Welcome to New York

Four years ago, when the Mets rallied for ten runs in a single inning to defeat the Atlanta Braves, Mike Piazza said he could literally feel the rafters at raucous Shea Stadium creaking and groaning. <P> Today, as the Mets rocked Mike Hampton to an early exit in the third inning, it was Mike Cameron's turn to feel the old ballpark erupt in celebration. As Shea went wild, Al Leiter tapped Cameron on the leg, as though to say, ‘Can you believe this?'

Oh, Cameron believed it. It was sensation he'd been waiting all winter for.

"This is what I came to New York for," Cameron said. "Now I know what it's like to be on the home side."

Cameron certainly heard his share of New York crowds in a past life playing centerfield for the Seattle Mariners, coming into Yankee Stadium for postseason series in 2000 and 2001. In the Bronx, Cameron was an enemy – his great defensive range routinely robbed Yankee hitters of extra-base hits – but over in Queens, he's quickly becoming a folk hero.

Mets fans roared when Cameron was introduced in pregame ceremonies, and it certainly didn't hurt the presentation any that Major League Baseball chose this afternoon to honor Cameron with his Gold Glove Award for the 2003 season.

On the surface, Cameron was his usual jovial and outgoing self, but internally, he was rumbling and shaking like the Coney Island Cyclone. He said that he'd been feeling "plenty" of butterflies from the minute he woke up this morning, with nerves even more jangled than he'd experienced the day of New York's season opener at Turner Field.

"And I'm an Atlanta boy," he said. "That feeling I had today, I haven't had that in a long time."

Eager to impress, Cameron was quickly presented with an opportunity to introduce himself to New York. The Mets staged a two-out rally against Hampton in the first inning, and Cameron struck the first of many blows against the former Met, slashing a single to left that scored Shane Spencer with the Mets' first run.

"I haven't been that nervous since my first at-bat of my rookie year," Cameron said. "It's so new; I didn't know if my anxiety was going to let me swing the bat.

"That (hit) let me set the tempo and calmed my nerves a lot."

His adrenaline soothed, Cameron -- who later added a RBI double and a run scored to the day's offensive performance -- didn't take long to create his first dynamic Shea Stadium defensive moment.

In the fifth inning, Cameron glided gracefully to the warning track and took an extra-base hit away from Braves third baseman Mark DeRosa, stranding Jesse Garcia on base and preserving the Mets' 9-0 advantage.

One couldn't help but think of poor ex-Met Roger Cedeno; more specifically, how things have changed since last season. One calendar year ago, there's no doubt that DeRosa's drive would have been a run-scoring double off the wall, and who knows where it goes from there.

That point wasn't lost upon Cameron's teammates. Pitcher Steve Trachsel made it a point to tap Cameron on the leg with his glove in appreciation, and the rest of the roster exhaled as well.

"(Cameron) helps the other two outfielders too," infielder Todd Zeile noted. "He covers more ground and he can help take the wind out of a rally."


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