Well, thanks Ollie. That was memorable.
What better time to rewind for a belated look at last night’s celebration? (Apologies for the “belated” part — your correspondent arrived exhausted and slept like a dead thing.)
The Mets did a nice job with the ceremony: There was Howie Rose behind his podium, scenes from ’69 on the big board, and other little touches — I particularly liked that the 2009 Mets appeared on the scoreboard in replica 1969 baseball cards, with images of Topps’ real cards for Tom Seaver and Tommie Agee behind them. I even liked the cream-colored jerseys — there’s something faintly off about old men in regulation uniform tops, so why not have them wear jerseys with a certain patina? The Mets fans applauded mightily — the biggest cheers were for Yogi Berra, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Ralph Kiner, though Joan Hodges and Joye Murphy got their due, as they should for every visit — and the Phillies fans (of whom there were far too many) watched respectfully. A rare bipartisan moment: The image of Tug McGraw, a World Series hero for both teams, was greeted with rapturous applause from all sections of Citi Field. (The game that followed can be summed up simply: Tim Redding — of all people — was great, but nobody else was.)
I’ve said before what the ’69 Mets taught me, but that post was about growing up with them as not-so-distant history, not seeing them in the flesh as men in their 60s and 70s. I was sitting in the Pepsi Porch with my friends Erin and Kent, and at one point I found myself trying to explain the ’69 Mets to Erin, who wanted to know why on earth the Mets were showing old footage of a cat wandering around on a baseball field. (Hey, if you’re not steeped in Mets lore it’s a perfectly good question.) I told her what I could, but no hasty conversation in a ballpark can ever sum up the ’69 Mets. They’d never been good, then it all came together, and somehow they beat the Orioles and were World Champions. And there was this cat, and these amazing catches by Agee and an even more amazing one by Swoboda, and then they went on the Ed Sullivan Show…. I did what I could, nudging Erin to watch the Agee catches and Swoboda diving and rolling over, but it was a feeble substitute for the glee and happy disbelief of a summer of faith rewarded. (And I only know it secondhand — what I know is just a shadow of what Greg remembers through a child’s eyes and Joe D. witnessed.)
But there they were — oft-heard names and rarely heard ones too, all of which I found myself greeting with a big, silly smile on my face. Bobby Pfeil was back! It’s Rod Gaspar, a.k.a. Bring on Rod Stupid, and ha ha on you Frank Robinson! Dr. Ron Taylor is here! Ron Swoboda pantomimed the beginnings of his catch as he crossed short right field, and Cleon Jones did a partial genuflection in echo of the final out. There was Ed Charles, looking gentle and sad behind his granny glasses, and Wayne Garrett still looking 25 somehow, and Jerry Grote looking thin and old but still tough, still nobody to mess with. I think I was happiest to see Gary Gentry, whom I hastily explained to Erin could have been a great one, except he had the bad luck to hurt his arm when hurting your arm was a one-way journey to oblivion.
And, yes, there was the return of Nolan Ryan, back in Mets garb for the first time since the Nixon administration. Ryan looked big and imperious, striding down the line of his former teammates. Tom Seaver — who has that Paul McCartney quality of always looking young even as he thickens and grays — has a certain imperial quality himself, but he’s a beneficient king, willing to hand out smiles and waves and blown kisses. Ryan? He was more stoic and despotic, clearly just visiting. It was interesting, as the ceremony wound down, to see which Mets and Phillies veered off from their pre-game work to greet Seaver and Ryan. (Billy Wagner, no fool, sought out fellow lefty Jerry Koosman.) I didn’t see a hitter approach the Ryan Express — perhaps it’s that pitchers are keener students of their game, or that hitters thought Ryan might give them the figurative brushback, if not the real thing.
The ceremony began with cheers for widows and children — Donn Clendenon and Cal Koonce and Don Cardwell and Tommie Agee and Tug McGraw are gone, a full 20% of the World Series roster. Thinking about that, I found myself imagining the future — the 50th and 60th celebrations. Sadly but inevitably, the part of the program reserved for the departed will grow, with fewer elder statesmen taking their bows before fans further removed from the events celebrated. The Amazin’s will wave with the hands not gripping canes, or lift a hand from golf carts, or be represented by children themselves grown startlingly old.
But we’ll still cheer, and tear up, and remember. The ageless highlights will still be shown, on CitiVision or its replacement or some hologram hovering over center field, and we’ll cheer and smile and point and try to explain it to uninitiated neighbors. There’s little Al Weis swiping one over the fence. There’s Glenn Beckert standing in the on-deck circle and sensing something walking across his path. There’s Gil walking slowly out to home plate with a baseball in one big hand. There’s Seaver and Garrett and Ryan and Agee, leaping up and down and covered with champagne, so impossibly joyous and impossibly young.
And we’ll look from the screen to the men who were there, however many there may be, and we’ll applaud, because they will be our proof of what amazin’, amazin’, amazin’ things can happen, and that will happen again, if we are faithful and if we are patient and if we remember and if we believe.
AMAZIN’ TUESDAY returns to Two Boots Tavern August 25 at 7:00 PM. Join Greg Prince, Dana Brand, Caryn Rose and me for a fun night of reading, eating, drinking and all things Mets baseball (Mets baseball optional). Full details here.