Shea farewell comes too soon for fans
End of Mets' postseason dream drops final curtain on stadium
NEW YORK -- Sally Spiller has been a season-ticket holder at Shea Stadium for the last 14 years, driving up from Philadelphia to find seasonal satisfaction from her beloved Mets. At the start of the eighth inning on Sunday, her eyes began to well up.
Then she openly cried.
"Just coming here has been great," she said on the concourse near her Section 2 mezzanine seats behind home plate. "I'd rather still come to games here. It's got a sentimental charm. It's one of the last of a dying breed."
Moments later, Wes Helms delivered a pinch-hit homer for Florida to break a 2-2 tie. Then Dan Uggla added another solo homer to give the Marlins a 4-2 lead. Just after that, the Shea scoreboard showed the news that compounded the problem for a sellout crowd of 56,059: Milwaukee was coming from behind to take a late lead over the Chicago Cubs, and on the verge of closing Shea history here and now.
Then it became official: History was not only made with Shea permanently closed for baseball, but it also repeated itself in the form of the Mets being eliminated at home by the Marlins. It happened on the final Sunday a year ago. It happened again here, in front of the fans who held such hope, many of them with signs saying things like: "Never Shea Goodbye."
Their theme was: It won't end on this day.
It did. The Brewers' simultaneous 3-1 victory over the Cubs assured it, giving Milwaukee the National League Wild Card and New York nothing but an early start to the offseason. The fans here could imagine the feelings coursing through the veins of those Brewers fans at Miller Park -- how lucky to feel that way. Here, there was numbing sadness in the end. Everything comes to an end, ballparks like these, but this came too early for them.
They won't even see a one-game tiebreaker with the Brewers. Shea is just gone now, a final postgame tribute to follow the last pitch, but a formality to be followed soon by a wrecking ball. Citi Field looms out beyond left field like a majestic wonder, like progress set against an American time gone by.
"My favorite moment was Robin Ventura hitting the 'grand-slam single' to beat the Braves in Game 5 of the 1999 National League Championship Series," Spiller said. "I was there to see it.
"For my No. 2, I would have to say the same year, when [Todd] Pratt hit the home run against Arizona to dead center."
Everyone will have his or her favorite moment now. Truthfully, a lot of people held off on the whole nostalgia thing. There was serious business at hand, and the expectation that nostalgia could really be celebrated during the postseason, whenever that ended. But now it is time to harken back, for those who can stand the pain of doing it.
The Mets franchise made that easier on them, at least for the many who stayed after the disappointment. The club rolled out one Mets legend after another, so many people who evoke particular glorious memories in the hearts and minds of fans who have been here. One of those, the great Ralph Kiner, stood in the tunnel waiting to walk out onto the field for that ceremony, where he was showered with love, and as he waited, he told MLB.com he is going to miss being here but eager to see the new ballpark.
"It's sad that the Mets lost, because it takes a little of the romance away from this day," the Hall of Famer said. "It's apropos, because the first game we played here [in 1964], we lost and then we lost the last one here now. We had huge crowds that year, and I remember that [then-Mets manager] Casey Stengel said, 'I don't know if it's the Metsies or the World's Fair, but we sure are drawing a lot of people.'"
The memories will flood a Mets fan now: Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, the year the Amazin' Mets became world champions for the first time; the Game 6 finish of the 1986 World Series, when Mookie Wilson's dribbler found the promised land, and the subsequent game when the Mets won their second ring; all those Opening Days; all those All-Stars; all those precious moments when a parent passed on a game to a son or daughter on a sultry summer afternoon or chilly night in the orange, blue or green seats at Shea.
They had a chance here Sunday to say goodbye at Shea to Willie Mays. To Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. To Mike Piazza. To Tom Seaver. To the Mets they loved here at Shea. With each moment, the pain hurt a little less, or at least that's how it felt. Fans could cheer, instead of having to boo the Marlins off the field with chants of "OFF OUR FIELD! OFF OUR FIELD!" Soon enough, the faces of their lives were on the field. How good was it to see Seaver high-fiving fans as he walked along the warning track? To see a Tim Teufel here, a George Foster there, to see Ron Swoboda walk in as his shoestring catch from the 1969 World Series was shown on the big screen?
That's how it felt a week earlier at Yankee Stadium. They talked about memories. This day was so different than that one, only because there was hope and shock before there was the celebration of past greats. In this finale, the game itself mattered. The Yankee Stadium closing was all about history, about emotion and memories, and almost nothing about an actual Major League game. This was the heat of the Wild Card race, all business -- everyone wrapped up in game No. 162 and those updates from Milwaukee, where the Brewers came in tied with the Mets.
There was more tailgating in the parking lot than usual. There was a louder atmosphere than usual as the game began. There was pin-drop silence when normally reliable reliever Joe Smith walked in the Marlins' second run in the sixth. There was pandemonium when Carlos Beltran hit his two-run homer to tie it, and when Endy Chavez added one last Shea highlight by making that dazzling over-the-shoulder catch on the run in left to temporarily keep the score tied.
It could have been so good. No Major League team ever sent out its ballpark with a world championship. Not even the 1914 "Miracle Braves" of Boston, who had to move into temporary housing at Fenway Park in August of that year, before they won the World Series and then later the next summer moved into wondrous Braves Field.
"It's been a long time since we put our hands together," the song lyrics played during the tribute video after all the legends were introduced on Sunday.
They had one last chance to do it this time, but it was not the happy ending they wanted.
"I feel in shock," Beltran said, standing one last time in front of his locker to face the media. "We know we are a good team. This is baseball. Nothing is done on paper. We just need to move forward, address our weaknesses, and go to Spring Training and get back into position."
"We're pretty sad," Carlos Delgado said. "We wanted to see something special. Fans came in with this great energy, a packed house, and they wanted us to win. We gave it our best effort. That's all you can do."
"It's upsetting, because two years in a row we thought we had it," said Queens local Dee Durbulak, a 22-year season-ticket holder who doesn't know yet whether the club will extend her season-ticket package into the new ballpark. "The Cubs were no help. We can't put [Johan] Santana in every game. It's just not fair."
She had her camera, and she photographed the last out, off Ryan Church's bat. Everyone seemed to take that picture. One thing you will remember is all the camera flashes, as everyone wanted to record the history.
They would have rather gone to Chicago for the NL Division Series.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.