Keith Hernandez has been a face of Mets baseball for more than 37 years. First as a player, one of the best to ever play first base; a leader in the clubhouse, who helped spear head a franchise resurgence in the mid-1980s, culminating in a World Series championship.
Years later, he would return to Flushing as a broadcaster, and, now in his 17th season in the booth, Hernandez is as beloved by Mets fans as ever.
Saturday’s jersey number retirement just hit different. It was as emotional and as genuine in feeling — if not more so –as any jersey retirement preceding it.
Give credit to Steve Cohen and crew, they finally got it right.
Hernandez’s jersey number 17 should have been retired years ago, but it took an owner with a genuine passion, glee and desire to make good with a franchise with a considerable history to do the right thing.
While he didn’t visibly shed a tear, you could see Hernandez was taken aback by the moment as he soaked it all in. A sold out crowd of 43,000-plus chanted his name. He was surrounded by teammates of past and present from Mookie Wilson to Tim Teuffel, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen. He had his entire family, including, without a doubt, most importantly, his brother Gary, whom he used to play baseball as a kid with back in day in San Francisco.
It was a moment that will be frozen in time in their minds for sure; certainly in the minds of Mets fans forever.
“I never dreamed I’d be here this long, in the organization. I am absolutely humbled and proud that my number will be up in the rafters for eternity,” Hernandez told fans during his speech.
The Mets legend then joined his family as crews atop Citi Field pulled the tarp of the number 17 that will will adorn Citi Field forever, joining at long last the numbers of Jerry Koosman (36), Mike Piazza (31), Tom Seaver (41), Gil Hodges (14), and Casey Stengel (37).
For those who may be too young to remember, Hernandez was a heck of a ballplayer. He won 11 gold glove awards at first base, six of them in New York with the Mets, and is currently second all time in team batting average at .297.
He was the key piece to the at run in ’86. The Mets acquired Hernandez in a trade with St. Louis back in 1983. As he has described many times, Hernandez was apprehensive about the move since the Mets were mired in last place, and he was leaving a Cardinals team that had recently won a World Championship.
It turned out to be a match made in heaven. Baseball heaven that is. With Hernandez as its team captain and a group of young stars (Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden) the Mets were on their way. In 1985 the team signed Gary Carter, and that was the sign that this team was ready to take off. It did, winning 108 games in 1986 before two heart-stopping playoff series against Houston and Boston — that I am sure you may have heard of.
It was really apropos that later that night the Mets pulled out a thrilling 5-4 comeback victory over Miami. The Mets trailed 4-3, and scored two runs on a pair of errors, one of which was a slow grounder by Tomas Nido that went under the glove of third baseman Brian Anderson to tie the game at 4. Moments later Brandon Nimmo won it when he sharp liner bounced off reliever Tanner Scott, who threw the ball away in a hurry to first. Mets win.
Not since Game 6 of the ’86 World Series have the Mets won a game on a pair of errors.
Now can we get Keith to Cooperstown?