Having established that this decade was ultimately extraordinarily disappointing, it is only fair to point that a great deal of joy was collected en route to whatever wound up befalling us. No moment in these past ten years was more joyous, to my thinking, than that which marked the gaining and absorbing of our team’s high-water accomplishment of the 2000s, the National League Championship of 2000. Adapted from a pair of previously published recollections, let’s revisit October 16 into October 17, 2000.
The finale almost felt like a formality. How had the Mets gone from edge-of-the-seat to sit-back-and-relax inside a week? These weren’t the same Cardinals who whacked us in early September. Maybe they simply couldn’t equal the majesty of the Big Met Machine.
Game Five had us in the mezzanine. I’d arranged to meet Rob outside Gate E an hour ahead of the first pitch, but we missed each other from a range of 20 feet and barely made it in for the start. That was the only gaffe of what became the single most magical night I’ve ever experienced at Shea Stadium.
Mike Hampton pitched flawlessly.
Timo and Fonzie fueled a three-run first.
Todd Zeile drove in three himself.
And the National League pennant was counted down to, out after out after out.
Matters seemed so settled that I could really notice where I was. To my left was Jason, the Mets fan I met online as if through some jock-obsessed dating service. To my right was Rob, who had worked a desk over from me for a couple of years a long time ago. I met them both when New York’s bout of Mets fever was in remission. That means that no matter how I found them, they were pure of heart. Like me, they never stopped rooting for the Mets. Rob, my friend since 1992, and Jason, my friend since 1994, were the two people with whom I hunkered down most intently during the victory drought of the early and mid-’90s. Maybe I would’ve been pals with each of them if we had met when the Mets were on the upswing, but meeting them when they weren’t made my friendship with each, on this pinnacle night, that much more meaningful.
At one point, up 6-0, Rob, Jason and I sidetracked into a discussion on a recently aired VH-1 series on what were supposed to be the greatest dance songs ever. Rob, not much of a pop culture hound, was surprised to learn “Time Warp” from Rocky Horror wasn’t No. 1. I had to break it to him that actually it wasn’t even mentioned, probably because it wasn’t actually a chart hit. This conversation took place as the Mets were lopping off out after out en route to reaching the World Series for the first time since 1986, mere innings from their fourth National League championship, the first to be clinched at Shea Stadium since 1973. And we were talking about dance songs and VH-1 and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
It wasn’t a lengthy diversion of our attention, but there it was. The Mets were winning so big a prize so easily that three hardcore fans could drift. I love that on the night I saw the Mets achieve the most immense thing I ever saw them achieve, my friends and I were permitted to let our minds wander. Let’s do that time warp again.
When Rick Wilkins (an almost-forgotten face from one of our growing pains years) lofted a fly ball to Timo Perez in center to crown the New York Mets champions of the oldest established professional baseball league, I turned left and hugged Jason. Then I turned right and hugged Rob. It was the moment I had waited 14 years for and I was between exactly the two people I would’ve wanted had I ever thought about it.
The Mets win the pennant! The Mets win the pennant!
That’s who let the dogs out.
Gosh, we’d even surpassed my beloved 1999. Long live the new century.
They gave Hampton the MVP of the NLCS. Sure, he pitched 16 shutout innings, but it could’ve gone to Alfonzo (8 hits), Perez (8 runs) or Zeile (8 RBI). But this Mike was a good choice. When they showed the presentation on DiamondVision, a cheer went up. It would be the last time Mike Hampton would be cheered when he pitched at Shea Stadium, but we couldn’t have known that then.
Normally I would take the subway to Woodside or, depending on the vagaries of the LIRR, Penn Station to get home. But Rob had his car, so I parted ways with Jason, Emily and Danielle, my constant companions across two Octobers, and went with him. Rob had parked in the lot across Roosevelt Avenue and given the milling of the sellout crowd, we had to take a long walk to get there. We said almost nothing to each other. Rob was usually quiet. I was just mesmerized by what I was watching.
Did you see ever Avalon? In the opening scene, the old man through whose eyes the story is told is flashing back on arriving in America on the Fourth of July in 1914. In his mind, children are running through the streets of Baltimore waving sparklers. And it’s silent. That’s what the outside of Shea Stadium and Roosevelt Avenue reminded me of on Monday night, October 16, 2000. There was noise to be sure. There was honking and yelling, but it all felt like it was taking place in dreamy slow-motion. People waved instantly bought t-shirts and climbed up on light poles and were just happy. Neither Rob nor I had to say a word. The night said it all to us. The Mets had won the pennant.
When I woke up on Tuesday morning (called in sick…or joyful; can’t remember anymore), I was overcome with a revelation. We were the champions. We were the only champions. The A.L. still didn’t have a winner. So if we could stop baseball altogether — an earthquake, a wildcat strike, a well-placed bribe — we would remain the only champion of 2000. We would be No. 1.
That wasn’t going to happen, but it was a lovely thought. I paced around the house humming “We are the NationalLeagueChampions, my friend…” For 24 hours, that was all we had to be.