From Lovable Losers To World Champions

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World Series MVP Cleon Jones (21) is greeted at the dug-out after hitting a home run in Game 4 as winning pitcher Tom Seaver (41) raises his arm in triumph at the end of the dugout. (Photos courtesy of the New York Mets)

On Thursday morning, Oct. 16, 1969, I woke up and launched into an Oscar-winning performance of a sick child, weakly whispering to my mother, “I have a sore throat.”
Alas, I was denied the award when she put her thermonuclear palm to my forehead, saying, “You have no fever. Get dressed and go to school.”

Drat. Unlike other times that I may have felt like missing school due to unfinished homework or a test I didn’t study for, this was different. It was a beautiful fall day and the Mets, my Mets, were playing an afternoon game against the mighty Baltimore Orioles with a chance to win the World Series.

Just putting the words “Mets” and “Winning the World Series” in the same sentence was previously unfathomable. For years, the Mets were the poster child for futility and embarrassment, a team only a mother could love. Boy, we did love them, warts and all. After seven straight losing seasons, four of them with more than 100 losses, no self-respecting baseball fan could ever take the Mets seriously.

But 1969 was a year of the impossible becoming possible as we watched a man walk on the moon. With the Yankees well past their glory days, the Mets owned the Summer of ’69. Every game was life and death, especially to a very impressionable 12-year-old kid like me. Unlike today, you couldn’t watch every game on TV as they weren’t all televised. All you had was your trusty A.M. radio, listening to games late at night under your covers when you were supposed to be asleep.

Of course, that trusty A.M. radio wasn’t allowed in school. With the game starting at 1 p.m., those of us at McKenna Junior High School depended on teachers to keep us updated as we rushed between classes. My last period was science and, by the time the 44-minute period started, things were already grim for the Mets, down 3-0 in the sixth inning. My teacher, a real non-baseball fan, could care less about what was happening just a few miles away at Shea Stadium.

Then an angel appeared from the connecting laboratory room. A teacher listening to the game in the empty lab room quietly opened the shared door and scribbled on the corner of the blackboard: “BAL 3, METS 2.” The baseball fans in the class erupted as the rogue teacher was admonished for disrupting the lesson. As I was plotting the quickest route home once the bell rang, I found myself staring at the clock. Waiting for dismissal, I could have sworn the clock was going backward. Just then, the angel emerged one last time to update the blackboard: “BAL 3, METS 3.” The game was tied and the class was in chaos.

With less than five minutes left in the school day, we were dismissed early. As I raced home, I cut through East Lake Elementary school, running into some older kids gathered around an A.M. radio. They told me the Mets just scored twice and now had a 5-3 lead.
Sprinting the final two blocks, I crashed through the front door yelling, “Put the TV on.”

Of course, my mother was having none of that. “Let me feel your head,” she insisted before I could get to the TV. “Sore throat, huh?”

While waiting for that old TV to warm up, my friend from across the street, Bobby Olsen, joined me to watch the last inning. When that final out settled into Cleon Jones’ glove, we screamed and hollered, hugging each other. My mother even gave us pots and pans to bang together like it was New Year’s Eve, and we ran outside to celebrate. Our Mets, those loveable losers, were World Champions.

“Guess you’ll be OK to go to school tomorrow?” my mother asked.

Yes, tomorrow was going to be a great day.

Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.

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