By Lloyd Carroll
For the first time in Citi Field history, it hosted Major League Baseball games in which the Mets were participants. Come to think of it, that never happened in the 44-year history of the Mets’ previous Queens home, Shea Stadium. Hurricane Irma forced the Tampa Bays Rays to move their scheduled three-game series last week from the Tropicana Dome in St. Petersburg, FL to elsewhere. Major League Baseball asked the Mets to pitch in and donate Citi Field and the team agreed. The thinking was that playing the games at Yankee Stadium would disadvantage the Rays even further than just losing their home fans and playing before Bronx Bombers fans who would certainly descend upon Flushing.
Although they would have preferred not to have made a detour to Queens, the Rays players were impressed with the ballpark and especially the Mets’ players clubhouse which they utilized. Rays pitcher Jake Faria admitted that the spacious and modern facilities were superior to that of their home ballpark. The relocation of the Yankees-Rays series created an unplanned homecoming for former Mets first baseman Lucas Duda who appreciated that the Mets clubhouse staff gave him his old real estate by providing him with the locker in the rear corner.
I chatted with Lucas in the home dugout during batting practice prior to last Monday’s game which the Yankees won 5-1. Duda came up through the Mets’ farm system and it was the only professional baseball organization that he was familiar with until he was traded to Tampa Bay in late July. He expressed absolutely no bitterness at Mets general manager Sandy Alderson’s decision to move him. “I completely understand the business side of the game and I don’t mind it.” Duda then graciously added that he thinks his successor at first base, Dominic Smith, will be a terrific player and that young players as Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, and the aforementioned Smith, comprise a special group.
Duda agreed with my assessment that he didn’t receive the appreciation from fans and management for working hard at improving his defensive play at first base during his Mets tenure. “I know that I wasn’t Keith Hernandez out there but I worked hard to become respectable,” he said with a smile. Tampa Bay Rays managing general partner Stuart Sternberg grew up in Canarsie and graduated with a degree in finance from St. John’s University so it’s not surprising that he grew up a Mets fan. He still makes his home in the New York area.
I joked with Sternberg that given the way that their favorite team’s season has gone, as further evidenced by their three embarrassing blowout losses to the Cubs last week, Mets fans may insist on the Rays playing all of their home games at Citi Field. “That would be fine with me!” he said with a hearty laugh.