The 1999 Project: A “Humble” Introduction

mora_cedeno_rocker.jpgToday I unveil The 1999 Project. Not to be confused with the Manhattan Project, the Montauk Project, or–god forbid–the 9/12 Project.

In case you hadn’t peeked at a calendar lately, it’s the year 2009. That means it’s ten years since the year 1999. That may or may not mean much to you. To me, 1999 means a lot. It was the year I finally dove headfirst back into baseball.

I loved baseball as a kid, but drifted away from it in high school and most of college. I dipped my toe back in the water a few times in 1998. That was the year the Mets acquired Mike Piazza and Al Leiter, and the first year they seriously contended for a playoff spot in many a moon. It seemed a good year to reqacquaint myself.

It was also, unfortunately, the year where they lost their last five games–when even one win would’ve meant a three-way tie for the wild card–and finished one game out of the postseason picture. The newspapers, and many fans, called it a choke job, a collapse. Oh, if they only knew what a real collapse looked like…by having the definition drilled into their heads two years in a row…

But 1998 was almost worth it for the insane, monstrous glory and agony that was 1999. If any year of Mets baseball was going to bring you back to the fold, this was it. 1999 remains my favorite season.

I wasn’t born in 1969 or 1973. I wasn’t old enough to appreciate 1986. But in 1999, I was fresh out of college, on my own, entering the workplace, and rediscovering a team that made itself impossible to not like. The fact that they didn’t win the World Series, or even get to it, almost seems beside the point.

For a while, I thought 2006 would take the place of 1999 in my heart, but Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, and Guillermo Mota conspired to take it out of the running. 1999 still reigns supreme.

And Bobby Valentine remains my favorite Mets manager of all time. Probably the only true genius who ever helmed the team. He had one sort-of ace (Leiter) and one bona fide slugger (Piazza), and that was pretty much it. He built the 1999 Mets into a 97 win team with a great bullpen and solid defense (The Best Infield Ever), while dealing with fair-to-middling starting pitching and a completely anonymous outfield.

Several years later, once the 1999 Mets had scattered to the four winds, I made a concerted effort to get jerseys of all members of its vaunted infield. I only got halfway there: Robin Ventura and Edgardo Alfonzo (my favorite all-time Met). I can understand not being able to find a Rey Ordonez jersey, but no eBay love for Jon Olerud? That still shocks me.

So as I noted the passage of time this New Year’s, I said to myself, “Self, why don’t you do a retrospective of your favorite season?” Methought, with the assistance of and a few newspaper archives, I could reconstruct the season from beginning to end.

I’ve played around with this idea in my head for months. Seriously, for months. I weighed the pros and cons of this project endlessly. I considered the glory of success, the ignominy of failure. Because if I say I’m going to do this, I have to do it, for all 162 regular season games (technically, 163) and beyond.

What put me over the edge was my recent devouring of Faith and Fear in Flushing (which I promise to give a proper review very soon). Greg Prince’s breathless account of that year was enough to convince me that this project should be done–nay, must be done. Particularly his description of Game 6 of that year’s LCS as the best game he’d ever seen, even though the Mets lost it–and thus the series–on a bases-loaded walk.

(Pause here to bite your knuckle and curse the memory of Kenny Rogers.)

I will probably do one post a week, chronicling the games that were played during that 7-day period (I realize that the weeks probably won’t line up the same way, in Sunday-to-Saturday terms, but if I don’t mind that detail, neither should you). But I also reserve the right to concentrate a daily post on particularly awesome or heartbreaking games.

I also figure this will help me keep perspective and not worry too much about the state of the current Mets, which I otherwise would have great difficulty doing. I have certain thoughts about this year’s team that I’d rather keep close to my vest, having been burned by two years of…

Jesus, how can you even describe the last two years? It’s like the famous banner lofted by the original Sign Man at Shea after the conclusion of the ’69 Series: THERE ARE NO WORDS. No, there are not, but for all the wrong reasons.

Without further ado, let the pain begin!