When contemplating the Mets and the Irish, most probably think of Joe McEwing, Daniel Murphy, or even legendary long-time Mets groundskeeper Pete Flynn. However, my first thought is of Benny Agbayani, the star of Irish Night at Shea Stadium on August 12, 2000.
Saturday night in the upper deck at Shea Stadium was usually a jovial affair, but Irish Night in 2000 was above and beyond anything I have experienced at a sporting event. It was one part baseball game, one part Dropkick Murphys concert, and one part Girls Gone Wild. The alcohol was flowing, albeit not by 15-year-old me or anyone in my family. The hike up the upper deck steps became more treacherous than usual for the revelers, and many fans endured a hard tumble. One fan intentionally slid all the way down the bannister on the steps, falling on his face as he reached the bottom of the section to the delight of everyone. He received a brief standing ovation and a security escort out of the area. Several young ladies turned the upper deck into Bourbon Street, flashing their, um, assets to surprised onlookers. And all this happened before Agbayani's memorable gaffe in the fourth inning, which will be addressed shortly.
Did all fans at the game have a similar experience? Probably not, and maybe I just happened to be sitting in the right (or wrong?) section. Regardless, the action in the grandstand was more intriguing than the low-scoring Mike Hampton/Shawn Estes pitcher's duel occurring on the field.
With one out and the bases loaded for the visiting Giants in the fourth inning, fan favorite Agbayani caught a weak flyball hit by Bobby Estalella in left field. Thinking the inning was over, he handed the ball to a fan and started running in towards the dugout. He quickly recognized his mistake but by then it was too late -- the play was dead and all runners were awarded two bases. Two runs scored and the Giants took a 2-1 lead. Perhaps he enjoyed a few pre-game Harp and Smithwick pints? The play was made even crazier by the presence of a fan who had run onto the field as the confusion was taking place. It took a few moments for everyone in attendance to understand what happened. Most were able to laugh it off since it only put the Mets down one run and there was still plenty of baseball left to play. Plus, Estes was the next batter and promptly struck out to end the inning.
The Mets eventually won, 3-2, sparked by a clutch two-run double by Todd Zeile off then-invincible setup man Felix Rodriguez. This guaranteed that Agbayani's blunder would be fondly remembered. Armando Benitez struck out pre-Playstation stats Barry Bonds to end the awesome night. I left Shea with a Mets win, a cool hat with a shamrock on it, and some lasting memories. Agbayani's home state of Hawaii couldn't be farther away from Counties Clare and Donegal but for one night he was an adopted Irishman.