My Day At Shea
By Melissa Minners
The entire week of September 2, 2007, I looked forward to Friday. A week before, my brother had invited me to see the New York Mets play the Houston Astros at Shea Stadium. I hadn’t been to a game at Shea in a few years and I was excited. When game day arrived, I couldn’t wait to get to the ballpark.
We got there early enough to see batting practice, pick up food and drinks and buy souvenirs. As the ground crew cleared the field of batting practice equipment, it became immediately apparent that something special was planned for this game. A podium and chairs were set up by home plate and a band was lined up in the outfield. Then, I noticed the sign declaring this to be Gil Hodges Day.
I was in my glee! I had just finished reading two books which defined Hodges as a New York hero, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and later, for the fledgling New York Mets when they began as an expansion team in 1962. He was the Mets’ manager in 1969 when the team won their very first World Series. As both a player and a manager, Gil Hodges was the consummate professional, talented and always willing to go the extra mile. He was greatly respected, both on and off the field, as a man with values. Such values led to Hodges putting a hold on his baseball career so that he could join the Navy and serve his country in World War II.
In honor of Gil Hodges’ induction into the United States Marine Corps Hall of Fame, the folks at Shea hosted a celebration of his life that was an absolute treat for this Brooklyn Dodger/New York Mets fan. I was amazed to see the baseball greats of yesteryear who turned out for the event. Ron Swoboda, Tom Seaver, Ed Kranepool, Yogi Berra, Ralph Branca, Joe Pignatano, Bud Harrelson, and Ed Charles were seated beside numerous members of the Hodges family. After a moving video about Hodges life and career in baseball, Tom Seaver gave an equally moving speech in honor of his former manager. Joan Hodges then got up to say a few words about the man she still terms as her “honey” and to thank the fans of New York.
One of Gil Hodges’ sons threw the first pitch and the ballgame began. Scott Pelfry was scheduled to pitch against Houston’s Mike Rodriguez. With a record of 1-5, my brother and I were a bit worried, but we took it in stride and settled down to enjoy what turned out to be one helluva great game. Of course, things didn’t start out very well. Lance Berkman hit a homerun to center that the entire stadium mistakenly thought was caught by Centerfielder Carlos Beltran. About half of the fans were on their feet clapping until we realized that Beltran didn’t have the ball. We sat down grumbling, feeling like jerks because we had just cheered for an Astro homerun. Things weren’t going well for the Mets in the beginning of the game – they were missing balls that should have been caught and when they got up to bat, they couldn’t get a hit across.
But we fans still cheered our team on and then, it happened! Though there were many exciting plays throughout the game, I believe one double play in particular turned things around for the Mets. Shortstop Jose Reyes bobbled a grounder and it somehow ended up in Second Baseman Luis Castillo’s glove. Castillo threw to Jeff Conine at First Base to complete the double play and the crowd went wild. That was all we needed to get the team pumped up and the rest of the game was ours!
After that inning, the Astros pitching virtually fell apart. Beltran hit a towering homerun to left field and that opened up a scoring frenzy. Highlights of the game included a Reyes triple, a Lastings Milledge diving catch in the outfield followed by a 3-run homerun later in the game, doubles by David Wright, Moises Alou and Ruben Gotay, and an incredible running catch in the outfield by Endy Chavez. The Mets blew the Astros away 11-3. My brother and I stayed until the very last out, our hands sore from clapping and our throats hoarse from cheering our team on.
As we left the stadium, I was hit by two feelings. There was elation at having gone to my first Met game in years and seeing what I believe to be the most exciting and charismatic New York Mets team since the Mets of 1986. And of course, I got to celebrate Gil Hodges’ induction into the Marine Corps Hall of Fame with his family and some incredible baseball legends – that was an unexpected treat. But there was also a sense of sadness as I realized that the next time I go to a New York Mets game, it won’t be at Shea Stadium. A new stadium will have been erected by then, one that will be modeled after Ebetts Field with a perfectly unimpeded view from every single seat in the stadium. Of course, there will be new, more spacious seating and other amenities, but it won’t be my Shea. It won’t even be called Shea Stadium. The new stadium is slated to be called Citi Park after the sponsor Citibank.
But regardless of the stadium’s look and name, one thing is for certain. It will still be the home of my favorite baseball team – the New York Mets – the only team I will ever root for with all of my heart.