Sunday, August 23, 2009

Flushing Express

For one night, when you hear "Nolan Ryan" 'round these parts, it's not followed by the seven no-hitters he pitched somewhere else. It's not followed by echoes of one of the worst trades ever. It's not followed by the pangs of wonder of what might have been if management had been a little more patient with his inconsistencies, his blisters doused in pickle brine, and his maniacal fastball with wrecking ball control.

On August 22nd, 2009, "Nolan Ryan" was only followed by the wild cheers of 38,049 strong.

The last time Ryan wore a Mets uniform was on September 28th, 1971, which was personally witnessed by 3,338 not so strong fans who were anticipating the end of a disappointing season. Ryan lasted zero innings, walked four, gave up a hit, and he was yanked by Gil Hodges. In 2008, an outing like that would have gotten him a 36 million dollar contract en route to a rehab stint in Buffalo. But in 1971, it got him traded for Jim Fregosi en route to the Hall of Fame. Boy, inflation's a bitch.

But Ryan eventually returned to help celebrate the past as a peripheral pawn in the moment where the future was blown to bits. After all, the Ryan Express only reached the pinnacle at one stop: Flushing. It's where the miracle of all baseball miracles occurred forty seasons ago. He couldn't come back for 20, he was still pitching. He had just retired by the time 25 came, but after pitching for 27 seasons, who wants to go on an airplane for a reunion? That's just one more unnecessary road trip. Besides, the Mets in 1994 probably would have tried to sign him as a better alternative to Pete Smith. Who could blame Nolan for not wanting to be tempted? But here he is for the fortieth anniversary, with no reason and really ... no excuse to not show up. His mission to build up the pitch counts of the entire Rangers organization can wait another day.

No word on whether the Mets tried to sign him as a better alternative to Oliver Perez.

1969, much like the rest of Mets' history, belongs to Tom Seaver. He will always be the headline act at these things, will always be the one to speak at the podium, whether he reads his words as if he's a disciple of Evelyn Wood's reading dynamics or not (seriously, he read that speech as if the piano player from the Oscars was cueing him off ... was Jeff Wilpon rushing him?) He deserves the honor for all he's done for the the New York Mets. He is, after all, The Franchise. But Ryan stole the show on Saturday. Much like Doc Gooden stole the show (at least for me) during the final day at Shea on September 28th, 2008 (the 37th anniversary of Nolan Ryan's fateful final day), Ryan returns as probably the final person who can come back from years and years without wearing a Mets uniform and be cheered the way he was (Bobby Bonilla returning to the Mets payroll in 2011 isn't going to count, sorry.) With open arms he is received, and perhaps because of it, the future will be presented to us with at least one less ghost haunting our favorite franchise.

Ryan's final outing as a Met occurred when I was just finishing up my first season on planet earth, where the only thing being blogged was my size in relation to the Thanksgiving turkey (I lost that battle), and that was done with a Polaroid. So you'll forgive me if there's no record of me complaining about that outing, or about the trade that sent him to California. I was one year old ... and the only way I could communicate was by puking all over the living room. Was I possessed? No, probably just pissed about another season down the drain. Before the invention of computers, vomit was the only way I could get my point across.

So as you can imagine, I wasn't even a twinkle in anybody's eye in 1969 ... which means that I'm not the best guy to wax poetic about the season of miracles. Yup, I missed it. I'm just not that old. You want to talk about 1986? I'm your guy. Hell you want to talk about 1979? At least then I was nine and counting down the winding days of that season celebrating that they actually avoided 100 losses. The '69 Mets? I can only rehash and mimic what I've seen in the old video clips.

Not that I'm not all too happy to do that for you. It's what I was doing for a friend of mine when I was a senior in high school during a late night school function that involved singing for a rock and roll band (wrap that one around your collective head). I couldn't tell you what notes I missed, what lyrics I tried to sing, or how rockin' the place was, but I could tell you about the girl who asked me who Tommie Agee was.

Who's Tommie Agee? You've gotta be kidding. Of course, this was before the understanding that not everybody in my high school followed baseball. "Who's Tommie Agee? Really? Okay, if you've gotta know, Tommie Agee is the guy who made the two greatest catches in World Series history. Here, let me demonstrate for you on this filthy cafeteria floor. No matter that I'm about to be the front man in my best rock singer outfit ... I need to educate a poor young soul as to who Tommie Agee was. That takes precedence!"

I should mention the reason why this girl bothered to ask me who Agee was ... he was in the room at the time.

I have no idea why a World Series hero was in my high school at a late night carnival. But here I was diving on the floor to my left, and crashing into the school wall to my right ... because how else could one really explain who Tommie Agee was. My demonstration must have been the universal sign for 1969 ... I might have butchered it, but the guy who brought Agee to the event recognized it well enough that he came up to me and asked me if I wanted to meet him.

Crap, I'm about to sing in front of a crowd of people, and I could care less. I'm about to meet Tommie Agee!!! And at that moment, it really didn't matter that I wasn't alive for the original version of those catches. Because I was about to shake hands with 1969. That was good enough for me.

The rest of the meeting was a blur. It all happened so fast. I know I shook his hand. I know it had a World Series ring on it. And I know that he signed an 8X10 black and white to "my very good friend", which I still have to this day. And like I said, I don't remember the rest. The one thing I regretted was not rushing out after the carnival to Shea to see the end of the Met game that I had missed to be at this carnival. Not that I regret it ... I freakin' met Tommie Agee for crying out loud! And heck, it was a good omen that I took with me to the television to catch the final pitch of that night's game.

You could probably guess at this point that when Agee died in 2001, a childhood memory of mine shed a few tears. Thankfully, the scrambled memory neither died nor even faded all that much. When you hear the latest outcry as to why the Mets need to honor their history, that's why. Saturday night was for all the people who lived through '69, and for all of us who grabbed ourselves a memory of a 1969 hero almost twenty years after the fact. These memories need to be honored, re-honored, then honored some more. We need to see Jerry Koosman around more. We need to see more photos of Wayne Garrett and Al Weis. We need to have more celebration of one of the iconic teams in baseball history without having to wait until the 50th anniversary.

My hope is that instead of looking back at Saturday night in the "boy we made it through a hectic day that was really a lot of work", Mets management will look back on it and understand the many connections between fans and Tom Seaver ... and Nolan Ryan ... and Jim McAndrew ... and yes, Tommie Agee. They'll understand the roar that they heard when Seaver, Koosman, and Ryan reunited to throw first pitches to Jerry Grote, Duffy Dyer, and Yogi Berra ... and that finally, they'll get it. They'll have it seep through their brains and that it'll finally hit 'em why we scream bloody murder when they want to erase a Dwight Gooden autograph on a concrete wall.

Am I holding out hope? Well, seeing as if they totally forgot to pencil Kenny Boswell's name into the script, no I'm not. Boswell, as Bob Murphy liked to point out, wanted to be out there "each and every day". Ironically, this is the one they failed to mention ... the one that wanted to be out there every day, but couldn't make it out there on this day. What, you expected a Mets arranged notation of history to go perfect?

So they almost got it right for the fortieth anniversary party. Maybe they'll get it 100% right in 2019. Maybe the fiftieth anniversary will be even better. Maybe they'll mention everyone. Maybe, just maybe, the 2019 Mets will win the game instead of flood the disabled list ... and maybe the team will wear some '69 replicas this time around.

Or perhaps we're not going to have to wait that long for the next nod to the past. But we waited 38 years for Ryan to come back. What's ten more, right?


Anonymous said...

Good piece on Nolan Ryan. I agree he stole the show, just like Doc at Shea Goodbye last year. Ironic since I believe they matched up in the classic 1986 NLCS Game 5 at Shea. I doubt he would have been coaxed out of retirement at age 48 to pitch for New York in 1994 since he had just blown out his elbow the previous September.

I did wonder in the back of my mind if Nolan was scouting any players during the weekend for possible use by the Texas Rangers. I have no reason to believe that it would be the only reason to return to Queens, but while he's there given his current job with the Rangers, I had to wonder.

James Allen said...

Excellent essay, M. I have a few thoughts on the subject which I'll probably post tomorrow, but for now I just have to ruminate on today's game; from what started as another episode of Meltdown! with Ollie Perez that ending with a friggin' unassisted triple play, today's game was another "Classic of 2009." Jesus H. Tap Dancing Christ.

I hope you started writing your next manifesto, along with about 50 "Behind the Blows."

Anonymous said...

Howie Rose apologized on-air Sunday afternoon for the lack of Ken Boswell in the 1969 Mets tribute.
At least he ... on the payroll of the Coupons ... has the guts to apologize for some marketing idiot's faux pas.

Metstradamus said...

Can't imagine that would be Howie's fault. Someone probably wrote it for him, and off it went. It's embarassing for sure. But, it happens.

Trash Man said...

I'm just happy that we've now broken the 800-day mark left on Oliver Perez's contract. After
embezzling 36 million from the Wilpons, unlike Madoff, they can't just get rid of him.

flush-ing said...

only happens to the mets. pedro comes back with the phils and wins at citi field on the weekend where the 1969 mets are honored. game ends on an unassisted triple play. you just can't make this stuff up!!! this happens to nobody.