The fifth in an occasional (OK, you caught me, weekly) series. I'm not going to sit here and try to defend Shea Stadium as one of the best ballparks of all time. I can honestly tell you, though, that I never walked into Shea and thought, "This place is a dump." The bottom line is, Shea is where the Mets play, and for me, it will always be special. I realize these are pretty individual memories, but I hope reading them stirs up something in your mind about some place that you may take for granted.
I've been thinking a lot about the big games I've attended at Shea through the history we have shared (me and Shea, that is). I mentioned last time the playoff games I attended. I've also written about one of the most exciting games I saw there, which came in the midst of a terrible season - the game where Anthony Young broke his losing streak. But I won't write about that again.
Instead, I'll tell you the story of what might as well have been a playoff game, since it was a do-or-die situation. It had everything - last-minute drama, everything was on the line - and it may in fact have been the biggest game I ever attended at Shea Stadium.
It was October 3, 1999 - a Sunday. Last game of the regular season, against the Pirates. This was after my college graduation, a month before I was regularly employed. Actually, at the time I was flat-out unemployed. And I was in New York to attend a wedding on October 2nd. I remember specifically that I planned only to be down for the weekend, so I only packed a suit for the wedding, and my jeans and gray t-shirt for travelling back on Sunday.
Well, when things shook out on Saturday the way they did, the Mets could face a win-and-get-in the playoffs situation on Sunday. So at the wedding, a couple of friends and I decided to pull some strings we had and go to the game on Sunday. I'm fuzzy on who I was with - I'm pretty sure there was a group of 3 or 4.
We had great seats - behind the plate, about ten rows up. I was on TV throughout the game, right behind the batter from the center-field camera.
The game itself did not match the excitement level (or the intensity) it deserved, considering the situation. The Mets played the Pirates, and the game went to the 9th inning tied at 1. (Ironically, future Met Kris Benson pitched for Pittsburgh that day.) In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets got back-to-back singles with one out, and with runners on the corners, the Pirates intentionally walked John Olerud to face Mike Piazza with the bases loaded.
Of course, we couldn't believe it - that's exactly who we'd want at the plate in that situation. The place was going nuts. So what happens - the pitcher throws a wild pitch, Melvin Mora scores, and the Mets win. Pretty anticlimactic...and, it turned out, the Mets would have to play the Reds the next day in a one-game playoff to decide the wild card (Al Leiter threw a two-hitter in Cincinnati), and I forget if we knew that at the time, but it was still a wild celebration at Shea, since we knew the Mets had kept their season alive.
A personal note: This was the game where while waiting for our tickets at the Will Call window, some older woman kept making passes at me. Turned out, she was Richie Hebner's wife - he was a coach with the Pirates at the time, and spent one season with the Mets as a player in the 1970's.
More importantly, though, that gray t-shirt and jeans turned out to be very lucky. I ended up staying in New York almost the whole week - I watched the Mets beat the Reds on Monday night at my parents', and then went to a Rangers game with my dad later that week - still wearing my gray shirt and jeans. Then the gray shirt and jeans were lucky for the Mets' win over the Diamondbacks in the first round of the playoffs, and it's what I was wearing when Robin Ventura hit his walk-off grand slam/double while I was interning at Channel 7 here in Boston. (OK, not really interning, since I had already graduated and basically just hung out and logged games...That was a great day though - I was watching the Mets in extra extra innings, and the U.S.'s dramatic Ryder Cup win all at the same time.)
The lucky outfit, which began its string of good luck on that Sunday afternoon at Shea, finally ran out of luck a few weeks later. I hate to end this story on such a down note, but the moment involved Kenny Rogers and Andruw Jones.