Years ago, when I realized Jay Horwitz undoubtedly would serve the Mets for as long as he could, I decided that when he left his position as the club's media director, I would write a story about his departure and lead it with these words -- "Jay Horwitz has retired. The Mets now must hire a dozen people to compensate." At least a dozen. Now, with profound sadness and overriding gloom, I find that same thought ought to be applied in another, unsettling circumstance. Shannon Forde, Jay's assistant, has died. The Mets now must hire a dozen people.
Dozens probably won't do, though. Scores of new, qualified appointees will not -- can not -- fill the void created on Friday when the Mets' sweetheart, the passionate professional cherished by everyone in baseball's widespread family of media folks, passed.
Shannon's gone. The thought doesn't come easily; the words less so. They stick in my heart's throat. It's not supposed to hurt this much when a passing at a young age -- she was 44 -- had been expected for months. Inevitability hadn't prepared us for this degree of emptiness and melancholy.
The loss of Shannon Forde (nee Dalton) is monumental for the New York baseball community and the widespread family of baseball media around the country. Shannon was respected and appreciated. Most of all, she was enjoyed and loved.
The Mets may find someone to cover her responsibilities, but it's doubtful they can find one soul to provide the cheer and sweetness Shannon regularly brought to Shea Stadium, Citi Field and anywhere else she represented the team she adored.
Imagine the 1962 Mets without Casey, the '69 Mets without Seaver, the '85 Mets without Doc. Think about the '86 champions without Keith, the 2000 Mets without Piazza, the '06 Mets without David. And picture the World Series team of last season without Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz.
Imagine the Mets of the past 21 years without Shannon. It's comparably inconceivable for folks with and around the team.
Through the decades, those guys provided so many varied aspects of what baseball teams need to succeed -- skill, achievement, leadership, determination, resilience, support, trust, self-assurance, loyalty, humor. In her two decades-plus, Shannon was an equally accomplished provider. The official scorer credits her with a multitude of assists.
All that Shannon did -- and she did so much -- was done with an absolute and unsurpassed willingness. That is a rare characteristic. Her smile should have worn out years ago, well before the cancer attacked her body. But it was there, as evident as the splendid long hair that served as her crown.
We knew Shannon's premature death was a certainty late last fall, when the insidious disease reached her liver, then her brain. It had migrated before that from her breast to her back. Shannon announced the spread of her cancer so matter-of-factly at a fund-raising dinner in her honor in 2012. There was no self-pity that night, and she wanted no other pity on any other night. A hug and a smile were enough. And matching her smile was a challenge.
Shannon smiled when she spoke of the Mets and auto racing -- she loved Tony Stewart. Her memories of days spent in Ireland brought smiles to her face. Shannon loved Lenny Dykstra. A pair of his red Phillies spikes were conspicuous in her office at Shea.
* * * * *
Many people who work in media relations seemingly share a gene that allows -- even prompts -- them to serve others. Shannon was blessed with that gene, and we were blessed that she had it. She was anxious to accommodate, and uncommonly reliable.
Speak with Shannon from Los Angeles at 10 a.m. New York time, ask that she fax a particular set of stat sheets to the hotel. Wait five minutes, take the elevator to the lobby and return to the room with the results of her cooperation in hand.
Shannon once asked what number I would prefer on my parking pass for Shea. I admitted my obsession with Mickey Mantle, and I was No. 7 every year thereafter. When she asked that I write stories for Mets publications, she'd say, "You're the only one who can do this," even though I wasn't. "OK," she'd say. "So you're the only one old enough to remember." And I was.
I looked forward to her calls -- "Do you need a parking pass for Philly?" Though a yes or no would have sufficed, our conversations often occupied the better parts of mornings.
I once asked Shannon to send a set of media guides to my friend Danny, a former Mets beat writer who had developed multiple sclerosis and had given up driving. She did that year, and every year afterward without a reminder, until Danny said, "No mas."
Shannon suggested the New Jersey florist she had used for her wedding when I told her my daughter was engaged. Great arrangements, great price. I was pleased to be invited to her birthday party, and proud when she introduced me to friends and her sisters "as [Nicky's] 'baseball' grandpa." Later she referred to me as her "baseball dad." A comforting compliment.
* * * * *
There had been considerably less comfort these last months knowing that the Mets' princess was so ill -- not that her demeanor ever suggested anything was amiss. The smiles continued. It was Shannon who was uplifting to others.
She made a surprise appearance in the media room late last summer and later took her accustomed seat in the press box. She was noticeably thinner, with less hair, hair that had turned gray and black, but she was recognizable by her smile.
The demonstrations of support for Shannon -- fund-raisers at Foley's and the 2012 dinner -- were heart-warming and life-affirming. If the effect had been life-preserving, dozens more would have been staged. Shannon was Seaver-Gooden-Harvey popular.
Shannon's death is troubling in so many ways. The Mets have had a number of fine, fine behind-the-scenes folks who have passed before their time in the past dozen years -- Jimmy Plummer, Jean Coen, Bob Mandt, Nelson Doubleday. Death has been guilty of piling on with the Mets. Enough is enough.
When the team returns to the Big Citi in April, Shannon won't necessarily be conspicuous by her absence; we had unwanted time to adjust to it. The disease had diminished her press box presence last summer. Now her death has diminished the rest of us.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.