Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shea Goodbye: Baseball's NY Mets Bid Farewell to their Original Home

Shea Goodbye: Citi Field, which will be the Mets' home beginning next season, looms right next to Shea Stadium, in this photo taken at the Mets/Cubs game on Sept. 23rd.

Shea Stadium can't match Yankee Stadium in longevity, number of championships won, or baseball mystique. But it has hosted many classic moments in its 45 years, and like Yankee Stadium, the home of the NY Mets was officially closed for good today at the end of this season with a ceremony featuring appearances by many of the franchise's most famed players. For the Mets, the end came today.

The closing ceremony, fittingly called "Shea Goodbye," was bittersweet not only because of the memories that were made there, but for a more immediate reason: The Mets lost their final regular-season game just before the ceremonies. That combined with a Milwaukee Brewers win over the Cubs meant that the Brewers claimed the National League wild card spot, and for the second straight season, the Mets blew a late-season lead to get knocked out of playoff contention.

But back to the closing ceremony for the Mets and Shea. Many of the team's storied players, including a number from the team's two World Series victories in 1969 and 1986, were there. Walking in from the outfield wall to the infield were such names as Lenny Dykstra, Howard Johnson, Sid Fernandez, Jerry Koosman, Gary Carter, Rusty Staub, and many others, including Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan (most baseball fans probably don't even know that he played for the Mets in the early years of his career).

Some of the biggest cheers were for Tom Seaver, the Hall of Fame pitcher from the 1960s who was called "The Franchise;" fellow Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who played his twilight years for the Mets; and fan favorites from the 1980s, including Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Dykstra, Darryl Stawberry, Carter, Mike Piazza, and relief pitcher Jesse Orosco.

There was an unusual bit of symmetry with the closing of Yankee Stadium a week or so ago, one that linked the two teams and also two eras of baseball. One of the Mets honored at the Shea closing ceremony was legendary Yankee player Yogi Berra, who was one of the first Mets managers, and who also was featured at the Yankee Stadium closing ceremony.

One by one, the players touched home plate one last time, and then there was one final pitch thrown at Shea: 1960s Mets legend Tom Seaver threw a one-hop pitch to catcher Mike Piazza, who energized the team when he played for them in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After that, Seaver and Piazza walked across the field toward the opening in the outfield walls from where all the players had emerged. The two players stopped and waved, and then each of them closed one of the outfield walls, bringing an end to the 45-year history of the stadium that has been the Mets home since 1964.

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