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Tom Seaver statue unveils Bittersweet for ex-Mets teammates

For the two veteran southpaws, both now in their 70s, the statue that will soon dominate Citi Field is a source of joy and sadness, magnificence and melancholy. Sometime after 10:30 a.m. Friday morning, someone will pull a protective sleeve off the 3,200 pounds of bronze and stainless steel, and once again The Franchise will be owned by the Franchise.

Tom Seaver, Drop and Diving forever, mud stain on right knee and stuff.

“It will make me so happy to know that they are fittingly honoring the greatest player in New York Mets history,” Jerry Koosman told The Post over the phone this week. “And it will make me sad to know that my friend and my brother will not be there. He was the very best of all of us. I wish he could see it.”

Said Jon Matlack: “He was the consummate professional. He took the right path because he did everything right in his life. He worked hard. He studied the game. He treated people with respect. You couldn’t ask for a better teammate or guy to work with and work alongside. You couldn’t ask for a better role model.”

There won’t be a dry eye anywhere in Queens County when the Seaver statue is unveiled, a long-overdue tribute to the most important player in Mets history. In many ways, fans are still mourning his death from COVID complications and Lewy body dementia in September 2020. But Seaver was that rare athlete who wasn’t just adored by people in the stands. Talk to the old Mets. Start with his closest associates. And you will understand.

“I didn’t just like him,” Koosman said. “I admired him.”

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Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver in 2009.
REUTERS

Anyway, there was a moment in the mind’s eye when the three of them would be young and forever make National League players look silly. Seaver and Koosman had actually broken camp together in 1967 and formed an instant bond as a New Guy pitcher. After Koosman was sent to Jacksonville for most of the 1967 season, it was Seaver who blossomed into the Mets’ first legitimate star, winning 16 games and winning NL Rookie of the Year.

A year later it was Koosman’s turn: a 19-12 record, a 2.08 ERA. He finished second for ROY, losing by a vote to Johnny Bench. Together, Seaver and Koosman announced that the Mets would no longer be a laughing stock. Seaver became a superstar, Koosman his sidekick, and one of the best big-game pitchers in team history.

“We kept getting better because we challenged each other as teammates every day,” said Koosman. “We were both extremely competitive and never wanted the other to surpass us too much.”

So they invented dozens of competitions, games within games: they challenged each other to see who could throw the fewest pitches in a 1-2-3 inning. You would see who could saw off more bats in this launch or that.

“And there were always beatings,” Matlack said, laughing. “That’s when it got really interesting.”

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Tom Seaver gets a standing ovation at Shea Stadium.
Bettmann Archive

When Matlack finally arrived in April 1972 at the age of 22, he found he was entering one of baseball’s greatest labs of all time.

“On one side of my locker is Jerry Koosman, one of the top two or three lefties in the National League, and being lefty we hit it off right away because we were always trying to get along with previous hitters,” said Matlack, who won 1972 Rookie of the Year and went 15-10 with a 2.32 ERA and four shutouts.

“And on the other side is Tom Seaver, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, whether left-handed or right-handed, and watching him was like seeing a case study of how to do everything right: eat well, stay in shape, how to well deal with it fans how much sleep do you guys need. He was very serious.”

“But not always,” Koosman said. “If there was some banter in the clubhouse, there was a good chance Tom was behind it, although you’d never know until it was too late.”

Both men lightly laugh when discussing Seaver. But like so many of her teammates, the laughter is often quickly accompanied by an inevitable sadness. He was only 75 when he died. The Mets knew years ago they were going to open a new ballpark. At Yankee Stadium, they would have opened the new store without home plate before skipping a memorial to Babe Ruth; Seaver was and remains the Ruth of the Mets.

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Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan
Paul J. Bereswill

So on Friday an old oversight will be wiped away. Nancy Seaver will be there, as will her daughters. Two of Seaver’s grandsons, Tom and Tobin, will pitch the first pitch of the new season a little later. And just to the right of the old Big Apple in the parking lot, Tom Seaver will get out and drive off again. The Mets kept getting rid of him as a player. Now he’s theirs forever. Not even M. Donald Grant or Frank Cashen can ever change that.

“I wish I could watch him pitch tomorrow,” said Jon Matlack. Jerry Koosman had a different desire.

“I wish,” Number 36 said of Number 41, two of five retired Mets numbers, “that he could see all of this. I wish he could be at the stadium. I wish he could hear the fans one more time.”

https://nypost.com/2022/04/13/tom-seaver-statue-unveiling-bittersweet-for-ex-mets-teammates/ Tom Seaver statue unveils Bittersweet for ex-Mets teammates

JOE HERNANDEZ

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