In a bittersweet way, this Mets Opening Day was one of a kind. It was the first one they ever had that wasn't watched in person or on TV by Ralph Kiner, who also clearly was one of a kind.
Kiner, a team broadcaster from their very first day through his very last, was honored before the game with a new exhibit in the Mets Hall of Fame and a touching ceremony on the field.
The Hall of Fame slugger, who died Feb. 6 at 91, was one of the most influential figures in the history of the Mets without ever having had one at-bat for them. On Monday, all of Citi Field was Kiner's Korner.
"His legacy," his son Michael said, "is the history of the Mets."
The visible reminder Monday was a simple logo -- a microphone encircled by "Ralph Kiner 1922-2014" -- that was stenciled onto the field behind home plate, affixed to each Met's uniform and emblazoned on the leftfield wall, alongside the retired numbers.
Fans cheered long and loud at the mention of his name, and for the video that included Kiner's trademark home run call -- "It's going, going, gone. Goodbye" -- and tributes from Tom Seaver, Vin Scully and others.
Mostly, though, it was a celebration of the good-natured warmth that Kiner consistently brought to the booth, along with his insight and malaprops. Master of ceremonies Howie Rose, who graduated from young fan to Kiner's colleague, referred to the late broadcaster as "our friend; our dear, dear friend."
Kiner's son said: "He was always so appreciative of the people here. I was very proud to hear the cheers, but also a little sad that he wasn't here to appreciate it with us today."
The younger Kiner, 60, was a Mets batboy in 1968 and was the one to whom his father gave his 1969 World Series ring. The son donated it to the team Hall of Fame display that was unveiled Monday.
"It was lovely: the ring, the Emmy, the Kiner's Korner sign above it all. It's beautifully done, I think," Michael said.
The ceremony on the field will be an emotional keepsake for the family. K.C., the daughter who took care of Kiner in his final year and a half, said: "I was kind of sad. He would have been so thrilled. But I also think Dad would have been a little embarrassed. He was such a humble guy.
"He was a great ambassador for this team. I think he really felt a part of it in every sense of the word. You know how he loved it. He loved to come to work. He had just signed his contract a month before he passed away."
The Mets family appreciated it, too. "Very cool, very cool. I thought it was a fitting tribute. I enjoyed looking up in the stands and seeing the pictures and the signs," David Wright said.
Wright recalled his first big Mets moment, as an 18-year-old signee, riding the elevator with Kiner. "The Shea Stadium elevator took 15 minutes to get to the top, so I had a nice long talk with Mr. Kiner,'' he said. "It was my arrival moment: 'Wow, this is pretty cool.' "
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