Jerry Koosman and other members of the 1969 Mets will never forget that Sunday doubleheader in Montreal.
“It was kind of unbelievable that we accomplished such a great feat. It was just amazing,’’ he recalled.
Koosman was not talking about baseball. He and his teammates had been sitting in the lounge of a Montreal airport, glued to the tube on that July 20, 1969 evening, watching and waiting with the rest of the world as Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong slowly made his way down the ladder that separated the lunar lander and the surface of the moon.
The Mets went on to win the World Series that year, a feat that paled in comparison with putting a man on the moon.
Former Met Cleon Jones, 76, said that if he could, he would have given each of the Apollo 11 astronauts — Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin — a 1969 World Series ring.
“They were our inspiration,” Jones said through the Mets. “They were doing something amazing and so were we.”
THE EAGLE HAS LANDED
On the afternoon of July 20, baseball games — and almost everything else on our planet — paused as the citizens of Earth held their breath and waited for a series of historic events that began as Armstrong and lunar module pilot Aldrin began their descent from the lunar orbiter.
In Chicago, Comiskey Park’s exploding scoreboard erupted after an insignificant White Sox single.
At Yankee Stadium, fans lifted their Bat Day Louisville Sluggers and roared as a news flash came over the loudspeakers: “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please,” Bob Sheppard announced in a tone no different from the one he would have used if Mickey Mantle had been coming to bat. “You will be happy to know that the Apollo 11 has landed safely on the moon.”
ONE SMALL STEP
The Mets already had concluded their doubleheader split at Jarry Park and still were on the ground as repairs were being made to their aircraft.
“It was great that we had the ability to watch it,’’ said Jericho resident Ed Kranepool, 74. “That was a year of happenings. Woodstock, people walking on the moon, the Mets. Once in a lifetime.’’
Armstrong’s first step took place at 10:56 p.m., followed by the first words spoken on the moon: “That’s one small step for [A]man; one giant leap for mankind.”
“It was really clinking glasses and whooping it up,’’ outfielder Ron Swoboda, 75, said Wednesday from his home in New Orleans. “It was pretty special. You felt like, man, this has been done and you got to watch it live. The irony is we got to watch because we had mechanical problems. We couldn’t get to New York and here’s Armstrong leaving footprints on the moon.’’
Relief pitcher Jack DiLauro got his first big-league victory that afternoon and said in the airport bar: “One small step for man, one giant win for DiLauro!’’ according to Art Shamsky’s book “After the Miracle.’’ Twelve astronauts walked on the moon; DiLauro finished his career with two victories.
CONNECTION WITH SPACE PROGRAM
Houston’s ballclub may be nicknamed the Astros, but the Mets have enjoyed a long association with America’s space program.
In the early years of the struggling franchise, then-manager Casey Stengel supposedly said that men would walk on the moon before the Mets won a championship.
He was right, but only by three months.
Swoboda recalled the team visiting the Grumman facilities in Bethpage — where the Eagle lunar module was manufactured — and, during a later trip to Houston, what is now known as the Johnson Space Center.
Former NASA astronaut and longtime Mets fan Mike Massimino was 6 at the time of the first manned lunar landing.
The graduate of Carey High School in Franklin Square said he became enthralled by the moonwalk and the Mets. He said his heroes, next to his father, were Armstrong and Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.
Massimino, 56, walked in space four times — becoming the only former Newsday carrier to do so — during two missions to service the Hubble Space Telescope. He said he brought along the jersey of former Mets reliever John Franco on one mission and home plate from Shea Stadium on the other.
But Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen may have the strongest connection of all.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Van Wagenen’s wife, Molly, is Armstrong’s stepdaughter. The astronaut married her mom, Carol Knight, in 1994. Molly married Van Wagenen two years later.
Armstrong, who died in 2012, had shared some details about preparing for his historic mission with his son-in-law.
“I asked him about the training for a moonwalk when it’s never been done before,’’ Van Wagenen told the New York Post in March. “Where and how would you do it? At the bottom of a volcano in Hawaii. Who knew?”
In an email this past week, Van Wagenen said, “Neil was an extraordinary man. He was a husband, stepfather, father-in-law and grandfather to my family. He had humility, grace and charm. His work and his life were never about himself.
“The stories he shared with us about his NASA experience focused less on the moment in history and more about the scientific and engineering achievements made possible by a team of talented and committed Americans. From what I have learned about the 1969 [Mets], I see a parallel in the selfless commitment to a cause that many deemed to be impossible. Hard work, teamwork and determination are powerful qualities from a group of people with a shared purpose.’’
As for the jocular question about which was the loftier accomplishment — men walking on the moon or the longtime-losing Mets winning the Series — Massimino seems most qualified to give that answer.
“I’m a huge Mets fan, a big baseball fan,’’ Massimino said, “but landing on the moon, I think it’s the greatest accomplishment ever. I think it’s going to hold up as the world’s greatest accomplishment for the next few hundred years.’’
Swoboda said the Mets’ achievement should not be compared to the moonwalk. The astronauts were “heroes on a different plane,’’ he said. “That accomplishment was heroic on the part of so many people.’’
The only similarity, Swoboda said, was “you felt you were part of this thing that slapped the smile on everybody’s face. The lunar landing was a feel-good story that everybody could get their heads around. And the Mets were a feel-good story that everybody could get their heads around.’’
Koosman, 76, added, “The only thing they had in common, they both created a lot of happiness.’’
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