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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Shea Countdown: 3

3: Friday, September 26 vs Marlins

“Good evening, everybody. You may be wondering what’s going on down here.

“Well, I’m Joan Hodges, the wife of Gil Hodges. You fans voted my husband the manager on the Mets’ All-Amazin’ Team when the Mets celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2002. It was such an honor considering Gil had been gone thirty years by then. He would have been so touched.

“The All-Amazin’ Team was quite a roster and as part of the Countdown Like It Oughta Be, the Mets had the idea to reassemble it one more time to take down the number 3 from the right field wall. This time, however, they and we wanted to make it extra special.

“That’s why you see behind me a set of bleachers that’s been brought out behind second base, and that’s why you see every member of the All-Amazin’ Team sitting in those bleachers.

“I know it’s usually you folks in the stands. Tonight, it’s our turn. We’re the fans tonight. We’re here to see you, to cheer you and to applaud you, the Mets fans.

“The fellows are going to come up to his microphone one by one and tell you a little about what it’s meant to play at Shea Stadium and what it’s meant to play in front of you people. They asked me to start the ball rolling by speaking for Gil.

“I think if he were here, Gil would tell you that it was an honor for him to come back to New York after the Dodgers moved to California, that there was nowhere else he ever wanted to play. We loved playing in Brooklyn and we loved those first Mets teams even if we weren’t very good. I know it was the pinnacle of his career to get the Mets’ managerial job in 1968 and to win the World Series just one year later…he was thrilled. You know Gil didn’t show a lot of emotion, but let me tell you I had one happy husband in 1969.

“Gil loved his players and he loved the Mets fans. I want to thank you one more time for being so good to him then and to me all these years and remembering Gil when you voted him the manager of the All-Amazin’ Team. We had some great times in this stadium.

“I’m going to go sit in the bleachers now and let the ballplayers take it the rest of the way.”

***

“Hi everybody, I’m Roger McDowell and you voted me the righthanded relief pitcher on the All-Amazin’ Team. You might want to ask for a recount, but I’m grateful. I truly am.

“I wouldn’t miss being here for the world, even though it wasn’t the easiest thing getting the night off from my current job. No truth to the rumor I had to give Bobby Cox a hotfoot, but I suppose if you thought I had, you’d think pretty highly of me.

“Only kidding if Bobby is listening. He’s a good guy.

“Every one of us agreed we’d talk a little bit about our experiences at Shea Stadium and playing for you fans. The first game I pitched in here was April 11, 1985, the second game of the year. One-two-three eleventh inning and then the guys scored a run for me and got me the win. That’s what some people call ‘vulturing’. I tell you what I really remember, though, was two days before that, my first Opening Day, the day we beat the Cardinals when Gary Carter hit the home run in the tenth to win. I’d never seen a place so excited in my whole life. And that was only the beginning.

“My 4-1/2 seasons as a Met were something else. We won the World Series and we went to the playoffs another time. I played with some great teammates, a few of whom are here behind me. And I saw how much people could care about baseball. Even when you booed me — and, again, I’m sorry about throwing the fastball to Willie McGee instead of the slider…and then not getting Pendleton — there was something almost beautiful about it. It was great to play ball in front of people who cared like that.

“Being traded away hurt, but coming back whenever I do is sweet. Thank you for giving me that feeling when I pitched and thanks for giving it to me again.”

***

“Yeah, hi. I’m Lenny Dykstra and you voted me one of the outfielders on the All-Amazin’ Team. Like Roger said, there was probably a mix-up in the counting. C’mon, where’s Cleon? He was here more than twice as long. Dude hit .340 one year!

“Seriously, that was a great thing you did, especially considering I’d been on the Phillies and I know how ya feel about them. I’m with Roger, though. I didn’t wanna go. I’m not saying it wasn’t good and all, but you guys are the best. Once you’ve played in New York, once you’ve played for the New York FREAKING Mets at Shea freaking Stadium — can I say ‘freaking’?…Tom says I can — what’s the point of playing anywhere else?

“My first game at Shea, and they had to look this up for me ’cause I’m not Rain Man or anything, was May 7, 1985. I had come up in Cincinnati, somebody was injured, I don’t remember, but my first home game I was pinch-running for George Foster. Then, next thing I know, they send me down. Thanks Davey.

“But you know, they brought me back in June and Davey starts me and it’s Doc against the Cubs and he strikes out nine and this place is going nuts and we win 1-0. Man, I’d never seen anything like it. This was the place for me.

“I’ll never forget ’86. I’ve got millions of dollars now — don’t get mad at me, ’cause I could just as easily lose it — but I don’t think you can pay for the experiences I had. The homer off Dave Smith to win the playoff game against Houston…the World Series…man, this place shook. When you’re a kid playing Strat-O-Matic, they don’t tell you the ballpark can shake, but this one did.

“You guys, man, you made it shake. It’s like I can still feel it. You can’t put a price on it. If anyone could, I would, but I can’t, y’know? So thanks. It was so freaking Nails playing in front of you here.”

***

“Hello, Mets fans. I’m Rusty Staub and you voted me one of the pinch-hitters on the All-Amazin’ Team. I appreciated that a great deal. I worked real hard to become good at pinch-hitting. It’s a specialized craft. I worked real hard at playing the outfield, too.

“Unlike most of these men, I’d been coming to Shea for an awful long time before I was ever a Met. My first game in this ballpark, and Lenny isn’t alone in having to be reminded of this, was June 2, 1964, the very first year Shea Stadium was opened. I was a Houston Colt 45, which they don’t have anymore. I came in here and you couldn’t help be awed by how big this place was, how modern it all was for 1964. The Astrodome wasn’t built yet. Neither was anything else new except in L.A. and maybe San Francisco, so Shea was it. The Mets beat us that night, 7-4, so I can’t say I was too fond of the result, but I was impressed.

“I played for the Mets the first time on April 15, 1972, after they traded me from the Montreal Expos, another team that doesn’t exist anymore. I hope I’m not a plague! It was definitely a different feeling, playing in New York and having people root hard for me as opposed to against me, but it was a good feeling. I got a hit my first time up off Dock Ellis and we won and it looked like a pretty good year. Unfortunately, my hand got broken and I was out and we had a lot of injuries and that was more or less that.

“Next year, same thing but you know, we got hot at the right time and we got incredible pitching and we made the playoffs. I managed to get myself hurt again on that wall behind us, but we beat a great Reds club and we took a great Oakland club to seven games. It was a wild scene here that October. Wild and cold, but mostly wild.

“All those planes, too, all those years. I don’t care to fly, but it’s tough to ignore the planes. It rattled the pitchers more than it did me. I wouldn’t step out. I think it helped me.

“I didn’t get to play the rest of my career in New York, but I was elated when Frank Cashen brought me back as a free agent and I took a lot of pride in my pinch-hitting — almost as much as I did in my ribs. It was very fulfilling to be here when the Mets got good again, to play with all those kids who were coming along then and make some of my best friends in baseball. I wish I could have hung on one more year, to make it to 1986, but that’s how it goes.

“I’ll never forget playing in Shea Stadium and I’ll never forget the Mets fans. You were and are the best fans in all of baseball and you have no idea what it means to have that kind of support. So thank you again for the honor and thank you for all the great years.”

***

“Hi, I’m Howard Johnson, or HoJo as you probably know me. You voted me the third baseman on the All-Amazin’ Team and I just wanna say I’m glad the balloting was done when David Wright was still in the minors.

“Seriously, like Big Orange just said, it was an honor. I have to admit I came to New York a little scared of the big city. Not that Detroit wasn’t big, but nothing’s like New York. And I had never seen Shea Stadium except from the air. My first time in, like Roger, was Opening Day ’85 against the Cards, April 9. My first time up, I walked with the bases loaded. Easy way to get your first ribby and your first cheers. It was like Rog’ said, just a really big, really loud place, but really big and really loud for us.

“I wasn’t what you’d call a fully formed player, maybe, when I came over to the Mets, but you guys were great. Sometimes you gave me a hard time when I booted one or lunged after a breaking pitch in the dirt, but you were really good to me all those years. Just being on the field, behind home plate when Ray Knight scored the winning run in the sixth game of the World Series…I didn’t do anything, but I was as excited as I’d ever been on a ballfield. I guess I was like you that night: I was the world’s biggest Mets fan.

“I gotta echo what the other guys said. There’s nowhere to play but New York, nowhere. I learned that when I left and it’s probably why I tried to come back a few years later. It’s been a thrill to make it back as a coach and I’ll always love this organization, the guys I played with and you fans. Thanks for everything and God bless you.”

***

“Hello. My name is Jerry Koosman and you voted me the lefthanded starter on the All-Amazin’ Team. Thank you for that.

“You talk about nervous. I’m from Minnesota, Appleton, a farm. And then I make the team out of Spring Training in 1967 and before I know it, Wes Westrum is bringing me in to pitch relief against the Phillies. It was April 22. I had a good first inning. Like Roger, it was a one-two-three inning. Clay Dalrymple was my first batter. Clay gave Tom fits, but I got him that day.

“Anyway, Johnny Briggs tagged me for a homer in the next inning and before I knew it I was headed back down. I really wasn’t ready in ’67 for the big club. I was in nine games the whole year and we lost all nine. But the next year, Gil was managing and I made the team again and it was a whole new ballgame as they say. Not just for me but for the Mets.

“Shea Stadium was a special place in those years, ’68, ’69. I wish all of you in the stands tonight could have been here when we won the World Series. Maybe some of you were. What a thrill it was to be on the mound in that fifth game. Perfect, cool day. And what a crowd on the field! But they were the nicest people. New Yorkers are the best, especially Mets fans. I never felt not at home when I pitched at Shea. Best mound in the league outside Dodger Stadium, fair dimensions, wonderful ownership with Mrs. Payson and everybody, the best teammates and you fans. I loved being Jerry Koosman of the New York Mets and I always will. Thank you and God bless.”

***

“Hi, this is John Franco. You voted me lefthanded reliever on the All-Amazin’ Team, which is amazing in itself considering I couldn’t always tell if you guys really liked me.

“Only kidding. Thank you for the honor. It meant a lot for a kid from the Marlboro Houses in Bensonhurst to be thought of that way. I grew up here, too, y’know, right in this ballpark. I grew up rooting for Tug McGraw, a lefty like me, and he wore 45 and then one day years later I’m doing what he did where he did it and thanks to Mike coming over, I’m wearing 45 just like him. And then you go and tell me I’m the greatest lefthanded reliever the Mets have ever had. It really meant a lot.

“There was a time the only way I could get in here was with Dairylea milk coupons. We’d cut ‘em off the sides of the cartons and take the subway. More than one train, believe me. Then I got to come here with the Reds. My first game at Shea was July 6, 1984, the first game of a doubleheader. I got Darryl to ground out to first. We lost anyway. Got to pitch in the nightcap, too. Imagine being used like that. I threw a scoreless inning, but we were swept.

“I never stopped being a Mets fan, even when I had to get Darryl and Mex and everybody out. I came to the fourth playoff game in ’88 against the Dodgers. Me and my brother left to beat the traffic. We figured Doc had it in hand. Wished I could have been pitching the ninth. I did good against Scioscia. Lefty-lefty.

“It was a dream come true to pitch here and have my family watch me, so when I became a Met in 1990 and they could root out loud for me and not fear for their lives, that was even better. Of course my first Opening Day was delayed by the lockout and we got our butt kicked by the Pirates. The fans weren’t in a good mood that day, but I picked up the save for Frankie Viola the next game and they treated me good. Wasn’t always the case, but I tried my best and I understood what it was like to save up to come to a game and then get let down sometimes. I tried to remember anyway.

“Shea wasn’t technically the nicest ballpark in the world, I suppose. It was like the city housing I grew up in, and anything built by the city’s probably not going to be all that nice. But you couldn’t beat playing here in front of Mets fans when things were going good. I had that love/hate relationship with all of you, I guess, but when we finally made the playoffs in ’99 — or at least were going to the one-game playoff in Cincinnati — I got the biggest cheers of my career. I’m grateful for that. Same when we beat the Cardinals in 2000 and we were going to the World Series. That was a thrill.

“There were a lot of thrills in this building for me. Some of them were from sitting in general admission in the upper deck. Some of them were on the mound saving games, or at least trying to. I always tried my best and I know Mets fans always tried their best. In the end, I think we were meant for each other. Thanks for being there for me and thanks for letting me be there for you.”

***

“Hi everybody! I’m Mookie Wilson. You voted me to the All-Amazin’ Team as one of the outfielders. I’m not gonna argue the choice.

“I loved playing in New York. LOVED it! I’m from a small town in South Carolina. I’d played in small towns in the minors. When I married my wife Rosa, I told her I couldn’t give her a diamond, so I did the next best thing: we got married on a diamond, in Jackson, Mississippi. I thought Jackson was a big city.

“But THIS…this is what I call a diamond. And you fans are the gems that made it sparkle. Nobody ever booed me here. If they did, I couldn’t tell. That’s the great thing about 50,000 people calling you ‘Mooookie’. If you were trying to spare my feelings, I appreciate that, too.

“My first game at Shea Stadium was September 10, 1980, against the Phillies. Went 0-for-4 and was batting .161. But nobody got down on me. I figured out pretty early that New Yorkers would get behind you as long as you kept running and kept hustling. So that’s what I did. I would have done it anyway, but every one of you made it that much more worth doing.

“When we won in those days, it was a big deal. My first full year I hit a home run to win a game off Bruce Sutter. You’d have thought we’d won the pennant right there. That was a few years away. When we did it, when we won the World Series…well, it was the greatest feeling a ballplayer can have. I’m so glad we could do it here in front of the Mets fans. Same for the sixth game which some of you have told me was a good game, too.

“I had a couple of nice years in Toronto at the end of my career and the Canadians were nice folks, but they weren’t Mets fans. They’d chant ‘Moo-KEY’ and I was thinking, don’t they know how to pronounce it? Everybody here tells me. They tell me they named their dogs and cats after me. I guess that’s a compliment. It’s nice to know people remember you however they remember you.

“I came back here with the Blue Jays for an exhibition game right before my final year. I got a huge ovation. Maybe it was because the game didn’t count. But it was wonderful to know I was remembered, even if I wasn’t wearing the right uniform that day. I know I’ll always remember wearing the Mets uniform and I know I’ll always remember you and remember Shea Stadium. Thank you and God bless you.”

***

“Hello everybody. My name is Ed Kranepool and you voted me one of the pinch-hitters on the All-Amazin’ Team. I guess you couldn’t vote me the first baseman after Keith Hernandez got here. But I pinch-hit a little, so that was great.

“I was here, at Shea, at the beginning. My first game was April 17, 1964, the day they opened the stadium. Casey pinch-hit me then, too, come to think of it. I was looking forward to Shea being built even when they were playing in the Polo Grounds. The Mets even brought me out here in high school to see where I’d be playing. I couldn’t have dreamed I’d be playing here for sixteen years.

“What Johnny was saying about love/hate, I can relate. There was a banner one time: ‘Is Ed Kranepool over the hill?’ I think I was 21 then. Tough crowd. But I’m a New Yorker, so I got it. I got a lot of it, actually, and I probably deserved some of it. We weren’t a very good team and the fans couldn’t have been used to that. This was New York. New York had championships. We weren’t going to do that right away.

“But we had a lot of good young players and then we got Gil Hodges and he pointed us the way. I didn’t always get along with Gil, Joan, but I sure came to respect him and appreciate him. Everybody who played for him did. I wasn’t surprised when he was named the all-time manager. No disrespect to anybody else.

“1969 was the high point, especially getting to hit a home run in the third game. I was working offseasons as a stockbroker and when it came across the ticker that I had homered — they used to play the World Series during the day, you know — I hear it nearly caused a riot on Wall Street. It was that kind of year. Man landed on the moon, Ed Kranepool hit a home run in the World Series and the Mets were champions. Wow.

“I got older and I tried to get wiser and I played a little less and I learned to pinch-hit. I guess when you saw less of me you came to like me more because every time I came out on-deck the cry would go up: ‘Eddie! Eddie!’. It’s nice to be thought enough of for that. I thought maybe you were doing it for Eddie Giacomin of the Rangers or something, but it was for me. That was gratifying. It really was.

“Maybe it felt a little less thrilling at Shea as the years went by and we weren’t so good again and there weren’t a lot of fans here. I can’t say I blamed you. Too bad. There was no place like Shea when it was packed and everybody was screaming, even if they weren’t screaming for me. I’ll never forget how on the final homestand when I was a player nobody asked me to put them on my pass list. No one. Being a New Yorker, I always got asked. I guess it’s no wonder the team was on the verge of being sold. I was actually part of a group that tried to buy it, too. Too much money.

“I wish I could have hung on a little longer and played with some of these guys behind me and been part of the revival. But I’ve always enjoyed coming back and being a Mets fan. I’ve never made any banners. I don’t know what I’d say if I did. It’s always fun to look up at the scoreboard before the games when they list the all-time leaders in hits and games played and stuff like that and my name is still at the top. I can’t believe that. Maybe with David and Jose signed to long-term deals that won’t be the case forever. They’re great kids.

“Anyway, I just wanted to say it was an honor to be a New York Met and nothing but a New York Met and I wish you well in whatever you do. Thank you.”

***

“Hi. My name is Edgardo Alfonzo and you voted me the second baseman on the All-Amazin’ Team. Thank you very much. I remember thinking that it was funny I’d be the second baseman because I had just moved back to third base, but I always said I’d play anywhere to help the team. An All-Amazin’ team like this one doesn’t need much help.

“My first game at Shea Stadium was my rookie season, April 30, 1995. I didn’t get a hit. Then we went on the road and I had to wait almost two weeks to get my first hit here. It was a double off Steve Avery of the Braves. People cheered me and started calling me Fonzie. I had to ask some of the guys what that meant. I’m from Venezuela and we didn’t see all the American TV.

“But I loved being Fonzie. I loved playing in New York. You were the most supportive fans and always made me feel at home, whether I was doing good or bad, whether I was playing second or third. Being in the playoffs and the World Series here were the thrills of my life, but it was always a joy and an honor just putting on the Mets uniform and playing with great players like Johnny and Mike and all the rest of the guys and getting to call myself a New Yorker for a few years. Once you’re a Met, you’re always a Met.

“This is where I got started and had my best seasons. This is where I got to be Fonzie, you know? That couldn’t have happened anywhere else and I’ll always be grateful to you, the fans. Thank you and thank you Shea Stadium.”

***

“Hello New York! I’m Bud Harrelson and you voted me the shortstop on the All-Amazin’ Team. Thank you! And thanks to the New York Mets for having the balloting before Jose Reyes came to the big leagues! Me and HoJo will be in the stands with all of you when time comes for the 50th anniversary probably.

“Boy, my first game at Shea. It was September 2, 1965 against Rusty’s Astros. We lost 4-3. Big surprise. Rusty hit a homer against us. Another big surprise. Rusty could play. Rusty could even run back then — it’s true!

“I had been at Buffalo that season and I got called up. Me and Dick Selma. We drove down here and couldn’t believe how big this place looked. And that was just on the outside. Everything looks big to me, you know, but Shea really was something else.

“We weren’t too good when I first got there, but we began to get a lot better when the front office promoted this pitcher from Jacksonville in ’67. Seaver was his name, I think. Tom was a winner, you could tell that right away. He made us all better. We all began to think we could be winners, too. I looked around the field sometimes, saw the guys who were here: Tom, Kooz, Grote, Cleon, Tommie, Rocky, Krane, Nolie, Tug…I said to myself, ‘Hey, we might not be too bad! Even with me at short!’”

“Gil came along and made us believe we were better. That’s so important. Everybody in the big leagues has talent. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t. But a good attitude can give you that edge and nobody had a better feel for the game than Gil Hodges.

“And nobody was a better fan than a Mets fan. Yeah, sometimes we got booed. Y’know what? If we got booed, we probably deserved it. We needed to listen to the fans, run out ground balls, work deeper counts, just play better. I loved playing for fans like you. Anybody who says he wouldn’t want to play in New York doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This place was electric! We had a game in a blackout once and it was electric. Where else you gonna find that?

“You made me believe in myself. You made me feel like the king of the world in ’69 and ’73. Heck, you made me think I could take out Pete Rose! Pete could take me on, but not all of you. Not that I’m condoning any of that stuff, mind you.

“It was an honor to play for the Mets and manage the Mets. I wish I could’ve done a better job. We tried but maybe not hard enough or maybe we just weren’t that good. I tried to take after Gil, but as Joan Hodges could tell you, there was only one Gil. I won’t tell you I was happy to be asked to take a hike, but that’s water under the bridge now. Every time I’ve come back, you fans have treated me royally and that means a lot. Every time somebody comes up to me at a Ducks game and says they were a Mets fan back in the day, and they remember seeing me when they were a kid…that means everything. No kidding. Don’t think because we’re ‘professionals’ that we’re not little kids, too. This is a dream come true. Being a ballplayer, being a New York Met right here at Shea Stadium — I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

***

“Good evening. I’m Darryl Strawberry. You voted me one of the outfielders on the All-Amazin’ Team. I’ve waited six years to thank you in person for that tremendous honor.

“I couldn’t be here in 2002. I was otherwise detained. I taped a message then and I sent my son in my place, but I looked forward to the day I could come back here and say thanks.

“Thanks for caring that much about me, even after I left the Mets. I made a lot of mistakes in my life, but the biggest mistake I ever made in my career was not making sure I stayed a New York Met for all of it. Once you’re a Met, you’re spoiled. You don’t want to be anything else. I had some good years in some other places, but my heart was always with the Mets and with you Mets fans. I hope you believe that because I know it’s true.

“My first game at Shea Stadium was my first game in the big leagues, on May 6, 1983. One minute I’m in Tidewater, the next I’m batting third in front of Dave Kingman and George Foster. It wasn’t easy. Almost hit one out that first night, but it went foul.

“I always wanted to do my best for you fans. I came out and said the next year that I was gonna be the leader of the Mets. I can’t believe how young I was. I was in a clubhouse with Keith Hernandez talking about being a leader. I wished I had done a little less talking when I was that young, but you live and you learn.

“We had a great team. Doc and Ronnie and Sid and Roger and Jesse made it easy. Keith was truly a leader. Then Gary came. Two Hall of Famers as far as I was concerned. All the guys — Lenny and Hoj’ and Ray Knight and Wally Backman and Mazz and Mookie and George and Dougie and Rafael Santana. You couldn’t have asked for better teammates. You couldn’t have asked for a better manager than Davey Johnson. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but I see now the man knew his baseball. We were lucky to have him.

“It’s funny. I became ‘Daaaryl’ in Fenway Park, but I really felt like something special here. They had a Strawberry Sunday for me my second year. I thought that was great. I always wanted to make every day Strawberry Sunday. I always wanted to hit the highest and long home runs for you fans. Maybe that’s why I struck out too much. Still, you made me Straw and I’ll always be Straw thanks to you.

“It was fantastic winning that championship in ’86. It was frustrating knowing that we should have won a couple more, but it was a trip playing here. My life wouldn’t have been the same without Shea Stadium and I mean that in a good way. I hope you know how much you all mean to me. You always let me know how much I meant to you. Thank you and God bless.”

***

“Hi everybody, what’s up? I’m Mike Piazza and you voted me the catcher on the All-Amazin’ Team. That knocked me out when you did, seeing as how I was following in the footsteps of a whole bunch of great catchers like Gary Carter and Jerry Grote and one of my coaches the Dude John Stearns and Todd Hundley and the home run record he set here. I was still active, too, so it was literally amazing. Thank you.

“My first game at Shea Stadium of course was as an enemy, so I’m sorry about that. It was April 27, 1993 and I homered off Doc Gooden. I mean how cool is that? I’m a kid from near Philadelphia and I grew up watching Doctor K on the superstation, WOR, and he’s the most awesome pitcher in the game and I’m here in New York and I’m taking him deep? Like it wasn’t enough that I was even in the Major Leagues and catching Orel Hershiser that night? Geez!

“Of course the real first game in Shea Stadium for me was May 23, 1998, my first game as a Met. Man, that’s both one of those days I’ll never forget and one of those days I barely remember, y’know? First I’m on the Dodgers, then I’m on the Marlins, then I get a call from my agent Dan telling me the Marlins are trading me to the Cubs, then I go take a shower and when I come out, the phone rings and it turns out I was traded to the Mets. I was confused!

“But I straightened out soon enough. It was the best day of my professional life when I became a Met, when I could call Shea Stadium my professional home. Man, I loved being a New York Met. I loved the sound this place made when you did something good as a New York Met. I was fortunate to come here when the team was getting real good, with Johnny and Fonzie and Al and Rick Reed and John Olerud and…I’m gonna forget some guys, but it was a great group. Bobby Valentine was a terrific manager. Really the whole organization exuded class, right up to and including the grounds crew and the security. Everybody. I mean it.

“We got close my first year and came up a little bit shy. The next year we got Robin, and Rey-Rey didn’t make an error for like a hundred games and we had Rickey Henderson and Orel and…I’m babbling on, but it’s all kind of rushing back to me. We nearly missed the playoffs but I’m standing at bat, the last game of the year with the bases loaded and suddenly Melvin Mora is rushing toward me from third base. It’s a wild pitch! We’re gonna win the game! I saw the tape later and I’m standing there like a statue. Nice goin’, Piazza.

“We go to the playoffs and I can’t play and Todd Pratt hits the series-winning homer to beat Arizona. Figures. I’m supposed to be the big star and the team does better without me! But what a great feeling just to be a part of that team and play those amazing series and to go for it again the next year. I just wish that fly ball I hit in the last game of the World Series had carried a little farther. I guess it’s true what they say about Shea being a pitcher’s park.

“Obviously it’s impossible for me to stand in this stadium and not remember the game we played against the Braves after September 11. People said I brought the city back or brought baseball back. Man, I was just doing my job that night. A lot of people a lot more worthy than me in this city did their jobs. That’s who I thought about. That’s who I still think about. But what an honor to wear this Mets uniform that night and the NYPD helmet, I was never prouder to be a Met or a New Yorker than I was then.

“I still am. I liked all the places I played and I appreciated all the fans I played in front of. But how can I not consider myself a New York Met after all we went through together here? You treated me like I was one of you and I hope I didn’t let you down. Believe me, if anybody ever asks me how I want to be remembered, I’m going to tell them, without hesitation, as a New York Met. I don’t know if they’ll listen, but it’s on record.

“I’m so honored to have been asked to come back to Shea Stadium one more time. It’s a great old park and I’ll miss it, but I know the new one’s gonna be nice and I hope I get to come back there, too. My heart will always be right here in Flushing with all of you. Thank you and God bless all of you.”

***

“Hello! I’m Keith Hernandez! I’m the All-Amazin’ first baseman by your reckoning, so I wanna say thanks. That’s great.

“Whew! I can’t believe we’re down to the final weekend at good old Shea Stadium. Just three games: tonight, tomorrow and Sunday. That’s incredible. It means I’m old, ’cause I swear I feel like I just got here.

“First time I was at Shea was the eleventh of September, 1974. Folks, we played twenty-five innings that night. How do you like that for a how-do-you-do to New York? It’s only my second week in the Majors and Red Schoendienst sends me up to pinch-hit against Harry Parker, a real tough righty. I’m leading off the twelfth inning. Kooz started for you guys so you know, lefty versus lefty with the Cardinals in a tight race with the Pirates, I’m not facing Jerry Koosman. I’m just a kid, not quite 21 at that point, and I don’t know what I’m doin’. I swing as hard as I can and I loft a flyball to right for the first out. Then there’s just lots of sitting around for the next…what was it…twenty-five minus twelve…for the next thirteen innings I’m just sitting around. I thought I had to stay nailed to the bench. I’m a rookie, I don’t want to look bad.

“So I’m sitting and the thing goes on for hours and I’m thinkin’, ‘There’s still people here!’ It gets to be midnight and then one and then two and there’s still people in the ballpark! Not that many, but enough. More than you’d believe there’d be at three in the morning which is when I think the game finally ended after Hank Webb threw a pickoff attempt all the way down the first base line and Bake McBride came around to score. Bake could fly! We still had to play the bottom of the twenty-fifth. Sonny Siebert, who’d been a great starter with the Red Sox, when they had Lonborg and Ray Culp, finished it off. I think he got Milner for the last out.

“Anyway, that’s a long game but you still had the fans here. They loved their Metsies and they always loved their Metsies. Even when I’d come back with the Cardinals after Tom and Kooz and Matlack were gone and they weren’t drawing many fans — I’d look up in the upper tank and it would be desolate — the ones who were here were just so intense. Folks, I’m from Northern California. We had some pretty good teams out there when I grew up. We had Mays and McCovey and Cepeda and Marichal on the Giants. We had Reggie Jackson and the A’s when I was in high school. And St. Louis was a great baseball town. But c’mon! This was New York! There’s no comparison!

“I won’t lie to you that I was a little in shock when the Cardinals traded me here. I didn’t cry. I don’t know where that got started, but I didn’t cry. I was just surprised. It took me a little while to get my bearings. I came here in ’83 and we weren’t all that good but I saw who was here. Darryl was obviously a tremendous talent. Mookie had speed to burn. Hubie Brooks could play. Ronnie Darling, he came up in September. I heard about Doc and Lenny and Roger in the minors. And Big Orange, too. He wasn’t young or anything but he really got me used to New York. I knew something was coming together, so I told Frank Cashen in the offseason that I wanted to stay.

“Best decision i ever made. The next few years were the best years I had in baseball. Not from a statistical standpoint because I hit .344 and won a batting one year, my MVP year, in St. Louis. But the team here was fantastic. We got Gary Carter and say what you will about Gary Carter, he was and is a Hall of Fame catcher and hitter. Doc was amazing, just amazing. Bobby O, they brought him in here and he was just what we needed, a good veteran influence on all those young arms. You had Haji and Knight at third and Danny Heep spelling George Foster and Aguilera came up in the middle of the year I guess it was ’84…no, it was ’85…it was ’85…oh, and El Sid!

“Davey Johnson told us we were going to dominate the East. We’d had a close call with Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals and the year before that the Cubs were unconscious. But ’86, that was our year and we had a big lead and it was one of those years where everything went right. You know what happened, we won the division — some overzealous fan nearly ripped my shoulder out trying to get my glove so now you have to have the horses — then the Houston series and Boston. It was crazy. The seventh game against Hurst…folks, I never felt more confident about an at-bat than I did with the bases loaded in the sixth. I knew I was going to get a base hit. Everything felt right.

“And this place exploded. It was like an earthquake, an absolute earthquake, like 55,000 people had exploded. When my hit scored Mazz and Mook, I knew we were going to win. No doubt about it. We would’ve scored more in the sixth, too, except Dale Ford made the slowest call of his life when Dwight Evans didn’t catch Gary’s ball and I was forced out at second ’cause I didn’t know if it was a putout or what. Dale was a great ump, but you’ve gotta tell the baserunner in that situation. Gary tied the game up but we should’ve had more.

“I should probably wrap this up because I know they have a game to get back to, but I wanted to say I loved being a Met, love working for the Mets and SNY and loved playing here more than anything else in my career. You can’t beat playing in New York, and I should know. I played in Cleveland for a year and I was miserable. I just retired after that. It’s like you can’t play in Cleveland after being on the Metsies. No offense to Cleveland, it just wasn’t for me. I take full responsibility. I was a free agent and I had to move on, the time was right, but if I had it to do all over again, I’d have stayed a Met or just gone ahead and retired. It wasn’t worth it.

“Thank you, Mets fans! I love you!”

***

“Hello. I’m Tom Seaver and I have the unenviable task of following Keith Hernandez.

“But seriously, you voted me your All-Amazin’ righthanded starting pitcher so of course I want to acknowledge that.

“I want to acknowledge the role Shea Stadium played in my career. My first start was here was against the Pirates on April 13, 1967. The first batter I faced was Matty Alou, Moises’s uncle. He got me for a double. But I settled down, got Maury Wills and the great Roberto Clemente to ground out, walked Willie Stargell but then struck out my future teammate Donn Clendenon to get out of it.

“Alou, Wills, Clemente, Stargell, Clendendon. That’s some welcoming committee, hitters like those. But we had some good players, too, and we won the game. I didn’t get the decision, but it was good to get my feet wet and the way this place used to drain, that wasn’t a problem.

“I’ve said it’s time for the Mets to have a new stadium and I believe that. You go around the Majors as I did when I broadcast for the team and you see what they have in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and San Diego and so forth and you wonder how is it possible that New York City, the greatest city in the world, doesn’t have one? Now you don’t have to wonder anymore. You’ll see it for yourself. You’re going to love it.

“But that doesn’t make this place any less special. This place, too, was my welcoming committee. All the fans who were here that chilly day in 1967 and all the fans who were here every time I pitched. I always said the Mets fans were the tenth man for us. When you’re pitching, you look for every advantage. You fans represented a wonderful advantage for me and for everybody on the team. You could sense the difference when we went on the road and the fans weren’t behind their team like our fans were for us. There were places where we had more fans — on the road, mind you — than the actual home team did. That’s a real credit to the Mets fans and I always appreciated that.

“You play this game, you come to work every day, to win and eventually, if you’re lucky and work hard, to win a championship. I had that thrill in 1969. That happened here and for that I’ll never forget what Shea Stadium felt like and looked like and sounded like. That was the culmination of a life’s dream, not just for me, but for everybody on the team. That wouldn’t have been possible without everybody’s contributions, but especially our manager. Joan, if you’re wondering why the fans still remember Gil, it’s because he deserves to be remembered.

“A lot of you probably remember 1969 and 1973. A lot more of you, I suspect, remember 1986. I was here for that, too, even if it was in the wrong dugout. I won’t say that deep down I was happy the Mets won, but I couldn’t be unhappy for you Mets fans. You deserved to be happy.

“Once I was done playing, it meant a great deal to come back here and have my number retired and to stand on that mound and take a few bows. It meant a great deal to come back as a broadcaster and be around those very talented teams led by Mr. Piazza. The fans were happy again and it was great to see.

“I’ve been around a bit less in the past few years, but it never leaves you. They’ll tear this place down soon but it will still be here, right here, in the heart. You won’t forget your first game here any more than any of us who played here will — the time your dad or your mom took you or the time you took your son or your daughter to their first game. I hope you saw a Mets win, but even if you didn’t, you saw the Mets play. Sometimes it might have been hard to comprehend, but every player who has ever worn this uniform wanted to do his best for you. The fellas in the dugout tonight are trying just like we did, just like the guys in the other years did. We talked about it among each other and we heard it from the visiting players on the other teams what the Mets fans were like, how incredibly loud and supportive they were.

“Demanding? You bet. But demanding because they understood baseball and loved the sport. As a professional athlete, you can’t ask for anything more.

“Right now, we’re going to make our way over to the right field corner to take down number 3. We took a vote and I’m afraid it was left for me to do the peeling. We actually voted for Joan, but she said Gil would have wanted me to do it, so I can’t turn that down. Besides, Buddy’s too short to reach it. Only kidding roomie!

“But I tell you what. I do this for all of us. I do this for the entire All-Amazin’ Team — and may I say the voters made some excellent choices — and I do this for all of our teammates for all the years each of us played here and for all the Mets who’ve worn this uniform. And most of all, and I mean this as sincerely as I can, I do this for every one of you in the stands, for everyone who has ever come to Shea Stadium to root on the New York Mets, for everyone who has ever looked at that word, Mets, and saw in it, somehow, a piece of themselves.

“This is for you.”

Number 4 was revealed here.

Number 2 will be counted down in two weeks, on Monday, June 30.

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