It was probably the most emotional day Shea Stadium had ever hosted. From pre-game excitement, to a great game, it looked like this day was going to be perfect for Shea to close its regular season doors upon.
But, as has been the case for the last twenty years, things did not go to plan and Mets fans were left stunned and angry at Shea-javu where the Mets managed to one up their meltdown from 2007 in heartbreaking fashion. Ultimately, this was the right way to send out one of New York’s most loveable icons.
There was talk this past week of the Mets absolutely having to win to send the old tub out in appropriate fashion. A bullpen collapse coupled with no timely hitting was not the intended meaning of appropriate, but it couldn’t have fit the bill any more ideally.
You see, while there were a few amazing years sandwiched within it all, Shea has been defined for its disappointments and frustrations. The shocked faces caught on camera after Church’s final out have been commonplace in Shea’s 45-year history. For every walk-off grand-slam-single, there was a home run by Terry Pendleton that ended Mets dreams of repeating. For every foul ball you caught in the stands, there was a half hour wait to empty your bladder.
Much has been made of Jose Reyes and David Wright breaking records at such young ages, but rarely is it mentioned the Mets history is so bleak that players can break these records in three or four years. Frankly, Shea Stadium has never played host to a position player that took the league by storm for a decade. Darryl Strawberry was supposed to be that guy, but drugs among other things took control of his life and ended his Mets career.
It was almost symbolic that arguably the biggest loser there got one of the biggest ovations. Dwight Gooden, vacant from Shea Stadium since his World Series appearance with the Yankees in 2000, entered in baggy jeans looking pretty fresh given the state that he is always reported in. Winner of 152 games in a Mets uniform, Gooden may be the biggest disappointment the Mets have laid claim to. With the likes of Kaz Matsui, Mo Vaughn, Bobby Bonilla, Roberto Alomar (the list goes on and on), that is saying something. He looked so dominant his first few years that there was no doubt it would be him throwing the final pitch at Shea, not Seaver, and it was on his throwing arm that the Mets would continue to maintain control of New York away from the Yankees.
Instead, Gooden’s life was lost to addiction and he found himself out of baseball. Ironically, it was with the Yankees that he recovered glory for one special night where he did something no Mets pitcher had ever done: throw a no-hitter.
It is that type of cruel irony that has defined Shea’s lifetime.
By no means is this written in a negative tone either. I am a die-hard Mets fan who was very emotional and sad to see Shea close its doors on Sunday night. With 24 hours passed, I realized watching the ceremony under those circumstances was very special.
Watching the players who were so beloved in their respective eras file in one by one and receive applause from a still full Shea Stadium was almost surreal. It was as if the second straight collapse and questions of the off-season were totally irrelevant, like it was in another galaxy. 50,000 fans and the finest to wear a Mets uniform were the only ones that mattered. And as the sun got dimmer and the sky turned darker, there was a renewed sense of excitement and emotion that took the stadium by storm.
As the ceremony came to a close and all cameras and fans eyed on Citi Field, a new sense of optimism swept over everyone three hours after a horrific loss. Maybe, just maybe, Citi Field's legacy will defined by winning, and not losing.
And of course, it all culminated with the greatest pitcher in Mets history barely reaching home plate on the final pitch. How appropriate.