Mets pay tribute to legendary Seaver

September 3rd, 2020

NEW YORK -- Citi Field was in mourning on Thursday. Black bunting hung from the main front office entrance on Tom Seaver Way, renamed earlier this year to honor the late Hall of Famer, who died on Monday following years of deteriorating health. Before first pitch of their game against the Yankees, the Mets observed a moment of silence before a tribute video played.

In a poignant gesture unique to the man, each Mets player then rubbed dirt on his right pant leg to symbolize Seaver's iconic drop-and-drive delivery. As they took the field, the Mets paused before their warmups, doffing their caps to Seaver's No. 41 plaque hanging from the upper deck in left.

"He was our franchise," former 1969 teammate Ed Kranepool said.

Understanding that no single gesture would be quite enough to memorialize the man, the Mets did as much as possible to preserve his memory. In addition to draping bunting over Citi Field's Seaver Way entrance, its Seaver Gate and behind home plate, the Mets hung a No. 41 Seaver jersey in their dugout. This weekend, they plan to unveil a commemorative jersey patch, which they will wear for the rest of the season.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered that all flags at Mets-affiliated ballparks in the state fly at half-staff Thursday, including those in Queens, Brooklyn, Binghamton and Syracuse.

Earlier in the afternoon, another of Seaver's 1969 teammates, Ron Swoboda, held up a bottle of Seaver Vineyards GTS Cabernet Sauvignon, signed by both Seaver and his wife, Nancy. He and Kranepool spoke glowingly about the man they called a friend for decades.

"We kind of noticed, when he showed up, he looked like the finished article right out of the box," Swoboda said. "Tom Seaver was the Tom Seaver he would be for the next 10, 15 years -- complete confidence in his power stuff and command, and control and focus of himself. His personality was incredible. He knew who he was. He had both hands on the steering wheel, and he knew where the car was going."

Approximately two years ago, Swoboda, Jerry Koosman and Bud Harrelson visited Seaver in Calistoga, Calif., at a time when both his memory and spirits were good. The group enjoyed a wine tasting at Seaver's vineyard, which he maintained as obsessively late in life as he did his pitching career during the prime of it. They reminisced on the good old days in a way they could not last summer, when Seaver's health forced him to skip the team's 50th anniversary celebration of the 1969 team.

"We knew from Day 1 Tom Seaver was going to be a star," Kranepool said. "He had everything going for him. He had poise. He had class. He had a great arm and a great work ethic. It was a changing of the organization. It was a changing of the guard. We were a bad ballclub in the beginning. We were young guys struggling to make a name for ourselves, and we finally added the piece to the puzzle that was going to take us to the promised land -- and it was great."

Earlier this year, the Mets announced plans to unveil a Seaver statue outside Citi Field near the Home Run Apple. A person familiar with the project said the team intends to have it complete by early next year. Swoboda hopes the statue captures Seaver's famous delivery, as the Mets did Thursday with their dirt-stained uniform gesture.

"Think of the number of images he left with people of a guy going out to the mound in complete control and giving you a game that you would go, 'I was there when Tom Seaver did this. I was there when Tom Seaver did that.'" Swoboda said. "And he did it with such regularity. Tom left a big wake because of his ability on that higher plane than the rest of us."