It’s going on seven years since the Mets last made the Playoffs, and nearly 13 years since their last World Series appearance. With the team playing tremendous ball lately and the influx of young talent (lots on the pitching side) that’s been making its way to Flushing, this weekend’s All-Star Game events were a reminder of the awesome past of the franchise instead of a melancholy look back on years gone by. Fans were able to gaze at players from years ago such as John Franco and Darryl Strawberry, and picture Noah Syndergaard celebrating on the field just like they did in the not too distant future.
The Fan Fest at the Javits center on Saturday was an all day extravaganza – a mixture of exhibits, shopping, famous faces, ex players, hands on events, and more, attended by a crowd of thousands that grew as the day went on. Fans who arrived early were given the option of meeting and getting an autograph from either Bud Harrelson and Mookie Wilson or Edgardo Alfonzo. Since the 2000 team is the only one I remember vividly (I was way too young in 1986), I opted to meet The Fonz.
People always link Mike Piazza with the 1999 and 2000 clubs, but Alfonzo was an emerging superstar in his own right at that time. Unfortunately, back problems derailed his career shortly thereafter. However, take one look at his baseball reference page, and you’ll remember how ridiculous Alfonzo’s 2000 season was (he hit .324 with a .425 OBP, 25 home runs, 40 doubles, and 109 runs scored).
Seeing Alfonzo also brought back memories of 1997, when the Mets emerged from the abyss. He was one of the key players on the team that went 88-74, and paved the way for five consecutive exciting seasons in Queens. Alfonzo, one quarter of the Greatest Infield of All Time, couldn’t have been nicer. He signed autographs, engaged in conversation, and posed for pictures with everyone who asked.
After meeting Alfonzo, I headed over to the other end of the Fan Fest and noticed Noah Syndergaard sitting at a table with a small line in front of him. The majority of the attendees at Fan Fest were from out of town, not up on their prospects, or both. That allowed any Mets fan who was lucky enough to be there to meet Syndergaard, get an autograph, and have a quick chat with him. I wished him luck in today’s game and one of my friends playfully got Syndergaard to agree to be his wingman Saturday night (it didn’t actually happen). Syndergaard seemed at ease, and was both jovial and accommodating. Fast forward to today…
The ballpark was dressed up for the All-Star Game game, with special banners outside the ballpark, a white and blue All-Star Game banner wrapping the ramps in left field, and orange, blue, and white bunting hanging from the Promenade and Excelsior levels inside the park. It was festive, and it was quintessentially Mets.
Continuing with that vibe, two heralded Mets pitching prospects (Noah Syndergaard for the U.S. and Rafael Montero for the World Team) started the Futures Game opposite each-other. Syndergaard worked around a two out single in the top of the first, pumping in 95 and 96 MPH fastballs and mixing in his hammer curve to toss a scoreless frame. Montero followed him, sat at 94 MPH on the gun, and hurled a scoreless inning of his own. Brandon Nimmo, an outfielder who’s much further away than Syndergaard and Montero, entered in the middle innings and went 0-2.
The highlight, though, was Syndergaard. A day after meeting him at Fan Fest, it was awesome to see him on the mound at Citi Field, with his 6’6″ frame and explosive fastball. The kid is moving through the system incredibly fast, and it isn’t far fetched to think he’ll be on the big league squad by the middle of next season.
After the Futures Game (the U.S. was victorious), former Mets greats, a plethora of Hall of Famers, and celebrities (some legit, some not) took the field for the Celebrity Softball Game.
It was cool to see Straw patrolling right field, to watch Doctor K trot out to the field to applause, and see John Franco on the diamond again. However, like Syndergaard was the main attraction in the Futures Game, Mike Piazza stole the show in the softball game.
Only hours after the Mets announced that Piazza would be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame on September 29th, Piazza was given a rousing ovation by the fans before smashing a homer to left field in his first at bat of the game. As Piazza rounded the bases, I remembered that he retired before Citi Field opened. Even though it was an exhibition game (and softball at that), today’s game gave Piazza the opportunity to be able to round the bases at Citi Field as a Met after doing it so many times at Shea.
Seeing Piazza back at the home of the Mets was the culmination of two days of incredible events, with the Home Run Derby on tap for tomorrow and the All-Star Game (with Matt Harvey likely on the mound at the start) set for Tuesday night. It’s always nice to see the Mets and Citi Field showcased, and it’ll feel 100 times better when it’s due to the team being back in the Playoffs – which should be sooner rather than later.