Shea Goodbye

Shea Stadium—my second home for all those years. We bid farewell to it in person on Sunday, September 28 at the final game played there before they begin tearing it down. It was very fitting that I was able to get tickets for this historic game, since I spent hundreds of nights of my life in that NYC baseball church as a season ticket holder, and on Sunday there were plenty of tears shed as another chapter of my life closed. The new CitiField ballpark is gorgeous, and is the throwback to Ebbets Field that the Mets owners and fans have wanted. Shea was never gorgeous, but it was home. Living in NH now, I won’t have many (if any) memories in the new ballpark—I’ll be a guest there, not a tenant.

We were there early enough to see batting practice, and we made it into Newsday’s photo collection—we’re in photo number 74. You can see Shawn in the photo better than me—I’m behind the kid in the black hoodie. The woman with the sign parked herself next to us, which made our area a media magnet—I was interviewed by Channel 7’s Anthony Johnson (in the rain). He wanted to know my favorite memory at Shea, and how did I feel about it being torn down. I was very chatty (and wet) answering his questions, and also told him we drove 250 miles for the game, but I was reduced to a one-sentence soundbyte (towards the end of the clip).

The post-game Shea Goodbye ceremony was incredibly moving (if you can withstand my primal screaming in this video), with 45 former players returning to be individually introduced to the fans—and then all the players crossed home plate one final time. The final two players to cross home plate were Mike Piazza and then “The Franchise”—Tom Seaver, who then threw out the final pitch to Piazza, and as the two walked toward the outfield, the stadium lights started to slowly be shut off one-by-one as the speakers played the Beatles’ In My Life (which was fitting, since the Beatles’ first U.S. concert was at Shea). When Seaver and Piazza reached the now-opened outfield wall, they turned and gave the crowd a final wave, and then shut the outfield wall behind them and disappeared from view. Fireworks went off around the perimeter of the stadium roof, and confetti was blasted over us. The Last Hurrah at Shea.

As lucky as I was to be at this game, it wasn’t the only historic game I’ve been at—though it was the most important one. I’ve made the following Top 10 list of other momentous games I’ve attended, in chronological order—the good and the bad—with a brief synopsis of each one, and some with video and/or audio clips. (Thanks to the NY Times archives for filling in a few memory lapses of game dates, and the Sounds of Baseball website for the clips.)

October 11, 1986
Game 3 of the National League Championship Series vs. Houston

When the Channel 7 news reporter asked me what my favorite Shea memory was, I told him it was Lenny Dykstra’s home run in this game. I won these playoff tickets when Keith Hernandez pulled my winning postcard out of the lottery bin, and I took Patrick to the game, who was then only 15 years old. Going into the bottom of the 9th, the Astros were beating the Mets 5-4, and if the Astros won the game they would be up two-games-to-one in the pennant series, with the dreaded Mike “Scuffball” Scott scheduled to pitch against the Mets the next night. Wally Backman was able to bunt his way on, and moved to second on a passed ball. One out later, Lenny Dykstra stepped up to the plate and homered into the right field bullpen to end the game, with Patrick and I watching the home run ball whiz by in our delirium, since we were sitting at the right field foul pole. The Mets won 6-5, went on to win the pennant, and of course then won the famous World Series against Bill Buckner and the Red Sox. I still get teary and goosebumped when I watch this clip.

June 5, 1987
Doc Gooden’s first game after rehab

After the ’86 World Series, our beloved Dwight “Doc” Gooden developed an alcohol and drug-use problem. When the ’87 season began, he was in a NYC substance abuse center trying to beat his addiction. In June he came off the disabled list, and I was at his first game on the mound that season against the Pirates, sitting behind home plate in the upper deck. He won the game 5-1 before a very supportive and sell-out crowd.

September 11, 1987
Showdown with St. Louis for first place in the N.L. East

The Cardinals were our nemesis of the 80’s, before the Braves became our nemesis of the 90’s. By this time I was a season ticket holder, and the Mets and Cards were battling for first place and the NLCS (in the days before there was a wildcard). Before a sell-out crowd, and after at least one rain delay, the Mets blew a 4-1 lead in the top of the 9th when Terry Pendleton hit a home run off Roger McDowell that tied the game. The Mets lost the game 6-4 in 10 innings. To this day I can only utter his name as Terry “bleeping” Pendleton.

September 12, 1987
Showdown with St. Louis for first place in the N.L. East

Doc Gooden started the next day’s game, but the Mets couldn’t recover from Terry “bleeping” Pendleton. It was a cold, rainy day at Shea, and Doc, who had the flu, was beaten 8-1, lasting only two innings, his earliest departure. In front of all us disbelieving fans, the Mets fell 3-1/2 games back in the standings. The Cardinals went on to win the pennant and then the World Series.

October 9, 1988
Game 4 of the National League Championship Series vs. Los Angeles

This was the most disheartening playoff game I’ve ever attended. Another Doc Gooden outing that didn’t go our way on another very cold and rainy day in New York. In the top of the 9th, the Mets were winning 4-2 when Mike Scioscia turned around the NLCS by slugging a two-run home run off Doc that tied the score. The Dodgers won the 4-1/2 hour game in the 12th inning when Kirk Gibson homered off Roger McDowell. Los Angeles went on to win the NLCS in seven games.

April 15, 1997
Jackie Robinson Day

Only a few miles from where he made history at Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger, Jackie Robinson had his number 42 retired by Major League Baseball during a ceremony in the middle of the 5th inning of that day’s game against Los Angeles. President Clinton (walking with two canes from a knee injury) emceed the ceremony with Robinson’s wife Rachel at his side, along with MLB commissioner Bud Selig. The stadium was filled with secret service agents, including the four agents (including a woman agent) positioned directly in front of my season seats, who were continually scanning the fans. During the ceremony that was shown to a national cable television audience, Bud Selig described Robinson as “the only one in baseball history bigger than the game” and brought us fans to our feet when he announced they would retire Jackie’s number in perpetuity.

August 20, 1998
Mark McGwire’s 51st home run

Four years after the baseball strike that canceled the World Series for the first time in my lifetime, Mark McGwire was restoring baseball to the country in his quest for the home run record. At the time, none of us knew about steroids. The game was a single-admission doubleheader and my co-worker/friend John and I headed out to Shea after work, not knowing at what point of which game we’d be arriving for. After getting our food we headed to the seats to find out it was the first inning of the second game, and that McGwire had hit home run number 50 in the first game. As we headed into our row, McGwire hit home run number 51. We watched it hit the foul pole screen and carom into the Loge section as we tripped over the feet of the fans in our row.

October 9, 1999
Game 4 of the National League Division Series vs. Arizona

In the first playoff appearance for the Mets since 1988, Todd Pratt won the NLDS with a 10th inning walk-off home run. Pratt was the backup catcher to Mike Piazza, who had to sit out the game with a bad thumb. In the bottom of the 10th inning, Pratt finished off the series for the Mets with a solo walk-off homer. Pratt’s walk-off is the Mets’ only series-ending, post-season walk-off homer, and another insanely exciting moment for me at Shea.

October 17, 1999
Game 5 of the National League Championship Series vs. Atlanta

Robin Ventura’s Grand Slam Single
[The following is taken from I couldn’t do a better job describing it.]
And finally, there is the walk-off homer that wasn’t. In all of the long history of the major leagues, there has never been a post-season, walk-off grand slam. As surely every Met fan knows, Robin Ventura did hit a fair ball over the fence in a post-season, bases loaded, walk-off situation, but it didn’t count as anything more than a single. On October 17, 1999, facing elimination from the playoffs against Atlanta in the NLCS, the Mets fell behind in the top of the fifteenth inning as the Mets’ ninth pitcher of the game, Octavio Dotel in his third inning of work gave up a triple to Keith Lockhart with a man on. The Mets came to bat in the bottom of the 15th and proceeded to work out a single and three walks to tie the game. With one out, Robin Ventura, already one of the great grand slam hitters in major league history smacked a pitch from rookie Kevin McGlinchy over the right field fence for what would have been the only post season walk-off grand slam ever. But Todd Pratt, celebrating on the base paths, failed to complete his run to home and Ventura was credited with only a single. It didn’t matter of course, the Mets won the game anyway: but baseball among other things is a game of historical record-keeping and numerical accomplishment, and this play is remembered no just for its spectacular comeback victory for the Mets but also for its odd illustration of how much attention the numerical record gets in baseball. [I was exhausted at the end of that marathon game. And the Mets went on to be eliminated from the the NLCS in game six.]

October 16, 2000
Pennant-clinching Game 4 of the National League Championship Series vs. St. Louis

From Wild Card to World Series!
Mike Hampton pitched a complete game three-hit 7-0 shutout against the Cardinals to help win the pennant for the Mets, who were no longer lovable losers, but revered winners. I was dizzy from screaming. The crowd wouldn’t leave Shea after the win—we stayed in our seats chanting and singing Who Let The Dogs Out. Getting tickets to the World Series would prove to be impossible, since the Yankees had won their own pennant in the American League, creating the first-ever Subway World Series—everything that all Mets and Yankee fans had ever dreamed about. The Subway World Series couldn’t have turned out worse for the Mets—they lost in five games—forever cementing their reputation as NYC’s second-class baseball team. Aside from the Mets’ collapse at the end of this season, and their collapse at the end of last season, and the ’06 pennant loss in Game 7 of the NLCS (now making it three-years-in-a-row of breaking my heart)—the World Series loss to the Skankees is still one of the hardest losses we Mets fans have had to recover from.


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