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Former players honored in ceremony

Former players honored in ceremony

NEW YORK -- Ed Kranepool will be sad to see Shea Stadium leveled, a fact the popular former Mets first baseman thought about on Sunday as he stood on the infield during a ceremony that served as the last rights for a ballpark that opened for business on April 17, 1964.

Kranepool was one of more than 40 former players and managers on hand to watch the Mets close out their regular season. But for the second successive year, they were eliminated by the Marlins -- this time in a 4-2 loss on the final day of the season.

The last out of the last game at Shea was recorded at 5:05 p.m. ET.

The next out in a Major League game in Queens will be recorded across the way in new Citi Field next spring. Shea Stadium, which opened with a 4-3 Mets loss to Pittsburgh, will next play a series with a wrecking ball that it will lose.

"It was sentimental for myself, since I do have records here at Shea Stadium," Kranepool said. "Most games, most hits -- which means I was on the field more than any other player. When they tear it down, as [former manager] Casey [Stengel] used to say, 'They take their records with them.'

"I wish it would have been a happier ending,"' Kranepool continued. "There have been a lot of ups and downs at Shea Stadium. With the new stadium, they can start building a new organization again."

The postgame closing ceremony, with most of a sellout crowd of 56,059 still on hand and cheering in the fading light of a cloudy, humid late September afternoon, opened with former broadcasters and stadium operations people and finished with individual introductions of the players.

"It was just as enjoyable for the players as it was for the fans," said former Mets slugger Dave Kingman, who received a loud welcome when he was introduced. "Emotional on both sides. Everyone out there -- things were going through our minds of events that had happened, fun things. Even in the tunnel, we were reminiscing of events that happened, fun things, all kinds of things. It was a fun time for all. The Mets did a fantastic job."

Farewell Shea Stadium

The welcome from the fans was warm, as players were introduced one-by-one as they emerged from the right- and left-field bullpens and created a line of hits from the past from first base to third base.

"At one time, I felt like I was ready to play," said former left-hander and Mets coach Al Jackson, "being on the field at that time of day. The last time I was on the field, I think I was getting ready to pitch. Just a flashback, that's what it was. It was outstanding, no doubt about it."

There was a collective sigh of "Kooooos" as pitcher Jerry Koosman was introduced. Outfielder Darryl Strawberry's ears had to be ringing when he was brought out. The place went nuts when pitcher Dwight Gooden, who hadn't been to Shea Stadium since the 2000 World Series, followed Strawberry onto the field. It was a little bit quieter for Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays, but the tempo picked up again when wildly popular catcher Mike Piazza walked in from left field. Tom Seaver, first introduced as "The Franchise," was also a favorite.

There were friendly outbursts for Brooklyn-born reliever John Franco and Gold Glove first baseman Keith Hernandez. There was rousing applause for Kranepool, outfielder Cleon Jones, third baseman Robin Ventura, pitcher Sid Fernandez, second baseman Wally Backman, outfielder Lenny Dykstra, Kingman and others. Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra, who was a star with the Yankees and who managed the Mets, was both warmly cheered and lightly jeered when he was introduced. Left-hander Al Leiter, who pitched for the Mets and the Yankees and who currently is a broadcaster with the Yankees, smiled when he received a round of boos before the fans gave in and cheered him in earnest.

When all the players had been introduced and a video highlight was shown, the players walked toward home. Each stood on the plate, waved long enough for fans to get a snapshot and then lined the baselines, third to home to first.

Jackson, being a pitcher, didn't score many runs at Shea Stadium, but he touched the plate with a purpose.

"I had to touch that corner I wanted to hit," Jackson said with a big laugh. "Down and away, that's what I wanted. That was my corner. No doubt about it."

The ceremony wrapped up with thousands of flashes blinking as Seaver threw one final Shea Stadium pitch to Piazza. As the players filed out of the gate in center field, they created a symbolic link with Shea Stadium as they headed in the direction of the new Citi Field.

The sky then lit up with a fireworks display in the fading light of the "Shea Goodbye." The last song, "New York State of Mind," came from Billy Joel.

Before the introductions, there was video tribute to William Shea, who spearheaded the push to bring National League baseball back to New York. Two of his grandchildren had thrown out the first pitch.

Those in the sellout crowd, which had included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Glenn Close and singer Marc Anthony, were in a melancholy mood by the time the closing ceremony began about a half-hour after the last out. The Marlins, who had also finished off the Mets' playoff hopes in 2007, took their time leaving the field as they celebrated their season-ending victory with high-fives, hugs and a long line in which many handshakes were exchanged.

The Marlins seemed unfazed as the crowd shouted, "Off the field, off the field, off the field."

The crowd continued with periodic bursts of boos when several Marlins players came out to scoop up souvenir cups of dirt at home plate.

Good or bad, every person who had been there had memories to take home.

Kranepool just hopes to be around for Opening Day 2009.

"I saw all of them here," Kranepool said. "I hope I'm around to be there."

Kit Stier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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