A pair of Chicago Cubs centerfielders, Jimmy Qualls (1969) and Joe Wallis (1975), stole two of Tom Seaver’s early bids for a no-hitter. One year after being traded from New York to Cincinnati, Seaver threw a no-hitter for the Reds. Nolan Ryan never pitched a no-hitter – as a New York Met – but after being traded to the California Angels in 1971 he nudged Mets fans every couple years, throwing seven no-hitters. “Every time he pitched you expected a no-hitter – or 15 strikeouts,” said Jay Horwitz, Mets VP/Public Relations, referring to Dwight Gooden. In May 1996, Gooden tossed the only no-hitter of his career – as a member of the New York Yankees. Even Duffy Dyer had to leave the New York Mets to catch his first no-hitter (John Candelaria, Pittsburgh, 1975), 11 years before Josh Thole was born.
You can learn a lot about a baseball team from its locker room. The clubhouse is where relationships form, character is revealed and leaders speak out (or not). For the major league rookie, clubhouse real estate is valuable — sometimes priceless. Imagine being the rookie who spent eight months out of the year next to Sandy Koufax? Roberto Clemente? Lou Gehrig? Tom Seaver? These were model athletes, wise and humble men, who used their talent to teach.
The last time I spoke to R.A. Dickey it was 2010. It was a late spring morning in Port St. Lucie and he was sitting, legs crossed, on a wooden stool, Mets pinstripe pants, three-quarter sleeved t-shirt, stirrups, no shoes, quietly gnawing on a hot dog and eating baked beans off a paper plate in front of his temporary “space” in the New York Mets locker room. From a distance, Dickey appeared lost and alone amongst the anxious rookies and loud overconfident veterans. In hindsight, he probably was — at that moment in time.
Just as he did an hour before, New York Mets pitcher Dave Mlicki walked from the team’s dugout to the pitchers mound at Yankee Stadium. It was the same understated stroll he made to and from the dugout during the game only now the Stadium was quiet, empty and dark. It was eerily cool for a mid-June night. The heat — along with the cheering, jeering and chanting — left in the shadow of 56,188 New Yorkers.