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Stranger in a Strange Land: A Mets Fan Takes in Mo’s Yankee Stadium Sendoff

mogoodbye
mogoodbye

It’s so hard to say goodbye
Photo: William Perlman-The Star-Ledger

It’s sort of fitting this was my introduction to Yankee Stadium. The first time I’d ever set foot inside the building, an edifice I’d sworn to avoid and had proudly done so since it reopened in its current incarnation. You see, I’m a Mets fan. In fact, I generally abhor the Yankees. So, how was it I found myself in attendance for one of those timeless moments in the history of Yankeedom?

It began innocently enough. My intentions were good. I made an exception. Don’t act like you haven’t done it before. Besides, I wasn’t going to Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees. It was a good friend’s invitation. I had no proper excuse (at 36, it begins to sound mildly juvenile to reply: “Thanks, but I hate the Yankees and would never step in that f-in stadium.”). Plus, it was supposed to be a glorious day. MOST IMPORTANTLY, I had a much more valid “excuse.” I was going ONLY in the name of BASEBALL HISTORY. How could anyone have a problem with Mo? And, really, how painful could this be? See the greatest closer in baseball get his due. Sit back and have a beer or two, enjoy the weather and watch some baseball. Hell, I probably wouldn’t even really notice it was the Yankees.

OH, HOW I DID MISREAD THAT ONE.

It’s 12:45 p.m. The sun hanging high over us in the leftfield seats is beating down mercilessly upon me. I’m of course wearing dark-colored jeans, no hat and a royal blue t-shirt worn subtly in protest. An attempt to slyly “show my colors” without blatantly disrespecting the moment by going full-out Mets gear. The beads of sweat are running down my calves. Slowly, I begin to take it all in. The rows of empty seats and podium set up midway between home plate and the pitcher’s mound. The massive stage in centerfield. The hoards of press already setting up shop in monument park. This was not a nice, little sendoff game I’d decided to attend. This was Mets fan purgatory. The searing sun was only a painful reminder.

Then, slowly at first, it began to unfold before my eyes. A Yankee-GASM of the likes I’d never seen before or could have ever even conjured. At first, it was what could be expected. A touching dedication to Rachel Robinson and family of a dedicated Jackie #42 plaque in Monument Park. Then, Mo’s own #42 etched into Yankees lore, alongside the legends of Yankee past. But there was more…oh such more.

It unfolded in front of me like a nightmare. First, Metallica blasted Enter Sandman live to commemorate the occasion as Mo slowly strode to the mound. Then, John Sterling and Michael Kay…so much Sterling…SO. MUCH. KAY. Followed by the names…Bernie, Wetteland, Posada, O’Neill. Each time the crowd “predicting” the next Yankee legend to climb the dugout steps and serenading them before each took his seat in the congratulatory gallery coming together around the unparalleled Rivera. With each fan favorite, came the chants.

PAUL O’NEIL!!! Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap.

BEEERNIE…WILLIAMS. Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap.

HIP-HIP, JORGE! HIP-HIP, JORGE!

One after another, they came. Their importance in Yankees history belted over the PA. The number of seasons in pinstripes. The number of rings. Each stat revealed like a small razor blade cut to the psyche of a Mets fan (and self-proclaimed Yankees hater). As the little nicks mounted, the rising crescendo of Yankee fans and the endless barrage of Mo gifts seemed to simply pour salt into the still-fresh wounds. When the ceremony finally reached its conclusion, I sat back down. Spent. Flat-out overwhelmed. Covered in the the avalanche of Yankee love juice that stuck to you without a chance of washing away.

Yet, as I though back innings later, still drenched in sweat, I reflected on the occasion. As difficult as it was to admit, it had been exactly what it should have been (minus perhaps the shout-outs between innings from every former Yankee, current major leaguer, Hollywood star, sports icon…I was only surprised the Pope, Obama and the exhumed spirits of the Babe, Mantle and Gehrig didn’t make an appearance on the Jumbotron).

The pomp and circumstance. The #42 jerseys as far as the eye could see. The “Core Four” and so many more. It was a fitting coronation for the game’s very best. Forget about the saves. Some of the other numbers were even more impressive. 43…and doing it just as well as ever. 19…years in the same uniform. 13…All-Star appearances. FIVE RINGS.

So, at the end of the day, maybe that shining sun wasn’t about putting this Mets fan through a symbolic hell. Instead, it was illuminating the career of a player like none we’ve ever seen or will likely see again.

Enjoy your exit, Sandman. It’s been a pleasure to watch.

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