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Gene Dusan, the bullpen coach, was standing next to Seaver as he loosened up. "Terrific says to me, 'Watch this,' " said Dusan. "After his next pitch, he starts holding his left thigh as if he's in real pain. Lynch just about died."
"My mouth is open," said Lynch, "and my heart is pounding out right over my tongue. Then I hear him laugh and say, 'I got you good.' "
Fifteen years ago Lynch was just another kid from Brooklyn, sitting in the stands at Shea. "I was a fanatical Mets fan even when they stunk," he says. "Of course, I remember Tom's near-perfect game against the Cubs in '69. Here they were in a pennant race and he retires 25 guys in a row. Then Jimmy Quails gets a single to left center. And what does Seaver do? I'll never forget this because I was so impressed. He motions to the shortstop. Buddy Harrelson, to ask who'll be covering second in case the ball is hit back to him. If it was me who had just lost a perfect game, I'd be crying out there on the mound.
"I remember the first game of the '69 Series, too, when Don Buford of the Orioles led off against Tom with a home run. I was so mad at Ron Swoboda because I thought he should have caught the ball. I remember the day in '70 when Tom struck out 10 Padres in a row, 19 for the game. Al Ferrara was the first and last of the 10 in a row, and he hit a homer off him earlier. Now I'm in an unbelievable situation. I dress next to his locker."
Some of the same memories were running through the minds of the fans at Shea on Opening Day, and in fact, as Seaver was finishing his warmups, the Diamond Vision screen was showing highlights of his career.
Usually when Seaver finishes his warmups he walks back to the dugout underneath the stands. But the night before, at the Mets' Welcome Home banquet, Tim Hamilton, the club's promotions director, asked him if he would mind walking out on the field, and Seaver said he would be glad to.
The introduction of the starting lineup was made at 1:20. After the eighth batter, Catcher Ron Hodges, was introduced, Public Address Announcer Jack Franchetti said simply, "Batting ninth and pitching, now warming up in the bullpen, Number 41." No name, just the number. The cheering began.
At 1:29 No. 41 finished his warmups. His catcher, rookie Ronn Reynolds, asked him if he kept his warmup ball or took it to the mound with him. When Seaver asked why, Reynolds explained that there was a handicapped boy near the railing in the rightfield corner who'd asked him for a ball earlier, and maybe Seaver could give the kid the ball.
"I thought it might make his day," said Reynolds. "Heck, maybe it'll make his life." The fans were already on their feet and cheering when Seaver walked over to the stands to give the ball away. "That showed me so much," said Reynolds. "I had a tear in my eye."
Seaver then began his procession to the dugout. In the crowd were his wife, children, three sisters, mother and father. He tipped his hat, placed it back on his head, tipped it again, waved it twice, put it back on, tipped it once more, this time thrusting it skyward, and disappeared into the dugout.