Shea and I: 1998-2008.

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Shea and I: 1998-2008.

Yesterday, a fellow poster on a Mets forum was kind enough to send me a DVD recording of the Shea Stadium goodbye ceremony on September 28, 2008 (which was cleverly titled Shea Goodbye). September 28 was not only the last day a baseball game was played at Shea, but it also marked the completion of another disappointing Mets season.

I was watching the game at a friend’s apartment, and as soon a Ryan Church’s fly ball landed in Cameron Maybin’s glove to eliminate a fatally flawed Mets team from contention, I turned the TV off. I was unable to watch the closing ceremonies then. Not after that.

I was sure they would find a way to win the game, and they didn’t. My optimism failed me again, and Shea Stadium would join the dustbin of history a little earlier than I hoped.

The last game I attended at Shea in 2008 was a rain-soaked 7-6 victory against the Cubs on September 25. It kept the Mets in the playoff race, a comeback win that helped fuel my temporary and misguided optimism.

In the weeks since I’ve seen video and pictures of the place slowly getting taken apart as CitiField nears completion. Sometime in the next month or so I’ll probably stop by the area again to see what’s left of it.

It’s just a ballpark, of course, but one I spent several dozen afternoons and evenings at over the past decade (I lost count of how many exactly a few years ago). I know that in 2005, I went there 16 times, thanks in part to a promotion that allowed free bleacher entry with a Pepsi can or bottle on Wednesdays. That promotion stopped once it was clear the Mets were relevant again and didn’t need gimmicks to fill their seats.

All of this got me thinking once more of my Shea memories. I’m sure every Mets fan has their own retrospective to offer, and a lot of them might be longer and more interesting than mine are, but that doesn’t diminish them to me personally.

The biggest game I attended at Shea Stadium was undoubtedly Game 6 of the 2006 NLCS. I got the tickets thanks to the generosity of another poster on that same forum.

 The Mets hung on and won 4-2 to force a Game 7 against St. Louis. Just like I was sure we were going win the last game against the Marlins in 2008, I was sure we were going to win Game 7 and go to the World Series while I was leaving that game.

I was even more sure when Endy Chavez made the catch and I started screaming like a lunatic in my dorm, all the way until, well, you know what happened. They lost, and after Carlos Beltran struck out to end it I immediately shut the TV off in disgust much like I would on September 28, 2008. I was then, as I am now, an idiot.

Perhaps the most appropriate Shea moment I should look back on, however, was my first game, which was only 10 years ago this past July. It was July 15, 1998 and the Mets were facing the Atlanta Braves. I had been following the Mets for a few years at that point my dad finally took me to a game.

I grew into baseball myself–my parents, being Greek immigrants, didn’t know anything about the game and generally found it boring when I put it on TV. I, however, had grown fond of it, and now I’d finally get to see my favorite team in action. How exciting! I’d get to see my new favorite Met, Mike Piazza, and my old favorite Met, Todd Hundley, and it was going to be awesome!

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Oh damn it.

Look at that box score! Masato Yoshii and Denny Neagle were the starting pitchers. Butch Husky was Mike Piazza’s protection in the lineup. Butch Husky. Bernard Gilkey leading off! Jesus Christ. The loss dropped a second-place Mets a mere 13.5 games behind Atlanta in the East. Of course, the Braves dominated the Mets in those years and would eliminate them in 1998 on the final day of the season, then again in the 1999 NLCS. God do I hate the Braves.

I was too young and too excited by the excitement of my first baseball game to be that disappointed in the outcome, but this may have been some kind of message from whatever God there is that I shouldn’t follow the Mets, that it’d just a decade and counting of either soul-crushing disappointment or outright ineptitude. I can’t take a hint, apparently.

A few things still stand out to me about that game:

  • It was kids’ day for everyone 13 and under, but I didn’t get anything when I went in. I was 12, but I was a tall 12 year old. I had to convince a man two years later that I was “14 and under” so I could get a Tom Seaver bobble-head doll at the door. That’s what I get for being tall.
  • Andres Galarragahit two home runs and drove in five for the Braves. I distinctly remember both homers, and they were both crushed. Masato Yoshii got completely lit up, giving up four home runs. Galarraga’s second came against Bill Pulsipher, the Braves’ fifth and final homer of the game.
  • The one bright spot came when Mike Piazza came up and hit an RBI double in the third inning to pull the Mets within 3-1. Yes! Mike Piazza! We were in it! Then, of course, the Braves scored six in the fourth to put an end to that.
  • Todd Hundley got one at bat, and coming off elbow surgery he was a shell of his former self in 1998. He struck out despite the crowd chanting his name. He was a fan favorite in the pre-Piazza days and there was actually some controversy about the acquisition of Piazza for that reason, as ridiculous as it sounds. He played left field for a time in 1998 with disastarous results before getting traded the following winter. Unfortunately, Todd Hundley’s name was in the Mitchell Report and, given his somewhat unlikely ascendancy as a power hitter in the 1990’s, I wasn’t really that surprised, but he was my favorite Met from 1996 to the time they got Mike Piazza.
  • This game was a fine introduction to the cynicism of the average Mets fan.A Mets fan in the Upper Deck, probably in his early 20’s, was practically begging Galarraga to homer later in the game to “make his ticket stub worth something.” Of course!
  • The infamous and terrible Mel Rojascame in after the game was out of hand and somehow pitched two scoreless innings. After he completed his second inning and was walking off the mound, the same fan that had been rooting for Galarraga to homer again leaned over the railing and screamed at the top of his lungs: “I LOVE YOU MEL ROJAS!” Wherever you are, dude screaming from the Upper Deck, I remember you.
  • Not about the game, but on Rojas: In case you don’t believe me or don’t remember how much he sucked, read the “memories” Mets fans have of him. Without doing an in-depth statistical analysis I can objectively say, based on memory alone, he was the worst pitcher in the history of baseball.
  • The box score says it was sunny – that was not really the case. It was a warm, hazy July day, but it started drizzling towards the end when John Franco was pitching. Why do I remember this? Because Franco got lit up for three runs in an inning to make it 12-1 and I sat there to the end watching it. In the drizzle.

In short, it’s obvious that this game was the most appropriate possible introduction to Shea Stadium and to my next ten years as a Mets fan. I mean, Butch Huskey! Carlos Baerga! How the hell did I decide that remaining a Mets fan was a good idea after witnessing that disaster? It was the baseball equivalent of the first date from hell, but somehow, it didn’t faze me. I have no rational explanation. The Mets have been the bad girlfriend hitting me in the face with the frying pan ever since.

Someday, I’ll take my son to CitiField or Bank of Dubai Field or People’s Bank Field or whatever it’s called by then. When I do, I’ll get to tell him all about the time I got to see the legendary Brian McRae play center field for the Mets the first time I went to a game and how they lost by 11 runs. If this story doesn’t make him want to stop following baseball immediately, then I’ll know that he really likes baseball. It’ll be an excellent litmus test.

For now, though, I’ll get to watching my copy of Shea Goodbyeand worrying about trying to get tickets to my first game at CitiField. Much more expensive? Yes, but at least Mel Rojas won’t be around this time.

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