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Fans ready for fresh start in Shea’s final season

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The Mets will take on the Philadelphia Phillies on April 8 in the home opener at Shea Stadium in what will be the last opening day before the team moves to Citi Field, which is fast approaching completion just a stone's throw away.Queens Mets fans said the Phillies game will have elements of history both nostalgic and forgettable."I'll be sad to see it go, but after last year I don't know if it's the Phillies I want in the first game," said Shawn Patterson of Jamaica.Patterson's bad memories harken back to late September, when the Mets did something no other team in history had done - lose a division race after leading it by seven games with just 17 games to play. With only two weeks remaining, the team was sitting atop the National League East division, a position they had held since May. But the Mets lost six of their last seven games and 12 of their last 17 to surrender first place to the Phillies on the final day of the regular season, a day borough Mets faithful will not soon forget."Maybe we can give Shea one final good memory and win it all," Patterson said. "But if we don't, it's Citi Field here I come."The Mets have been champions twice at Shea Stadium since it was built in 1964 - once in 1969 and again in 1986. They lost to the New York Yankees in the first ever subway series in history in 2000 were one out short of making it to the World Series again in 2006 when they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in game 7 of the National League Championship at Shea.The Mets will move into Citi Field in 2009, whose hulking structure has quickly risen next door to Shea Stadium over the last year. The Mets have said construction on the stadium is ahead of schedule and should be ready in plenty of time for the first pitch in 2009. Mets fans may have good reason to be excited for Opening Day, however, as off-season acquisition Johan Santana could possibly take the mound. Santana, who came over from the Minnesota Twins in a blockbuster off-season trade, is widely considered to be the best pitcher in baseball and may prove to be just what the doctor ordered for the Mets fan base."Santana? Oh, he's going to be awesome," said Jim Stein of Bayside. "With him, I think we're going to be unstoppable. After this year, no one will even remember what happened with the collapse.He added: " 'World Series Champions' has a much better ring to it than 'choke artists.'For other borough fans, however, the prospect of professional baseball returning for a new season in and of itself is enough to make them giddy."I'm like a little kid on Opening Day, there's nothing else like it," 42-year-old Bay Terrace resident Tim McDonnaugh said. "It doesn't matter if you're at the game or watching at home or listening on the radio or whatever. There's something about that day that's just magical. Better than Christmas, hands down."Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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