1999 Project: A First-hand Account of Pratt-tober

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a tad obsessed with the 1999 Mets. But I also have to admit, I didn’t not get to see them in person many times. Not more than twice, and I my usually steeltrap brain can’t recall any specific details from my trips to Shea that year. Shameful to admit, but true.

I also didn’t get to go to any playoff games–those I surely would have remembered. As I’ve explained before, it didn’t even occur to me at the time that I would be allowed to go to a playoff game. As if it was some sweet nectar reserved for only the very privileged.

But this week I received a communique from a friend who attended game 4 of the NLDS. I’m posting it here, complete and unedited, because not only is it a great first-hand account of the majesty and insanity of that game, but it also captures exactly why that team means so much to me. This comes from TheWhiteBoomBoom, longtime friend and frequent commenter in these parts. (He asked to be identified as “longtime friend and former lover,” but I said no. Ooops…)

Reading the last week or two of the 1999 Project has been awesome, mostly because I’ve found myself being totally thrilled by each win (or devastated by the loses), despite knowing exactly how the whole thing plays out.  I’m pretty sure I was going through the exact same thing at home, listening/watching the games, or more likely, catching the recaps on the news, since at the time I worked a job that usually got me home at about 11 pm.

Those last few weeks were a little overshadowed for me, though, as on September 27th of that year, my father passed away.  My father took me to my first baseball game when I was an infant, and even tried to catch a bare handed foul ball with me in his other arm (he didn’t go dashing or leaning over a railing for it or anything…he wasn’t THAT irresponsible.)  Some of my earliest memories were of he and I, sitting in our driveway during the summer, listening to the Pirates play on a little transistor radio. I remember when he explained to me what “the 3-2 pitch” actually meant.

My friends, who had converted me to being a Mets fan in the summer of 1998, called me when those playoffs started and said that they got tickets to game four of the NLDS and they wanted me to come.  My job paid me by the hour, and since I had just taken a week off to be with my family for the services, I was pretty broke.  They said not to worry, they would take care of it.  It was one of the best gifts anyone had given me.

The game was insane.  Our group were all lifelong Mets fans, who had waited in the big crazy line to get those tickets.  None of those corporate gifts for us.

The youngest of our group spent the entire game sitting, his hands folded in front of his mouth, staring at the field like he was trying to explode someone’s head like in Scanners.  The only time he did anything was a short burst of clapping when the Mets got a hit or a strikeout.  I could tell he wouldn’t feel relieved until the last out of the ninth.

Which means Alan probably got an ulcer before his 20th birthday, because OF COURSE the game went into extra innings.  It felt like the last 3 weeks had nothing but extra innings.

I remember when the final score of the Braves game showed on the scoreboard, and the fans started a chant saying, “We want the Braves!”  Dom turned to me and said, “Umm, no we don’t.”

Anyway, up comes Todd Pratt.  And man, he nails that ball absolutely dead center.  The whole place stands up and waits, because while it seemed to have shot off his bat, Steve Finley had been an animal in center that whole series.  Maybe it’s time clouding my memory, but I remember him stealing several hits, not to mention a few leaps up the wall that turned should-have-been home runs into depressing outs.

And there he was again, jumping against that wall, about to steal the game winning home run in the 11th inning, in what had been an exhausting few weeks for Mets fans.  The whole stadium is on it’s feet, waiting, staring, dead silent, for what feels like an eternity while Finley lands, to find out if he did his magic again.  He lands, we’re all holding our breath, and he turns to the infield, and just shakes his head no.

I have never seen such an eruption of unadulterated joy by so many people due to one man’s failure in my life.  My friends and I literally jumped on each other, over our seats, bruises be damned.

My friends dropped me off somewhere in Williamsburg, and I all told them that I couldn’t thank them enough, and that they would never realize how much it meant to me that they took me to that game.  I know I got a little misty eyed in the back of the car, but I was able to keep it in check in front of my friends.  I won’t be so schmaltzy to say that it was my dad that kept that ball out of Finley’s glove that afternoon.  I couldn’t help but think, however, of those times he spent with me teaching me about baseball, and that I was so glad he had given me that gift, because I was now able to enjoy a few moments of absolute joy, in the face of that crushing pain.