I miss Shea Stadium.
I know, I know.
Sure, Citi Field is a pretty nice place to watch a ballgame. The stadium is comfortable, albeit a little generic. It has a Shake Shack and a better selection of alcohol, which is key given the quality of the teams since the stadium opened. Shea was an orange and blue concrete donut. The escalators were harrowing to traverse, the seats weren't particularly comfortable, and towards the end it just started to feel dilapidated. But I miss it.
The funny thing is I never actually saw the Mets win a game there. I watched Jason Jennings throw a complete game shutout in a steady drizzle and hit a home run for good measure. I saw innumerable soft-tossing lefties beguile the Mets line-up (Randy Wolf or Doug Davis, usually). I watched the bullpen blow innumerable leads large and small.* But through all the blowouts and heartbreaks, it always felt like home. The towering scoreboard in right, the bench seats in left, the home run apple: These were the symbols of my childhood and adolescence.
*The most memorable of these was my last trip to Shea in 2008. Pedro Martinez had made one of his late-era Pedro starts, using every last bit of his guile to bob and weave through six innings. David Wright staked the Mets to a lead with a three-run first inning home run, sending the apple aloft. It was everything you could have wanted in a goodbye to the stadium. Then the bullpen took over. A 5-1 lead became a 7-5 loss, with Aaron Heilman and Scott Schoeneweis putting things to bed. That's not really why it's memorable though, as those kind of things happened a lot. No, what is memorable is a fellow patron drunkenly blasting Aaron Heilman all the way from the Mezzanine escalators to the 7 Train. This climaxed somewhere around the last escalator in a declaration that he was going to go buy an Aaron Heilman jersey from the Mets store so he could take it out into the parking lot and, presumably, shit on it. So there was that. Also, this was the game where my brother tried to one-hand a foul ball off the bat of Carlos Delgado in the first inning and completely whiffed on the attempt, getting smacked in the face.
While I clearly can't say I was there for any of them, Shea Stadium had been home to most of the transcendent moments of Mets history, so I was one of those that was excited to see an Essential Games of Shea Stadium DVD come out during its swan song. But when I saw the list of games they included, I was pissed. Of course you had to have Seaver's gem in the 1969 series, and Dykstra's walkoff, and yeah Game 6 (though that is available elsewhere). The Grand Slam Single is a must (and I almost bought the set just for that game), and Piazza's post-9/11 homer is one of the most powerful moments in sports history, full stop. The David Wright walk-off against the Yankees is just weird, though. Yeah, I know the subway series is a big deal, but that easily could have gone in the collection of bonus snippets with Matt Franco's version of the same.
And there was one game that I couldn't believe was missing, even from the extra highlights.
2000. NLDS. Game 4.
Am I nuts?
I don't remember if I have mentioned this before, but the 1999 and 2000 teams are kind of not really my teams in the same way the teams of the most recent decade are. I was 17 and 18 those years, which really should have been the time that the Mets meant way too much to me and caused me to spurn girlfriends, crash cars and drink heavily. Instead, I saved that for my twenties (minus the car crash, though Cliff Floyd's Game 1 homer in the 2006 NLDS did almost send me careening off the road). Sportschannel had become Fox Sports and we didn't get WWOR anymore, so I was severely limited in how many Mets games I could actually see in Connecticut. Mostly, I had to follow the box scores in the morning paper. You know, back when you still had to suffer through that kind of mularkey. So there wasn't the same connection I had when I could catch Kiner's Corner every Sunday after the game.
I made up for it in the playoffs, though. The Grand Slam Single (Strunk and White discourages capitalization there, but it's obligatory) sent me leaping about this high in the air, while Kenny Bleepin' Rogers (Baseball-Reference suggests that his legal middle name is in fact Scott, but we Mets Fans know better) almost sent my parents' TV out our living room window. But oddly the moment from those seasons most vivid in my memory is that of Bobby Jones' one-hitter. Not that it wasn't a great moment in Mets history, but it does seem like it over gets overlooked and underemembered when talking about the 1999 and 2000 Mets. But that seems somehow appropos for a pitcher who never really should have been there in the first place.
One of the things that surprised me a little bit when I began researching Bobby Jones was just how good a prospect he was. You might look at that final career line and think he was a polished college guy with back of the rotation upside, much like our entry at #48, Steve Trachsel. But Jones was a supplemental first round pick out of Fresno State who dominated in his full season debut at Binghamton in 1992. If you squint just a tad, his pitching line at Binghamton as a 22 year old wasn't all that different from Matt Harvey's. Baseball America even ranked him higher than Harvey, pronouncing him the 28th best prospect in baseball at the start of the 1993 season.
Jones spent the majority of the 1993 season in AAA with the Norfolk Tides. Against the morde advanced hitters of the International League, Jones saw his K numbers erode some, although he maintained a very strong walk rate. Jones was called up to the majors on August 14th and tossed a strong six innings in his debut against the Philadelphia Phillies. He made eight more starts for the Mets in 1993, finshing with 61 slightly better than league average innings. He joined the Mets rotation full time in 1994 and for the next several seasons was the prototypical league average innings muncher. Like clockwork, Jones would take the ball 30 times, throw 190-200 innings, and post roughly average K and BB rates. He made an all-star team in 1997 on the back of a remarkable first half where he started 10-2 with a 2.22 ERA, but by the end of the season his statistics would blend in nicely with the rest of his 1994-1998 run.
Jones' durability wouldn't last through the 1999 season, though. After six thoroughly Bobby Jones like starts, he was shelled in three consecutive outings before hitting the DL with a shoulder injury. The injury lingered through most of the summer and there was the possibility that Jones would be shut down for the season. However, Jones was able to return to action in September, but was limited to long relief and did not pitch at all in the 1999 postseason. 2000 did not go much better. After three starts, Jones had a 16.20 ERA and was sent packing for Norfolk. After 4 so-so starts in AAA, he made his way back into the rotation. The rest of the first half was rocky, but in the second half Jones posted an 8-2 record with a 3.98 ERA. That performance was good enough to earn Jones the fourth starter spot for the Mets in the playoffs behind Hampton, Leiter and Reed.
So the stage was set. After a game one loss in San Francisco, the Mets had won two straight games jampacked with the kind of absurd drama you only get with, well, the Mets. Jones now took the mound with a chance to close things out at Shea Stadium, or else, a cross country flight and a winner take all Game Five loomed. I'll turn it over to the bard of the Bobby V Mets, Matthew Callan: