By Alex Christodoulides
Shea Stadium has bookended the baseball fandom of Astoria resident Joseph “Pete” Ramirez, who attended the first game it hosted and caught the first fly ball and who asked to attend one more game in what is to be Shea's and his last baseball season.
Ramirez, 85, got a seat behind home plate for the Aug. 11 Mets game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, sitting out a rain delay to watch his home team. He arrived early with Tietz Center Executive Director Gerald Hart and Recreation Director Isabel Kellerman, visited the Diamond Club and the tunnels, and met Mets outfielder Nick Evans and catcher Brian Schneider, who autographed a baseball for him.
“We went down to the bullpen and everything. Not everyone gets to see the private rooms, the way they behave. We saw the Diamond Club and the trophies. It was very enjoyable,” Ramirez said.
He was originally a Brooklyn Dodgers fan but has cheered the Mets from Day 1 and attended the inaugural game at Shea April 17, 1964, which was also against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Back then he caught a fly ball —which he gave to a friend as he had promised — so this game and the fantastic seats meant everything to him.
“That guy Evans, he scored three hits,” he said. “He said if I get a hit, I'll give you the ball. But I didn't hear from him again.”
It will be Ramirez's final baseball season because he is in hospice care at Jamaica's Margaret Tietz Center, which made every effort to honor his last request — to go to Shea Stadium in its final season. Later this year Shea is to be dismantled and auctioned off. The Mets will move to Citi Field next door for the 2009 season.
“I've been there many times. I used to take my youngsters there,” Ramirez said.
He worked at a car repair shop in the shadow of Shea Stadium just to be closer to the games, he said, but mechanic work was not for him and he quit after a short stint and went to work at a leather stamping factory in Long Island City.
“I saw the Brooklyn Dodgers' stadium close. We got through that, we'll get through this,” he said.
Ramirez left the Tietz Center Aug. 12 to spend his last days at home.
Despite all the lasts inherent in the baseball outing and the change cancer has wrought in Ramirez's life, one thing was the same: Just like in that first game he saw at Shea Stadium in 1964, the Mets lost to the Pirates.
“Those Mets, they always lose in the last inning,” he said.
Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.