Reliving Johan Santana's Very Special Night

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Mets pitcher Dillon Gee has the locker next to Johan Santana’s at Citi Field. And after the media descended on the joyous New York Mets clubhouse on the night of June 1, he had the most appropriate comment to describe the unforgettable, historic happening at Citi Field.

“Amazing”, Gee said.

One perfect word, one that has been associated with the Mets since the days of Casey Stengel, was uttered by Gee. It was almost as if Gee was channeling Stengel’s spirit, on a night that added a new, sometimes seemingly unrealistic chapter to their history. In the franchise’s 51st season and 8.020th game, Johan Santana twirled the Mets’ first no-hitter in front of a euphoric crowd at Citi Field.

David Wright agreed that on Friday, Citi Field may have been at its peak of electricity since the ballpark opened. The Mets’ signature star bounded gleefully throughout the clubhouse in the moments following a night at third base that he will surely cherish, simply dishing out the word “awesome” to his teammates, who were completely enveloped in the moment.

Members of the Mets front office stood proudly in front of the open clubhouse doors, peering into the scene as Santana’s teammates awaited his arrival from a postgame on-field interview session. Josh Thole, the catcher who had just come off the disabled list to play an integral role in Santana’s performance, dashed into the clubhouse to join his Mets cohorts, who were either perched on their seats or standing anxiously, as they prepared to honor their staff ace.

Then, in what will go down as one of the most joyful locker room scenes in team annals, Santana ran into the clubhouse and towards his locker, as the New York Mets players chanted his name.  Santana stopped to address his colleagues in orange and blue, and a distinctive roar whipped through the room.

Then, many of the Mets players disappeared for a spell, to private areas off limits to the media and outsiders. It was not difficult to deduce what they were up to, especially when Thole later returned reeking of champagne. This team, damned by so many “experts” in the preseason, was sharing a night to remember that many thought would never come to pass, surely not in 2012.

In fact, one Met jokingly blurted out to the assembled media that they were not allowed to write anything negative this time. Considering Santana’s epic return to form this year after a lost 2011 season, and the lifting of what some longtime followers could only deem a curse, it would be quite a challenge to pen anything anti-Met after this night.

In fact, the storylines that weaved through this incredible evening could jerk the heartstrings of even the most jaded member of the media. As I sat in the press box behind home plate in the Excelsior level of Citi Field, sandwiched between the lower field levels and the upper deck, a strong range of emotions and memories surged through me as the game progressed, and threatened to  reach the surface as the evening reached its climax.

I am a credentialed member of the media. It is my job to present myself in the most professional manner possible. Yet my career path also began in Flushing, Queens. My father, Bernard, who passed in April of this year, set me on a course that would ultimately end up in the Citi Field press box when he made certain my childhood would be filled with regular trips to Shea Stadium. I was wishing he was there with me to see this, and I am sure he was watching from a luxury box in the sky. So while I maintained a composed stance on the outside, the younger man still residing inside of me was overcome with a flow of feelings that could only be traced back to the upper deck days at Shea.

And the spirit of Shea Stadium was alive in Citi Field all around me. Fans in jerseys honoring everyone from Cliff Floyd to Darryl Strawberry ran nearly uncontrollably throughout the aisles to share the moments after every crucial late-inning out recorded by Santana. A longtime reporter from a local Queens newspaper, sat nearly dazed in the box next to me, as he appeared to be in a state of sheer disbelief. The Citi Field inhabitants had never generated such a collective, lusty roar in the ballpark’s short, and mostly uneventful history to this point.

When the final out was recorded against the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, with WS MVP David Freese as the last victim, the Mets and their fans had real reason to let loose and celebrate, for the first time since 2006, when they won the National League East and a playoff series. As they headed to the exits, Met fans shared stories of their good fortune that had placed them in the park on a night that many will claim they were part of in years to come.

In the Citi Field elevator leading down to the first base entrance, one overwhlemed fan told his tale to the nearest bystander. He had given up his season tickets after many years, but this was the first game he had attended this season and he was once again realizing why he had been coming to Flushing for so many years in the past. This feeling, this night, is what he missed and was so happy to be a part of again, despite much of the disappointment he had endured as a fan in recent years.

Reporters and media types stood in solace in many cases to absorb the moment carefully and properly. A few shared a tale of one of their colleagues, who had left the game in the fifth inning because of reported threatening weather. Historic nights like this are the reason you always stay until the last out, one said, to nods and retorts of approval.

Those who were there for the game, and the privileged and credentialed types who were there to witness the ensuing celebration, seemed like they never wanted to leave. Nights like June 1 are the ones that many hope could extend eternally. The wait for it surely seemed to last forever.

Here are exclusive audio clips from the  New York Mets clubhouse after Johan Santana’s no-hitter:

Outfielder Mike Baxter, who made a spectacular catch in the seventh inning to preserve the gem, injured his left shoulder crashing into the wall. The Whitestone, Queens native, who grew up as a Mets fan, reflects on becoming a permanent fixture in franchise history with his unforgettable defensive play...

Get the full audio over at TheXLog.