Mets retires number 17 Keith Hernandez at Citi Field ceremony | Sports News

By MIKE FITZPATRICK, AP Baseball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — About an hour before addressing the packed house at Citi Field, a focused Keith Hernandez took a deep look at his slips in a near-empty interview room — his big brother seated a stone’s throw away.

Always ready. Always a pro. Always with Gary by her side.

A steadfast leader of the New York Mets’ last championship team, Hernandez received a rare honor on Saturday when the club retired their No. 17 jersey before a game against the Miami Marlins.

“It’s just a big moment for me. I never imagined I’d be here this long, in the organization,” Hernandez said from a podium between the pitcher’s mound and second base. humbled and proud that my number will be in the rafters for eternity.”

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Moments later, No. 17 in blue with orange trim was unveiled along the roof of Citi Field in the left-field corner, just to the left of No. 36 retired by pitcher Jerry Koosman last year.

Hall of Famers Tom Seaver (41) and Mike Piazza (31) are the only other Mets players to have their numbers retired by the team. Former managers Casey Stengel (37) and Gil Hodges (14) were also honored.

“Thank you,” Hernandez, 68, now a popular Mets broadcaster, told the cheering and chanting crowd of 43,336 at a 30-minute ceremony. “I’m really satisfied.”

Beloved by Mets fans for his work both on the field and in the stand, Hernandez spent seven of his 17 major league seasons with New York from 1983 to 1989 and beat third for the World Series champions. 1986.

The following year he was chosen the first captain in the club’s history.

Hernandez ranks second in Mets history with a .297 batting average and 10th in RBIs. He won a team-record six of his 11 Golden Gloves at first base in New York and was elected to the Mets Hall of Fame in 1997.

“He practically rewrote the playbook on how to play first base,” said longtime Mets radio host Howie Rose. “He didn’t just play first base, he played it – a virtuoso.”

After the ceremony, Hernandez threw the first fly ball from first base to his brother Gary, who caught it with a worn first baseman’s glove that Hernandez wore during the second half of the 1986 season.

Hours before the game, fans in No. 17 jerseys with Hernandez’s name on the back lined up waiting for the doors to open.

Dressed in a blue suit, Hernandez said he had been awake since 3:40 a.m. after receiving a text from someone in a different time zone. Nervous about his speech, he can’t get back to sleep and starts writing it around 8:30.

“Hopefully I’ll be out of this in five minutes, if I don’t crack,” Hernandez said.

He choked back tears as he mentioned his family and the glowing comments he’d read from former teammates about him in feature articles leading up to his big day.

Thanks to his personal broadcast style and entertaining appearances on “Seinfeld” and elsewhere, many Mets fans feel a unique kinship with Hernandez. He tells home improvement stories, shares cuddly photos of his cat, Haji, and explains his long, traffic-filled commutes on the Long Island highway to and from his Sag Harbor home.

A recorded message of congratulations from Jerry Seinfeld even played on the big center field video board midway through the first inning.

Hernandez also credits some of his clutch shots in a Mets uniform to the advice of revered brother Gary, who raised his left arm emphatically while receiving a huge ovation from the crowd as he was introduced with a dozen members. of Hernandez’s family, including three daughters and two grandchildren.

“He’s always been my lucky charm,” Keith Hernandez said.

Hernandez has broadcast Mets games since 1999 and won three Emmy Awards for top sports analyst. Figurines handed out Saturday at Citi Field featured Hernandez, with his familiar salt-and-pepper mustache, at the broadcast desk holding a microphone.

“Keith connected with Mets fans in a way that few others ever have,” Rose said.

Hernandez received a gift from owner Steve Cohen and manager Buck Showalter – a large mosaic portrait consisting of 6,000 Keith Hernandez baseball cards and Strat-O-Matic playing cards of 1986 Mets players.

Piazza was on hand for the ceremony along with a few of Hernandez’s former Mets teammates, including Mookie Wilson, Tim Teufel, Ed Lynch and Ron Darling — now also a TV broadcast partner.

Hernandez also won a World Series title with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. He was acquired by the Mets in a crucial trade in June 1983, tasked with leading the turnaround of a team that had been a laughingstock for years and teaching its emerging young talent how to win.

Groomed for such a role in St. Louis by Hall of Famer Lou Brock, Hernandez did just that — in Queens instead.

“I’m just kind of a fiery player,” said Hernandez, who was unhappy with the trade early on.

“What did I know? An event that changed my life and my career.”

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