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Long IslandNassau

LI astronaut - and Mets fan - at Citi Field ceremony

It was 1969, the year that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and the Mets won the World Series. Michael Massimino, a 6-year-old from Franklin Square, watched both dramas unfold on his television and vowed that one day he would be an astronaut and a professional baseball player.

"It turned out I wasn't anything special in baseball," Massimino said.

Massimino had other talents, and in 1996 NASA chose him to become an astronaut. His passion for baseball and the Mets never waned, though. Last May, before leaving on the mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope, Massimino called the Mets and asked if he could take a memento into space. The team gave him the home plate from Shea Stadium, which came to occupy a special place in the hearts of the shuttle Atlantis astronauts.

Friday night, in a ceremony before the Mets game against Arizona, Massimino will give the plate back so the Mets can put it in the team's hall of fame.

Massimino, who took a John Franco jersey into space in 2002, knew he had to do something really big this time after fellow astronaut and Yankees fan Garrett Reisman of Morristown, N.J., carried dirt from the Yankee Stadium pitcher's mound on the shuttle Endeavour in March.

"I knew I could do a little better than some dirt," Massimino said.

Initially, there were some problems when the plate proved to be too big to fit into his locker. But Massimino, who has a doctorate in engineering from MIT, was able to enlist a team of specialists to trim a border off the plate, which they later put back on. The crew then used it, along with a wrench extender and a rolled-up sock, to play a little baseball during some down time.

Massimino, who now lives in Houston, will be seeing Citi Field for the first time Friday night when he presents the plate.

Said Massimino: "Getting to take a Mets home plate into space makes all the hard work it took to be an astronaut worth it."

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