Apr 15, 2016

Remembering Mets History: (1964) The First Game Ever Played At Shea Stadium

Shea Stadium opened for baseball fifty years ago on a sunny afternoon in Queens, New York. Met fans were thrilled at their teams grand new home in Flushing Meadows, at Corona Park.

It took two and a half years, and cost $28.5 million to build Shea Stadium.

It was a colossal new ballpark behind the attractions of the 1964 Worlds Fair which opened five days after Shea did. Many a visitor to the Worlds Fair would visit the beautiful Shea Stadium at its new home in that season. It must be noted that Shea Stadium with it's 57,333 seats, was one of the bigger ballparks in the league in 1964.

The classic orange & blue panels represented the Mets team colors as well as the colors of the Worlds Fair. The panels were removed in 1980 under the Wilpon / Doubleday ownership. Even the ushers, usherettes & vendors at Shea were donned in Mets colors.

Shea was wide open behind the outfield fences, allowing many a passerby on the expressways to get a peak inside at the large crowds. 

In right field it had the largest scoreboard in the major leagues. The classic Shea scoreboard, kept track of the game at Shea as well as action around baseball. The right side had the NL action & the left side had the AL action. 

The uniform numbers for the lineups for the Mets as well as the visitors were, on display with a red dot representing who was at bat. In the top center a picture of the batter was displayed early on but was eventually replaced by the Mets logo. A clock told the time & the Mets advertisers proudly displayed their logos as well.

The Opening ceremonies had Bill Shea, whom the ballpark was named after, christen the Mets' new home with two symbolic bottles of water. Shea was a successful New York lawyer, who was instrumental in bringing Nation League baseball back to the city. The first bottle of water, had H2O from the Gowanus Canal, located near Ebbets Field, and the other from the Harlem River, which was near the Polo Grounds. The Mets hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates that day to a huge crowd of 50,312.

The Mets starting line up on this historic day was:

Tim Harkness SS 
George Altman RF 
Ron Hunt 3B 
Jesse Gonder C 
Frank Thomas LF
Jim Hickman CF
Amado Samuel SS
Larry Burright 2B 
Jack Fisher P

The Umpires: HP - Tom Gorman
1B - Bill Williams
2B - Vinnie Smith
3B - Chris Pelekoudas.

Jack Fisher was the Mets starter that day going up against Pittsburgh's Bob Friend. Fisher was overwhelmed by the crowd noise and pre game hype, unable to concentrate. Fisher claims to have asked Mets manager; Casey Stengel, if he could warm up in the bullpen that day, instead of on the mound on the field. He credits himself with starting the big league tradition, of starting pitchers warming in the bullpen before a game. 

Fisher then became the first Mets pitcher to take the mound, throwing to his battery mate, Jesse Gonder. The first batter to step in was Dick Schofield & he recorded the first out, flying out to second baseman Larry Burright. Fisher struck out Roberto Clemente as the first official strike out in Shea's history. The Pirates went down in order for an easy first inning.

Tim Harkness was the first Mets batter to step to the plate at Shea Stadium. Harkness would ground out to short stop. George Altman would fly out & Ron Hunt ground out as well. The first inning at Shea was uneventful. In the 2nd inning, Hall of Famer Willie Stargell led off with a HR, the first HR & hit recorded at Shea.

In the 3rd inning, Harkness would get the first official Mets hit at Shea, a base hit to right field. The next batter; Altman grounded out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the 4th, Ron Hunt doubled, for the first Mets extra base hit at Shea. The next batter, Jesse Gonder recorded the club's first Shea RBI as he doubled in Hunt with the first Mets run. Frank Thomas then singled & Jim Hickman was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Larry Eliot came in to pinch run for Hickman & was the first to accomplish that feat in Shea as well. Amado Samuel then doubled down the left field line, scoring Gonder & Thomas.Friend then retired the next three batters & the Mets rally was over.

They took A 3-1 lead to the 5th, when Willie Stargell doubled in the Pirates second run. In the 7th inning, Fisher got the first two outs but then surrendered sigles to Roberto Clemente & Stargell. Casey came to the mound & for the first time a relief pitcher came out of the Shea bullpen, he was Ed Bauta.  Starter; Jack Fisher went seven innings allowing three runs on eleven hits, four strike outs & one walk earning no decision. Bauta gave up a base hit to future Met; Donn Clendenon, as the tying run scored.

In the 8th inning, a young Ed Kranepool fittingly, was the first Mets pinch hitter to step out of the Shea Stadium dugout. while Larry Eliot was the 1st pinch runner. Original Met Jim Hickman drew the 1st walk & was the 1st to get hit by a pitch at Shea.

In the top of the 9th, Stargell & Clendenon singled. With two outs Bill Mazeroski singled in what turned out to be the winning run. In the home 9th, the Mets went down in order; pinch hitter John Stephenson & Hawk Taylor both struck out. Tim Harkness ended the game with a ground out to second base.

Officially in the first game ever played at Shea Stadium, The Pirates beat the Mets 4-3 with Bob Friend getting the win & Ed Bauta taking the loss.

Trivia: Forty Four years later, in October 2008, Ed Kranepool, Jack Fisher, Ron Hunt & Frank Thomas would all be on hand for the last game every played at Shea Stadium.

Tim Harkness: Harkness came over from the L.A. Dodgers playing with the Mets in 1963 & 1964. He hit 10 HRs but hit just .211 in 1963. In 1964 he hit .282 but played in just 39 games. Ed Kranepool was considered an up & coming star, he took over first base & Harkness never made it back to the big leagues again.

George Altman: Altman had two good seasons of hitting over .300 & bashing over 22 HRs with the Cubs. He spent 1 season with Mets and batted .230 with 9 HRs & 47 RBIs. After going back to Chicago for three more years he would play 8 years in Japan.

Ron Hunt: Hunt was the first Mets staring All Star player, he was the starting second baseman in that years All Star game played at Shea Stadium. Hunt spent four years with the Mets (1963-1966) batting a best .303 in 1964.

Jesse Gonder: Gonder first played with the Mets in 1963. He hit .302 in 42 games and earned an opening day spot in 1964. That season he batted .270 with seven HRs & 35 RBIs. He would get traded for Gary Kolb in 1966.

Frank Thomas: An original Met, who hit 34 HRs in 1962, a Met record until Dave Kingman hit 37 in 1975. Thomas was a journey man outfielder who hit 266 career HRs, including 12 straight years in double figures. He was second in the NL with 35 HRs in 1958 & once appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.He was on the All time HR top Forty List at the time of his retirement. Thomas had studied to be a priest before a baseball career.

Jim Hickman: Hickman was an original Met and was an everyday regular for their first five seasons. He played all outfield positions, 1st & 3rd base. His best seasons were 1963 when he led the team in HRs (17) & triples (6) & 1964 when he batted .257 with 11 HRs & 57 RBIs.

Amado Samuel: Samuel only played briefly for three seasons, with the Mets & Atlanta Braves. He was from the Dominican and batted .232 in 53 games for the 1964 Mets.

Larry Burright: Burright had hit just .220 in 1963 and after Opening Day at Shea in 1964, he would only play in two more Mets games going hitless.
Jack Fisher: Fisher won 11 games for the 1964 Mets, unfortunatley he lost 17, which wasn't as bad as the following year when he had lost 24 games. In his four year Mets career he was 38-73 with a 4.12 ERA. 

Ed Bauta: Bauta pitched just 17 games with the Mets over the 1963-1964 seasons, going 0-2 with a save.

Ed Kranepol: Steady Eddie was the Mets first bonus baby, debuting at age 17. He would spend 18 seasons with Mets & is second all time in hits. He is the Mets all time pinch hitter & was one of the games best pinch hitters during his playing days. He still holds the single season record with a .486 average as a pinch hitter in 1974.He is a member of the Mets Hall of Fame.

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