Thirty years later, Mets celebrate '86 champs

Stars of World Series-winning ballclub reunite at Citi Field

Thirty years later, Mets celebrate '86 champs

NEW YORK -- "It's not often that you get a championship team over here," Darryl Strawberry was saying Saturday at Citi Field, speaking with the sort of wisdom that only decades can confer. "We were the last one. That's 30 years. That's a long time."

To Strawberry's right, then-manager Davey Johnson was discussing just how the 1986 Mets managed to so captivate a borough, a fan base, a city. To his left, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez were holding court, two of the most prominent links to the current club.

Thirty years have gone by since that championship, doing little to dim what the '86 Mets accomplished. They emerged Sunday from behind a black curtain at Citi Field's center-field fence, walking 100 yards of red carpet to their assigned spots on the infield diamond. At one point, Ray Knight wandered from his perch to hug some old teammates. Hernandez twirled in a rough circle, capturing video with his smartphone. Most just watched, clapping and raising fists.

Hernandez talks '86 World Series

It has been 30 years since the Mets last won the World Series, a fact not lost on either that generation or the current one. The club has held reunions of the '86 Mets before, a team known as much for its rambunctiousness as its success, but Saturday marked their most comprehensive meeting in a generation. All but a handful of living '86 Mets players and coaches piled out of a bus on Saturday afternoon and into Citi Field, where longtime broadcaster Howie Rose emceed a half-hour ceremony.

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As a full house looked on, many fans wearing replicas of the team's iconic racing-stripe jerseys, the Mets showed once again how beloved they were -- and still are.

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"The city was just dying for a winner," Hernandez said. "It was a team that I think typified New York's grit, and the fans took to us. They came out early and there was always energy in the ballpark. We loved to play in front of them. ... I'm just proud of what we accomplished."

For older fans, who began spilling off the 7 train early in the day, Saturday's ceremony was a chance to uncork past glories. For their sons and granddaughters, nieces and nephews, it was a history lesson. For the players, it was a chance to rekindle old friendships. They are in coaching and broadcasting now, philanthropy and early retirement. Most make their way back to New York from time to time, but some hadn't been heard from much in years.

Saturday, they bonded.

Gooden talks ceremony, pitching

"It's always good to see these guys," pitcher Dwight Gooden said.

Mostly upbeat, the event took an emotional turn when Gary Carter's widow, Sandy, and son, D.J., walked in from center field in honor of the late catcher. D.J. Carter later caught a ceremonial first pitch from Jesse Orosco, recreating the final out of the '86 World Series.

Orosco's first pitch

As the ceremony ended, the Mets' current roster spilled out of the dugout, snaking their way from first to third to shake hands and hug their '86 counterparts. David Wright in particular lingered, spending a long moment with mentor Howard Johnson on the field.

In the 30 years since the '86 Mets disbanded, only a few clubs -- 2000, '06 and '15 most prominently -- have had a real chance to bring a title back to Flushing. It's something not lost on the current Mets, always playing in the shadow of the champions who came before.

"We won," Strawberry said. "We got to win. The current team has a chance and an opportunity to win. And they've got to take advantage of that."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.