PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Sorry, Shannon. At the risk of betraying our off-the-record conversations, there’s something people should know about your time here as mother, sister, daughter, friend, confidante, pioneer, shoulder-to-cry-on, fence-mender, mess-fixer, problem-solver and all-around, multi-tasking whirlwind for the Mets.
You really hated the Yankees.
Oh, not the people. Shannon Forde wasn’t like that. Heck, some of her favorites played in the Bronx: Todd Zeile, Robin Ventura, Al Leiter, just to name a few. And if any of the guys over there ever changed their stripes from navy to royal blue, Shannon would be the first to embrace them, draping their kids in Mets gear and making sure Flushing was every bit as comfortable as their previous home.
No, Shannon hated the Yankees pretty much for only one reason — probably the same as yours. She really, really loved the Mets.
There may be some people on this planet who care as much about the Mets as Shannon did, but no one cared more. Or ever will.
Shannon Forde died Friday night in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, taken far too soon by breast cancer at the age of 44, and she gave it her all, every day, to the team she adored, a roster with her family at the core: her husband, John, and her two young children, Nicholas, 8, and Kendall, 5.
Most folks associate the Mets with the 25 players on the field, because that’s all they see from their Citi Field seats or on TV. A group that’s too far away to touch. But for those lucky enough to get a view from the inside, Shannon was part tour guide/part chaperone, and that goes for the players, too.
For years, Shannon and longtime PR guru Jay Horwitz were the two people any Met saw first when he walked through the clubhouse door. Usually, they were the last two people to say goodbye, too. As former Mets manager Bobby Valentine recalled Saturday, Shannon was the person helping a new player get acclimated or easing the exit of one on the way out.
“She softened the blows,” Valentine said by phone. “She was a passionately caring person that was willing to do anything and could do everything. She was amazing.”
On those occasions when the game became more of a cold business, Shannon cut through the frost and restored some of the humanity with a smile, laugh or comforting word. While some in her line of work behave like a sentry, in charge of minding the gateway to the stadium’s inner workings, Shannon welcomed everyone she came into contact with. For rookies of all types, who may have been nervous entering that world for the first time, Shannon made them feel happy they had.
“When I had visitors come to the game,” David Wright said Saturday, “she would meet them, get to know them, and it was almost like they would leave the stadium thinking they were best friends. Oftentimes, they would keep in touch.”
Wright is the only current Mets player who had a long history with Shannon, and despite his usual aversion to social media, the captain said he made an exception Friday night after hearing about the Twitter outpouring of affection. He was blown away by the sheer volume.
“The impact she made on people was incredible,” Wright said. “She’s going to be missed, that’s for sure.”
It was as if the air had been sucked out of the Tradition Field clubhouse early Saturday morning as the Mets dressed for their road trip to Kissimmee. While the majority of the younger players knew Shannon only toward the end, she leaves behind many, many dear friends in every area of the organization. They were the group that knew her the longest, during the tough times with the Mets and the triumphant ones.
Those people spoke with watery eyes Saturday morning, described her as a “beacon” and wondered why someone who brightened everywhere she went had to go this way, after an arduous, brave battle with cancer. Horwitz, who was like a second father to Shannon, did his best to cover up a heart that had to be breaking inside.
In the 16-plus years I knew Shannon, there’s only one time I can remember seeing her truly sad at the ballpark. It was late in the 2012 season, and she seemed to be hiding something. I asked her what was wrong. After a moment, Shannon told me she had been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. We cried a little, then assured each other it would be OK.
Shannon worried about all the things she might not be around for, the kids growing up, maybe the Mets winning another World Series. One of us made a joke, and we laughed. It was impossible to imagine the Mets doing anything without her assistance.
And after sharing stories with Mets people Saturday, at every level, in every kind of role, I know she’s still helping.