Mookie Wilson is a household name in New York. He won a World Championship with the Mets in 1986 and played 10 of his 13 professional seasons in Flushing. Second on the Mets all-time franchise list for triples and stolen bases, being surpassed only by Jose Reyes, Mookie became part of one of the most famous plays in the history of the game when his dribbler down the right field line got between Billy Buckner's legs.
I had the chance to speak with Mookie about that memorable Game Six victory, his new role with the club, the 2010 First Year Player Draft, the farm system, and the current state of the franchise.
Mookie turned 54 years old earlier this year, but the moment he hit that slow-rolling ball towards first base is a moment that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
"Oh boy, there's so much that did happen in that game," the South Carolina native said in a nostalgic voice. "It's a topic of conversation everywhere I go and it feels like just yesterday.
"My memory of that game is very vivid actually, because it's such a talked about topic. The one thing I do remember is how we felt when we were in the process of losing that game and that thought was going to wash out everything that we had accomplished that whole year and that was what was on my mind and everybody's mind.
"When events started to unfold and things happened the way they did it was almost that we were destined to win this, because we really should have lost that game. We were very lucky.
"There were so many things that even happened before that ground ball. The wild pitch, the four guys before me who all had two strikes on them, it all set the stage for a situation that every kid wants to be in, and I just happened to be there and I was just thinking 'don't make the last out,' you know, 'don't be that guy.'"
As Mets fans will tell you fondly, Mookie fought off several tough pitches to stay alive before forever etching his name into history with his ground ball that got through Bucker's five-hole.
What many fans don't know is that right field umpire Ed Montague picked up the ball, marked it with a small 'X' and gave it to the team's traveling secretary Arthur Richman, who joined the celebrations in the clubhouse at Shea Stadium.
"I was excited, I didn't know what I was doing really," Mookie said with a laugh. "First of all I couldn't believe what had just happened, but I took the ball from him, signed it and gave it back to him. At that point it really didn't mean anything to me, it was all about winning the ballgame."
From there, the history of the ball saw it making its way not to Cooperstown but instead to a pair of private collectors; firstly to actor Charlie Sheen and then to songwriter Seth Swirsky.
"Arthur called me the day or the week he was going to put it up for auction for charity and asked if I minded and I said 'Na, go right ahead. I gave you that ball, you do what you like with it,'" Mookie added. "He thought enough of me to ask me first and I guess he was giving me first opportunity to get the ball back.
"Man, if I had known the value of the ball at that time though. I was never really that sentimental about that stuff, but I told him to go right ahead and when I heard how much it went for I said 'boy, you're the smartest kid in the world, Arthur.'"
Mookie was reunited with the ball back in 2006 when he attended the special 20th anniversary celebrations at Citi Field. He also met with the ball's new owner Swirsky, who loaned the ball to the club for display in Citi Field's new Hall of Fame and Musuem.
"I've seen the ball a couple of times, but to actually see it and be around it really is a great feeling. It's almost like you touch the ball and you travel back in time. It's a piece of memorabilia that will always bring back memories...where you were, what you were doing, and that, to me, is the centerpiece of the whole museum.
"Now I might be a little biased because I had a personal involvement in it, but when I went to see it again it was like walking back through time."
The museum has attracted positive comments throughout the Mets community, especially from fans who were vocal about the club's apparent lack of history when the stadium was first opened in 2009. Click here for a behind the scenes tour. Among its biggest fans is the Mets former outfielder who says it was worth taking the time over and doing correctly.
"As important as we thought it was, the management probably wanted to make sure the ballpark was in working order. It was a criticism of mine too, I'll be honest, but I also understood that there were things were more pressing. Now that they have the museum together it is really good. It was worth the wait."
Mookie is now back working with the Mets as an outfield and baserunning coach in the minor leagues, fresh off taking some personal time after his managerial stint down in Brooklyn with the single-A Cyclones.
"Once you're a baseball player, you're pretty much a baseball player for life and you always have to be involved," he said. His love for the game is still evident in every word.
He was approached by the Wilpons, Omar Minaya, and other people within the organization during the offseason about working with the club to instill what he called a "new culture" down on the farm.
"They said that this position was open and that they really needed to focus on their defense and baserunning this season and that this was part of the new culture that they were going to develop and they wanted to know if I wanted to be part of it."
With his affection for the club and his history with the Mets, Mookie was all too happy to accept the offer. He said a few new players have been brought into the system since he stepped away from the game three years ago, but that the depth throughout all of the Mets Minor League teams is very promising.
"We have a lot of talent at the lower levels and it's unbelievable. We have power and speed and pitching at the lower levels—it's going to take a couple of years to see that, but I think that's where the patience and development is going to come in. We do have players that are going to be ready to able to help the big club, no ifs, ands, or buts about that, it's just a matter now of the development of those players.
"In terms of depth, we are very deep with potential outfielders and with regards to the infield we have guys who are going to be ready to step in and who are going to be able to perform at the Major League. I'm not a pitching guy but it appears we have guys who are on their way, so we are deep in a number of areas.
"Everybody knows Fernando Martinez and if not for injuries here right now he might be in New York at this point. Kirk Nieuwenhuis is in AA right now and he is a very intriguing athlete, he can run, he has a good arm, he has power, he hits from the left side and even though he can play a lot of positions he is very good at center.
"We have another kid in AAA who I like right now is [Jesus] Feliciano. He's a very, very good ballplayer, very complete, very smart, and he's leading that league in hitting at this point. We have other guys who are coming up, a local kid who is very high on the chart called Carlos Guzman and we have a guy at Port St. Lucie called Sean Ratliff, just to name a couple of guys. We also have guys at A-level who are going to be very, very good ball players, but they have some ways to go."
With all eyes centered on the MLB draft in Secaucus, N.J. Monday, rumors have been building about who the Mets will add to their farm system. Michael Choice, Chris Sale, Yasmani Pomeranz, and Zack Cox have all been mentioned in passing, but Mookie says that with the depth the Mets already have, they will likely be drafting the best player available rather than trying to fill a specific need.
"Because we are pretty deep in the organization that they may go for the best available athlete at the time," he said. Once they are in the system, how fast they progress through will depend on their skills, maturity, and circumstance. Take Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada as examples, Mookie says.
"It's going to be a matter of need and there are a lot of variables to take into account, such as the age and youth of a person. The one kid who was up there already but came back to AAA because of his age was Ruben Tejada, who is a very good player. Ike was taken up because of need and he is doing quite well.
"We have to see what the big club needs and whether it's going to be detrimental or advantageous to the player, because it's not always the 'now' situation, we have to worry about the future of the ballplayer."
Still, with all of the problems in the rotation and the lack of a runaway favorite in the NL East, Mookie says there is a lot to be happy about in New York right now.
"There are some encouraging signs, but I think people will agree that they are inconsistent. There is a big disparity between playing at home and playing on the road and I think that some of it comes from the attitude of being relaxed at home in a new ballpark. On the road we just don't know.
"The inconsistency is the issue right now. I wish I could say what is causing the inconsistency, but I'm not there on a day to day basis but once we can straighten that out, we'll be pretty good. If we can hold the fort until we get completely healthy, that should make the world of difference.
"Right now we will look around July to gauge where we are. It's still early but every day wasted is a day you don't get back."