Mets legend recovers to throw first pitch of Game 3
By Marty Noble
NEW YORK -- Without an obvious nod to John Rocker, the villain from one ballpark and 16 summers ago, folks who call themselves The 7 Line come to Citi Field dressed in orange these days. They filled the area beyond the GEICO sign in right center-field for Monday night's 13-7 Mets win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series -- as they have many other nights. And some 100 more isolated fans dressed as if they had escaped from a Syracuse pep rally.
On this baseball evening, orange was, as the cops say, the color of the day. The top of the outfield wall followed the color scheme. Why, even the foul poles were orange.
The Mets fed the fetish by distributing orange towels to the fans who shoehorned themselves into the ballpark for Game 3. And when masses waved those towels in unison, the Big Citi looked as if the first 40,000 fans had been given complimentary bottles of Tide.
It was all well and good, and then it got better. Rusty showed up.
Eleven days after he died, Rusty Staub was back. There was Le Grande Orange in living color as NBC used to say -- emphasis on living. He was moving up the dugout steps as he had so often in the eighth and ninth innings of games at Shea Stadium in the first half of the '80s. In those days, he had a bat in his hands. On Monday night, minutes before the Mets resumed their quest for another shot at the World Series, he had the crowd in his hands.
He had come back to New York from Ireland on Saturday after coming back from the dead during a trans-Atlantic. And then at 8-something p.m. on Monday, he was walking toward the infield, his hair as bright as any other orange in sight, fully prepared to handle the assignment he had accepted -- to throw out the first ball.
Understood in that assignment was that Staub would be doing something from the Willis Reed book of motivation. Before the adorable redhead had popped out of the dugout, the Mets already had brought Ruben Tejada, he of the famously fractured fibula, to the foul line. And the disabled shortstop had been hailed almost as loudly as Chase Utley had been jeered, booed, taunted and hissed.
And then it was Staub's turn to be hailed.
New York had risen to its feet to cheer him countless times in anticipation of a line drive to left center with a runner on second base and the game in the balance. No anticipation on Monday night though. Who would have expected 71-year-old man who survived a heart attack 11 days earlier to be playing ball.
But Lorraine Hamilton, the Mets' longtime director of broadcasting and special events, had contacted Staub once he returned to the states. "She asked how I felt. I told her I felt good," Staub said 10 minutes after his throw. "We talked, and she asked if I was up to it. 'What, just come here and throw out the first pitch?' I said 'Why not?"'
"Who better than Rusty?" Hamilton said.
Rusty left the field and rode a golf cart to an elevator that took him upstairs for white wine and burgers. He sat at the bar in one of the suites and watched the Mets offset the 3-0 lead the Dodgers had built in the second inning.
"I'm glad I got a chance to see this," he said about the four-run rally in the bottom of the inning. "I'm glad to see all of this."
Staub could have been denied, but, as he said, "God wasn't ready for me yet." Almost, but not quite. Staub had lost consciousness on the flight. His heart had stopped. A woman seated next to him saw he had dropped his wine glass and slumped over. She signaled for help.
"I don't know who she was ... I'm trying to find out," he said. "I have some thanks to express."
And messages to return -- 67 emails and 26 voice messages.
Staub also is searching for the names of the doctor and nurses who had tended to him as his flight made an unscheduled U-turn and returned to Ireland. CPR hadn't revived him. The defibrillator was effective. And Rusty Staub -- hitter, gourmet wine connoisseur, gourmand, fundraiser par excellence, world traveler and ultra-compassionate human -- added one more title to his resume -- survivor.
"Someone I didn't know came up to me today and said, 'Nice to see you,'" Staub said. "I don't think he knew what had happened. Anyway, I told him, "Nice to be seen.'"
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If and when he locates the medical personnel who saved his life, Staub may be able to piece together the events of that night and create some type of narrative he can share. Friends have their versions, but where did they come from? At this point, he has no sense of it. He was on a plane and then he was alone in Room 6.
"Just me and my stickers," he says. "I must have had a dozen things stuck in my arms and chest."
Staub's right hand and forearm were ravaged by IVs and such. "It was like my fingers were frozen for three days," he said, explaining the difficulty he had with his first pitch Monday night. His hand could hold and operate a wine glass though.
In that regard, a question had to be asked. "So do you think your menu will change now?"
"Probably not," he said.
"Are you at least going to slow down a little? You know you have friends who want to see that."
"Well no travel for a while. ... Ya know, it's a little mind-boggling that I'm here, considering what went down. ... I'm going to have to slow down a little," Staub said. "I mean, I was tap dancing in front of St. Peter. He could have taken me easily. But maybe he had some more good for me to do. You know, I do some pretty good work. And I don't know how much time I've got. So I guess I better hurry up."
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.