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75° Good Afternoon

Ralph Kiner belonged to all Mets fans

Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner waves to the

Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner waves to the crowd before announcing the Mets starting lineup before an Opening Day game against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on April 5, 2012. Credit: AP / Frank Franklin II

There he is on YouTube, speaking to us in scratchy black-and-white from St. Petersburg, Fla., interviewing an out-of-breath Roger Craig about the promising 1962 Mets.

"I'm sure we're going to have a very, very good ballclub," Craig says of a team that would lose 120 games.

Ralph Kiner just smiles and moves on, presumably because he was too nice to laugh.

But let's think about this for a moment: Say there was a fan watching that day who was 91, the age at which Kiner died Thursday. That fan would have been just old enough to recall the season the National League was born -- 1876.

Now consider a very young Mets fan who heard Kiner spin baseball yarns on select SNY games in 2013. At age 91, perhaps that fan will tell his or her grandchildren about him as they commiserate over the lack of outfield depth on the 2098 Mets.

See, for most of us, Kiner's passing was not only about Kiner the man, memorable as he was -- as we learned from those who knew him best and from a resume that read like a 20th century male fantasy come to life.

What Thursday really was about was us -- faded youth (for some) and collective memory (for all).

There is not a Mets fan alive -- or dead, come to think of it -- for whom Ralph Kiner was not part of the experience, and he will live on as a connective link for decades to come.

Even starting his narrative in 1962 sells him short. Heck, there were people who saw him play in the major leagues who were born during the Civil War.

But it was as a Mets announcer that he made his mark around here, and he touched everyone, from those of us who grew up with him alongside Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy to his even-better work in the 1980s with Tim McCarver to his latter years, when he chose not to let the Bell's palsy that muddled his speech keep him off the air.

And he stayed sharp and witty to the end. In a 2010 interview with Newsday, he said this about his prodigious storytelling: "Two things good about being around a long time: One is you can tell a lot of stories, and the people that might refute the stories are all dead now."

When SNY's Gary Cohen said Thursday that Kiner "became part of our family," he spoke not only as a colleague but also as a lifelong Mets fan.

That is one of the quirks, and beauties, of hometown baseball announcers, who are in our homes and cars day in and day out, year in and year out, and whose idiosyncrasies only make them more endearing. (See: Rizzuto, Phil.)

Surely, even in a less-sophisticated media era, there were adults who realized the iconic postgame show "Kiner's Korner" was comically unpolished. But that matters not to those of us who grew up with it. It was enough that Kiner was there, speaking to all of our baseball heroes.

Bob Wolff of News 12 Long Island, who is 93 and watched Kiner's careers in baseball and broadcasting from the start, said the reality of the profession is that if you "happen to live long enough" and have a personality that wears well, eventually you do become a member of the family.

That was indisputably true of Kiner, whose family tree extends to anyone who watched a baseball game in New York during the past half-century. (Yes, even you, Yankees fans.)

Players come and go. Some of us spent our youths with Seaver, others with Gooden, Piazza, Wright or Harvey.

But Kiner belonged to all of us.


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