The story behind this photo is pretty cool. The mound is usually off limits to everyone except players, grounds crew, and first pitch honorees. But when I got a private tour back in 2012, I took full advantage.
The story of how I got there is an interesting one, because it's how I became buddies with Jon Rauch. We had started talking back in Spring Training. We did a custom job for him: a print of our Darth Dickey design on his team issued undershirt. He mailed it up to NY, and I screened the one-off print. He wore it under his jersey during every Dickey start. Dickey won 20 that year. Maybe it was good luck.
One night in April, we were texting after a game. Can't really remember what about, but he texted, "I'm driving, I'll give ya a call".
Once he called, he told me where he was.
"I'm actually on the Cross Island pulling on to Northern Blvd." I lived on Northern Blvd at the time, and suddenly, we heard a car horn. "Look outside." My girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, and I looked out the window of our apartment, and there was Rauch's big blue Jeep. As luck would have it he lived a couple towns over.
Jon only spent the one season in Queens. At 6 feet 11 inches, he's the tallest player in MLB history, an Olympic gold medalist, and became my new buddy. It was cool.
At one point in the season, he was battling an injury and stayed back in NY while the team was down in DC. I got a text asking if I wanted to go watch the game later. Hell yeah I did. We ended up hitting a bar near the Roosevelt Field Mall, grabbed some food, he drank club sodas, and we proceeded to watch the Mets lose.
He got some looks from the patrons, but nobody really connected the dots. We were watching the game. If he was a Met, wouldn't he be down there? During the late innings, TC went to the pen. From the center field camera angle, Jon could read the catchers signs. I can't remember who was behind the dish that night.
"Nah, bad call," Rauch said on one pitch. It resulted in a homer. He was right.
Since he wasn't down in DC for that trip, his room at the hotel was vacant.
"Wanna go? Use my room. It's empty".
No brainer. I took the Amtrak down the next morning, and checked in to the Ritz. Getting in the elevator the floor was locked unless you had a key. The doors open and Tim Byrdak followed me in. Looks at me weirdly as I put the key in for whatever floor was the players. It worked, and we both walked to our rooms. Such a crazy experience. Later that night, a lot of the players were eating and drinking at the hotel bar. Terry and his wife, Scott Hairston, some of the pitchers, and I just missed Keith Hernandez. To say the experience was surreal would have been an understatement.
The next week the Mets were back in town.
"Hey, ever get a tour of the clubhouse?"
I parked in the Iron Triangle and jumped in his Jeep so we could get in the players security gate. As we walked in to the clubhouse, we came across Sandy.
"Hey, Sandy," Rauch said to the general manager. "This is Darren Meenan from The 7 Line".
"Keep up the good work," he replied.
This was WILD. Terry was in with the coaches going over some video, the staff was prepping the locker room. I took some pics of JV1's cleats and Wright's locker, which was technically a no-no, since pictures aren't allowed in the clubhouse. My bad.
We walked past the indoor batting cages and out to the field.
"Have at it," he said.
Nothing was off limits. I asked about the mound.
"Go for it. Gimme your phone."
So there I was, not even a month after Johan had just made history on that same mound, and here I was standing on it. It still gives me goosebumps.
Thanks again for a fun year, Jon.
If you're hitting the final home game on Thursday at Citi Field, swing by the Marina Lot to see some friends, maybe meet some new ones, and responsibly wash down your sorrows before heading inside.