Welcome to Flashback Friday: I Saw The Decade End, a milestone-anniversary salute to the New York Mets of 1969, 1979, 1989 and 1999. Each week, we immerse ourselves in or at least touch upon something that transpired within the Metsian realm 40, 30, 20 or 10 years ago. Amazin’ or not, here it comes.
1969 was a year of good fortune for Mets fans everywhere. It’s still paying dividends right here.
Yes, the Mets won the World Series on October 16, but how about May 8? It was on this very date forty years ago that Jason Fry entered the fray (how is it possible I’ve known him fifteen years and I’ve never stitched Fry and fray together?). He might not have led off with the same impact as Tommie Agee, but here it is 2009, and Jason’s showing more longevity than Les Rohr.
I want to commemorate Jason’s milestone birthday (at the risk of embarrassing him gently) by posting something he wrote to me ten years ago, which works perfectly for the Flashback motif, plus it involves a weekend visit by the Pirates, which is what we’ve got at hand right now. It wasn’t just any PIT @ NYM set either. It was the final three scheduled games of the 1999 season, when what little hope there was that there’d be a 1999 postseason hung in the balance. We had just spent the week going back and forth via e-mail over how to beat the Braves, our thread title — Don’t Pitch to Chipper Jones — exposing our strategy. The Braves left town with our playoff chances seemingly packed away in their old Chip bag, and we were left to make the best of beating the Bucs and yearning for bad things to happen to two other N.L. Central stalwarts, the Astros and/or the Reds. Our thread title became, in honor of the only Buc with a big bat, Don’t Pitch to Kevin Young.
I don’t remember if we pitched to Kevin Young or not, but I know we swept Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee beat Cincinnati twice, and then we went to Cincinnati and took care of the Reds, and come October 5, we were waiting for first pitch in Arizona. The game wouldn’t start ’til 11:07 PM EDT, but better late than never.
Not that Jace, then 30, hadn’t waited long enough, a sentiment he expressed typically beautifully at 4:26 that afternoon…
I just want to share with you my one favorite thing about winning the wild card. I started thinking about it Sunday night, but kept quiet for obvious reasons.
I grew up on Long Island and came to an age of real baseball awareness (turned eight) in ’77, just as the Yankees were becoming the Yankees again and the Mets’ braintrust was proclaiming its undying defiance of the new baseball economy, turning us into the game’s equivalent of North Korea. And as I’m sure you know or can guess, it was horrible. Every kid with a dirt bike and the junior version of the Chipper sneer was a Yankee fan, and we few Met fans tended to be the University’s weird fac brats or some other species of misfit willing to imperil our social development by rooting for someone other than the overdog. (We later turned out, by having once shown interest in something that happened outdoors, to be the most well-adjusted of the Dungeons & Dragons-playing music-obsessed computer geeks, but that’s another story.)
Anyway, every year it was the same old soul-corroding script. In spring training I’d fantasize about Lee Mazzilli having the kind of year that would make Reggie look like the chump he obviously was. Craig Swan was going to win 20. Mike Phillips would earn a trip to the All-Star team. John Stearns would hit three home runs against some California team in a World Series game. And of course the pitching would explode, the team would never score any runs, and M. Donald Grant would announce some bizarre plan like outfielders cost too much so the team would use extra infielders and tell its pitchers to throw ground balls. Maz would hit .240, Stearns would get hurt again, Craig Swan would go 10-14 and look weird, and Mike Phillips would be revealed as, well, Mike Phillips. And meanwhile the Yankees would remain the Yankees. And every damn year the future Chippers would ride around on their dirt bikes and bray “Mets suck” and the two or three variations of it that they could think of and I, near tears on my weird secondhand French 10-speed bike that would bend in half if it left the pavement for a tenth of a second, would holler back “Just you wait! You’ll see! You’ll See!” and they just kept laughing and they never did see, because it never, ever happened.
Well, I didn’t live here when the Mets were good, and by the time I came back they were bad again, and then they weren’t really bad but they weren’t good when it mattered, and the Yankees had become the Yankees yet AGAIN, and I would just trudge around surrounded by braying Yankee fans feeling like I was living in a truncated, claws-sheathed remake of the way it was every year on Long Island. But it hurt pretty much as bad.
And so this year, as the darkness grew and then there was a chance that there might be light again, I thought of how out there on Long Island there was a whole new crop of Chippers on their dirt bikes and weird fac brats on their 10-speeds and how the Chippers were laughing and laughing about how the Mets had blown it because they sucked and how those poor teary misfits had hollered back “You’ll see! You’ll see!” but they knew it wouldn’t be true.
And this time, finally, it WAS true. It WAS true, and everybody had to admit it. And we may win the World Series and we may not win another game, but it WAS true and nobody can deny it or us.
And so, if I can quit being elegiac for a moment, FUCK THEM.
Fuck them, indeed, partner. And happy fortieth.