NEW YORK — Jerry Manuel was 15 when the Miracle Mets came out of nowhere to win the 1969 World Series.
That ballclub didn’t really grab the attention of the current New York manager during his impressionable teenage years. Football and other activities were on his radar in those days, but decades later he learned exactly what turned that team from lovable losers into unlikely champions.
Manuel played senior league baseball in Florida in an infield that included Bud Harrelson at shortstop and former Mets catcher Jerry Grote at third base. Manuel marveled from his spot at second base at how competitive and focused on details his older teammates still were.
“Just from that brief experience ... I could see why they were champions,” Manuel said Saturday before the ’69 Mets were honored 40 years after their title. “You’re taking the word ’gamer’ to another level, even at the senior league.”
The biggest cheers Saturday night were reserved for star pitchers Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Famer who hadn’t attended a Mets function since being traded by the team in 1971.
In all, 21 players and coaches — including another Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra — lined the arc just behind the infield dirt at Citi Field, which is hosting its first season. The ballpark they called home, Shea Stadium, is gone, reduced to rubble in the parking lot.
But with a full house on hand to celebrate the past, this group of aging ballplayers sure made Citi Field feel like home.
The first and third base lines were adorned with “Mets 1969,” and a pennant with a big “69” in the middle was mowed into the center-field grass for the current homestand.