Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Year to Remember

I was dithering about the Internet last night looking, actually, for a picture for my website. I thought an action shot of José Reyes would be good. I couldn’t find a picture of Jose, but what I did find was vastly better.

Clips from the documentary “A Year to Remember” about the 1986 Mets!!
It was stunning for me to realize that 1986, a.k.a. Jack Lesniewski’s sports awakening year, was 20 years ago. But then I watched the documentary, and I realized how dated everything seems. No one molded or adjusted their hats in those days, just kinda slapped them on, with the goofy hat nipple sticking up and everything. Weird facial hair. Strange Atari-style bands across the uniforms of teams like the Astros. Skin tight uniform pants revealing more than you wanted to know about Keith Hernandez and Mookie Wilson. Doc Gooden pitching 10 innings in Game One of the NLCS. Ron Darling and Bruce Hurst pitching 3 games during the World Series.

Watching gave me chills. 1984 was the year I began to be a sports fan. My father first took me to a game that year. It was a surprise. Dad packed me into the car with beach towels, a cooler full of beverages and healthy snacks and we took off west on the Southern State parkway. I was totally befuddled because everything pointed to a beach day, so why go west towards the city. I don’t remember exactly how excited I was when I found out we were going to Shea to see the Mets, but I think it ranked somewhere in the top 2 cool events of my life to that point.

There are vistas and sights in my life that are permanently burned under my eyelids, sights that I can call up in full HDTV clarity. Some of these eyelid photos relate to Hannah, Sarah, scenes from Guatemala or faces of long lost friends. One of those sights is coming out of the tunnel that first time at Shea Stadium. The Mets were playing the pre-John Rocker/Bobby Cox Braves in some dark blue monstrosity uniforms. I don’t remember who won that game or what when on, probably because I was too dazed and excited to take it all in (I could make up stuff, but that’d be too Million Little Pieces, I guess).

All of that nostalgic memorializing is to say that no matter what hat I wear these days, I was sports-weaned on the NY Metropolitans. Which is why 1986 was such a pivotal year. The 1986 Mets were an amazing bunch. You had some of the most exciting young players in the game in Strawberry and Gooden, a colorful manager, superstars like Keith Hernandez, gutsy guys like Backman and Mookie, a young pre-HGH Lenny Dykstra, and apparently as we’ve found later, a team whose locker room resembled Animal House. Good times all around. They were an intense bunch of guys who played hard, partied hard, and really only had one chance to win before they inevitably flamed out as a consequence of too much intensity for too long.

Watching the video reminded me again of how intense the 1986 playoffs were. In the NLCS, you had the villainry of Mike Scott’s unhittable split finger (the Mets had to win Game 6 or they’d face Scott again and probably lose), Nolan Ryan throwing heat and most memorable to me, Lenny Dykstra’s walk-off home run in Game 2. I was there. I can still hear the chants of “Lenny, Lenny” as we filed out with 40,000 jubilant fans. You had multiple extra inning games and none of the games w ere decided early. You have Mets rallies based on bloop hits and fly balls that get away from Astros outfielders. You had a game 6 that was played with a game 7 must win intensity.

It was fun, too to watch the celebrations between the NLCS and the World Series. This was pre-1990s Yankees bandwagon explosion, when New York’s loyalties were up for grabs. Can you imagine a celebrity of Glen Close’s stature pimping a Mets game now? Bill Murray was in the front row. Shea Stadium that much maligned oval by the bay was rocking.

The 1986 World Series has been written about ad nauseum, but I’ll just note here that it’s even more dramatic than I remembered. The Mets were done in Game 6, done like K-Fed’s rapping career or New Coke. Two outs nobody on. And then, little by little, the wheels start coming off. Buckner’s error was, despite what conventional wisdom says, was the nail in the coffin, not the start of the rally. The game was already tied by that point. Regardless, it’s every bit as dramatic 20 years later as it was then.

Twenty years later, are the Mets back? More on that and more 1986 memories later.


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