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October 12, 1999: the Mets vs. the Braves, Game One

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Last Mets game, the reporters' notebooks were wet with champagne. Tonight, new Mets series, more moisture: Pregame rain this time. In the three-year history of Turner Field, there has never been a rainout. It's not likely the first one will be tonight, given NBC's desire not to reschedule this game on Thursday night and preempt ER.

Actually, the main Turner Field weirdness tonight is the fact that the game is not sold out. At least 5,000 seats were still available an hour before the first pitch. Maybe those are 5,000 smartest people in Atlanta, because they're smart enough not to come out and sit in the rain, but offer the worst seats in Shea Stadium, the ones up so high you can glimpse the in-flight movie as planes land at LaGuardia, for a playoff game, at $45 a pop, and there'd be fistfights between fans trying to buy the tickets. The leading local theory is the Braves fans are jaded, that they've watched seven straight appearances by the Braves in the National League Championship Series and the novelty has worn off.

The Mets are astounded, and are taking the empty seats as a slight. "It's sad," Turk Wendell says. "It's embarrassing. The fans must think this isgonna be a breeze for the Braves, and they're waiting for the World Series. With all the smack being talked between us and the Braves, with the Braves coming back against the Astros in the last series, there should be plenty of interest. I can't understand it."

Wendell has lots of friends on the Braves, because of his years in the Atlanta minor league system, and he's got nothing against the players."It's kind of silly when we get asked all these questions -- 'Do you hate the other team?'" the relief pitcher says. "Having friends on the other team actually makes it more of a battle when a guy you know gets in the batter's box, though, for a different reason. You know you're gonna see the guy later on, over the winter maybe, and he's going to be talking some smack if he got a hit off you. There was a game earlier this year where I threw Ryan Klesko a pitch that he should've hit, but he fouled it off. He gave me a look, like, 'You got away with one,' and I started laughing. Then I got him out. So I'll definitely remind him about it later."

Wendell, famous for his goofy tics on the mound, like slamming the rosin bag on the ground and leaping over the first-base foul line, is as mellow a guy before the game as you're likely to find. He's thrilled to be here and all those other clichés, but he admits to looking ahead to the World Series just a little bit. Wendell grew up in Massachusetts and would love to facethe Red Sox. "I've pitched once in Fenway, last year," he says. "It was a dream come true. But the World Series? Wow. My brother in Pittsfield says he wouldn't know who to root for, the Sox or me." A Subway Series doesn't excite Wendell near as much. "I grew up a Red Sox fan, so I didn't like the Yankees. So pitching in Yankee Stadium doesn't have any meaning to me."

There's a sense around the Mets that they've survived the worst, and that the rest of the playoffs, whatever the pressure externally, will be nothing but fun. The team is loose enough that while Orel Hershiser is doing a live TV interview, Al Leiter sneaks up from behind and smears shaving cream all over Hershisher's face. Oh, those wacky ballplayers.


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