When David Peterson, noted stoic, walked into the Mets’ clubhouse Saturday night with a bounce in his step and a smile on his face, he had good reason — and it was unrelated to his scoreless start or the Mets’ doubleheader sweep of Atlanta that day.
Finally in his possession was a long-missing memento: The lineup card from his major-league debut on July 28, 2020. He had given up on adding it to his collection, but the special souvenir surfaced over the weekend thanks to happenstance and a friendship maintained over time and distance.
“It’s crazy,” Peterson said. “Thinking it was already gone, that was obviously something that would be cool to have around the house with some of my memorabilia. For that to just pop up a little past two years later, it’s pretty cool.”
This story starts like so many others in recent years: Blame COVID.
When the world emerged from that initial lockdown and MLB managed to stage a pandemic-shortened season, the Mets called on Peterson, their first-round draft pick in 2017, to start their fifth game. Among those he texted about that exciting development was Jesse Hobaica, a former University of Oregon teammate and one of his best friends.
“I get chills talking about it. He said, ‘It’s happening,’” Hobaica said. “It was something we had talked about forever. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be there, given the COVID circumstances and everything.”
The Mets beat the Red Sox, 8-3, in an eerie, empty Fenway Park. Peterson tossed 5 2/3 innings and gave up two runs to pick up the win. Already, the lineup card feels like a relic from another era. Shortstop Amed Rosario batted leadoff. Centerfielder Brandon Nimmo (who later moved to left) was ninth. Jeff McNeil played third, J.D. Davis left. Yoenis Cespedes was the DH in what wound up being one of his last games ever. Manager Luis Rojas called on an iconic late-inning trio to finish it off: Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances, Hunter Strickland.
After the game, Peterson ended up with a set of three baseballs: his first pitch, his first strikeout and the last out from the game. Forgotten in the COVID craziness were the other debut standards, such as his jersey and the lineup card. He didn’t make much of it.
“Just in the moment of the day and all that,” he said, “I didn’t really think about grabbing anything or asking for anything.”
A year later, he worked up the gumption to inquire with longtime equipment manager Kevin Kierst about other items from that game. Kierst had his No. 77 jersey. The lineup card was nowhere to be found, funneled into the memorabilia machine. Oh well.
“They said they had taken it and it was probably already sold off,” Peterson said.
The trail went cold — until Saturday. Hobaica was in town visiting family, so naturally he made a trip to Citi Field. He and Peterson don’t get to see each other as often as they’d like — such is being geographically scattered friends — but remain close via phone calls and golf trips and the like.
Hobaica wandered into the memorabilia shop on the main concourse, looking for something Peterson-related for himself, because that is his boy and he is proud. After flicking through a stack of random-seeming lineup cards from recent seasons (ranging in price from $75 to $250), he found the perfect piece: the card from Peterson’s first game, just sitting there for anybody to buy.
“I was like, there’s no way this is the original. He must have it already,” Hobaica relayed by phone from Southern California this week. “But it had a sticker [of authentication] on it and everything. I’m like, you know what, this would be cool. I’ll have it framed and put it in my office or something. So I ended up buying it.”
When they met up after the games, Hobaica showed off his new find. Peterson told him: He’d been looking for that for years. Hobaica knew what he had to do.
“I just assumed he already had one of that, because it was such a big milestone for him,” Hobaica said. “I guess he didn’t. So I gave that to him, because that’s something that if I was in his position I would want to have for sure. That’s a huge deal. The cost of it was nothing compared to the look on his face and how appreciative he was of that. Because that’s a piece of his history that he’ll have forever now.”
Peterson said, cheesing: “Now I gotta get him a present.”
Peterson plans to get the lineup card framed and put it on display in his Denver home, once he gets his collection organized.
“When they said it had probably been sold off, it was like, OK, it stinks that I don’t have it, but it is what it is,” Peterson said. “For it to work out that way, it’s pretty special to have.”