This Day at Shea, 4/17/1964: Shea Opens

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Fifty-five years ago Shea Stadium opened to a packed house—and a predictable result. Shea opened with a 4-3 loss to the Pirates, but Shea was everything for the early Mets. The man it was named after—big-shot lawyer Bill Shea—did the legwork and heavy lifting to bring the National League back to New York. And there would have been no team if the city hadn’t ponied up for a stadium. It was used for at least a year by the Mets, Jets, Yankees, and Giants (the football variety). More than 100 million fans would stream for its doors for sports—and their concerts were pretty memorable, too. Want to read more about it? Try Rising Apple for the longer version of this tale. And check out Shea Stadium Remembered for the whole story.


This Day at Shea, 4/15/1997: Retiring 42

The Mets’ season already seems to be hanging by a thread. At 3-9 they face the Dodgers on the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s momentous debut. President Bill Clinton, Rachel Robinson, and Acting Commissioner Bud Selig all address the 54,000 at Shea when the game is halted in the fifth inning. Robinson’s number will be retired forever in a stunning announcement. Minutes after the game resumes, Lance Johnson, hoping to rise to the momentous occasion, singles home the first two runs of the game. Toby Borland pitches the last four innings to save the 5-0 win for Armando Reynoso. From that night on, Bobby Valentine’s 1997 Mets will go 84-64 and contend until the final week.


This Day at Shea, 4/13/1967: Tom Seaver Debuts

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Tom Seaver makes his major league debut at Shea Stadium. Facing a Pirates lineup with three future Hall of Famers (Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski), plus the defending batting champ (Matty Alou), and a former MVP (Maury Wills), the 22-year-old Seaver goes 5-1/3 innings and leaves a tie game. His first strikeout is future Mets teammate Donn Clendenon—and it comes with two on in the first inning. Though the Mets pull out a 3-2 victory, Seaver does not get the decision—reliever Chuck Estrada gets the last win of his career, ironically. There will be plenty of wins for Seaver, 311 to be exact (198 as a Met); all of them seemingly by the same tight 3-2 score.


This Day at Shea, 4/10/69: Agee in Orbit

Excerpted from Shea Stadium Remembered

You could say that Shea’s extraordinary happenings of 1969 began by being the first major league stadium required to provide a rendition of  “O, Canada.” (Canadian opera star Maureen Forrester did the inaugural honors at Shea.) But the song was performed thousands of times at ballparks after that. What happened two days later was a singular performance.

The moment was not caught on film and was witnessed by just 8,608 souls on a Thursday afternoon at Shea, but the first of Tommie Agee’s two home runs on April 10, 1969 lives on. And if the ball hadn’t landed in the upper deck in left field, maybe it’s still going.

Larry Jaster of the expansion Expos never lost in eight career starts at Shea—except on this day. The southpaw’s 3-1 pitch in the second inning exploded off the powerful Agee’s bat. “It was a low fastball, kind of in, and he hit it almost like a golf ball,” Jaster recalled in the New York Daily News, several years after Agee’s untimely death from a heart attack at age 58 in 2001.

Agee’s blast was the only home run to land in the upper deck in Shea’s 45-year history. Though the upper deck could hold 20,376 people—more than the field and loge levels combined—the top deck never held another fair ball. Shea was not enclosed, and the top deck had perhaps 1,500 seats combined in the corners on the fair side of the foul poles. The angle trajectory for a fair ball to land there put even fewer seats in play. Even more impressive is that the feat was never duplicated by a Met or a visiting slugger in the 39 years that followed, especially with the likes of Dave Kingman, Darryl Strawberry, Howard Johnson, and Mike Piazza—all of whom hit far more Mets home runs than Agee’s 82.

Later estimates of the blast to upper deck section 48 were in the neighborhood of 480 feet. That neighborhood was eventually painted with Agee’s name, number, and the date of the blast. Only one other Mets player ever had his uniform number honored at Shea in any way besides Tommie’s 20—and that was Tom Seaver’s 41. Pretty good company. Especially for a ball that few people actually recall seeing, except for the guy who gave it up. “A lot of times, you don’t watch ’em,” Jaster said. “That one I had to watch because I knew it was hit pretty good.”


This Day at Shea, 4/9/1985: New Kid in Town

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One day after turning 31, and four months removed from a blockbuster deal with Montreal, perennial All-Star catcher Gary Carter debuts in orange and blue racing stripes at Shea Stadium. After their first winning record since 1976, the 90-win Mets went all in with Carter, shipping out three of their top prospects plus fan favorite Hubie Brooks. Carter, whose salary became too big for Montreal, led the NL with 106 RBI and batted a career-best .294 in 1984. With young pitchers like Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, and Dwight Gooden, making his first Opening Day start in 1985, the Mets needed a stellar signal-caller to guide the young staff; the lineup also needed a solid right-handed bat to help balance lefties Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry. They fill both holes with The Kid.

The Cardinals drill Carter twice in his debut, including in his first Mets plate appearance. The Mets score twice in the first against Joaquin Andujar and still hold a one-run lead going in the ninth. Doug Sisk, coming off 15 saves and a 2.09 ERA in ’84, walks in the tying run with two outs. The game goes extra innings on a frigid afternoon with howling winds.

With one out in the 10th, Carter steps up against former Met Neil Allen, sent to the Cardinals another blockbuster deal (for Hernandez). Carter rips a line drive that clears the fence and Shea is instantly in love with Carter. The feeling is mutual.


This Day at Shea, 4/8/2008: Retiring “Shea” in Stadium’s Final Opener

Many people would choose the April 8, 1969 opener against the Montreal Expos—for that expansion franchise’s first-ever game and the start of the ’69 Miracle Mets season. But that’s the pick everyone else will make in this 50th anniversary year of the ’69 championship team. If you’re going to pick a game the Mets lost, you might as well pick the final Shea opener. After the humiliating way the 2007 season ended, of course the Mets opened the 2008 home schedule against the Phillies, who rubbed out the Mets’ lead and rubbed their faces in it, too. But the takeaway from the 5-2 defeat at Shea’s last opener was the unveiling of the name “Shea” in left field, next to the retired numbers: 37, 14, 41, and 42. It was a classy way to continue to honor William Shea, the lawyer who coerced the Mets into existence. That name would live on in the new ballpark, which was rising right behind Shea. The final year at Shea would not be easily forgotten.


This Day at Shea, 4/5/1983: Seaver Returns

Tom Seaver walks from the dugout to the mound at Shea Stadium, and the crowd roars as if they have been holding it in for five-and-half years. They have. The ballpark—prematurely aged, though not yet 20 from a rough decade for the city and team roars—hints that its future won’t always be synonymous with bad baseball. Seaver doesn’t get the win—Doug Sisk does—as the Mets scratch out a couple of runs to blank Steve Carlton and the Phillies, 2-0. In all the Opening Days I’ve attended over the years, each one is a little special, but this one was worth all the others put together. And worth skipping high school to see.

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Opening Day at Citi Field in 2019 wound up being a dud on the field, but it was a great time nonetheless. Midway through the game I was thinking about the remote chance that we could see a double no-hitter—like old pals Hippo Vaughn and Fred Toney at pre-Wrigley Weeghman Park in 1917. One hundred and two years later, the duel didn’t end with that kind of drama, but it nonetheless was also a disappointment for the home crowd.

For Opening Day 2019 I sat with The 7 Line and brought my buddy Jim Humiston to his first game in Flushing since the George Bamberger regime. Never a dull moment with T7L and—with 7 Line founder Darren Meehan’s blessing—I handed out a couple of hundred bookmarks to the hard-core crew and even tantalized several people with the trivia question to win a book: Who was the first Met to get a hit at Shea in its first game in 1964. I received a lot of very educated guesses—Ron Hunt was the most popular wrong answer. The correct answer: Tim Harkness, who singled an inning after Pirates legend Willie Stargell christened Shea with a home run. If none of the veteran diehards I met could come up with it, the question must’ve been too difficult. When my new supply of Shea Stadium Remembered comes in next week, I will do a contest via Social Media and we’ll give out a copy to the right answer of another Shea-related question.

Based on the exponential way that Shea Stadium Remembered rocketed through the Amazon ratings since Opening Day, I’ll credit the people who took the bookmark and said they were buying the book. If every person who said they would buy a book actually bought a new copy, we’d crack Amazon’s top 100.

Drew Bly, the photographer I met at the New York Public Library Grand Central branch event was in front of me in the line for pizza. He and his girlfriend recognized me and we even had a photo shoot on Shea Bridge amid the madness of fans crammed on every inch of it.

Celebrity sighting: Jim Breuer, Mets fan and comedian extraordinaire, rode a couple of escalators with us underground as we made our way back to Grand Central after the game. We had a great talk about the Mets and I even still had one more pitch in me to hand him a bookmark and the promise to send him books for his travels, if he desires. As usual, I didn’t think to have him stop and take a photo while holding the book. I let him dash back into the wilds of New York, disappearing into the subway canopy.


This Day at Shea 4/4/2003: Coney’s Swan Song

David Cone wins his first game as a Met in 11 years on this date in 2003. Coney, stolen from the Royals and later sent wandering the American League—winning a Cy Young for the Royals and a world championship for the Yankees (maybe there were more, it’s late). Coney, at 40 and with many road miles, throws the kitchen sink at the Montreal Expos and records five shutout innings and a 4-0 win on a windswept night at Shea. It is his 194th and final major league win. He’ll exit the mound at Shea a few weeks later for the last time as a pitcher.


Rising Apple Moonlighting

This year I am trying something different. My literary agent suggested I find an additional outlet for my writing and expand my reach. So this year I am writing for Rising Apple. Here is a link to my first piece about Mets pitching over the past dozen years. You knew the Mets had done a good job with the homegrown pitchers, but did you know they do it better than almost anybody—at least as far as appearances, innings, and the number of homegrown hurlers?

I have been writing professionally since high school, mostly about sports. And even though I have had this website for more than decade—and even sold media for another publication for a couple of years—a lot of the technical stuff and jargon is new to me as a user. It’s different and it’s interesting getting input from editorial staff without waiting weeks, as is often the case in book publishing.

I’ll still post at metsilverman.com. I love hearing from people who like the books and enjoy talking about the Mets. I also plan to continue This Day at Shea this season on metsilverman.com, as the Mets—and my schedule—warrant. (Look for one tomorrow.)

As recently as 2017 I wasn’t sure I was continue with the writing or the site or any of it. But Lyons Press asked me to do the Shea book and I remembered how much I liked writing. I’ve been doing it too long to just give it up cold turkey. I’m back to my pack a day Mets habit. Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue.  


This Day at Shea, 4/1/1996: April Fool in the Rain

The 1996 Mets were going to have the best young pitching in the game, they were going to have a reliable bullpen, they were going to have a clutch lineup, they were going to have spectacular fielding, they were going to win back New York. The 1996 Mets had all of these things. For one day.

The Mets had played as well as anyone the last two months of ’95, but a brutal first three months in the strike-shortened season kept the club from contending. And in 1996 Generation K was going to light up Shea!

Yet it was veteran Bobby Jones who took the hill for the opener against the Cardinals at Shea. He was pummeled. As the rain came down, so did the Cardinals hits. Old pal Willie McGee’s three-run homer sent Jones to the showers in the fourth trailing, 6-0.

But those 1996 Mets could hit. Home runs by Todd Hundley and new guy Bernard Gilkey cut the lead in half. When the Cardinals threatened to blow it open in the seventh, rookie shortstop Rey Ordenez took a relay throw in short left and threw from his knees on the soggy grass to get Royce Clayton at the plate. I was sitting about 50 feet awayin left field, my first opener with tickets down low. It was the most remarkable play I saw an infielder make at Shea, and I saw a lot of magic moments from Rey Rey—with his glove.

In the bottom of the inning Chris Jones singled in a run, and Lance Johnson had the first of a club-record 227 hits to make it a one-run game. Gilkey’s singled tied the game and a short fly scored the speedy Johnson to give the Mets the lead. It was a thrilling day at the park and seemed to portend great things to come for Dallas Green’s Mets. But that was the highlight. The pitching fell apart—young starters and the bullpen—while the field was rotten. Rookie Rey Rey was raw raw with 27 errors. Though the ’96 team hit like few Mets clubs before it, they were incapable of stopping the opponent;s offense. But what a day in the rain at Shea. It was an April Fool on all of us—it wound up being the Yankees’ year under former Mets skipper Joe Torre. The Mets would have to wait for a manager who could assemble a club from spare parts.