This excerpt from The Boys of Shea, the Unforgettable 2006 Mets
is highly relevant today after the Mets assigned Jose Valentin to minor league status, and presumably a trade to another team. Let’s hope its not the Orioles.
Copyright © 2006 by Evan Pritchard for Amazine
Originally posted July 29th, 2006
The day was October 12th, 1969, a sunny Sunday afternoon. The place was lovely Manati, in northwest Puerto Rico, where small huts scattered amid the sands were shaded by gently swaying palm trees. It was as far away from Roosevelt Avenue, Queens as one could travel, in a state of mind. Amid humble, not-quite manger-like surroundings, Jose Valentin’s parents to be were awaiting the birth of their new baby. Mrs. Valentin lay in the bed, in labor, while her nervous husband helped the midwives with their chores. The proud papa was a baseball fan, and hoped for a boy he could play pepper with in five years. He would get much more than he bargained for….
The following is historical fiction, a scholarly reconstruction of the mystical events of the next few hours of October 12, 1969, moments that would change the course of history for baseball, and for mankind. (This article, a salute to Jose Valentin and to the Met-fantasy movie Frequency, is respectfully posted pending comments from Jose Valetin’s family)
Dad looked at his watch. Two PM. He had already missed the first hour of the World Series game, the Mets versus the Orioles. He had friends in New York City, and, like everyone else in the world, was aware of the Mets unlikely climb to the top of the NL East, and had been following the NL playoffs against the Braves on the radio. Now the Orioles had won the first game of the fall classic, and the Mets were at the disadvantage. Too nervous to simply sit and watch the birthing, with his wife’s permission, the expecting father switched on a beat up AM radio to listen to the local feed from NBC radio’s Puerto Rican affiliates. The description of the game did not cure his nerves.
It was the top of the fourth inning. No score. It was an intense pitching duel between Mets’ Jerry Koosman and Oriole ace Dave McNally, both future Hall of Famers. The visiting Mets were coming to bat. The leadoff hitter in the inning, Donn Clendenon, hit a solo home run, and the Mets took the lead. It was only the second run in Mets World Series history, and put them ahead for the first time. The man, weary from hours of bedside manners and hand holding, gave a little “Let’s Go Mets!” cheer until the midwives succinctly shushed him.
The pitching duel continued and Baltimore was not able to tie it up against Koosman until the bottom of the seventh. Now it was the top of the eighth, one to one. If the Mets fell two games behind, it would be tough to recover. The Orioles had one of the best pitching foursomes in history, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, (all 20 game winners) and **** Hall, and one of the best quartet of sluggers to date; Frank and Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell and Curt Blefary. The Mets had four great pitchers, but one of the lowest team batting averages in World Series history. The situation in Baltimore was tense. Koosman was pitching a two hitter, but McNally was looking masterful as well. The light-hitting Al Weis, a career .238 hitter, had gotten one hit and an intentional base on balls so far. The eighth inning passed without a run scoring. It was still tied.
Señora Valentin was heavy in labor now, working her breath with the help of the midwives. The baby would come out any second. Dave McNally was tired, too, from his own labors, but stayed in to go the distance.
In the top of the ninth, Ed Charles and Jerry Grote got on base for the Mets, and the usually faint-hearted eighth-spot hitting second baseman Al Weis got an RBI single that scored what was to be the historic winning run, and it put the Mets ahead 2-1. Koosman was taken out for a pinch hitter, and Taylor came in to save the lead, and the Mets won their first World Series game to tie the series. Some point to that run as a turning point in baseball history.
It was at this joyous moment (or perhaps within a few hours) that the infant Jose Valentin was born into this world. “It’s a BOY!” senior Valentin shouted with pride. “He will be a ball player!” He hugged his wife, and soon was holding the baby in a blue blanket. “Let’s call him Jose!”
One of the midwives, an ancient and wise woman apparently of Taino extraction, with a mysterious look in her eyes, turned to Jose’s father and said in a husky voice that seemed to come from the world beyond, “It’s a SIGN! The radio! The base hit! Victory! Your son is going to be a great baseball player in USA with Los Mets! He will lead them to victory in a distant World Series, at a time when the world will be in turmoil and distress. He will lead them to a promised land, free of steroids.”
“What’s a steroid?” the new father asked.
“Never mind! This boy, whom you have named Jose, Jose Valentin, will follow in Al Weis’ footsteps! He shall be a switch-hitting second baseman for the White Sox, who will be traded to the Mets in an off year. In his second year as a Met, although starting out as a platooned player like Weis, he will lead them to World Series victory. This is why he was born at this moment. To show us his future. He will bring a boon to our village.”
“How do I know that these things you say are true?” the incredulous father asked with wonder.
She answered, “If what I am saying is true, the Mets will miraculously defeat the Orioles in four straight games, and in that last game, Al Weiss will hit an important home run at Shea, even though he has never hit one in a home game in his life before. That home run will fix the term “Miracle Mets’ in the minds of baseball fans forever.”
“Al Weiss? I find that hard to believe!” the father stated soberly.
“You GOTTA BELIEVE! In fact, Señor Weiss will hit .455 for the series!”
“Wait a minute? You expect me to believe that against Palmer, McNally, Cuellar and Hall that a .215 hitter will bat almost .500? No way Jose!”
“Deba Creer” (You Gotta Believe!) she exclaimed. “It will be a sign to you. Yes!” she said, suddenly dropping her accent for one more appropriate for Queens. “During that last game, you will doubt my words, as the Orioles will go ahead three-zip. But Cleon Jones will dispute a hit-by-pitch call by showing the ump the shoe polish on the ball. He will be awarded the base, and then Donn Clendenon will take McNally deep for two runs. That’ll bring the score to 3 to 2, and then Al Weiss will tie it with the long ball. Then you will know the truth about your son’s future.” The old woman left the room uttering a Spanish phrase meaning, “Mark my words!”
Good field-no hit Al Weiss was to go on to lead the Mets to victory in the World Series with an amazing .455 batting average. Cleon Jones got his famous shoe-polish free base, and was knocked in my Donn Clendenon. The Al Weiss home run off McNally did indeed tie the 5th game at 3-3, leading to victory and the Series Championship. In the words of George Burns playing God (in Oh God!) His greatest miracle was the 1969 Mets; before that you have to go back to the Red Sea.
The amazed father bought his son a second baseman’s glove and took good care of it until the boy was old enough to wield its power. The boy did become a great second baseman for Chicago,
but he was no light hitter. He hit 25 homers for them in 2000, 28 in 2001, 25 in 2002, 28 in 2003 and 30 in 2004. During that time he bought the Santurce Crabbers baseball team of the Puerto Rican Winter League and moved them to his small and impoverished home town of Manati, in the far northwest corner of Puerto Rico at the urging of the town mayor. Valentin changed the name of the team to the Athenians, and the team went on to break league attendance records, another minor miracle, thanks in part to Valentin electing to play second for his own team, and more recenlty amid rumors that Beltran might join him. It helped bring prosperity to the village. Last winter, the Athenians won their division title and made it into the playoffs.
Valentin was traded to the Mets in 2005 and had an off year as the Mets dallied around .500. He played sporadically behind Kaz Matsui in 2006. Around June 2nd of this year, Kaz Matsui was finally benched and Valentin took over, going 6 for 13 with two homers in the first few days. He has never looked back.
This is the time. This is the team. We must cheer our Mets to World Series victory so that eighth-spot hitter Jose Valentin can fulfill his destiny as a Met, and fill the shoes of Al Weiss. The opposing team will not be the Orioles this time, but may in fact be his own former teammates, the Chicago White Sox.
Some of the facts in the above story are true. Jose Valentin was born the day of Al Weiss’ game-winning single, in Puerto Rico, where he still lives. The baseball stuff is true. The rest is, shall we say a “historical reconstruction.” Is that part true? Well, as they say in Queens, “You gotta believe.”
NOTE: The author met with Ron Swoboda on September 17th, 2005, and discussed his role as advisor in the creation of the Met-Fantasy movie Frequency, starring Dennis Quaid, a film that used actual footage from the 1969 World Series. In that story, a man from the future proves his bizarre claim by foretelling the improbable events of the 1969 series. His prediction of the Cleon Jones shoe-polish incident played a part in solving an inter-dimensional murder mystery. Ron Swoboda and the author talked at length about Swoboda’s good friend Donn Clendenon, whose three homers did so much to win the contest and win himself an MVP. A few moments later, it was announced on the radio that Donn Clendenon had passed away. This incident only increased the author’s interest in the movie Frequency, in the 1969 Mets, and opened his mind further to chronicalling the supernatural where the Mets are concerned. Donn’s published book “Miracle in New York,” discusses Clendenon’s insider view of the amazing events and coincidences of that miraculous season.