Shea hey! Can't beat a Mets opener

There's nothing better than Opening Day for the New York Mets.

For years, it was Shea Stadium. Now, it's beautiful Citi Field.

Yes, it's only one game and doesn't mean that much in the full scope of a 162-game schedule. Nonetheless, it's still a big deal.

And sometimes, with unpredictable weather this time of the year, you would have to face the cold or rain or even snow. Bad weather, however, is never a showstopper when we're talking the first game of the baseball season. If the conditions are ideal -- and that's the forecast for the Mets' 2010 opener against the Florida Marlins at 1:10 p.m. ET on Monday -- it's just an added bonus.

Either way, there's a special feeling you get when your team is about to open a brand-new season. There's so much hope and anticipation. And it never really matters what the Mets did the year before.

When I was a kid, growing up in Jamaica, Queens, Opening Day was almost as big as Christmas morning. And that's saying a lot, because I loved getting gifts. Plus, the Mets were a bad team when I was growing up in the late '70s. Back then, I would have gladly taken a .500 season.

For sure, there was no bigger Mets fan than I was. I was all about the Mets 24/7, especially on Opening Day. I can still remember brokering a deal with my mom in junior high school. It was a simple pact. I would go to school every day and on Opening Day she would write me a fake dentist's note so I could leave school early to watch the game on TV. My mom knew my love for the Mets and what it meant to me.

I can still remember the joy of riding the Q43 bus to I.S. 238 on Hillside Avenue in 1977 with that note in my pocket. It was like I had a million dollars in my pocket, or at least that's how it felt. I remember how jealous my other friends were when I arrived and told them I was going to be able to watch the entire game.

I got out of school an hour before the first pitch. I was in total heaven after walking out of that building. I picked up some lunch. I read the baseball special section in the Daily News cover to cover on my ride back home. For a few years, that was the way I experienced Opening Day.

When I got to high school, it was time to go finally take in Opening Day in person. In 1982, I was there. I can remember arriving early, getting a program and smelling those hot dogs. (If you spent any time at Shea, you know what I'm talking about. That hot dog smell was the best smell in the world. And they tasted so good.) I loved being a part of it even more. It's great to watch a ballgame on TV, but you just can't get the sights, sounds and smells of a ballgame on TV. That's why people go -- for the atmosphere, the oneness of being in a huge crowd. Best of all, the Mets beat the Phillies, 5-2.

The Opening Day that stands out the best is 1983. I was in college at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. Me and three friends decided the night before that we were going to make it happen. We didn't have much money. We were poor college students. Worse, we didn't have tickets. We were going to have to scalp them.

But we just had to be there. If you remember, that's when Tom Seaver returned to the Mets and was going to pitch Opening Day in a Mets uniform for the first time since 1977. The weather was sunny, but cool. We got tickets. I was never more jacked. We were sitting on the third-base line, way upstairs. They weren't great seats, but we were in the building. That's all that mattered.

I can still vividly remember Seaver walking from the bullpen after warming up. Fans went crazy to see Seaver, a pitching legend, stroll down the right foul line. Seaver tipped his cap a few times, then pitched six innings as the Mets beat the Phils, 2-0.

What a thrill. Simply put, that's what a Mets Opening Day has always been to me.

Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.