only was I just happy to be watching my favorite team playing baseball again, I had my favorite player- my hero- step up and deliver like only true heroes do.
To this day, I get goosebumps just thinking about that night, along with all of the other Mike Piazza memories.
Watching as he said goodbye in the final game of the 2005 season, I’ll tell you I cried for the first time in my life for something sports related.
When he came back the following season, I had tickets and got to Shea earlier than I had for any game in my life, making sure I had a spot on top of the visitors dugout, making sure I was among the first to see him back at Shea for the first time since leaving.
Standing and cheering his name throughout the night was terrific, and props to the Mets for playing Piazza’s entrance song Voodoo Child when he stepped up to the plate for his first at bat.
Even watching him hit a few homeruns the following night, AGAINST my Mets had me clapping and smiling.
The year after that, I had box seats when the Oakland A’s came to town, and little did I know I would be seeing Mike on the field at Shea for the last time ever. He was injured and not playing, but did come out to present the lineup card, receiving another thundering ovation from the crowd.
After two season playing to extend his career as long as he could, refusing to quit on the game he loved, Mike Piazza called it a career this week, saying good bye and thanking everybody from his teammates to former managers, and of course the fans.
I look forward to the day Mike Piazza is inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, hopefully wearing a Mets cap when doing so. Regardless of the cap he wears on his Hall plaque, I plan on being there, in Cooperstown, watching Mike join baseball immortality, giving myself just one more memory with Mike, one last chance for me to cheer and smile like I’m 12 again.
But most of all, one final chance to see my hero.
Somebody once asked me “What do you think of Flushing, Queens?” and quickly responded with “Sounds like a great idea”
I laughed at the time, and thinking about it now, the state of the team who calls Flushing home isn’t in the best of places.
While Flushing is hardly one of the finer areas New York has to offer, the atmosphere inside Flushing’s favorite big blue eyesore has become toxic.
Things are an absolute mess in Queens, as the 2008 Mets are looking far too much like the 2007 crew which orchestrated what can only be described as “the collapse”.
After 39 games, roughly a fourth of the season, this team lacks a pulse.
Going into this past homestand, having 7 games at hand with the last place Reds and last place Nationals, the Mets had an opportunity- AT HOME- to take care of business heading into the overhyped and overrated Subway Series.
A 3-4 record later, this team is spinning out of control, and the breaking point may have come, as closer Billy Wagner, who did not appear in the Thursday afternoon debacle of a loss to Washington, was being interviewed and had the following to say:
“”Someone tell me why the (expletive) you’re talking to the closer. I didn’t even play. They’re over there, not being interviewed. … I got it. They’re gone. (Expletive) shocker.”
Unlike Paul Lo Duca, who last season made similar remarks while choosing to include race in his rant, Wagner simply stated the obvious, that this ball club lacks any sort of accountability.
Billy is known for being outspoken, and occasionally says things he probably shoudn’t have, however he could not be more on the money right here.
This Mets team has played with no heart, no passion and has never held itself accountable.
We can start with the manager, Willie Randolph.
Message to Willie- that warm feeling under your rear end is in fact the proverbial “hot seat” warming up more and more as these losses mount.
Today was arguably the lowest of lows, as the offense flat out didn’t show up, and there were not one, not two but three costly mistakes made which came back to cost the Mets chances to score runs.
Whether it was David Wright and Luis Castillo not running out a fly ball, Jose Reyes cluelessly trying to take an extra base on a sacrifice bunt, or Carlos Beltran- supposedly- being instructed to run on contact as Carlos Delgado lined out into a double play with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th-, the Mets seem to be spiraling out of control both on the field and off of it.
Today was yet another microcosm of the bigger problem, which is the constant indifference this ballclub has showed since the middle of last season.
Where do we point the fingers?
First and foremost, Randolph needs to held responsible for failing to get whatever message he’s trying to send to his players.
Maybe they’ve stopped listening to him, but as the manager, you need to be responsible for getting the most out of your players. The manager needs to know how to handle a bullpen and when to take out a struggling relief pitcher.
Willie Randolph, for all right buttons he seemed to push back in 2006, his words seem to be falling on deaf ears, and the results aren’t showing.
For all the money being put into this team, a 20-19 record is unacceptable, and the only way I believe this team responds is by somebody taking the fall.
And as has been said countless times, you can’t fire the players, so the logical next step is to fire the manager.
You heard it from here, on Thursday evening- the 15th of May after only 39 games- the New York Mets and Willie Randolph need to part ways.
Billy Wagner placed a much needed magnified glass over the problem, which simply put is the apathetic attitude this team is plagued by game in, game out.
Placing blame player to player is too difficult, as its easier to go through who has shown some signs of life this year, as it’s as a much shorter list: Wagner has been relatively lights out, Ryan Church and Brian Schnieder have validated the Lastings Milledge trade and Moises Alou has picked up right where he left off at the end of last season.
The laundry list of issues can start with the brothers Carlos, as both Beltran and Delgado haven’t provided the middle of the order with any production.
Jose Reyes is hitting under .260, and continues to lack plate discipline. He has turned into an offensive enigma.
David Wright, despite the fans believing he can do no wrong, is hitting something around .160 with runners in scoring position, meaning the 32 RBI’s he has should be closer to 50.
Johan Santana, for all the money the Mets have paid and the prospects they sent to Minnesota in exchange for him, has been average, maybe slightly better at best.
At 4-2 with an ERA of 3.10, his numbers aren’t a good indicator of his mediocrity.
His velocity has consistently been in the high 80’s, while he’s usually good for no more than 6, MAYBE 7 innings.
The home runs ball continues to be his worst enemy, but allowing 10 hits to the Reds last weekend (although he did win) could be a warning sign as to how vulnerable he can be without his best stuff.
Oliver Perez is consistent at being inconsistent, giving you two bad starts for every good start.
Aaron Heilman has been flat out dreadful, and needs to be banished to a mop-up role until he can find himself.
The funny thing is, while the fans love to boo a guy like Aaron Heilman, you better believe he goes home at night and cares an awful lot more than a Carlos Beltran.
Can we blame management?
We sure can, but they don’t deserve nearly as much of the blame, as Omar Minaya’s two biggest offseason moves (Santana from the Twins and the Church/Schenider for Milledge trade) can be deemed successful…or at least successful enough.
Ownership has repeatedly stated to wait until more games have been played to gauge the heartbeat of a team that to this point hasn’t shown one, so at somepoint the Wilpon’s will need to figure out who’s the first scapegoat for this disaster.
As a fan, this is frustrating, and is demoralizing because it seems that everybody connected to the ballclub with the exception of the players themselves cares about whats going on, however the only ones capable of doing something about it are the guys who play inbetween the white lines.
Until that happens, expect the carelessness to continue, and the longer they continue not to care, the more and more the fans should consider following suit.
There is still plenty of time left in this young season for all of this to be turned around, but as April has turned into May and May will soon turn into June, something needs to happen before heads start to roll.
Willie Randolph, you’re on notice.
On April Fools Day, the Mets probably were hoping their joker was merely pulling their leg.
Well, a leg was pulled, but unfortunately for the ballclub, that leg was attached to the body of one Pedro Martinez.
Pedro left his start Tuesday night in the bottom of the 4th inning after he appeared to sustain an injury to his left leg, while following through on his delivery.
Pedro retired Matt Treanor on a ground out, but Treanor would be the last batter Pedro would face, as he gingerly was helped off the field and disappeared into the Mets clubhouse with the training staff.
During the 8th inning on SNY, Mets reporter Kevin Burkheart stated he had caught up with Pedro on his way out of the ballpark, who told Burkhart he “heard a pop” in his left hamstring.
The early word was a strained left hamstring, and was listed as day-to-day, however anybody who has been watching baseball for an extended period of time knows that hamstring injuries are almost never a day-to-day injury, and you can add onto that the fact that Pedro is 36 and a pitcher who relies heavily on his legs for his success.
Matt Wise gave up a game winning homerun to the Marlins Robert Andino, the first of his young major league career.
The Mets may have lost the game in 10 innings, but the news was all centered around their veteran right hander.
With his history of injuries, one shouldn’t be surprised that Pedro hurt himself, however the timing really acts like a punch in the stomach when you consider all the good vibes surrounding him coming out of spring training.
He gave us the spring cliche “greatest shape of my life” rant which you had no choice but to believe based on how sharp he looked down in Port St. Lucie.
Unfortunately, only 3 1/3 innings into his first start of the year, on the first day of April, Pedro might be spending more time back in St. Lucie rehabbing yet another injury.
The injury puts even more strain (no pun intended) on an already thing Mets rotation, with Orlando Hernandez on the disabled list still building up arm strength to pitch 6 major league innings.
Mike Pelfrey currently is serving as the teams fifth starter, and is slated to pitch Saturday in Atlanta.
Thanks to off-days, the Mets may not have to replace Pedro’s spot in the rotation for at least a start or two, and only time will well what the health conditions are of both he and El Duque.
Mets fan hoping to see Pedro toe the rubber at Shea Stadium’s final hope opener will most likely end up seeing either Oliver Perez or John Maine when the curtains go up for the final time at the big blue ballpark in Queens.
For now though, the concern rests in the left leg of the Mets self-proclaimed former ace and resident number 2.
Knowing Pedro, day-to-day is as reliable a diagnosis as a meteorologist telling you the forecast is partly cloudy with a chance of showers.
And when it comes to Pedro Martinez and the Mets, the forecast just got worse.
Johan Santana was acquired over the offseason to bring his Cy Young left arm to Flushing and provide a stabilizing force atop the Mets rotation.
After one start, the Mets and their fans had to be feeling pretty good about their new southpaw.
Don’t expect to be hearing any talk of missing Carlos Gomez or Phillip Humber, not after Santana struck out 8 batters over 7 strong innings of work to help secure an Opening Day victory for his new ballclub.
David Wright broke the game open in the top of the fourth, as he cleared the bases with a 3 run double off Marlins lefty Mark Hendrickson.
Wright finished the day 2-4 with those 3 RBI, while the Mets also got production from Carlos Beltran with two doubles, Jose Reyes who had two hits and an RBI, along with Angel Pagan and Ryan Church who contributed an RBI a piece.
The story however was Santana, who beautifully mixed a live fastball and dancing changeup which kept Marlins hitters off-balance all afternoon.
He allowed a mere 3 hits, and walked two, with his only blemish coming in the result of a Josh Willingham 2 run shot in the bottom of the 4th.
The bullpen was solid, as Matt Wise, Scott Schoeneweis, Jorge Sosa and Aaron Heilman combined to pitch the final two innings, without allowing a run.
With the game on the line in the bottom of the eight, manager Willie Randolph called upon Schoeneweis an Sosa to face a batter each, leaving two runners stranded.
The Mets hope their 1a can be equally as dominant as their 1 was today, when Pedro Martinez takes the hill tomorrow night against Marlins righty Rick VandenHurk.
Interestingly, the Mets opened their season in much the same way they ended last season, facing a young Marlins team with a veteran southpaw on the mound for them.
Fortunately for the orange and blue, the lefty was Johan Santana, and the results were just a bit more satisfying.
What a difference an ace makes.
In this life of ours, there are few certainties we can rely on.
Benjamin Franklin wisely stated that the only two things you can count on it life are death and taxes.
Well Ben was around long before the beautiful game of baseball was invented, because another thing you can count on, when winter fades to spring, is that baseball takes it rightful place atop the sports world.
They call it the National Pastime, while most baseball fans treat Opening Day like a national holiday.
Opening Day is about more than baseball.
It’s about a fresh start.
It’s about putting the past behind us and leaving it there.
It’s about “there’s always next year” being this year.
Of course most of all, it’s about baseball.
The offseason seems as endless as the winter itself, and when February rolls around, the two most popular words a baseball fan will hear are pitchers and catchers.
Spring training begins, with Florida and Arizona the backdrop for our heroes’ return.
In March they get ready, as the season gets closer.
New faces and old, the excitement builds as Opening Day approaches, and those last handful of meaningless exhibition games linger on.
And finally, when you think it’ll never come, those skies look bluer and that grass looks greener.
Something you can’t even describe lifts you up, and reminds you that this year could be your year.
Baseball has returned.
Opening day has arrived.
* * * * *
From a personal perspective, this Opening Day is somewhat more emotional than ever before.
For both Mets and Yankees fans, 2008 marks the final year of both Shea and Yankee Stadium.
As a Mets fan, I have nothing but the highest regards for Yankee Stadium, as the baseball fan inside of me knows all of the history and the mystique surrounding baseball’s greatest cathedral. It will certainly be missed.
When it comes to Shea Stadium, I can’t think of a place outside my home or a school where I’ve spent more of time growing up.
Serving as my home away home since I was 5, Shea is far more than just a baseball stadium to me.
I fell in love at Shea.
Not with a girl, but with a baseball team.
The Mets have become as big a part of my life as anything else, and while some could argue for all I’ve given they have yet to reciprocate with the taste of a Championship, they have given me something even more valuable.
The best part about baseball, aside from winning, is having something that manages to transcend everything else going on in my life.
I’ve dealt with too many ups and downs in my life to count, however throughout all of it, between April and September, I know that at 1, 4 or 7 (10 when they’re on on the West Coast) the Mets will be there, distracting me from whatever it is I need to be distracted from.
Somebody asked me recently what my favorite thing in the world to do is, and after thinking for a second I realized that there isn’t anything which tops sitting in the Mezzanine, Section 5 row G seat 23 and watching a game.
One of the papers asked what aspect of Shea will be most missed, and with choices like the home run apple and the planes flying overhead (which actually will still be flying overhead next year), I immediately said it was just watching the game there.
Shea is without question among the least attractive ballparks in baseball, however for anybody who has been there (and spent as much time there as I have) you just embrace it for what it is.
It may lack the aesthetics of Yankee game or Wrigley Field, and it might not be state of the art like a lot of these other new stadiums going up (and for some reason, the bathrooms remain flooded on Opening day before a single game has been played) BUT…to me, and to Mets fans, Shea Stadium will forever be one thing and one thing only.
The home of the New York Mets.
It too, will be dearly missed.
(from my Sports Illustrated FanNation Blog)
After 44 years, 4 National League pennants and 2 world series championships, Shea Stadium will be no more come opening day 2009, as the New York Mets will start play in their new home, residing just beyond the leftfield fence.
But while Citi Field remains a season away, 2008 has all the makings to put the Mets in position to send Shea off in style, perhaps raising a new championship banner when the new ballpark opens.
With Opening Day just a weekend away, the storylines heading into the 2008 season seem almost overwhelming.
Prior to their trade with the Twins, the theme early and often would have been the collpase.
Their late season disaster will remain in the minds of players and fans, as well it should.
The collapse should be a reminder to the young players and especially to the veterans that you can’t take a single game, a single at bat or a single pitch for granted.
That means no getting bored or complacent, regardless of how many games ahead or behind they mae be in the standings.
Fortunately, the collapse will probably take a back seat to the arrival of Johan Santana, arguably and considered by many to be the best pitching in the game today.
Santana’s Here, Pedro Still the Man
Ok, so the best pitcher on the planet is now a Met.
He brings with him his Cy Young awards, his wins and strikeouts.
So how is it possible he might not even be the most important pitcher in his own rotation?
The answer to that is Pedro Martinez.
Santana, injuries aside, can be penciled in for anywhere from 16-20 wins, and an E.R.A. under 3.
Pedro, in my opinion, is the X-Factor in the Mets rotation.
If healthy, Pedro can give the Mets the most potent 1-2 punch not only in the National League, but in the majors.
Mike Francesa said it earlier in the week on WFAN, and I agree with the statement that if Pedro has a ‘Pedro’ year, the Mets can and should run away with the division.
And when talking about Pedro, his value extends beyond the pitchers mound.
Since day 1 in Queens, Pedro has become vital in giving the Mets a confident swagger, while also providing comic relief and a veteran presence with championship experience.
His antics seem to have no end, he always is smiling and knows how to keep his teammates lose.
When Pedro is in the dugout, the team just seems to be in a better overall mood, and thats no coincidence.
Hopefully for Pedro and Mets, his right arm provides as many smiles in the stands as his personality provides in the clubhouse.
The Maturation of Jose Reyes
If you want to talk about antics and personality, look no further than the Mets shortstop.
Jose Reyes was never shy when it came to celebrations and handshakes, however when his slump became a contributing factor in the Mets late season collpase, many questioned Jose and how he handled himself, along with how his manager handled him.
I can’t put much blame on Willie Randolph, as it was important for Jose to be Jose, and for him to work through his struggles on his own.
While playing Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose on the loudspeakers could probably occur less, there is definitiely some growing up to do on his part.
Jose is a laid back guy who likes to have fun.
And lets not forget, the kid is in his mid 20’s, and seeing him smile reminds you that the game of baseball is supposed to be fun.
However, Jose has admitted that he needs to tone down his act, and concentrate more between the white lines.
I would have trouble understanding anybody who says that Jose needs an attitude adjustment, because his personality is right up there with Pedro’s, keeping his team loose and having some fun along the way.
When the team was winning, there weren’t any issues with how he played or how he acted, but the slump he went into changed that.
How much of the way he played and the way he acted affected his performance is something only Jose Reyes knows.
I would hate to see Jose Reyes take the field every night and sit in the dugout the same way Roberto Alomar did during his brief and very forgettable tenure in New York, with that sulky look on his face wondering what he was doing here.
Jose needs to have fun, but also needs to start taking some bigger steps forward.
The sooner he does that, the sooner Jose can smile with a ring on a finger.
Carlos Delgado is the Biggest Question Mark in the Mets Lineup
With Moises Alou set to miss at least the first month of the season following surgery to correct a hernia, Carlos Delgado will assume the 5 spot in the Mets order, and will also assume even greater responsibility in doing so.
The top half of the Mets batting order is solid, with Reyes, Castillo, Wright and Beltran, however when you reach Delgado, Met fans have reason to be worried.
Not only did Carlos put up his lower power and average numbers since the beginning of his career (24 HR, 87 RBI, .258 AVG), but his age seems to be showing as he had a lot of trouble catching up to fastballs, and more times than not seemed to be up there guessing.
After a hip injury set him back a bit this spring, Carlos needs to prove he can stay on the field, and produce while doing do.
His defense is average at best, so you need to get the type of offensive production from him fans of his had come to expect (35+ HR, 110 RBI)
How realistic is that from a 36 year old player with nagging injuries in his contract year?
Your guess is as good as mine, however once thing all Mets fans can agree on is that if Delgado can produce the way he is expected to, especially for the money he is being paid, then the lineup is all the more dangerous, as Beltran gets the protection he had in 2006, making him all the more effective.
He needs to just keep taking the ball the other way, and if he can do that with regularity, Mets fans should be happy with the Carlos Delgado they see this season.
If not, look for GM Omar Minaya to seek help from outside the organization.
Mets-Phillies is the ne Mets-Braves (but don’t forget about them either)
Until last year, the Mets and Braves were probably the most interesting rivalry in the National League East (dating back to at least the last decade).
Turner Field was a house of horrors for the Mets as nothing seemed to go right, whether it was Angel Hernandez blowing a call on a play at the plate (’97 or ’98), Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine shutting down a usually unimpressive Mets offense, or John Franco and Armando Benitez serving up game winning homeruns to the likes of Brian Jordan (2001).
In 2006, that all changed as the Mets were able to finally break through against their arch nemisis, sweeping a series late in the summer, propelling them to take the division away from Atlanta for the first time in 14 years.
Last year, the Mets found a new tormentor, along with new leading characters not named Jones.
The Phillies, behind an MVP season by shortstop Jimmy Rollins, made the lives of the Mets and their fans miserable by embarassing them over the final 7 games of the year, taking all of them.
As a result, the Phillies were playing October baseball, while the Mets were left to deal with the fact that Rollins had correctly predicted his team was tops in the NL East.
The once dead Mets-Phillies rivalry was renewed (if there ever really was one), and going into this season, the typically quiet Carlos Beltran proclaimed his team the one to beat, taking the rivalry from the field back into the headlines, where it seemingly began with Rollins speaking his mind before last season began.
Heading into 2008, the Phillies AND Braves are both expected to be competitive, and neither should be overlooked anymore.
The Mets may have proved Turner Field and the Braves no longer intimidate them, but for at least one more year Chipper will be doing all he can to bid an appropriate farewell to the ballpark he named his child after.
Mets and Phillies.
Mets and Braves.
One division on the line.
Lets the games begin.
One More Miracle?
Shea Stadium has seen it all.
The Beatles played the first ever stadium concert at Shea in 1965.
The All Star game called Shea home in 1964, the year the park opened.
‘The Franchise’ arrived in Tom terrific.
Miracles were possible in ’69
‘Ya Gotta Believe’ was born in ’73
There was Rusty and Kranepool.
Doc and Daryl.
Mex and The Kid.
“Gets by Buckner”
A Piazza Delivery.
‘Wild’ Times in 99
A subway ride in 2000
Mikey’s magic after 9/11,
Omar, Willie, Pedro and Carlos bringing the “New Mets” to town
Division champs once again in ’06
Jose and David doing it the ‘Wright’ way.
There was Murph, Lindsay Nelson and Ralph.
There’s the apple and the airplanes.
The NBA is where amazing happens…
But Shea is where ‘Amazin happens.
In 2008, the Mets and their fans say goodbye to the place where many of us Mets fans have been raised.
And for all the knocks on it (and there are an endless amount), Shea will forever be remembered where anything was possible with the orange and blue.
Can the Mets leave Shea for the final time as World Series Champions?
Like I said, anything is possible.