Memories of opening day: a strange night in Flushing in 1995

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<pre><pre>Memories of opening day: a strange night in Flushing in 1995
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With 2020 Opening Day delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sporting News employees remember their most memorable Opening Days of the past.

Baseball returned to Shea Stadium. The Mets were opening their home schedule against the Cardinals.

Those were the only normal items from April 28, 1995.

Finally there was another game in Flushing after baseball had done its best to destroy itself with:

– An eight-month players 'strike over club owners' demands for a salary cap.
– The unprecedented cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
– Owners' anti-union movement to use replacement players (also known as "scabs,quot;) in the following spring training.

At the time I was editor of a newspaper in my native New Jersey, and I had that night off on Friday. I ended up buying a seat well above the third base line in Shea. The place was half full – the first true sign of the fans' anger at what had happened.

MORE: 15 things we miss most about baseball, ranked

Then came a little onslaught and a lot of idiocy for a handful of the 26,604 attendees:

– Three boys ran onto the field mid-game, threw money at Bobby Bonilla (something the Mets continue to do 25 years later) and other infielders from New York, and then stood at second base to protest "greed " of the players.
– A guy ran to third base and then tried to carry the bag with him to his seat.
Multiple adventure seekers frolicked on the lawn of Shea's garden before attacking him into center field to elude the police. The 8-foot-tall garden wall turned out to be his downfall.

The fan protests marked the Mets' first home game after the 1994 strike.

(An analysis of the box score reminded me that the replacement referees were on the field while all this was going on because the referees were blocking the actual referees.)

The game itself was a sloppy fight. The Mets returned from a five-run deficit to win 10-8. Not surprisingly, the game was uneven: The real major league players had had about three weeks of spring training after the end of the strike, so the pitchers weren't ready. The Mets had opened their shortened 144-game season two nights earlier in Denver, where they suffered two serious losses to the Rockies at the new Coors Field. The temporary expanded rosters (28 players) weren't helping.

So no, this was not your typical Friday night in Shea. It was much weirder than that.

OPENING DAY MEMORIES
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A quick digression to close this piece:

If you want to draw parallels between the eight-and-a-half-month layoff of a quarter of a century ago and the delay of months that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to create this year, well, there are none. The absence forced by a historical health crisis will only make the hearts of fans become more loving. In 1994 and 1995, the forced absence of fans over a money dispute hardened hearts.

It took about three years for some of those hearts to soften, just as baseball began to write the next embarrassing chapter in its history.

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