October 20, 2014

Sunday at Shea: A Wright Moment and a Wrong Turn

April 16, 2008 by · 7 Comments 

The author is a lifelong New York Mets fan. In celebration of 45 years of baseball at Shea Stadium and it being the Stadium’s last season, Joe purchased two season tickets to the Sunday games at Shea.

On Sunday, April 13, my son Tony and I took in the first of many Sunday games in 2008 at Shea Stadium. It was a cold day for which we were not fully prepared in our Mets T-shirts and light sweat jackets. It was a relief though that the rain that was predicted all week to hit Shea on Sunday never materialized. Not knowing what the parking or traffic situation would be with the construction of Citi Field on the current Shea main parking lot, I decided to get up early and see if I could get a parking spot in what is left of the main lot.

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I live in southeastern Connecticut, exactly 113 miles from Shea Stadium. The trip to the stadium was smoother than I thought it would be, taking exactly 100 minutes to get there. When we arrived at the ballpark at 9:20 a.m., there were less than ten cars in the lot. I pulled up next to a family setting up chairs to the Mets’ theme song. I could hear “Meet the Mets, meet the Mets, Step right up and greet the Mets.†For a Mets fan, this is the ultimate song to hear when you first arrive at the ballpark. Instead of staying next to this family, I decided to find a better parking spot near the exit. I moved my car to the other end of the lot and was able to get the space directly in front of the exit. After reading the newspaper, eating some food and listening to a Ron Hunt interview on Ed Randall’s “Talking Baseball†on WFAN, my son and I headed toward a Shea entrance.

Before I was able to get comfortable in my mezzanine level seat, the game got off to a wrong start when Oliver Perez gave up a 2-run homer in the first inning. You could easily sense the frustration of the fans in the stadium. The hangover from last season was still lingering. When the Mets came up in the first, David Wright went deep for his 100th career home run which brought some excitement to the crowd. The Met leader came through once again. Tony and I were hoping to see Wright’s milestone homer and we got our wish. We are huge Wright fans and were well aware of him needing just three homers at the start of the season to get to the century mark. At 25 years old, it is fair to say that Wright will have a shot at hitting 200, 300 or 400 more homers.

When I go to games, I am always thinking “What milestone might I see today†and on occasion I see one. On September 15, 1990, my friend, Dan McCloskey, and I were in Chicago to check out Old Comiskey before they leveled the legendary ballpark. The White Sox beat the Red Sox 7-4 that day. We knew that Bobby Thigpen had 49 saves entering the game and wanted to see save number 50. At that point, no pitcher in history had reached the 50-save mark in a season and we were hoping to see this minor milestone. Thigpen came into the game in the ninth and got save number 50 when he struck out Danny Heep. Seeing the 50-save milestone was luck since I had purchased the tickets weeks before the game and had no idea that Thigpen would have the kind of season he had. Thigpen finished with a record 57 saves that year, a record that still stands.

At other times I have tried to see milestones but that doesn’t always work. In 1991, Dan and I flew to Oakland to see Rickey Henderson make history. Henderson needed just three stolen bases at the start of the 1991 season to break Lou Brock’s career stolen base record. I figured he would want to get the record quickly so I bought tickets to the first five games of Oakland’s season. In the first game, Henderson singled in the first inning and stole second for number 937, tying Billy Hamilton for number two on the all-time list. Dan and I were quite excited and figured we would definitely see number 939 before we flew back to the East Coast. In the second game, Henderson got on base in the fourth inning but was caught trying to steal third. In the third inning of the third game he got caught stealing again. We were getting frustrated and started to doubt if we would see the record broken. A few innings later in the seventh, the unthinkable happened. Henderson pulled up lame with a left calf muscle strain trying to run out a ground ball and was taken out of the game. He missed several games after that and didn’t break the record until May 1. We had a great trip, which included seeing Chuck Knoblauch’s major league debut, but no stolen base record was to be seen.

After Wright’s homer, the Mets were able to build a 6-2 lead in the third inning when Brian Schneider drove in Carlos Beltran and Ryan Church. It looked like the Mets were ready to run away with a victory. Instead, Perez blew the lead when the Brewers tied it up in the fourth. A Rickie Weeks solo homer in the sixth put the Brewers ahead for good. The hangover continued. After Perez gave up the lead, you could tell the fans felt hopeless much of the rest of the game. The Mets could get on base, but for five consecutive innings, they hit into a rally killing double play. Luck was not on their side. Eric Gagne, with his 9.00 ERA, came in and set three consecutive batters down to close it out for the Brewers.

The loss made the Mets record 5-6. A wrong turn south of the .500 mark. Although the season is young, thoughts of last season entered my mind and for the first time I started to think that Willie Randolph might not survive as Mets manager. This is upsetting since I personally like Randolph. I was lucky enough to have met him years ago when he played for the Mets and he came across as a very nice and approachable guy. He has represented the Mets well and it would be unfortunate if he gets the axe. With that said, Randolph may soon be on the hot seat. If after 40 games, the team has a record in the neighborhood of 20-20, I believe Randolph will be replaced. Perhaps, his replacement will be Howard Johnson. The Mets, who were the odds on favorite to win the NL pennant the previous two seasons, disappointed their fans when they lost to the roller coaster Cardinals (83-78) in the 2006 NLCS and again last season with the historic collapse that lead to a Phillies division title and the Mets heading home for the winter.

Despite these feelings, I still have hope. The Mets won on Tuesday with Wright and Jose Reyes leading the way and again on Wednesday when Beltran hit a three-run homer in the fifth to give the Mets a lead and an eventual victory. The starters, Pelfrey and Maine, both had excellent starts in these games.

There are twelve more Sunday home games in 2008. On April 27, Tony and I will pack up the cooler early in the morning and head south again for another Sunday at Shea.

Comments

7 Responses to “Sunday at Shea: A Wright Moment and a Wrong Turn”
  1. Mike Lynch says:

    Joe,

    Great stories about trying to time it so you can watch players achieve milestones. I’ve never tried buying tickets based on milestones, but I have been fortunate enough to see Don Baylor’s 300th career homer, Wally Joyner’s first career home run and Dave Hansen (if I remember correctly) set the record for most career pinch hits. I’ve also had the pleasure of watching Steve Carlton, Phil Neikro, and Roger Clemens pitch at the big league level and Fernando Valenzuela throw at Triple-A when he was attempting to make a come back.

  2. Dan says:

    I could be wrong, Joe, but I seem to recall we bought advance tickets for games 2, 3 and 4 of Oakland’s 1991 season. Opening Day was sold out, and we rationalized, at first, that there was little chance he would break the record in the first game anyway. Then, we got a little nervous, and since we were already out there, we successfully sought out scalped tickets for the opener.

    Great story, even if we’re a little unsure of the details. How come you didn’t write about how that kid in Chicago duped us into paying him $20 for parking?

  3. Walter says:

    Joe, great first article. To those that might read your future columns, Joe is a baseball historian entusiast, a Smoky Joe Wood Society member, never has missed a Hall of Fame induction, a member as well. Though a Yankees fan, I have been to many a game at Shea, from seeing Tommie Agee lead of both games of a doubleheader with homers to having a shock absorber stolen from my fathers Pontiac Catalina! I have also witnessed Wilbur Wood start both games of a doubleheader. Anyways, great story, and look forward to your upcoming adventures to Shea!

  4. Joe says:

    Dan, you are right. We did scalp tickets to game one. We were in no man’s land for the first game – upper deck in left field as I recall. About Chicago, don’t remind me. It was worth it though. Thanks for the comments.

    BTW, Dan has seen a few milestones including Righetti’s no-hitter in 1983 and Schmidt’s 500th homer in 1987.

  5. Cary says:

    A Met fan deserves whatever he gets in Chicago! ;)

  6. Lee Mazzola says:

    I’ve probably missed more milestones than I’ve actually seen.
    My wife and I drove cross-country last summer, with the goal of seeing as many baseball games and outdoor art installations as possible. we thought we were set up to see A-Rod’s 500th in Kansas City on June 26th, but instead saw Kei Igawa’s last gasp before he was sent down to the minors (he came back). While Amy and I were eating pork sandwiches in Indiana a week and a half later, Mike Orobona was using our Saturday season tickets to watch A-Rod crush his 500th HR in the Bronx.

    I also missed out on win #300 for Roger Clemens– twice! Amy and I waited out a 2 hour rain delay to watch him lose to the Red Sox on Memorial Day in 2003 (I ended up wet and late for band practice), and then watched him lose another try in Chicago against Kerry Wood two weeks later. Roger finally did it on Friday the 13th against the Cardinals (he also got his 4000th K); I, of course, went to the game on Saturday the 14th.

  7. Dan says:

    Lee…I think one out away from a perfect game qualifies as a near-miss milestone as well…Mussina vs. Boston, September 2001, for the benefit of everyone else. But, then again, you wouldn’t have “seen” that, since you forgot your glasses.

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