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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

The '69 Mets gave us all hope

FLUSHING, NY - AUGUST 22, 2009: Tom Seaver

FLUSHING, NY - AUGUST 22, 2009: Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman (bttom of frame) watch video from the 1969 Mets. New York Mets tribute to the 1969 Mets at Citifield. Photo by Kathy KmonicekFLUSHING, NY - AUGUST 22, 2009: New York Mets tribute to the 1969 Mets at Citifield. Photo by Kathy Kmonicek Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek/Kathy Kmonicek

Hope never goes out of style, unlike the authentic flannel jerseys that the old ballplayers wore last night.

So, no, the tribute to the 1969 Mets at Citi Field was not just a golden oldie, like the songs that played at the park yesterday (not every day do you hear an organ rendition of "Crimson and Clover"). The 40th anniversary celebration was a salute to the idea that losers can be winners, tomorrow can be better than yesterday and you never know what might happen.

For instance, an outfielder who has tried to make a backhanded diving play maybe 1,000 times - in the estimation of Cleon Jones, a witness - finally makes it with the World Series on the line.

"I'm still living off of that one catch," Ron Swoboda said Saturday, referring to stretching out to flag down Brooks Robinson's sinking liner in the ninth inning of Game 4. "It seemed like a time when anything was possible."

Men could walk on the moon, the economy could soar, thousands of young people could have a peaceful rock fest in the mud. There was strife here and there; Swoboda recalled having love beads ripped off his neck by Don Cardwell. But there were protests because people believed protesting would help. Hope is timeless, and so are the 1969 Mets.

Mustn't sit around and mope, as those Mets sang on national TV. As Howie Rose - a fan in 1969 and the MC last night - said, the Mets went from being Johnny Carson punch lines to singers on Ed Sullivan's stage.

The Mets had not been just a bad team before 1969; they had been a national symbol of futility. Then, suddenly, they were world champions. If that could happen, what can't?

Ask the stunned Orioles, who had taunted their seemingly overmatched opponents at the start of the 1969 World Series. Baltimore pitcher Jim Hardin, a former Mets farmhand, told Jerry Koosman during batting practice, "You don't belong on the same field with us." And as Don Buford ran the bases after his leadoff homer in Game 1, he told shortstop Bud Harrelson, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

"He was right," Harrelson said Saturday, wearing his old flannel No. 3.

Tom Seaver went out to the Citi Field parking lot and put his foot on the plaque marking the spot where the Shea Stadium pitching rubber had been. Later, Seaver remembered losing Game 1 in Baltimore, then having Donn Clendenon put his arm on the pitcher's shoulder and say, "We're going to beat these guys." Within the week, Seaver won Game 4 and Clendenon was Series MVP.

Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan wore his Mets No. 30 jersey at the club's home park for the first time in 38 years.

Jones went down on one knee, as he did for the last out. A video montage showed Tommie Agee's catches and Al Weis' homers and Gil Hodges checking the ball for shoe polish and J.C. Martin getting in the way of a throw.

Gary Gentry was there from Scottsdale, Ariz., with his mane of white hair, recalling the thoughts of a hopeful 1969 rookie. "You looked around and you saw the team and there was never a thought that we couldn't win," said the winner of Game 3.

No black cat scampered across the field last night. It seems as if the entire 2009 season has been a black cat trail. Sad to say, these Mets don't have the pitching, management or luck of those Mets, and especially not the hope.

All of us ought to hope like the 1969 Mets. Everybody who was on that team will be a part of it forever. "I think it has changed all of our lives," Harrelson said, adding that he receives autograph requests in the mail every day. "And I haven't played for 29 years."

It's because he and his teammates played their hearts out 40 years ago, when it seemed as if anything was possible.

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