NEW YORK – Fifty years later, it all felt fresh for the 1969 New York Mets.
The out-of-nowhere World Series champions were honored for their lasting legacy Saturday at Citi Field. Fifteen members of the Miracle Mets paraded down Seaver Way in classic cars, received keys to New York City from Mayor Bill de Blasio and told the same stories for what felt like the millionth time.
“This will be a million and one,” joked outfielder Cleon Jones.
Not that anybody minded. First baseman Ed Kranepool recalled learning of the moon landing while in Montreal. Catcher Jerry Grote boasted about predicting the club’s championship during spring training. Pitcher Jerry Koosman chuckled about having “too many chicken dinners.”
“When you see the guys, you don’t realize it’s been 50 years,” Kranepool said.
Players started the day by recreating the parade route from that unexpected ’69 championship. Driven in vintage vehicles, they were cheered by hundreds of fans along the street recently renamed for ace Tom Seaver. The club announced Thursday it would erect a statue of Seaver outside Citi Field, too.
The 74-year-old Seaver has dementia and could not attend. Grote choked back tears when asked about the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner.
“The thing that hurts the most is that he wasn’t there,” he said.
“It’s certainly a pleasure to ride down Seaver Way,” Kranepool said. “That’s important to us.”
De Blasio presented each player with a key to the city and recalled watching “the ultimate underdogs” as an 8-year-old. The devout Red Sox fan confused a few details, though, citing as inspiration the “Ya gotta believe” slogan that wasn’t coined until 1973.
“What a lovable group of guys,” de Blasio added.
The team gave fans orange pennants featuring names of the ’69 players, and the crowd packed in early before an afternoon game against the Atlanta Braves for an on-field feting.
Among the other players attending were Bud Harrelson, Wayne Garrett, Ron Swoboda, Art Shamsky, Rod Gaspar, J.C. Martin, Duffy Dyer, Jim McAndrew, Jack DiLauro, Bobby Pfiel and Ron Taylor. Family members for late teammates were also invited onto the field, as was the widow of manager Gil Hodges, Joan Lombardi.
Kranepool addressed the crowd on behalf of the team, and fans cheered throughout – except when he thanked the Wilpon family. That brought on a chorus of boos.
The club played a video on the scoreboard recapping the ’69 season. Players stood on a stage near the mound and watched, a few of them linking arms.
“We were not supposed to do anything,” Grote said. “And we did it all.”
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