Sunday, June 22, 2008

Shea Quest '08: The last victory

Shea Memory Countdown No. 6: July 21, 1991. Mets 9, Dodgers 4

I pitched the story to my Flint Journal editors with a straight face.

This was 1991, and the Tigers were debating what to do with their ancient stadium.

Let me, a photographer, and a sports copy editor go on a ballpark tour to Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Memorial Stadium, Baltimore and Shea.

Why those parks? They represented all the things the Tigers could do to Tiger Stadium.

The Red Sox had an ancient park and made upgrades to preserve it. The Yankees made dramatic renovations to their stadium. Baltimore was in the process of building a new – but old-fashioned – ballpark.

And Shea?

Well, yeah. Of course the Tigers would want to copy Shea. It’s Shea Stadium!

I’m nothing if not transparent. The photographer and sports copy editor were my two best friends, John and Will.

But it was a neat idea for a story. And it didn't cost the paper a dime. The sports editor signed off as long as we provided our own transportation and lodging.

And that was OK, because his approval allowed us to seek press credentials from the teams – the magical passes that granted us access to the field and the press box, providing for a closer view than we’ve ever had of those ballparks.

We had mixed responses from the teams. The Red Sox gave a photo credential to John, and the rest of us were welcome to buy tickets and interview fans in the stands.

The Orioles were at the other end of the spectrum, offering full access to the field and press box and a hard hat tour of the under-construction Camden Yards. That day provided a series of adventures best told another time.

Both the Mets and Yankees also offered appropriate field and press box access.

We made Shea a two-day stop, getting tickets for the first game. July 20, 1991 was a sweltering afternoon, and very little good came of it for the Mets.

The team chased Orel Hershiser with four in the fourth, but the Dodgers unloaded on Wally Whitehurst and Doug Simons. New Dodger Darryl Strawberry went 2 for 5, and the game ended 11-7 with LA on top.

The apple and scoreboard from the third-baseman's point of view.

We returned early the next day, picking up our credentials, trying not to let the excitement overwhelm professionalism. I just wanted to absorb everything.

When you have field access you can walk just about anywhere in foul territory and dugouts during batting practice. John was the official photographer, but I was snapping shots without being obvious.

We stepped out to find Tommy Lasorda walking laps around the field shirtless. We averted our eyes. But he did say, “Hiya, fellas.”

HoJo picks out his lumber for BP.

Then staff started unloading equipment, putting bats and helmets into the racks before players started coming out of the tunnel for batting practice.

The first group included Tom Herr, Rick Cerone, Hubie Brooks and Kevin Elster with Mike Cubbage looking on. Howard Johnson was the biggest player to eventually come out and swing while we were on the field.

The television crews came out and set up for interviews. Don Drysdale was working for Fox and interviewed Lasorda, now fully dressed.

We made our way up to the press box. We were assigned to the auxiliary box, located between home plate and first base. It was pretty small, with only two or three rows of seats.

Will and I snagged seats in the front row and were happily going through the pile of stats and game notes that are available for the media. The other seats had filled at this point.

This was our view from the auxiliary press box, for a while.

After a while, a security guard came over, saw us and said, “Hey!” We turned around.

“You! Out!” he said, pointing, then extending his thumb.

“We have credentials,” I replied, showing him the red cardboard hanging around my neck on a string.

“Find another seat,” he said, as two other media members made their way into our newly vacated spots.

“But there aren’t any other seats,” I said.

“Not my problem,” he said. “You can stand anywhere you want.”

So we did. And, “You! Out!” has become one of our catch phrases. That was a lot of New York attitude, which in a way was refreshing after a year in Michigan.

It was kind of hard to watch the game, standing and moving around. Dwight Gooden was pitching against former Met Bob Ojeda, who was running out of magic.

HoJo hits the cage.

Buddy Harrelson got tossed arguing balls and strikes when the Dodgers went up by three in the second, but the Mets torched Ojeda in the third when five players – including Gooden – hit doubles.

This photo on the 1992 Stadium Club card is from the big game!

Each team tacked on another run, ending with a 9-4 win for the good guys – but you can’t say that in the press box.

Little did I know it would be 17 years before I’d return to Shea – and it’s still the last time I saw the team win in person.

And the story, I might add, came out pretty good.

Here are some other shots I thought were kind of neat. If it moved, I took its photo. If it didn't move, I also took its photo.


G-Fafif said...

Without bothering to look it up, I know this game was the apogee of 1991: 53-38. The Mets had been smokin' going into the break and were pretty good afterwards. This was the end of a 7-4 homestand against the California teams. It was a big deal that afternoon on television as Doc struck out Darryl and swell Met teammates Hubie Brooks and Daryl Boston good-naturedly hectored Straw from the home dugout. By the ease with which we prevailed, I never, ever, EVER would have guessed the Mets would fall straight down the rabbit hole directly thereafter, limping home 24-46, under .500 for the year, way the fudge out of the money. Elias said it was the worst finish by any team that had risen 15 above in the course of a season. The Mets were essentially screwed for the next six years.

But not as screwed as you've been in-person Metwise since that day. (You have no idea how much I'm rooting for you this Saturday.)

John Murray said...

I think you forgot that there was another person on that trip... An intrepid young photographer...If my memory serves me correctly. I still have my press pass from Yankee Stadium and Baltimore.


Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Thank you, Greg! And that fall, of course, cost Buddy his job, leading to the Torborg era...and the Dallas Green era...

And John is correct! The Mets, Yanks and Orioles allowed us to bring along an "intern" who had the same last name as one of the reporters!