Tom Seaver stories, tributes aplenty at Citi Field
At 41 Seaver Way on Thursday, a day after news surfaced of its namesake's death, the franchise gave The Franchise an epilogue to his legendary story.
The Mets’ matchup at Citi Field against the Yankees transformed into part-game, part-wake as they remembered Tom Seaver — the three-time Cy Young Award winner, Hall of Famer and greatest player in team history — who lost his fight with Lewy body dementia and COVID-19 on Monday. He was 75.
Before first pitch, every Mets player rubbed dirt on his right knee, a tribute to the righthander’s signature drop-and-drive delivery that dirtied his pant leg. Upon taking their positions in the top of the first, after a pregame moment of silence and memorial video, the Mets tipped their caps to Seaver’s retired No. 41 in the leftfield corner. A No. 41 jersey hung in the home dugout.
Outside the ballpark, under the “41 Seaver Way” lettering created last year as the Mets changed the official street address of Citi Field, several bouquets of flowers rested by the door.
“To the family of Tom Seaver,” one homemade sympathy card read. “From a fan of the past, present and future. Tom Terrific brought a love of the game to so many people! May he rest in peace.”
And another, signed by “a #1 fan”: “Forever in my heart. Love you, Tom.”
More tributes are to come. Starting this weekend, the Mets will wear a memorial patch on their uniforms for the rest of the season. In early 2021, a source said, the team is expected to unveil its Seaver statue — first announced last year — outside Citi Field, near the Home Run Apple between the subway stop and main entrance to the ballpark.
“Does the word overdue touch on it?” said Ron Swoboda, Seaver’s teammate on the 1969 World Series champion Miracle Mets. “Because his motion was so iconic, I would love to see something out there. I’d love to see them capture his motion right at delivery, with his knee that close to the ground. It was so iconicly Tom.”
The initial shock and sadness of the news Wednesday yielded to storytime Thursday. Ed Kranepool, another member of that 1969 team, recalled that when Seaver showed up to spring training in 1967, his first, all of the other Mets knew the club had something special.
“He was sure of himself,” said Kranepool, who had endured all of the Mets’ early terrible seasons before Seaver arrived. “We weren’t so sure of ourselves. But he had us believing in ourselves.”
Swoboda added: “He knew who he is. He had both ends on the steering wheel and he knew where the car was going. And that wasn’t true with all of us, but it was with Tom Seaver. You realize this is a guy you could hitch your trailer up to and go somewhere.”
Mets manager Luis Rojas knew Seaver only by reputation, having heard stories from his father, Felipe Alou, the longtime major-league player and manager. Rojas’ late uncle, Matty Alou, was the first batter Seaver faced in his debut on April 13, 1967. He doubled. Later that year, after Felipe Alou collected a couple of hits off Seaver, he drew a mean look from the 22-year-old rookie.
“He stared down my dad like, ‘You’re lucky. You’re lucky you got that one,’” Rojas said. “He told me that story today.”
Ahead of the Subway Series season finale, Yankees manager Aaron Boone recalled a time during the 1981 strike when the Seavers stayed with the Boones, their family friends.
“I was 8 years old and Tom was out, we were out just messing around and Tom was on a moped,” Boone said. “I actually jumped on the back to get on the moped with him and burnt my calf on the muffler. And I still have the scar on my calf.”
The final stages of Seaver’s life were such that few current Mets uniformed personnel ever met him. His final trip to Citi Field was for the All-Star Game in 2013, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch, an occasion that predates the Queens tenure of anybody on the 2020 roster.
Among the few who had crossed paths with Seaver: Brian Schneider, the quality-control/catcher coach who played for the Mets in 2008-09.
In November 2007, as Schneider was planning a vacation to Napa Valley, Don Sutton — a Seaver contemporary and his fellow Hall of Fame pitcher — made a recommendation. Sutton was a Nationals broadcaster when Schneider played in Washington, and they had bonded over their appreciation of wine and vineyards, an interest he shared with Seaver, who made wine on his California estate.
“He said he had a place for me to go that was special,” Schneider said. “Gave me directions and a code to get in the gate. I had no idea where I was going. Total surprise. All he said was ask for George when I got there.”
A day before, the Nats traded Schneider to the Mets. So this was his first full day as a member of the organization.
“Can’t make this up,” Schneider said. “Then I show up and it’s him! George Thomas Seaver. What a day it was.”
Those memories are treasured all the more now that Seaver is gone.
“I wondered if maybe this COVID-19 that was attendant to his passing might have spared him that long, slow walk into nothingness that dementia represents,” Swoboda said. “I don’t know, but I wonder.”
Kranepool expressed a related sentiment.
“This was a terrible ending,” Kranepool said, acknowledging that fall is just beginning, “to a [expletive] year.”