Over at AAHQ we’ve been reminiscing quite frequently now that there is nothing new to discuss. With the future uncertain, we’ve looked to our past to try to get some semblance of normalcy with baseball on pause right now, and so the question was asked: “What’s the most memorable game you have seen in person?”
This is obviously a loaded question with many possible answers—and also a deeply personal one. What does memorable mean exactly? Most exciting? I have seen plenty of those, including Noah Syndergaard dominating the Nats to complete the sweep in 2015, two Wilmer walk-offs—no, not THE walk-offf, but thrilling nonetheless—a Curtis Granderson walk-off, and of course Michael Conforto’s. I even wrote about it.
History-making? Again, check. I was there for Kirk Nieuwenhuis’s three-home run game at Citi, Wilmer Flores’s 6-for-6 day, and R.A. Dickey’s one-hitter.
Perhaps memorable depends on the elite athletes whose greatness you got to witness in person. The players you can tell future generations about that you were lucky enough to see play. For me that list includes Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers, and elite athletes such as Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Madison Bumgarner, Jacob deGrom, and of course, David Wright.
I was there when we welcomed Piazza back as a Padre, and I was there when Wright took his final bow, but did any of these qualify as my most memorable game? The short answer is no.
My most memorable game was a 10-1 blowout loss against Randy Johnson and the Diamondbacks over Memorial Day weekend in 1999. Masato Yoshii was absolutely terrible for the Mets and mercifully pulled in the third inning after giving up seven runs. Steve Finley, Luis Gonzalez, and Tony Womack played out of their minds, and in fact, to this day, according to a website that tracks all the games I have been to, Finley’s performance from that day stands above all others.
In addition to pitching eight innings and striking out ten Mets, Johnson also went 2-for-4 at the plate with a RBI. Bobby Valentine waved the white flag early and pulled his starters when they got down big and the game was just flat-out a mess. At one point they did a Great Plane Race on the scoreboard at Shea where different colored planes representing the different sections in the stands raced against each other. The green plane representing Mezzanine came in last, which prompted one upset fan sitting near us to yell “Nothing is going right!” It was that kind of day.
So what on earth has possessed me to choose this as my most memorable game? Because I can literally remember all of it. My dad and my uncle had season tickets at Big Shea when I was very young but I don’t remember anything about those games. I just remember orange seats, green grass, and sunshine. This game, however, was different. It was the first time I was watching the Mets because I wanted to, not simply because my Dad was fan. Mike Piazza was obviously a draw, but Robin Ventura was my guy. My pre-teen self was glued to every game, and when they advertised it was going to be Beanie Baby Day at the stadium, that was it. I knew I had to go and begged my parents for tickets.
When the day came, I was just a bundle of anxiousness and excitement. My Dad being my Dad refused to park in the Shea Stadium parking lot and pay Shea Stadium prices, so we ended up in the marina and having to walk over. What if we get there and there were no Beanie Babies left? Why couldn’t he just park closer? No, I don’t want to put sunscreen on, can we just get there please?
This was my first time seeing Shea since I was really young and didn’t really remember it, and everything was just so bright. It was a very hot, sunny May day and there was Shea in all her glory. What still stands out to this day are the colors. The blue stadium, the neon players on the walls, the multi-colored seats.
For me, Shea and Citi are literally night and day. Being a kid I went to mostly day games at Shea, so I remember sunshine. Now as an adult, it is more night games, plus the Mets just don’t do as many day games anymore. Citi’s brick exterior, while classic, can’t compete with neon lights, and olive drab seats aren’t Shea’s rainbow of colors. Walking through the tunnel to your seats at Shea and seeing an explosion of color unfold before you is something Citi can not replicate. The wide expansive field and all the different-colored decks was awe-inspiring. You didn’t feel dwarfed or overwhelmed—you knew this was an experience that could not be easily replicated. Those images and those feelings are hard to replicate especially for a kid.
As for May 30, 1999, to my great delight we got our Beanie Babies, and I was struck by just how blue everything was inside. Our seats were in the mezzanine so we were in “the green seats”. It was so brutally hot that day with absolutely no protection from the sun. My sister had a Winnie-the-Pooh watch on and ended up getting burned from the metal backing from it. For me, I loved that you could basically sight-see from your seat. We were in right field, and with Shea being open, you could see for miles beyond the stadium. The bridges, the cars, the planes coming in.
With Shea being so huge, the Mets were in their black uniforms that day, and they looked like little tiny ants scrambling around. The sound of the crack of the bat seemingly came seconds later after the batter swung, and Roger Cedeno was already in desperate chase of a ball destined to fall over his head. But even with the distance, it was obvious Randy Johnson was huge. His unmistakable form drew every eye as he was done warming up in the bullpen and he made his way to the dugout. He was dominant and had a presence on the mound that translated to every corner of the stadium. His one mistake was to Cedeno, who hit a home run and provided our only excitement. That and when Ricky Henderson stole a base.
Like I said, Valentine pulled his starters early so after two at-bats, one of which was a strikeout, Ventura was pulled. He also made a nice diving play, and I probably cheered the loudest in the stadium since the team was already down big at that point, but for me I saw my baseball hero make a play, and that was worth cheering. I didn’t know it then, but that would be all I would see. We didn’t make it to any games in 2000, and in 2001 the one game we went to was another Sunday, a game in which Valentine sat him in favor of Joe McEwing.
That knowledge is a bit painful for me no,w but it also doesn’t matter. I hold such fond memories of this game because it was the first time that I could remember sharing the same space as my heroes for three hours. It is being at the place you see on TV every day and then turning it on the next day and contentedly saying, “hey, I was just there.” It’s the novelty of eating ice cream out of a baseball helmet and having it drip all over you. It’s hearing “Summer in the City” played over the Shea Stadium speakers and being transported back every time you hear the song. It’s the disappointment in leaving the stadium not knowing the next time you’ll be back to root for your favorites again. It’s everything baseball was, taken for granted and now sorely missed.
For now, the memories will have to do until the sun is shining, not over Shea, but over Citi again. Until we have new heroes to cheer and to see what incredible feats they can accomplish, and hopefully someone will soon take down Steve Finley.