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After 16 years, Banner Day makes return

A young couple participating in the banner day

A young couple participating in the banner day festivities in between a doubleheader carry their twins with them. (Undated file photo) Credit: Audrey C Tiernan

The young Mets fan from Queens and his buddies spent a lot of time on their entry for Banner Day at Shea Stadium in 1967. It was not necessarily witty but it was flashy, with lots of Mets logos, a few scorecards and stenciled letters covered with glitter.

During the fifth inning of the first game of the Aug. 27 doubleheader against the Cubs, the fellows excitedly gathered with the rest of the contestants beyond the leftfield stands. But then it started to rain, and it didn't stop. The game was called in the eighth inning, the nightcap was postponed and Banner Day was washed out.

"The poor banner ended up being our cover as we ran to the subway to get out of the rainstorm. We dumped it on Roosevelt Avenue," the fan said the other day, thinking back on it.

He did not let that dampen his enthusiasm for Banner Day, a Mets tradition held every year from 1963 through 1996 and which will be revived Sunday. That young man was Howie Rose, now a Mets broadcaster, who will be one of the judges as bedsheet poets and artists parade their work for the first time in 16 years.

"I can't do something like this without thinking back to when I was a kid, bringing my own banner," he said. "That's why it's so great that they're bringing it back."

It remains to be seen if the custom translates to the Facebook age, and if people will show up early enough to watch it (in the old days, it was between games of a doubleheader and the audience was captive). Still, the club thought it would be worth a shot during its 50th anniversary season.

Why not recall the days when a toddler had a sign that read, "I've Been a Mets Fan All My Life"? What's the harm in inviting the public to match the 1969 entry: "One Small Step for Hodges, One Giant Leap for Met-Kind?" Sunday will be an occasion to recall that Casey Stengel used to tell banquet-circuit audiences that he would make up the lineup for Game 2 of Banner Day doubleheaders based on which players were most popular on the banners.

"I would have loved to be a part of it," said Kevin Krems of New Hyde Park, whose responsibilities for AMETEK Aerospace and Defense in Garden City prevented him from creating an entry this time. If there were a Hall of Fame for Banner Day, Krems would be the first inductee. He won three times and was second or third on several other occasions.

"As a crazed Mets fan, it allowed me to put my artistic and engineering passion on display for a team that I love," said Krems, who started doing banners in 1982, home in Huntington for the summer while he was a student at Cal-Berkeley.

He and a friend painted a banner that appeared to be rising from a cellar, calling it "Beast from the East." He explained, "Quite frankly, the Mets were not very good, and that was about as much as we could look forward to."

The team's resurgence in the mid-1980s got his juices flowing. His first win was in 1988, when he incorporated a wooden race car under the heading, "Pedal to the Met-al." The car had a plate that said, "License to Thrill." Krems also took first for a model jet fighter entry, "Aces High," and again for a "Young Buns" banner -- playing off the "Young Guns" slogan -- complete with the re-creation of a batter who swiveled his backside (as Tim Teufel did at the time).

Krems said that if he were to get involved this year, he would reprise his "Spirit of '86" banner or possibly do a Gary Carter tribute.

In any case, he thinks the whole idea is worthwhile. And he is not the only one.

"Giving people a platform to be creative is great," said R.A. Dickey, Sunday's scheduled starting pitcher, who appreciates self-expression as a bestselling author. "That's one of the things that makes this place unique. Nobody else does it. That's what makes it neat."

Manager Terry Collins said: "We have to realize this game is all about the fans. That's why we play it, that's why we have these beautiful stadiums. If Banner Day is something that fans have liked, and want to do, sign me up."

Rose signed up for life long ago. He still is grateful that the Mets had asked him to register his 1967 entry, before the rainout. Weeks later, he received two free reserved-seat tickets for a makeup Banner Day doubleheader.

His replacement banner wasn't as good as the original, but it did get him in the parade. "The best part of it was when we walked in front of the Mets' dugout. There was Don Cardwell, standing there in uniform, smoking a cigarette, just watching us," he said at Citi Field the other night. "I wanted to run in and sit down and talk to him. It was such a thrill."

The way the Mets look at it, today is a renewal of the license to thrill.

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