By Joe Rini
A fan who became a star, a star who became a Hall of Famer, and a National League Champion hoping to become a World Champion were part of the experience of the Mets home opener on Friday, April 8 at Citi Field when the Amazins topped the Phillies 7-2. However, the good cheer on a cold, crisp, cloudy afternoon was tested in the following days amidst Jacob deGrom’s injury concerns and a four game losing streak before the Mets concluded a 2-4 homestand with a 2-1 win over the Marlins.
After the traditional player introductions and the National Anthem being sung by cast members of “Hamilton,” the pennant winning flag was raised and the fans celebrated 2015, while Terry Collins and crew hurried off the first base line for the home team dugout, eager to close the book on 2015 and resume the quest for a championship in 2016.
To that point, Collins said before the game that it would be honor to watch the flag go up and he was thrilled for the fans, but he added, “We have to get 2015 over…and start getting ready for 2016…and today is that day.” In a similar vein, in a response to a question I asked about the demands on a pennant-winning manager, Collins cited advice he received from Jim Leyland, and said he needed to say “no” to certain demands in the offseason in order to “get myself ready and recharged for next year.”
After minor concerns that Jacob deGrom might skip or curtail his start on Friday due to the impending birth of his first child in Florida, significant injury concerns surrounded the 27-year old righthander when he exited the game after six innings of one run ball with a sore right lat. Mindful that pitching with a similar injury landed Steven Matz on the DL for two months last season, deGrom missed his next scheduled start while the Mets contemplate placing him on the DL. A day after sustaining the injury, deGrom said he felt better but added, “I think we’re going to err on the side of caution though this early in the season.”
Prior to the Mets out dueling the Phillies, I chatted with Chris Jackson and Anthony Ramos of Broadway’s “Hamilton” after they finished rehearsing the anthem. Jackson, who plays George Washington, is from southern Illinois (“Cardinal country,” he said) but the 24-year old Ramos, who plays Hamilton’s son Philip, is a devout Mets fan from Brooklyn.
Reminiscing about the Mets teams of his youth, Ramos was a fan of Mike Piazza and remembers enjoying a VHS tape of great plays by Rey Ordonez (“the dude was everywhere”). Recalling other favorite players from that era like Agbayani, Ventura, and Alfonzo, Ramos said, “Al Leiter was my guy,” and fondly compared Armando Benitez to the “Wild Thing” from the movie “Major League.”
I later crossed paths with former Mets manager and Hall of Famer Joe Torre as he walked between clubhouses to meet with each manager. Chatting briefly, I asked if it was nostalgic to be at a Mets home opener. “Of course,” he said. Pointing to a poster size replica of the Mets 1977 Yearbook that featured a 36-year old Torre on its cover, he said, “This is where it all began,” regarding a managerial journey that started at Shea Stadium and ended in Cooperstown.
The 4-5 Mets are currently on a nine game, three city road trip that will take them to Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. While an anemic offense has hampered the Mets in the early going, perhaps 14 hits and four homeruns by the Mets in their 6-5 victory over Cleveland on April 15 is a sign that 2016 has finally begun for the Amazins.