Sunday at Shea: A Wright Moment and a Wrong Turn
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.
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 â€œMeet the Mets, meet the Mets, Step right up and greet the Mets.â€ 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 â€œTalking Baseballâ€ 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 â€œWhat milestone might I see todayâ€ 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.