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77th Birthday Thoughts As Mets Limp Home to Celebrate Golden Anniversary of 1969 Triumph

The disappointing Mets will stumble back to CitiField this weekend to face the surging first-place Braves. I, for one, didn't expect much of this year's Mets because of holes in the lineup, mediocre defense, and a bullpen that matches my Orioles for ineptitude (and that means trouble right here in East River City).    

 
Forgive me a little reference to "The Music Man" because I've just completed my trombone year of 76 and start walking 77 Sunset Strip as I type this blog.  (If any dear readers want to lend Kookie Kookie a comb, please do -and while you're at it, send along a tape of Efrem Zimbalist's Sr. great violin playing.)   

 
A golden anniversary year like the Mets are celebrating brings back many memories. Kudos to the Met organization for selling some tickets to the ESPN Sunday night game at 1969 prices.

 
I was still living in Baltimore on June 27, 1969 after one year of teaching at Goucher College, just north of Baltimore. For my first Baltimore birthday I treated myself to the Birds playing the defending World Series Tigers.  

 
It was a steamy Friday on Bethlehem Steel night.  The factories were still brimming in Charm City and the steelworkers brought along a contraption placed behind the outfield fence that blasted smoke into the stifling humid air every time the Orioles did something good.   

 
Funny how memory can be deceptive. I was sure that the Birds annihilated former Cy Young award-winner Denny McLain in a rout. And that damned boiler gizmo added more hot air into the already stifling atmosphere.  

 

Thanks to a glance at retrosheet.org - SABR's indispensable guide to virtually every box score ever -, the Orioles did take an early lead and beat Detroit 4-1 behind Dave McNally's complete-game 5-hitter. But it was hardly a rout.

 
McLain did pitch the next night in a loss and didn't get out of the 6th inning but that too wasn't exactly an annihilation.  The Tigers wound up winning 90 games in 1969 but still finished far behind the Orioles, winners of 109 games.


The Birds were fated to meet the Mets in the World Series and lose in five games after beating Tom Seaver in Game One in Baltimore.  I attended Game Two in the right field upper deck nosebleeds and I have to admit like most New Yorkers (except for those sullen Yankee fans living through a rare dark decade of non-contention), I was rooting for a Mets victory.   


I reasoned it would be a good thing for the city of New York and the country itself.  It was the height of anti-Vietnam war opposition amidst Richard Nixon's succession to the Presidency earlier in 1969. 

 
If you want to relive that time, I highly recommend Wayne Coffey's new book from Crown Archetype:  "They Said It Couldn't Be Done: The '69 Mets, New York City, And The Most Astounding Season In Baseball History."  

 

It recreates very well the magical year where the Mets scored only 15 runs more than their hapless maiden version of 1962 but wound up winning it all. Ace Tom Seaver was so exuberant that he even took out an ad saying that if Mets could win World Series, America could end Vietnam war.

 
Coffey is a veteran columnist and reporter for the New York "Daily News".  Among his prior books are "The Boys of Winter" (about the USA hockey team that upset the Russians at the 1980 Winter Olympics) and "Wherever I Wind Up," his collaboration with former Mets Cy Young award-winner R. A. Dickey on his memoir.  

 
I felt drawn into this book from the opening epigraphs, quotes from Booker T. Washington and St. Francis Assisi.  Some of the baseball material will not be new to ardent Mets fans. But Coffey has done new interviews with pitcher Jerry Koosman - Tom Seaver's too-often neglected second banana -, Ed Kranepool, and probably the last interview with the Mets' platoon-third baseman and poet in residence Ed Charles.

 

Too many other of the Mets' 1969 heroes are gone now, starting with manager Gil Hodges who left us so shockingly of a heart attack on the dawn of the strike-delayed 1972 season.  Tom Seaver's ongoing battle with dementia caused by lyme disease will keep him away from this weekend's festivities.

 

Of the quartet of key AfricanAmerican Mets core players, only Cleon Jones remains. He remains actively involved in restoring his Mobile, Alabama neighborhood of Africatown, the last port where slave ships arrived. His friend and neighbor Tommy Agee is gone as in the mid-1969 acquisition, slugging first baseman Donn Clendenon.

 

Happily, they all come back to life on Coffey's pages.  We learn such new details (new at least to me) that Clendenon turned down a bigtime college football scholarship to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta. A person serving as his unofficial big brother made the recommendation, . . . the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  

 

"They Said" is also enhanced by the still-vivid memories of Mets broadcasters Gary Cohen and Howie Rose both of whom like Coffey were teenagers in that special year of 1969.

 

My only criticism of Coffey's book is that there is no index.  A work of this quality needed one.

 

Well, that's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Luperon Edges Beacon In PSAL Championship Thriller + Other Notes on Grassroots Baseball & Shout Outs to Balanchine, Mendelssohn, NY City Ballet, and Yannick Nezet Seguin's Phila. Orch. & Rachmaninoff (updated)

There are some games when it is truly unjust that one team must lose.  Such was the case last Wednesday night June 12th when the Gregorio Luperon Generals nipped the Beacon Blue Demons, 5-4, for the Class AAA PSAL NYC high school title. 

 
In a 12-inning Yankee Stadium nail-biter that ended well after midnight, Beacon led for most of regulation and carried a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the 7th, usually the final inning in HS play.  But an overzealous throw from right field missed the cutoff man and allowed speedy Richard Vasquez, who pitched the first five innings, to reach second.

 

With the tying runs on second and third with one out, Beacon's RHP Adam Bogosian, in relief of fellow righthander Max Moss, notched a strikeout to bring the Blue Demons within one out of the school's first championship. He got ahead with two strikes on Luperon cleanup hitter Angel Castillo-Lopez who then dribbled the ball a few feet in front of home plate down the first base line.

 

Both Bogosian and catcher Greg Hurlbut instinctively went for the swinging bunt but there was no play at first as the third run scored. Operating on "pure instinct," Luperon coach Rico Pena said later, Vasquez never stopped running from second base.

 

With home plate still vacated, Bogosian dove for Vasquez who slid away from the tag to tie the game.

To Beacon's great credit, they fought Luperon on even terms for four extra innings until the bottom of 12th. Then Castillo-Lopez led off with a walk, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored the championship run on a a solid single up the middle by catcher Henry Pena-Mercedes.  

 

It was the first-ever title game for coaches Rico Pena and Beacon's Tom Covotsos of Beacon, two baseball veterans who really care about the game and the players.  Both schools are relatively new on the New York City scene and Covotsos and Pena are the only coaches the schools have ever employed.  

 

Talk about a sense of tradition. Rico Pena remembers he started coaching Luperon the same year Dellin Betances graduated from Brooklyn's Grand Street Campus - 2005. And Pena wears #24 in homage to Willie Mays who he never saw play but knows all about from reading and tales told him by his mentors. 

 
The first PSAL game last Wednesday also had its memorable moments. Competing for the Class AA title for schools with smaller enrollments, Brooklyn's Lafayette Patriots shut out Manhattan's Inwood Campus Gators,

2-0. Jason Jimenez hurled a complete game besting Inwood's Steven Santos. Lafayette flashy center fielder Brandon Prescod provided the key first RBI.  

 

What a thrill it must have been for all of the players to compete on the hallowed Yankee Stadium ground (even though the grandeur of the 1923 original is long gone).  Win or lose, the memories will always remain.

 

Beacon's star pitcher-second baseman Max Moss and center fielder Harper Diliberto-Bell are planning on playing at Clark University, the Division III school in Worcester, Mass. Already highly recruited by colleges, junior Adam Bogosian will return for his senior season. As will versatile shortstop-catcher Leo Jenkins, who kept the game alive by solid relief pitching in the extra innings and throughout the playoffs. 

 

Lafayette stars Jason Jimenez and Brandon Prescod are both heading north of the city to Dominican College.

 

In my continuing desire to watch baseball on lower levels - away from the overly noisy major league stadia -  I also enjoyed my first visit recently to the Soet Patriots independent Atlantic League franchise in Edgewater, New Jersey.  TD Bank ballpark may be twenty years old but it still looks spiffy. 

 

Independent league rosters are filled with older players hoping to get an another chance at affiliated baseball and the level of play can be spotty.  But I saw a well-played Patriots victory over the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. Check the website somersetpatriots.com for the upcoming schedule.  

 

Before the summer is over, I hope to venture out to Suffolk County to see the Long Island Ducks, Somerset's big rival in the Atlantic League who beat the Jerseyans out for the league title last season. 

 
One last note on grassroots baseball:  On a tour of Oriole affiliates Maryland last weekend, I was pleased by the atmosphere at Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, home of the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Single A-affiliate of the Orioles in the South Atlantic League (the Sally League).  The team is playing well and has an outstanding record, a rarity for any Oriole team these days.    

 

The Shorebirds' veteran gm Chris Bitters has a commitment to a baseball experience that is not overburdened by an ear-splitting sound system.  Last Saturday night, he even opened the gates at 4p for batting practice. 

It may not become a regular event because attendance was rather sparse, but Bitters deserves a tip of the cap for trying to create an atmosphere that reminds a fan of what the baseball experience used to be. 

 

Here's an another tip of the cap to the Michigan Wolverines who though unrated in college baseball's top 25 is undefeated so far in the College World Series in Omaha.  They have an ace southpaw pitcher Austin Henry who actually hurled a 100 pitch 3-hit shutout to get them close to the final best-of-three series.

 

Unheralded but gritty Michigan will make the final if they win a rematch against Texas Tech on Friday afternoon June 21 at 2p EDT.  Vanderbilt plays at 7p June 21 and makes the final if they beat winner of 7p Louisville-Mississippi State elimination game on June 20.  

 

Double-elimination tourneys can be confusing but they are simple in the later rounds.  Undefeated teams like Michigan and Vanderbilt need just one win to make final round.  Their opponents must beat them twice to get in. 

 

Before I close, though 2019 has started with major losses of my ex-wife to cancer and my beloved calico cat Sheba to kidney disease and old age, I have found that experiencing live arts in NYC remains a great consolation.

 

I saw a memorable production by the New York City Ballet of George Balanchine's choreography for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with Felix Mendelssohn's music.  The brilliant humorous dancing of Sara Mearns was truly outstanding.  

 

I also caught the Philadelphia Orchestra led by charismatic Yannick Nezet-Seguin at Carnegie Hall in a program of Stravinsky-Prokofieff-Rachmaninoff.  Rachmaninoff's First Symphony is rarely heard because its debut was such a disaster in Russia that the 24-year-old composer withdrew it from performance. 

 

It starts very traditionally Russian, almost as if the 24-year-old was writing Tchaikovsky's Seventh Symphony. Later movements veer into the realms of the unique brooding and yearning that Rachmaninoff would plumb more effectively later in his career.  Still glad I heard the 45-minute symphony, especially in the hands of Yannick who really cares about the music and draws out astonishing sounds from the wonderful Philadelphia ensemble.   

 

That's all for now.  As summer officially nears, always remember: Take it easy but take it!

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