BY STEPHEN MCGUIRE
New players, a new season, new security measures, new milestones and record setting attendance marked Opening Day at Shea Stadium in Flushing this week as the New York Mets kicked off a hopeful 2002 season marked by history and new beginnings.
Opening Day Highlights
A record breaking 53,734 fans were in attendance at Shea Stadium on a sunny and cool April 1 to see a re-vamped Mets team play in their home opener marked by hope for the future and the memory of the tragic events of Sept. 11.
As Mets pitcher Al Leiter warmed up for his Opening Day start, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, sporting a Mets hat and jacket, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“Who would have thought a kid from Boston would get a chance to throw out the pitch on Opening Day at the Mets?” Bloomberg told reporters.
Opening Day ceremonies at Shea were also highlighted by an appearance from Lisa Beamer, wife of Todd Beamer who was killed aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11.
Following the 2001 terrorist attacks, Todd Beamer has earned posthumous national hero status and his words to a cellular telephone operator, “let’s roll,” have become a rallying cry against terrorism.
Beamer is believed to have helped lead a takeover of the flight by passengers that diverted the plane from crashing into the White House on Sept. 11.
Lisa Beamer was awarded a team jacket and announced the partnering of the Todd M. Beamer Foundation with the Mets.
The group was founded to raise money for children of those killed on Sept. 11.
Mets second baseman Robbie Alomar was named the team spokesman for the organization that has raised over $2 million to date.
The Mets’ New Faces
In large block letters, the slogan “Always Believe” on top of the Mets dugout seemed to sum up the hopes of fans and the Mets team with a vastly different look from 2001.
During the off-season, Mets General Manager Steve Phillips worked to acquire new sluggers including Roger Cedeño, Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz and starting pitchers Pedro Astacio and Shawn Estes.
Some baseball experts are predicting a winning season for the team with new additions and previous fan favorites like Leiter, Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo and John Franco.
New Security Measures
Security at Shea Stadium has been a whole new ballgame in the wake of Sept. 11.
Before opening day, Mets management sent out letters to season ticket holders to let them know about several new security measures at the stadium, including metal detector screenings and searches as they enter the stadium.
The tight security was evident during the course of Opening Day at Shea, as a police helicopter hovered overhead during the early innings and an increased police presence could be seen inside and surrounding the stadium.
Other new security measures include the addition of concrete barriers around Shea to separate the parking lot from the stadium entrances.
Fans are no longer allowed to enter Shea stadium with packages, briefcases, backpacks, bags, camera cases, video equipment, bottles (glass or plastic), cans and coolers.
In the letter Mets management also encouraged fans to avoid the long lines by arriving at the stadium early to enjoy pre-game activities like batting practice.
Marking A 40-Year Milestone
The year was 1962.
It was the year that John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, the year of the Cuban Missile crisis and the year the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club was created.
New York City Mayor Robert Wagner and an Attorney named William Shea wanted to bring National League baseball team back to New York to help mend the broken hearts of fans of the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, which both left the Big Apple for California.
They did that and then some.
The team was a hit with New Yorkers long before they played their first game.
On April 12, 1962, the City threw the team a parade up lower Broadway.
But as early as Opening Day it became clear that the lovable team were finding out that they were Amazin’ only in their own minds.
“Can’t anybody here play this game?” asked Mets manager Casey Stengel.
The expression later became the title of a book by newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin that detailed how, despite their losing record, New York City loved the Mets.
In their first season, the Mets broke attendance records by drawing approximately 2 million fans – a figure virtually unheard of at the time.
Seven years late the Amazin’ Mets did the unthinkable by winning their first World Series in 1969.
They repeated the “miracle” in 1986 and following their appearances in the post-season in 1999 and the World Series in 2001, this year’s Mets fans are looking forward to more Mets magic.
A New Stadium?
Shea Stadium opened in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park on April 17, 1964, and has been the site of legendary baseball moments and other historic high notes since.
But there are rumors and echoes of discontent with the 37-year-old stadium. In recent years the team’s owners have played hardball with state and city officials over the Mets organization’s plans to leave Shea when the team’s lease expires in 2004.
But the Mets haven’t started packing yet, since plans have been placed on hold in the wake of Sept. 11.
Want To Show Up At Shea?
For more information about tickets to Mets games call the Mets Ticket Office at 507-TIXX.
The ticket office is open from Mon.-Fri, 9-5:30, Sat. 9-2 and during all home games until game time.