Mets' magic amazes across generations
Improbable run to World Series sparks memories of 1969 champions
NEW YORK -- Sometimes, as a sports fan, you need to be lucky. You need to be born at the right time and in the right place to witness magic, or at least be on the winning side of it. Our fandoms and loyalties are so often matters of circumstance, of inheritance, of so many other factors often far out of our control. Art Kleiner, he'll tell you, is one of the lucky ones.
Kleiner was 13 years old in 1969, the perfect age in the perfect window of history to grow up a certain kind of New York sports fan. The Jets won the Super Bowl that year, improbably. The Mets won the World Series, so inexplicably they inspired the motto that still follows the team to this day: "Amazin'!"
Several men around Kleiner's age held signs sporting that slogan at a rally in Mineola, N.Y., on Monday, in advance of the Mets' appearance in this World Series, their first since 2000. Still hypnotized, still enthralled by that magic, at least one slipped back into his preteen youth when Nassau County executive Ed Mangano mentioned the year 1969 on the microphone. "BEST. YEAR. EVER!" the man bellowed, arms raised, eyes wide with pride. Some things never leave you.
As a kid, Kleiner wanted to preserve the Miracle Mets in time, in case history forgot. So at 13, he began saving newspaper clippings of the Mets' mad dash to the pennant at his home in Valley Stream, N.Y. One turned into two, two into four, snapshots transformed into a narrative. Decades and a few close calls later, Kleiner's collection serves as a shrine to those Mets, and to fans of a certain age, a museum-worthy showcase of good times, rolling.
"I just wanted to remember," Kleiner said after the rally, shifting through the book in front of a small crowd.
The nostalgia doesn't stop with the headlines or the photos, though they are in pristine condition and mostly autographed. Flip the page and look, there is Tommie Agee diving in the right-center-field gap to make a spectacular catch in Game 3 of the 1969 World Series. There's Boog Powell and Bud Harrelson tussling at first base. There are thousands of Mets fans in suits and ties flooding the field at Shea Stadium.
Kleiner has the Agee catch split into four separate photos. Agee signed all four before his death in 2001.
"His publicist was telling him not to," Kleiner remembers. "Telling him not to leave money on the table!"
Around that time, Kleiner accidentally left his collection on the subway after dozing off during a commute. He retrieved it after calling the MTA, who directed him to the person who found it. A Mets fan, another one of the lucky ones.
"I almost had a heart attack," Kleiner said.
Kleiner has added to it over the years, chronicling the 2000 Subway Series as well as this one, which resumes Friday at Citi Field (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time). But as is the case for an entire generation of New Yorkers, the '69 Mets will always be Kleiner's favorite.
"They were the underdogs, and it took great playing from everyone to get the job done," he said. "They rose to the occasion when nobody thought they could."
Very few thought this year's Mets would be here, one of the last two teams standing as November nears. Now that they are, an entire generation of fans clings to every pitch, grinding their teeth in hopes of another amazin' finish.