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YORK -- Pssst! Don't tell the others, those 300-some-odd runners-up. They don't need to know that the girls who took first place in the Banner Day competition Sunday were Joanies-Come-Lately to the event, cousins who didn't give a picker's nit until late Thursday about the renewal of the Mets' bed-linen extravaganza. Don't let it out that the girls began their work at 9 p.m. Saturday and finished about 3:30 a.m. Sunday.
And some of the folks who wore their hearts on their sheets at Citi Field nine hours later clearly had put days and weeks into their art work. Others might have devoted minutes. Then these two 20-somethings from Brooklyn crossed the border into Queens with the winning entry folded and carried under their arms, having had no inclination as recently as Thursday morning that they would do anything of the sort. They purchased their tickets Thursday.
And they won.
Evidently inspiration trumps preparation in such matters. Time is not always of the essence; and it can't compete with a bright idea and competent execution.
So Olivia Nuzzo, 26, of Bay Ridge and Stephanie Giangrande, 24, of Bensonhurst took a smidgen of Citi Field's spotlight from R.A. Dickey and the Mets' 2-0 victory against the Padres with a banner that properly and poignantly played the patriot card on the holiday weekend during which we salute generations of fallen soldiers.
They thought their message particularly appropriate, Nuzzo said, because Fleet Week was under way in the city. Uniformed military members were seated all over Citi.
The cousins' entry presented a likeness of Mike Piazza connecting for the two-run home run in the eighth inning that proved decisive in the Mets' 3-2 victory against the Braves at Shea Stadium on Sept. 21, 2001, in the first professional sports event in New York City following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. They took great pains with Piazza's hair and some pride it its 3-D appearance. They giggled about their obsession with his faux locks.
A portion of the city's former skyline, the Towers included, was silhouetted, gray on black, above Piazza in mid-swing. The path the ball had followed was depicted in red, white and blue. The date of the game was inscribed in the ball. And below that were the words that sold the package:
"The home run that helped heal N.Y. God Bless America. Let's Go Mets."
Of course the cousins won. At least one other entry had referenced Piazza's home run that night, no mention of his hair, however. But the cousins had used simple, yet compelling phrasing. Their entry had everything necessary. Dwight Gooden, Rusty Staub, Howie Rose and Evan Roberts, the latter a WFAN broadcaster, selected the three finalists. Facebook folks and citizens of Twitter world chose the winner from among the three.
Unofficial and uninvolved onlookers standing near the judges had considered the cousins' entry the best during the warning-track parade that lasted some 40 minutes.
Neither cousin had attended the game in 2001. They recalled their reactions to watching the telecast of it. "Smiling, crying, smiling, crying," Giangrande said. "It gave me chills."
She spoke, wearing a Kirk Nieuwenhuis T-shirt with a terrific inscription that, had it been on bed linen, might have been a finalist. It read: "Newen, Niewh, Nivew. ... Kirk."
Other entries were entertaining, clever and/or heartfelt. A few were artistic and/or almost too slick. One entry depicted the brilliant catch Endy Chavez made in the playoffs six years ago on a remnant of a bed sheet. A glove with a ball in it was visible through a hole in the sheet and attached to the hand of young lady carrying the banner -- 3-D, great D.
Two entries celebrated the conspicuous void in the Mets' on-field history: "No-hitters are over-rated," they said. One contestant/couple trotted out a sheet, a tad faded perhaps, it had been presented first in the 1987 edition of the event. Another entry looked back to the '80s. It read: "Keith Rules. Thank you, Whitey."
And one required a sense of older music for the message to come across: "The Mets are going all the way. ... Duda, Duda." (Please sing to the tune of "Camptown Races.")
Rose's post-victory call "Put it in the books" proved popular. Bruce Berenyi was mentioned in a banner about 1986. And the contribution of Bill E. Buckner was not overlooked.
One of the two other finalists depicted Terry Collins as the sun, shining on flowers representing the homegrown players -- David Wright, Ike Davis, Jon Niese, Nieuwenhuis, Daniel Murphy, Mike Nickeas, Lucas Duda. Nice metaphor. The manager was unaware but seemed to like the idea.
The message of the third finalist was "Follow the Citi Brick Road."
Another sheet sought the return of the mule, but its artists apparently forgot the creature's name -- Mettle. Another noted the infamous black cat of 1969 was in the house. Leo Durocher wasn't.
"We always do something together on Memorial Day weekend," Nuzzo said. The cousins hardly knew from Banner Day, their limited knowledge gleaned from Googling. Their entry indicated they had learned quickly. Not a mention of Seaver or Santana, Darryl or Davey, Keith, Carter or Casey, Koosman or Kingman, Wright or Reyes, Mookie or Matlack, Tommie or Tug, Darling or David. Cliff Cook or Jay Hook. Just Piazza, his hair, his homer and history.
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The Mets have had their share of storylines over the years, probably more than their share in 50 summers of exaltation, desperation, agitation, frustration and a host of other "tions," the not least of which is innovation. They are widely recognized as the originators of the five-man rotation, and their second home was the first of what became known as the cookie-cutter ballparks.
Moreover, the club, sometimes working in concert with its fervent followers, brought several new elements to the game. They have given us "Let's Go Mets" and "Meet the Mets" while other franchises neither chant nor sing so regularly. Lest we forget, letter-hanging in the K Corner at Shea Stadium was the mother of all other similar strikeout-counting exercises.
But Banner Day remains a unique event within the game, a celebration of the team and what its fans have to say about the team, much of it expressed on bed linens, oak tag and, now, silk screen, expressed with paint, crayon, India ink and tears -- of joy and of sorrow.