Saturday, January 21, 2006


My Day at Shea!

The time has finally arrived. I'll actually be playing baseball ON THE FIELD at Shea Stadium! I've invited my Dad and Uncle down to watch the game. (They are both retired and probably are the only people who would enjoy sitting in the stands at Shea for 8 hours to watch us.) I arrive at Shea at 9:30, and we enter through the Mets offices entrance marked "Authorized Personnel Only", I already feel like a big shot, even if it is only for one day TODAY, I am authorized. I get an envelope with a DVD of our experiences in Florida, and 100 baseball cards that have my picture on the front and my stats from the camp on the back. I'm instructed to follow the signs to the locker room, and my guests will follow the signs to field level seating. The signs direct me to the old Jets locker room, that still has the weight machines the Jets used. The air conditioning unit is leaking and there is a musty odor in the room, but we quietly change into our uniforms, I will be playing on the "away" Mets team today so I dress in my gray uniform. I grab my glove and follow the signs that say "Field" on them. I pass a locked door that is labeled Mets training room, then I see daylight at the end of the tunnel. Through the doorway is the field and I am entering it from the Mets dugout! Batting practice has started as I numbly find my way to some of my teammates who are shagging fly balls. After re-acquainting we learn we will hit BP at 10:30. We grab some breakfast, there is a buffet table set up on the field in front of the visitors dugout loaded with fruits, breads and beverages, then don a helmet and choose a bat. The guys decide that we will hit alphabetically, that means "Conners", or Mannix as I am affectionately known as, goes first. Kevin Baez is pitching and has been for 45 minutes. He looks exhausted, giving me a sense of confidence as I stride up to the plate for my ten hits. (I am thinking Lord, please let me make contact at least ten times.) I swing and miss at the first two then talk myself into stepping back taking a deep breath and just enjoying myself. I fouled a couple back, then hit a few hard grounders. I think to myself remember what Mickey Brantley said at camp, hold the bat in the fingers, explode at the pitch, and be confident. I lace four line drives in a row and hit a fly ball into the gap in right center. I have my teammates attention now as I hear them shout "ata boy Mannix". Next one is roped to first and hits the protective screen hard. Two more line drives to the outfield and one last fly ball, now my teammates are in a stupor. "Way to start us off Mannix!", I accept the high fives from my teammates and relish in the fact that I just had a productive batting practice at Shea Stadium. I find my Dad and Uncle in the third row and verify that I did not tarnish the family name. They congratulate me as I watch the rest of my team take their turn in the batting cages. Kevin Baez is done, and Ron Swaboda is pitching now. His pitches are not anywhere near the beauties Baez was giving me. After BP, the team decides to take a celebratory jog around the outfield.

As we pass the Mets bullpen someone tries the door and it is open. We all clamor into the bullpen and then climb the ladder to the viewing bench set up for the relief pitchers. We sit up there and soak in the moment as we talk about the other pitchers who have sat here from Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell to Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver. We head back to the food table, shag a few flies, eat lunch and prepare for the start of the game. We will divide into two teams of fifty players representing the ten teams from Florida. Our team will hit first and take the field in the 9th and 10th innings. The batting lineup is posted, our team will start alphabetically, that makes me the leadoff batter for the game. Their pitcher is mediocre as I watch him warm up. "Now batting for the Mets, Michael Conners", I hear on the enormous PA system. I decide that I MUST take the first pitch to savor the moment at the plate at Shea. It of course it is strike one. Two pitches later I rope one to the right of the first baseman, who makes a falling stop, but the pitcher doesn't cover. He bobbles it and I beat him in the race to first base! "Infield single" Kevin Baez says as he high fives me as the first base coach. I take a huge 8 foot lead since they are not holding me on and race to second on a grounder to third. I slide safely into second just ahead of the throw and congratulate myself for getting the big lead. Nobody holds me at second and my lead is almost halfway to third, when the batter hits a slow roller in front of the plate. I race to third and watch the throw go by the third baseman into left field. I get up from the slide and score the first run of the game! High fives from all 50 teammates. My team "Zac's Dogs", bats around plating 5 runs in that first inning. The other 4 teams bat in the 2nd through 8th inning and only manage 3 more runs between them.

The other team has scored 9 and we are losing 9-8 with two outs in the 9th inning when my turn to bat comes up again. Keep in mind for the entire game we were bragging to the other players and our own coaches that Zacs Dogs are the only team here at Shea able to produce runs. We have gloated ad-nausium for the past 8 innings and the rest of the team and coaches were a little tired of it. As I walk to the plate with our team down by 1 with a runner at second, my teammates start to chatter, "show them what Zac's dogs can do Mannix". I am very confident as I have already singled and scored, I jump on the first pitch, a fastball, and line it into the gap on right center for a double, and bat in the game tieing run!! "Nice hit" the second baseman exclaims as I stroll into second with a stand up double. I hear the PA announcer say "Conners is having a great day going 2 for 2 with a single and now a double". The next batter smokes the pitch down the first baseline, all the way to the wall and scores behind me for an inside the park homerun, as we take the lead by two. Once again all 50 teammates high five the two of us, and some even bow as we walk by in honor of our accomplishments. Anthony Young, (A.Y. as we know him), comes over for a hand shake and says "I give you guys props, you talk the talk AND you walk the walk". At this point I have died and gone to heaven. We take the field for our two innings and give up no runs. My dad gives me a baseball to get signed for him and I quickly get all five major leaguers to sign it including, Ron Swaboda and Ed Charles from the 69 Mets, Kevin Baez, Anthony Young, and Rodney McCray. This has been the most magnificent experience of my lifetime, short of my wedding day and my children's births, and I owe it all to the woman I absolutely adore, my wife Lori, whom I will never be able to thank enough for "forcing" me into doing this.

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