Mets prepare to greet fans for first time
Dickey, Rodriguez revved up for home opener vs. Nationals
PHILADELPHIA -- At some point late Friday afternoon, Citi Field's public address announcer will introduce the Mets' starting pitcher, R.A. Dickey. Tens of thousands will stand and applaud and hoot and holler.
"It will definitely be a humbling experience," Dickey said.
At some point also, if the Mets have their way, Francisco Rodriguez will make his traditional jog from the bullpen to the mound. Like Dickey, he will receive some cheers. Unlike Dickey, he will also hear boos.
But Rodriguez, too, plans to relish the moment.
"I want to be there so bad," Rodriguez said. "I just want to run on that field and get the save, save the victory. That's what I want, so bad."
In many ways, Friday's home opener against the Nationals will present a barometer of the fan base, from Dickey to Rodriguez and points in between. Citing the frustrations of seasons past, some fans remain upset with Carlos Beltran, discouraged with Mike Pelfrey, desperate for more from David Wright and Jose Reyes. Others have instead focused their energies elsewhere, seeking hope in the form of Ike Davis, Josh Thole and the one man destined to receive the loudest praise of all.
Forget Gallup polls and performance reviews. In New York of all places, applause does not lie.
"I can take a few seconds to really appreciate the magnitude of that moment and how far the journey has come," Dickey said. "I feel like I have a very unique and special bond with a lot of people that will be watching."
That Dickey will be the man on the mound, in what he referred to as a "gala-type atmosphere," is no mistake. Shortly after taking the job as Mets manager, Terry Collins began puzzling out a way to honor Dickey in the season's opening week -- if not with an Opening Day start, then with the home opener at Citi Field. And so the Mets skipped Chris Capuano's first turn through the rotation, thus giving Dickey the opener. And the applause.
"He pitched so well last year that he deserved a chance to be on the big stage," Collins said.
Perhaps no game at Citi Field last season was more momentous than Dickey's one-hitter against the Phillies in August, none of the 81 crowds more appreciative of what they saw. In Dickey's eyes, fans look at him and see a version of themselves, succeeding with a pitch that many feel they can throw.
"I feel like the New York Mets fan base is a blue-collar, hardworking people," Dickey said. "They can appreciate what I went through, and that contributes to the bond that I feel with them, and that will be a neat time, even if it is just a few seconds."
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Rodriguez, who has not pitched at Citi Field since an altercation with his girlfriend's father last August. Some Mets fans have forgiven Rodriguez for that night. Others never will. And the home opener will give them all a chance to express their emotions.
"I've spent a while waiting for the moment," Rodriguez said. "It's been a long time. I've been working so hard just to get back on that field, that mound, in front of them. It's on now. It's going to be different."
What Rodriguez and the Mets hope more than anything is that their fans will receive them not necessarily for what they are, but for what they hope to become: one of the game's most exciting and popular teams. Following Thursday's loss to the Phillies, Collins remarked simply that he is eager to hear some cheers for his team.
If nothing else, he has chosen the right man to elicit them.
"It's going to be exciting for sure," Dickey said. "That sounds so cliché, but it's true."