Brooklyn Lefty Comes Home Vs. Mets
Apr. 24, 1998
NEW YORK (AP) _ The sign behind home plate read: ``Brooklyn Born, But the Dome is Home.''
Still, no dome could feel like home the way Shea Stadium must have felt for Houston Astros pitcher John Halama.
The rookie left-hander from Bay Ridge, about a 20-minute drive from Shea, returned to New York to face the Mets for the first time on Wednesday night. And it seemed like the whole neighborhood turned out to celebrate a native son's homecoming.
Except one person. His mother, Janine, was too nervous to attend, so she stayed home to watch on television.
Halama, who grew up a Mets fan and pitched at Shea in a high school all-star game, left 70 tickets _ visiting players normally get six _ for friends and family. His loud, proud cheering section numbered nearly 150, scattered throughout an announced crowd of 12,772.
``I heard them,'' Halama said.
Even with all the hometown support, he admitted he was jittery.
``I felt the butterflies when I heard my name announced,'' Halama said. ``But after the national anthem and when I came out on the field, I was pretty much fine.''
Relying on a variety of off-speed pitches, the 26-year-old held New York to two runs in five innings and left with a 3-2 lead. The Mets eventually won 10-7, but that didn't dampen any spirits behind home plate.
``I can't believe this,'' said Halama's 19-year-old brother, Steven. ``I used to come here as a kid and sit with my brother and watch the Mets. Now he's out there on the mound pitching.''
His sister, Barbara, held her homemade sign in one hand and waved a doll of the Astros mascot, Orbit, with the other.
``He grew up wanting to play for the Mets. It was his dream to pitch at Shea Stadium,'' she said.
Halama's baseball coach at Bishop Ford High, Manny Fernandez, wore an Astros cap and carried a camera around his neck. He said he and other faculty members went to a neighborhood bar to watch Halama's first major league start on April 2.
``I'm on Cloud 9 today,'' Fernandez said as Halama came to bat to a loud ovation in the fifth. ``My secretary was busy all day with calls to congratulate me.''
The Bishop Ford baseball team played a game nearby in the afternoon and came straight to the ballpark _ in uniform _ to watch an alum they've never met, but know plenty about.
All these diehard Mets fans, now rooting for the Astros.
``Win or lose, there's going to be a party tonight,'' said Halama's father, Vasil.
Houston's 23rd pick in the 1994 draft, Halama led the Triple-A American Association with 13 wins and a 2.58 ERA in 1997.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Halama earned his first major league win on April 17 against Montreal. He made just his fifth big league start Wednesday night.
``He battled well,'' Astros manager Larry Dierker said. ``He didn't pitch his kind of game. He was up in the strike zone, but he made some good pitches when he had to.''
Halama considered it another lesson.
``Tonight I didn't have a curveball. I'm still learning every day and learning how to pitch up here,'' he said. ``I want to pitch like I belong up here.''
Fernandez said the pitcher he coached in high school has matured a lot.
``He told me, `It was easy to get here. It will be hard to stay.' He's a super kid. He deserves it.''