Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I attended my first game at Shea Stadium on Sunday, August 23rd, 1987, a 9-2 Mets victory over the Padres. I was 8 years old, and sat in the Upper Box, Section 39, Box 853B, Seat 7. My final game was Sunday, although I didn't think I'd be there until I secured tickets earlier in the week, Mezzanine Reserved, Section 26, Row J, Seat 16. In between, 22 seasons passed, with my attendance at 262 games and another 5 in the Postseason. In that time, I've witnessed a lot, more good than bad, and forged memories that will last a lifetime. Shea Stadium may be gone, but it will certainly never be forgotten.

I wasn't quite sure about how to adequately document my final day at Shea on Sunday. I knew, for sure, that I would be bringing my camera with me, and I knew I was going to take a lot of photos and video of the game and the ceremony, no matter how things turned out. But I wasn't quite sure how to go about things. I didn't want to take a lot of photos of the innards of Shea, after all, I'd already done that earlier this year. I knew it might get a little repetitive if I just took a lot of photos from my seat, but this is how I had to do it. Shea Stadium, one final time, from my own eyes.

It seems like every time I take my camera to a game, I take a picture of the Starting lineup outside Shea. Looks like things haven't been updated since Friday. In typical Shea Stadium fashion, the park itself is charming, but the operations staff only seemed moderately prepared for the 55,000+ people that were going to show up.

One final Batting Practice. Usually, when I'm early, I'll slip into the Field Level. Today, they were checking tickets. I arrived at around 11:30, and the stadium was already packed and buzzing in a way I'd never really seen before. If I'd wanted to take some photos inside Shea, that wouldn't have been possible because the halls and ramps just seemed jam packed.

Looking down towards the LF corner. The clock appears ready for the end.

I started up to the Mezzanine, and noticed that there was a bit of a buzz and a crowd forming around the ramps, way out in Left Field. I walked around to get a closer look.

People were crowded around the SNY stage outside Gate A. But there were also a lot of people gathered around the ramps, looking down towards the entrance inside Gate A.

I looked outside some more. The ticket booth by Gate A was silent. This booth was always a mystery to me; I don't think I ever bought a ticket there. In fact, I only ever seemed to pass it if I left Shea from Gate A and walked around behind the stadium to the Subway. This became impossible once the construction for Citi Field began. But here it was, one last look.

And then, I saw why the crowds were gathered around the ramps. Here, inside Gate A, was the red carpet for the returning players to come in to Shea. Everyone was crowded around, snapping pictures and cheering as players came in. I found a good vantage point and did my best to get some good pictures. Here's Al Leiter and John Franco...

...John Stearns, who prompted me to scream "THE MONSTER IS OUT OF THE CAGE!" one final time...

...Blurry, but here's Doc, who got a huge ovation, standing next to Craig Swan...

...Doc started leading Let's Go Mets chants. George Foster quietly entered behind him...

...Then, Robin Ventura, along with Jesse Orosco...

...Doc, once again, coming back in with Tom Seaver.

And, with that, off to my seat...

...Only to discover that I would have one last Rain Delay at Shea. So, I ventured back inside to have one final Shea Lunch...

...Yeah. One Final, Grand, Delicious Shea Lunch. A Hot Dog in a Box.

The tarp did, eventually, come off the field.

Close up of the Apple, apparently in too much disrepair to make the trip to Citi Field. The plan involves having something they're calling an "Apple Garage" at the new stadium. That doesn't sound so good. El Guapo had the right idea: Why not just make a new Apple in a Hat? How hard could that be?

I've always had an odd obsession with taking pictures of the scoreboard. This is the first of the day. Won't be the last.

The tarp was pretty wet, and most of the water got dumped into the Outfield. Here, they're wet-vac-ing the grass.

We always do, don't we?

Wide angle shot.

Bonus video! Here's one last introduction of the Starting Lineups.

They could have done more with this. I tried to start a chant of "OLLIE! BOMAYE!" It didn't quite catch on.

More video. Here's Tom Seaver, removing #2 from the countdown, playing to the crowd as he always does.

One last time, away we go!

Ollie departs, and things begin to go downhill.

And with hope all but gone, and flashbulbs popping all over the Stadium, it's one last pitch from Matt Lindstrom to Ryan Church...

Squeezed on the warning track by Cameron Maybin, and that, my friends, would be that.

And so, we sat, mostly silent, thinking about how things had come apart, and waited for the ceremonies to begin, to create that one final memory for everyone at Shea Stadium.

It seemed to take unnecessarily long for them to get everything ready. Maybe they wanted everyone to simmer down a little bit. Some people left. Some people threw their caps away. Most people stayed, remaining mostly silent.

The ceremonies finally began, after about 25 minutes of setting things up, with Mr. Met removing #1 from the outfield wall and revealing a Citi Field logo, which the fans booed. We were still stinging a little bit.

But everyone seemed to have their spirits lifted when the players began to walk out. Dave Kingman, for one, got a nice ovation.

Al Leiter took a few boos, but not from me. I'll always remember him for games like this one.

Edgardo Alfonzo, another one of my favorites, whose departure never sat well with anyone, was warmly and heartily welcomed back.

But the largest and loudest ovation was, not surprisingly, reserved for Mike Piazza, returning to the scene of many of his greatest moments as a player and as a person, for the first time since his retirement.

This was just cool to watch. Even the players on the field were taking pictures. Here, Keith and Lenny photograph Doc, Koosman, Leiter, Franco, Darling and (I believe) Al Jackson.

Everyone lined up and watched as a video salute to Shea and its conquering heroes played.

And then, lined up for one final trip across Home Plate.

From Willie Mays...

...to Piazza and Seaver.

And finally, poignantly, one last pitch, from the Greatest Met to play in Shea, to the Greatest Met I ever saw play in Shea. They then hugged, waved to the fans, walked out to Center Field, waved one final Goodbye, and closed the doors.

El Guapo and I tipped our caps towards the diamond as we took one last look at the field, and then exited, to one last trip down the ramps...

...And one final look at our Palace in Queens.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Never Right

With one out in the bottom of the 9th yesterday, I turned to El Guapo and said something I'd been thinking for a while, at least on that particular day:

"You know, I don't think you can point out where it all went wrong, because I don't think it was ever right."

And that's a good summation for the 2008 Mets. They were never right.

It was always something with this team, and yesterday, for one final, miserable time, they showed us just who they were: A team that can throw a starting pitcher that will keep you in the game (except for that one instance every 5 days where they throw that starting pitcher who will dominate you, shove the bat up your asses, beat you up and take your lunch money), but will constantly be submarined by a bullpen that can't close the deal and an offense that feels too much pressure because of it and can't extend a lead, or sometimes even get you a lead in the first place.

That was yesterday, and that was the season. It had an even greater sense of urgency than last year. This year, there was not only that palpable sense of fear, there was that sense of history, with so many former players in the building, ready to give Shea that grand sendoff that wasn't going to be Goodbye just yet. Last year, things blew up before they could even get started. This year, it was like Waiting for Godot. Something had to happen with the Mets offense sooner or later, right? Not until they fell behind in the 6th, and then when they fell behind in the 8th, there was no response. Delgado's drive fell tantalizingly short in the 8th, and Church's drive died, along with the season, on the Warning Track in the 9th inning, amid an eerie display of flashbulbs popping and people sighing.

And...That was that.

Milwaukee had already completed their game, and so with Church's drive settling in Cameron Maybin's glove, the finality of it all just socked everyone in the face, collectively. There was still a ceremony to be held, and I'm sure the circumstances were probably the worst nightmare of Fabulous Freddie and the Boy-King. After spitting it up and watching as Milwaukee won and erased the Mets chances of a playoff run for the 2nd year in a row, now, we're going to make you even more depressed by trotting out all these old greats in a ceremony to close down Shea Stadium. And it seemed like they couldn't even get that right, as we sat around for 30 minutes in muted agony, while they piddled around in the outfield setting up some placards, and pulled a special cover over the mound. And the Ceremony was lovely, and poignant, and I'm certainly glad I was there to see it. While it might have taken away a bit of the sting of the game itself, there was a pall over it. There's plenty to be said about the ceremony, and plenty to be said about Shea itself, which I'll save for another day. But when things ended, when Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza walked through the Center Field fence with the spotlight on them, slowly shut that door and the fireworks went off, everyone just sort of got up and left, very quietly and very quickly. There wasn't much chatter going on, there wasn't any cheering, there was just sort of a low mumble as everyone exited Shea, clearing out the old ballpark for one final time.

The discussion after the game between El Guapo and I could have very well been about what a great ceremony it was, and perhaps under different circumstances, it would have been. But the ceremony was just a slight diversion from the abject misery of a season gone awry. All we could talk about was the current version of the Mets, and where things stand right now. There's a core, we know that, and as much as people would like to bash them and call for their heads, none of those guys are going to get traded. Whether you like it or not, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana and Carlos Delgado are not going anywhere. It becomes a matter of the pieces that are put around them that will make the difference. I had said, and this may or may not be true, that perhaps this group isn't really as good as we or others make them out to be. They're a good team, yes, and a contender. But maybe, after looking back on what they've done over the last 4 seasons, maybe 2006 was the fluke, and near-misses are the norm. It wasn't a collapse when the team displayed nothing more than abject suckitude for 4 months in 2007, and it wasn't a failure in 2008 when the team played inconsistent ball with a brief hot streak here and there for the better part of 2008. You can tell it wears on the players; David Wright looks like he just spent 6 months on Iwo Jima. But he's also one of those guys who has to realize that he can't do it all himself. He can only do what he does, and he did it well until he started trying to carry the entire team on his shoulders, and you could see him slowly making himself nuts over the last month of the season. Which tells you everything you need to know about this team. The players don't seem to have a lot of confidence in each other's ability to get the job done. So, then, why should we? There needs to be some wholesale changes with a good portion of this team before I can feel comfortable calling them a Championship-level team. Until then, they're just going to continue to be a good team that will constantly come up just a little bit short.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

One More Time for Oliver's Army

It was an intense, restless night for me last night, waiting for today to come around. I'm getting ready to head out to Shea now, but to witness what?

The setting is frighteningly similar to the one I set out to for Game 162 one year ago. That didn't exactly end well. The opponent is the same. The playoff scenario is the same. The sense of urgency is the same. The sellout crowd will be the same. Many of the names are the same, but one difference is today's starting pitcher for the Mets, where the only similarity is that he's another lefty pitcher.

Following Johan Santana's start on three-days' rest, Oliver Perez heads to the mound on short rest to close out the season, with a shot to send the Mets on, be it to a one-game playoff or to the NLDS.

Are you as nervous as I am? Oliver Perez has been, well, Oliver Perez all season long. Slow start, hot middle, up and down at the end. Three days after a pretty bad start against the Cubs, where, after being handed a big lead, he couldn't hold it and the Mets eventually got themselves into a battle they couldn't win.

And, yet, I keep thinking about the last time Oliver Perez was asked to take the mound on three days' rest.

We remember this night well. October 19, 2006.

Oh, we didn't think much of Perez then. He was middling when he pitched on October 15th, but backed by an offensive explosion, he was able to minimize the damage against him and gave up most of his runs when the game was already out of reach. But, oh, how he pitched on that wet Thursday night. He navigated his way through the Cardinals lineup, kept them off the bases, kept his team in the game. He was aided by a magical, memorable play that overshadowed the effort he gave that night, but you can't forget the job Perez did in the spotlight.

Since that time, it's been...interesting.

Oliver Perez has been known to look like an ace one night and a journeyman the next. There's no consistency or rhythm to the way he pitches. When he's on, he can dominate, and there have been several instances where he's done just that this season. Then, he can turn right around and throw up a stinker the next time out.

I guess that's what makes us so nervous. Perez does have a solid record against today's opponent this season. He also has a strong track record in big games. That's all fine and good, but it's really no guarantee as to which Oliver Perez will show up today.

You also have to consider the magnitude of the situation, and how he's going to respond.

Today's game is no ordinary game. Today, if things don't go well, is Goodbye. Today, if it works out, could be a party of the highest order. Today is history coming together with the present one final time in Shea Stadium.

I'll be there. It'll be my 264th Regular Season game and my 269th overall. I knew this day was coming for some time, and I hoped that somehow it might be a day to sit back and reflect, but that's not going to happen. Last year, I wrote that I showed up at a rocking House Party and left a Morgue. Today, I'll be showing up to that same House Party. I'm afraid I might be leaving a morgue. The postgame ceremony might not be so much fun. But if Oliver Perez comes through, if the Mets bats can wake up and knock around sweaty, drunken Scott Olsen like they should, if they can erase the ghosts and the tension from last season, and if they can do what's required of them to win the damn ballgame, then, we'll party. Shea will rock, and it won't be for the last time.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Man

"We need that game, and I need to pitch."
-Johan Santana

Are there any words?

In the long history of great Mets pitching performances, the effort turned in by Johan Santana this afternoon will live on in Mets lore, perhaps no matter what happens tomorrow. With his team's back against the wall, with no margin for error and with three-days' rest, Johan Santana once again proved to everyone watching why he's the premier pitcher in the game today, worthy of the riches and the accolades heaped upon him.
Not that it would be easy. Would he be able to respond to pitching on short rest? Clearly, he was more than up to the task. After virtually begging his manager to take the ball today, Johan proved to be in complete control of everything, scowling his way through an inning of near-misses and non-calls that would certainly have done in a lesser pitcher. He was promised 105 pitches by his manager, and zipped through 8 innings on 104. And yet, there was no question that he would pitch the 9th and finish his job. He found his rhythm early and nothing was going to break him from it. His offense didn't help him much, only scoring a pair of runs, but once he got that lead, it was clear that he was going to give the Marlins an inch. As the game wore on, he only got tougher, stepping on their throats and steaming towards a rousing finish to a masterful performance.
Lately, I've been writing a lot after Santana's starts about how he has stepped up and been the ace that this team has needed him to be. But a game like today's may have been more than that. It has been difficult for the Mets to build on these victories, rousing as some of them have been, as they fight to the finish. And as today's game ended, the Mets were guaranteed of nothing more than a meaningful game tomorrow for a shot to play on Monday. But, the Cubs helped us out, beating the Brewers and restoring a tie for the Wildcard, meaning that if things work out tomorrow, Monday could be academic and the Mets will win outright. But that's tomorrow.

Today, we can revel for a moment, and thank Johan Santana for his truly heroic effort. Thanks to him, tomorrow could be the celebration of celebrations.