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This Lehigh Valley man threw the 1st pitch at Shea Stadium. 60 years later, he’s at it again

Jack Fisher, New York Mets pitcher
Jim Deegan
Jack Fisher holds a commemorative photo of opening day for Shea Stadium on April 17, 1964. Fisher, 85, of Palmer Township, was the starting pitcher for the New York Mets that day. He'll throw out the ceremonial first pitch Wednesday, April 17, 2024, as the Mets mark the 60th anniversary of the old stadium.

PALMER TWP., Pa. — Of all of the games he played in the big leagues, it’s probably the one Jack Fisher remembers most:

April 17, 1964.

They christened Shea Stadium that day, home to the New York Mets in Queens, N.Y., for the next 44 years.

Fisher, a right-hander for the Mets, started the game and threw the first pitch.

“I can remember walking out during batting practice, out over the right field wall you could see the people coming in by the hordes from the subway and the train," Fisher, 85, said now from his home outside Easton.

"It was a full house that day.”

He’s back in Queens this week and set to throw out the ceremonial first pitch Wednesday afternoon when the Mets play the Pittsburgh Pirates — 60 years after he took the mound as a 25-year-old against the Pirates.

"I played with a lot of guys who are in the hall of fame and played against a heckuva lot of them. I’m proud of that."
Jack Fisher, former major league pitcher

The Mets play at Citi Field, now adjacent to where Shea once stood.

“I remember the first pitch,” Fisher said. “My catcher was Jesse Gonder. I said to him, ‘I’d like to have this baseball. So when I throw it, if he doesn’t hit it, throw it over to the dugout for me.’

“I threw it. Jesse caught it. It was a strike. And right away a guy from Cooperstown comes out of the dugout for the ball. I didn’t get it. But I know where it is. It’s in the hall of fame.”

His place in history

Fisher pitched 11 years in the major leagues with the Orioles, Mets, White Sox and Reds. His lifetime record was 86-139, with a 4.06 ERA and 1,017 strikeouts.

He was on the delivering end of some milestone home runs: Roger Maris’ 60th in 1961 to tie the immortal Babe Ruth for most in a season at that time; and the great Ted Williams’ final home run — No. 521 in his last at-bat — in 1960.

Fisher also gave up the first home run at Shea, to the Pirates’ Willie Stargell. Fisher got pulled with the lead and two outs in the sixth inning, but the Mets went on to lose the game, 4-3.

“Nobody mentions that the first strikeout was Roberto Clemente,” Fisher said with a chuckle.

“Never once did I ever go up against somebody that I didn’t think I was gonna get out."
Jack Fisher

Considered by many a journeyman, Fisher was also a workhorse who played on some less-than-stellar teams.

The game was different then. Pitchers went deep into games and the specialization of today’s relief pitching didn’t exist.

Fisher’s stories and memories are loaded with references to an astounding who’s who of baseball greats. Besides those already mentioned here, he played for the 1963 Giants with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and the Alou brothers — Felipe, Jesus and Mateo.

His manager with the Mets in 1964 and '65 was Casey Stengel, an all-timer whose career in major league baseball started in 1912.

“He was great to me,” Fisher said. “He gave me the ball every four days and that’s all I ever wanted. That’s really the biggest compliment any manager can give a pitcher.

"I learned that from Robin Roberts — the manager having the most confidence in you by saying ‘This is your ball game.’ That’s all you need.”

'A great time'

Of his encounters with baseball infamy, Fisher doesn’t blink.

“It doesn’t bother me,” he said of the historic home runs surrendered. “Never once did I ever go up against somebody that I didn’t think I was gonna get out.

“I think I played in a great time. I played with a lot of guys who are in the hall of fame and played against a heckuva lot of them. I’m proud of that. I think that was a great time for baseball, all through the ‘60s.”

Born in Frostburg, Maryland, Fisher graduated high school in Augusta, Georgia, in 1957 and entered the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system.

He was 20 years old in 1959 when he made his big league debut against the New York Yankees. His last year as a player was 1969 with the Reds.

After his playing days, Fisher scouted for a job.

“My father-in-law at the time was with Mack Printing,” he said of the old plant on Northampton Street in Wilson Borough. “He said ‘Go to night school, learn computer programming, and I’ll get you a job there.’”

Home in the Easton area

Fisher worked 13 years at Mack Printing, leaving as personnel manager to go back to the Mets as a minor league pitching coach in Columbia, South Carolina.

In 1991, he and business partner Jack Kerbaugh opened Fat Jacks’ on Freemansburg Avenue in Palmer, which was recently sold and renamed The Coop. (The Kerbaugh family bought out Fisher’s interests in the tavern in the late 1990s).

Jack Fisher pitching with the Mets
Jack Fisher
Jack Fisher pitching with the New York Mets. He played four seasons with the Mets, from 1964 to 1967, in an 11-year major league baseball career.

When he takes the field for pregame ceremonies Wednesday — game time is 1:10 p.m. — Fisher will find support from some friends back home.

Jim Keelen is going to Citi Field with his three adult sons, James, Bryan and Kyle — all Mets fans for life. Keelen, of Palmer Township, has been a fan of the team since Fisher wore the blue pinstripes.

“We want to make sure he gets a good round of applause,” said Keelen, who got to know Fisher through Fat Jacks’ about 25 years ago.

“I’ve known him for many years. He deserves it. And I’m really happy that the Mets are doing something for their older alumni.”

Fisher acknowledges he hasn’t chucked a baseball in awhile.

“It’s been a long time,” he said. “I’m not going to go all the way to the mound, I can tell you that.”

Championship link

While he played for several teams, it’s the Mets to whom Fisher’s most attached. He watches almost all their games on DirecTV, he said, and the team contacts him a couple of times a year to appear for autograph sessions or interviews.

Sometimes he thinks back to what might have been.

After the 1967 season, the Mets — woeful for many years — traded Fisher and two other players to the White Sox for outfielder Tommie Agee and infielder Al Weis.

Agee and Weis would go on to become integral parts two years later of the Mets’ 1969 World Series championship – one of just two in team history.

It’s a connection not lost on Fisher.

“Yeah, I can still remember the trade,” he said. “Agee had a heckuva lot to do with them winning it all. So, I figured I had something to do with it, too.”