NEW YORK (AP)—One more opener at Shea Stadium, with the perfect opponent for the New York Mets.
Here come the Philadelphia Phillies.
And, by the way, the team that took advantage of New York’s embarrassing collapse last September to steal the NL East title.
No wonder even newcomers to this growing rivalry already have an idea of what’s in store Tuesday.
“I’m looking forward to it. It will be a blast. It will be kind of crazy against them,” said Mets catcher Brian Schneider, acquired from Washington in a November trade.
The Mets moved in after playing their first two seasons at the old Polo Grounds, and the World’s Fair was held right next door in Flushing Meadows Park that April.
Shea hosted New York Jets football games, as well as huge concerts by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
But the leaky ballpark in Queens came to be known more for its curious smells, swirling winds and noisy airplanes taking off from nearby La Guardia Airport.
Loud, angry fans, too.
So with the Mets preparing to move into an intimate new park next year— Citi Field is under construction in the parking lot—the Shea Stadium farewell doesn’t seem to be eliciting the same wistful emotions as Yankee Stadium’s final season across town.
But it’s different for general manager Omar Minaya, who grew up in Queens and recalled attending the home opener against the expansion Montreal Expos as a 10-year-old kid in 1969. The Miracle Mets lost 11-10 before going on to win the club’s first championship.
“Way up in the upper deck,” Minaya said Monday. “I always look up there, and tomorrow’s going to be another day when I think about that.
“I think everybody that goes to Shea Stadium this year is going to think about a memory that they’ve had at Shea Stadium,” he added. “Every fan is going to come and talk about stories—remember this, remember that? There’s just so many memories.”
Many of them are painful, however, including Sept. 30, 2007.
That was the last time the Mets played at Shea, when Tom Glavine gave up seven runs in the first inning of an 8-1 loss to Florida that eliminated New York from playoff contention and allowed Philadelphia to clinch the division crown on the final day of the season.
The Mets had led the NL East by seven games with 17 to play before an unprecedented meltdown that began with a three-game sweep by the Phillies at Shea from Sept. 14-16. In fact, Philadelphia won the final eight meetings between the teams, charging to its first playoff berth since 1993.
Making things worse, Rollins had practically predicted his team’s title before the season, saying the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East even though New York ran away with the 2006 division championship.
That irked Mets fans and earned Rollins plenty of boos in the Big Apple. But he was unfazed on his way to the NL MVP award.
“I am truly excited,” Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels said Monday in Cincinnati. “People love to hate you, and they really do hate you. It’s something where the guys on the other team, I think they enjoy it. It’s not like we hate them. We don’t hate each other. But we just enjoy playing against each other because we have tremendous talent and it makes it very exciting for the fans.”
Can the Phillies’ success against New York last season carry into this year?
“I hope so, but we’ll find out tomorrow,” Rollins said. “It’s going to be fun.”
After acquiring ace Johan Santana from Minnesota in a February trade, the Mets plan to regain supremacy in the NL East this year.
Normally reserved Carlos Beltran was so excited about Santana’s addition when he reported to spring training that he had a pointed message for Rollins.
“With him now, I have no doubt that we’re going to win in our division,” Beltran said. “So this year, to Jimmy Rollins—we are the team to beat!”
Considered a National League favorite, the Mets were 2-3 on an opening trip to Florida and Atlanta. Plus, they lost star pitcher Pedro Martinez to a hamstring injury for four to six weeks.
The Phillies are 3-4 after beating the Cincinnati Reds on Monday.
Santana won’t pitch in the three-game series. He started Sunday in Atlanta, so his home debut with the Mets is scheduled for Saturday against Milwaukee.
“It will be good to be home,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said. “It’s good to make a statement early.
“I love Shea. I grew up with Shea,” he added. “If we win a lot of games there this year, that will be the best way to go out.”
Before the opener, the Mets will honor the legacy of William A. Shea in an on-field ceremony. The ballpark was named after Shea, an attorney who led the charge to bring National League baseball back to New York following the departure of the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers after the 1957 season.
AP Sports Writers Charles Odum in Atlanta and Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.