At eleven o’clock on the morning of September 28, 2008, I walked towards Shea
in the rain from a parking spot out by Flushing Bay. The other lots were full. They’d
never been full this early. As I walked under the Whitestone Expressway, I saw the outer
ramps of the stadium filled with people who were looking down on a stage lit up like a
studio, where Gary, Keith, and Ron were talking to each other. There were policemen
everywhere. A big SUV pulled up and the police surrounded it as Yogi Berra shuffled out
and everyone started shouting “Yog –i! Yog -i!” Yogi waved at the flashes of bright light
coming from hands held high above the press of people. He walked into the stadium on a
soggy scarlet carpet.
When I got my ticket to the last game at Shea, I never imagined that it was going
to be the most significant regular season game to be played there in 45 years. But that’s
what it was. The Mets could no longer catch the Phillies, but they were tied with
Milwaukee for the Wild Card. To win it, they would simply have to have a better day than
the Brewers. If neither team had a better day than the other, there would be a one game
playoff at Shea on Monday.
This game was more significant than the last game of 2007, because 2007 had
happened and needed to be redeemed. It was more significant than any of the regular
season games played in the seasons we had made the playoffs, because whenever we
made the playoffs, we had almost always won our slot by a comfortable margin. We lost
the close pennant races of 1984, 1985, and 1987. We won in 1973 but the last game of
that season was not as significant as this game because in 1973 we were winning against
all expectations. The only regular season game that might have been as significant as this
was the last game of 1999, when Melvin Mora came home on a wild pitch. But even that
game wasn’t quite as significant because we hadn’t lost the NLCS on the final pitch of the
seventh game two years before and collapsed completely the year before. This game was
going to be the most significant regular season game in Shea stadium history and it was
today and I was at it and the stadium was getting torn down at the end of the season. I was
overwhelmed by all this and I wasn’t pleased. I hadn’t expected this day to be about a do-
or-die baseball game. I had wanted a day to be alone with Shea and the big crowd and my
I didn’t have a choice about any of this. And I was actually feeling pretty good. I
was still in the dream-like euphoria produced by Johan Santana’s change-up the day
before. I figured that there was a 75% chance that there would be a game on Monday.
And if there was a game on Monday, or if we won it today, the promised ceremony would
not feel like a wake. It would feel like the mining of a rich vein of collective memory. It
would propel the Mets, and Shea, into one more month of life.
I met up with my sister Stefanie, and her friend Terri, who had won the lottery for
four tickets to the last game, and who had let me have this precious ticket. The stadium
filled, completely. And everything feels different when every seat is not merely purchased
but filled. Everything feels different. And everything about the 2008 season, and
everything about the 45 years the Mets have spent at Shea was going to feel different
depending on the outcome of this one single ballgame. I hate this kind of thing, even
though it is supposed to be one of the reasons I love baseball. I love and hate to be
dangled over the pit of possibility. I love and hate knowing how much of a difference one
game, one inning, one at-bat, one pitch can make.
The game started off in excruciating fashion, with five scoreless innings. Then the
Marlins scored a couple of runs in the top of the sixth, one of them on a walk with the
bases loaded, by Joe Smith facing his first batter as he was called in to relieve Ollie
Perez. I was terrified, but then in the bottom of the sixth, Carlos Beltran tied the game
with a two-run homer. In the seventh, Endy Chavez made an astounding catch, bouncing
off the wall in left to save a run. The catch was eerily similar to the catch he had made in
the seventh game of the 2006 NLCS. And it was eerie that Beltran had hit the home run
he had not hit at the last game of 2006.
In the eighth inning, Scott Schoenweis gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Wes
Helms. Luis Ayala came in to give up a home run to Dan Uggla. At some point in the
moments after this the scoreboard indicated that the Brewers had taken a 3-1 lead over
the Cubs in the eighth inning. I heard a hiss of air, and realized that the deep vein had
been found. Nothing would stop the air and the blood. I could do nothing. It was all
ruined. It could not be retrieved. I clapped and cheered and acted hopeful in the ninth.
But this was because of a reflex I had developed over 47 years. I had looked at my palm
and had seen that the life line was short and I didn’t expect anything. The inning next to
the Brewers-Cubs score on the scoreboard went from 9 to F. The Brewers won. The
Mets came up in the bottom of the ninth and heard our loud but dispirited cheering. David
Wright popped up. Endy Chavez grounded out. Damion Easley walked. Ryan Church
flied out deep to center.
The Marlins celebrated when it was over. I have always felt bad for them
because they were a good team and no one came to watch them play. Now I was glad that
their stadium was always empty, that they were last in the majors in attendance. I hoped
that they would languish unloved and unnoticed for a very long time to come.
When it was all over and the Marlins had finally heeded our request to “Get Off
the Field!” there was an entirely unreal twenty-five minutes as the devastated crowd
stood and faced legions of policemen and security guards in orange shirts as someone
played a dirge-like version of “I Fought the Law and the Law Won.” The law had won, all
right. Behind the unnecessary army of mounted policemen, black-suited functionaries with
tape measures positioned blue and white standing posters of great Mets moments.
Nobody was rushing onto that field. Nobody was ripping up sod to take it home. And no
one was comforting us.
Finally the ceremonies started. They showed us a movie about Shea, and they
played “New York State of Mind.” Then there was an old-timey version of “Take Me
Out to the Ballgame” and then with clueless fanfare, Mr. Met took down the number 1 to
reveal the Citifield logo and for the very first time in Mets history the crowd lustily booed
something Mr. Met had done. Oh Noooo! Mr. Met, of course, doesn’t talk but I crazily
thought of him as Mr. Bill from the old Saturday Night Live. My brain was completely
free-associating by this point. I’m lucky I wasn’t hallucinating.
Then Howie Rose came out to start the real ceremony. He read a list of names of
people who had been invited but didn’t come. And then there was a list of people who were
representing those who had died. And then Howie slowly read a list of names of men who
emerged from the right and left field fences and walked down the lines to take their places
in an arch that formed from first to third base.
Jack Fisher. Ron Hunt. Al Jackson. Frank Thomas. Jim McAndrew. Jon
Matlack. Craig Swan. George Theodore. Doug Flynn. Ed Charles. Art Shamsky.
Wayne Garrett. Dave Kingman. Felix Millan. John Stearns. George Foster. Tim
Teufel. Todd Zeile. Ron Swoboda. Lee Mazzilli. Wally Backman. Ron Darling. Sid
Fernandez. Howard Johnson. Bobby Ojeda. Robin Ventura. Al Leiter. Ed Kranepool.
Cleon Jones. Bud Harrelson. Jesse Orosco. Edgardo Alfonzo. John Franco. Rusty
Staub. Lenny Dykstra. Gary Carter. Jerry Koosman. Yogi Berra. Keith Hernandez.
Darry Strawberry. Dwight Gooden. Willie Mays. Mike Piazza. Tom Seaver.
There they were, on the basepaths, these deep and close friends I had never met.
There were the larger than life figures who live in a special dream world in the minds of
millions. There was a man who made me so happy when he hit a home run as I was
listening to the family car radio during an intermission between features at the Paramus
Drive-In Theatre. There was someone who had made me cry when he came back after six
years of unforgiveable banishment. There was someone who played on the Mets from
when I was in the second grade until the year I got married. There was a man who made
me smile as a kid because he didn’t look, act, or talk like any other ballplayer. There was
a shy man no one had seen in years, who was the single most exciting player I have ever
There was a chunk of my life down on that field. There were the artists who made
something that would always be more than a game to me. They were all lined up and I
watched them through my binoculars. I saw the old teams come together again,
particularly the great team of the Eighties, the team that is about my age. I saw the older
team of grown men from the impossibly distant days when I first entered Bob Murphy’s
voice. And I saw the newer Mets, who were young enough for my daughter to have fallen
in love with. Each of them stood on the field in a big jersey with the number he had worn.
And then, as the music changed to the kind of music they play at the victory celebration at
the end of Star Wars, I saw each of them come forward to touch home plate and wave to
the crowd. The vast concourse of the wounded cheered as if nothing had happened that
afternoon. All that mattered was a half century of warm and briny love. All that mattered
was them and us.
Then there was a ceremony where Tom Seaver threw one last pitch to Mike
Piazza. There was the last pitch that would be thrown from that mound. There was the last
pitch caught. Seaver and Piazza put their arms around each other and waved and then
walked out to deep center. They stopped before the wall and waved again. The blue wall
opened up and took them in. It was over, and our tears of love mixed with our tears of
bitterness. The Mets were gone, but people stayed, looking, sitting, standing, taking
pictures. I looked around and I couldn’t believe that I would never see this broad, warm
familiar sight again. It was not really there anymore. It was behind the blue wall, with
Tom and Mike. Yet as I walked down the ramps for the very last time, the stadium felt
eerily alive to me. It seemed as if it was dying as people actually die: with love,
generosity, and an uncanny alertness. When I was finally outside, I looked up at the neon
ghosts on the side of the building, hitting and fielding and pitching.
I walked towards the parking lot by the bay, turning around every few seconds.
After I passed under the Whitestone Expressway, I couldn’t see the stadium anymore
when I turned back towards it. I walked through the darkness of the nearly empty parking
lot to my car. Not wanting to get into the car right away, I walked to the promenade along
the bay and sat down on a bench. I could see the lights of LaGuardia Airport, and their
reflections, shimmering columns in the black water. To the left I saw the top of the Empire
State Building. And off to the right in the distance was the Triboro Bridge, with its lights
like the strands of a necklace. I thought of how we used to drive over the bridge in the
1960s, how I used to look between the backs of my parents’ heads to get my first glimpse
of Shea. I thought of how I used to show the bridge to my infant daughter. We could see it
from her very first bedroom, in Astoria. Standing, with my help, on my lap, she would look
at the bridge as if she could see that something was there, but she didn’t know what it was
or what it meant. I looked at the lights in the water and against the night sky. I knew that
Shea was empty, but all of its lights were still on. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it behind
©Dana Brand 2009