April 30, 2008, Flushing, NY.
I've spent several birthdays at Shea Stadium between 1987 (my first season) and 2008 (Shea's last). And I'd sat in almost every part of the ballpark. For my 30th birthday, I wanted to check off one of the elusive ones. I wanted dugout seats. It was a Wednesday afternoon game, getaway day, which was a perfect excuse for me to take off work, and my dad who was my faithful companion at games in the pre-social media days (heck, he did that in the pre-driving days for me too) also had the day off. The script couldn't have been written any better.
Oliver Perez wasn't quite the bad player we all think of him as. Yet. He was about 18 months removed from pitching well in Game 7 of the NLCS. He was still a couple of years away from his last pitch in a Mets uniform (hint, it was in Spring Training). But he was getting there. And he had the start on this beautiful Wednesday afternoon at Shea.
It was setting up to be a great birthday at Shea. We came in early for batting practice in my usual spot by the Mets dugout (no BP for a day game after a night game). Dad and I ate at the Diamond Club (very overrated if you ask me). There was something new behind the LF wall to see (Citi Field). And then, maybe 30 minutes before the game, there was a water main break in the area. I didn't quite get the reasoning, but it delayed the start of the game by about an hour. In hindsight, maybe we should have left at that point. There wasn't much to watch during this delay, other than an extra hour of being at Shea where the clock was ticking and an extra hour of being in really good seats 5 rows behind the Mets dugout.
I'm not really sure what prompted this next thing, but seemingly out of nowhere, popping out of the Mets dugout and basically offering to sign autographs was Nelson Figueroa, a Brooklyn-born player drafted by the Mets many years earlier and now part of the Mets ballclub for the first time after being away from the big leagues for 4 years and having 5 teams already on his resume. It's definitely not out of character for Nelson to come out of the dugout and sign autographs. This was definitely an unusual circumstance though, with a non-weather delay at the start of the game. I think he signed for anyone by the dugout who wanted an autograph, and probably more than that. Okay, NOW was probably the time to leave and cut our losses.
The game finally gets started, and Ollie being Ollie, he gives up 7 runs in the 2nd and doesn't make out of the inning (to be fair, only 2 runs were earned). It put the Mets in a really big hole, one they had absolutely no shot of digging themselves out of. Now pitching for the Mets, number 27, Nelson Figueroa. Figueroa had been a starting pitcher for the past 4 times through the early season rotation, but was coming in for long relief on short rest (he had started just 3 days earlier). Nelson comes in puts out the fire in the 2nd and ultimately gets through the 5th inning just giving up one run of his own. 3.1 inning total for Figueroa. Jorge Sosa comes in and gives up 5 runs (only 1 earned, so it's not all on the pitchers) in 1 inning. 2 other pitchers came in to finish the last 3 innings, giving up a total of 1 hit. The Mets only had 2 hits over the entire 9 innings. Mets lose the game 13-1.
I definitely give the player of the game for my 30th birthday game to Nelson Figueroa.
Dad and I sat in some real bad rush hour traffic getting back to NJ after the game. It certainly wasn't what I wanted for a game result, but I was certainly happy to spend my 30th birthday (and the last one I could possibly spend there) at Shea.
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