09/28/08 3:30 PM ET
Mets greats take last look at Shea
Fans deliver warm greetings to those who return for sendoff
By Kit Stier / Special to MLB.com
"My locker," Alfonzo said as many of his former teammates and Mets from other decades gathered for lunch before the final regular-season game at Shea Stadium on Sunday. "I'd take it home and put it in my trophy room. That way, every morning I'd come down and see my locker and remember."
It was a bittersweet day at the soon-to-be leveled ballpark in Queens that that Mets have called home since it opened for business on April 17, 1964. Across the way, beyond the fences in left and center fields, rises new Citi Field, where next season the Mets are scheduled to open a new chapter in their history.
Sunday was humid and wet at Shea, but the spirits of a sellout crowd and players of the team's past and present were not dampened. That the first pitch wasn't thrown until nearly after an hour after the scheduled starting time due to the rain only left more time for old memories to come to life.
"How about the planes going over about every five minutes?" said Jesse Orosco, a reliever on the 1986 World Series championship team. "That was fun, having the planes fly over. I played another 15 years and never heard another plane."
Brooklyn native John Franco, the Mets' all-time saves leader, remembered coming to Shea Stadium as a kid with his dad and brother and then later as a player.
"It's a sad day, but a happy one," Franco said. "It's a sad day that all the great memories I had a kid and as a player aren't going to be here, but a happy day because a new stadium is going to be here and there is going to be great tradition over there. We used to take the train over here. We used coupons from the side of milk cartons and used to sit up there in the third deck. Then I got to pitch here on Opening Day, when I was traded here from Cincinnati in 1990."
Franco, who still resides in the New York area, arrived by charter bus on Sunday. There were three busloads of former Mets and their families. Many other former players arrived on their own. Yogi Berra, who managed the team for three-plus seasons in the 1970s, drew a loud response from fans behind metal barricades lining one side a long red carpet that led to a stadium entrance down the left-field line. "Yogi, Yogi, Yogi," they chanted.
Fans also crowded together in openings on each of the seven levels above the Gate A entrance. The players they recognized were cheered loudly. No one drew a response greater than Dwight Gooden, who hadn't been back to Shea since he pitched for the Yankees in 2000.
"It's very heartwarming, the response you get," said Gooden. "They support you. I got goose bumps all over."
Cleon Jones, Dave Kingman, Robin Ventura, Sid Fernandez, Bobby Ojeda, Todd Zeile, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, Ron Swoboda, Buddy Harrelson, Rusty Staub, Lenny Dykstra, Ed Charles and Wally Backman were among the many former favorites who walked down the soggy red carpet.
The rain let up and there were glimpses of the sun shortly before the first pitch. Two grandchildren of William A. Shea, after whom the stadium was named and one of the people who was a driving force in bringing National League baseball back to New York, threw out the first pitches.
Then, just before left-hander Oliver Perez threw the first real pitch of the game, Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and Mr. Met peeled off the No. 2 on the Shea Stadum countdown that hung from the center-field fence.
The last regular-season game was set to begin. The fans were hoping for a lot more.
"Hopefully they'll close with a good game," said Gooden, echoing the sentiments of many.
Kit Stier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.