It was one of his first days with the Mets, a coincidence that the Mets are quick to point out, but Shawn Green arrived at Shea Stadium last Sunday to find himself the main attraction on Jewish Heritage Day.
Rain postponed the game, but for a contingent of media that had come for the promotion rather than the game, it didn't matter. Instead, while his new teammates were making their plans for their suddenly-created day off, Green came out of the locker room to meet with a group of 15 to 20 reporters, most from Jewish publications that had little interest in the day-to-day workings of the Mets.
But they wanted to speak to Green because he is the latest in a lineage that spans from Hank Greenberg to Sandy Koufax and now to him the face of the Jewish ballplayer. And he was now in New York, traded just five days earlier from Arizona, telling stories about how his longtime friend and now a reunited teammate, Carlos Delgado, had taped a yarmulke to his bald head to serve as part of Green's wedding party.
"I wasn't expecting the type of reception I got," Green said, describing not only the attention from Jewish publications, but also the huge ovation that greeted his arrival for every at-bat at Shea. "I think, for me, it's going to help me be more successful. I feel like over the years I've performed better with the more support I got."
It seems as if he will get that support in New York, where he already has been fitted as the face of the more than 1 million Jewish people who live in the city. It was the team's chances to win a World Series that spurred him to waive the no-trade clause and allow the trade, but he admitted that filling the role of the idol of kids the same way that their fathers may have revered Koufax was something he has warmed to now.
"Yeah, I mean, it's something early in my career I shied away from New York for a lot of reasons," Green said. "At this stage of my career I feel like I'm a lot more prepared in all aspects on how to handle the requests and all the different things.
"Early in my career I couldn't say no. I knew if I came to a place really, New York is the only place I'd be overwhelmed. As far as on the field, my skin's gotten thicker over the years to handle that. Off the field, I think I know how to balance my time better."
The subject of religion and being placed in the glare is an odd spot for Green. He didn't grow up particularly religious and his grandfather had even shortened the family name from Greenberg to Green. But in 2001, while a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he found himself on the spot deciding to skip a game in the heat of the pennant race against the rival Giants to observe Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
It was the first time in his career that he had to take a game off to observe the holiday and brought back memories for many of Koufax, who had skipped Game 1 of the 1965 World Series in observance of the holiday. And for Green, it was Koufax who helped him through the predicament.
"Actually, all the years in L.A., down in spring training I went to dinner with Sandy Koufax," Green said. "He talked to me about it and who better than him? He gave me advice you've got to do what you feel is right when it comes to this decision. That's what I've tried to do.
"When it came to Yom Kippur, I had to do what was consistent with my own beliefs rather than what everyone else expected. As far as off-the-field stuff, there's only a few Jewish players in the game and there's a ton of Jewish fans. I do what I can and that's all I can do."
The Mets can rest easy although with owner Fred Wilpon, a childhood friend of Koufax, he'd likely understand as Yom Kippur falls between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs this year.
Still, the requests have come in steadily since his arrival, but with the help of Mets PR man Jay Horwitz who has willingly renounced the title that he held in the words of Pedro Martinez, as "The handsomest Jew in New York" he has pushed aside most until after the season. And then he wants to step into a prominent place in the community.
"Right now, not only is it a month before the playoffs, but moving into a new team, a new city, trying to get my family settled, it's not a good time to dive into that aspect," he said. "But it's something that next year I want to be in New York and kind of not just go there and play baseball. I want to be a part of their Jewish community."
But at Shea and in the Jewish community alike, performance counts. Since arriving in New York he's gone 6-for-24 with five RBI entering Thursday's game. But if support means anything, his numbers will be there.
"It's been great," he said. "Even on the road, I've seen some people who come up to me and say, `Hey, I'm Jewish. We're happy to have you.' It feels good. I just want to go out and perform well for them."