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Remembering The '69 World Series And The Miracle Mets

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The World Series starts tomorrow in Kansas City. The Royals will host the San Francisco Giants. The Royals have been this year's surprise team. They remind NPR's Brian Naylor of the World Series he attended 45 years ago when the Miracle New York Mets upset the favored Baltimore Orioles.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: My Mets were up two games to one. And I was at Shea Stadium. I remember it as a crisp fall day. It was Moratorium Day, and a big protest against the Vietnam War was planned. Some of my classmates at Fox Lane High School in Bedford, New York, said they were planning to go. I was pretty sure I was against the war too, but at age 14 my priorities were clear. I loved baseball. I loved the Mets. And this was a chance to go the World Series.

A guy who worked with my mom had gotten the tickets. We sat in the next-to-last row, way up in the upper deck overlooking right field. In the row behind us, a group of men sipped whiskey from bottles in paper bags. My suburban upbringing hadn’t prepared me for this, but it was cool.

My hero, Tom Seaver, was pitching. He’d won 25 games that season and had nearly thrown a perfect game earlier in the summer. And when Jimmy Qualls of the Cubs spoiled it with one out in the ninth, I had tears in my eyes.

On the way into the stadium, a group calling itself Mets Fans for Peace handed out leaflets protesting the war. The cover had a picture of Seaver and a news clipping in which he called U.S. involvement in the war perfectly ridiculous and said if the Mets went on to win the Series, he would buy an ad in The New York Times saying if the Mets can win the World Series, then we can get out of Vietnam.

Of the game itself, I have one clear memory, of Ron Swoboda's full-out diving catch just below us in right field. He seemingly came from nowhere. The stakes were high. And it appeared impossible - maybe even miraculous.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And there's a drive for right-center. Swoboda comes up...

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The game is tied - Ron Swoboda making another sensational catch for the Mets.

(CHEERING)

NAYLOR: The game went to the 10th, when J.C. Martin laid down a pinch-hit bunt. And as he lumbered to first, the throw hit him and skidded off into right field. Rod Gaspar scored from second - the winning run.

It would be another few years before the war wound down. The guy who took me to Game 4 would become my stepfather a few years hence. But that dysfunction was for another day.

I've seen many, many baseball games since then. There have been adrenaline-coursing walk-off wins and desultory, deflating losses, but so far, only one World Series game. Forty-five years later, the memory lingers. What a game it was.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Brian Naylor. The very next day that October of 1969, the Mets won game five and with it their first World Series. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.