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Sandy heroes honored during Citi Field festivities

Hurricane first responders take the field; moment of silence called for Newtown victims

NEW YORK -- Baseball, on this day, saw fit to salute society.

Opening Day at Citi Field took on a decidedly local flavor Monday, as the Mets elected to honor some of the region's great heroes during their pregame ceremony. More than 500 first responders to Hurricane Sandy were on the field for the national anthem, and the Mets called for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the storm and of the mass shooting incident in Newtown, Conn.

This day, a celebration of the new baseball season, doubled as a reminder of a trying winter for the tri-state area. The Mets distributed more than 1,000 Opening Day tickets to citizens who were heroic in their response to Hurricane Sandy, and first responders from all branches of service were honored.

Police, fire and military personnel all lined up on the field before the game, ringing the back of the infield dirt from first base all the way around to third. Another group, comprised of Habitat for Humanity volunteers, formed a house-shaped arrangement around a Mets logo out in center field.

They were all Mets fans on this day, and all representatives of a region that worked together through a daunting crisis over the winter. But most of all, they were all just regular people doing their jobs.

"I realized I had to swim better," quipped Lieutenant Peter O'Neill of the NYPD. "It was everyone pulling together, and everyone's still pulling together months afterward. It shows that no matter what anyone says -- no matter the stereotypes -- people are people. People stick together in trying times."

O'Neill, who works at the 60th Precinct in Brooklyn, had an up-close view of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. The 60th Precinct had a basement boiler room flooded with water during the storm, and the officers managed to escape unscathed only to resume their regular duties rescuing citizens.

Now, several months later, O'Neill and his peers were feted by the public at Citi Field.

"It means the world to us," he said. "How many times do you get to stand on the baseball field for a National League team? We stand in front of everyone and everyone says 'Thank you' to us? It doesn't happen very often. We appreciate it. I brought my son, and he's having a good time."

Rusty Staub, a member of the Mets Hall of Fame, threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Monday, and his philanthropic activities were highlighted for the crowd. Staub, a member of the 1973 NL Championship team and a longtime broadcaster, established a charity in 1986 that has raised more than $150 million for the New York City Police and Fire Widow's and Children's Benefit Fund.

Emmy Rossum, famed for her role in Showtime's "Shameless," sang the national anthem on Monday, and she was backed by chorus members from the Scholars' Academy School in the Rockaways. And then, once the pregame festivities were over, it was time to play baseball.

The Mets went into Monday with a 33-18 all-time record on Opening Day -- the best of any big league team -- and they boast a 2-0 mark at Citi Field. Manager Terry Collins would love to see those trends extended, but he said Monday that Opening Day is huge for a number of reasons.

"This is what we do," he said. "Opening Day is always a fun time, because it's the start of a long season. This is our life, and we want to get started doing it. It's always fun. It's always a big day. It's always nice to win on Opening Day, because it gets the fans excited and keeps them optimistic."

Collins, who has a young team, knows that many memories can be forged on Opening Day, and he said he'll always think back to 1994, his first full season as the manager of the Astros.

"We beat the Expos, who had an outstanding team, in the 12th inning," said Collins. "I remember walking out to the foul line when we got introduced and saying, 'OK, it's all been worth it.' The 20 years in the Minor Leagues, all the winter balls, all the instructional leagues. All the things that you did to get there. It was all worth it to stand there for the first time. That will go down as my biggest Opening Day."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for
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