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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Met Coach Grill

Meat Loaf’s baserunner protagonist in the middle of “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” this kid who really makes things happen out there, was probably helped along by his third base coach. Maybe not as he was rounding first and trying for second, because it’s on the runner to pick up the center fielder bobbling the ball, but you’d have to think he was given a steal sign — or at least not given the stop sign — when he got that jump (“what a jump”) and took third. And the batter who followed him had to have read a sign for the suicide squeeze for it to have been executed as seamlessly as it was. Not that we know for sure if the runner beat the play at the plate. “Holy cow,” broadcaster Phil Rizzuto breathlessly opined, “I think he’s gonna make it,” but instant replay wasn’t available as the song moved along to other action.

Aside from invoking the 1978 epic hit single in tribute to Mr. Loaf, who died Thursday at the age of 74, we bring up “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” here because the coaches in the song not only go unnamed but unremarked upon. It’s hard to imagine this boy who could really fly wasn’t paying attention in the heat of the moment to the signals he was getting, nor could we fathom that he’d ever have gotten up to bat in such a pressure cooker of a situation had he not been coached thoroughly as he was coming up the chain to be ready for his moment.

Even in baseball as metaphor (because the play-by-play Meat Loaf drafted the Scooter to do didn’t show up in any box score, wink-wink), the coaching is implicit. Most of the time, when viewed from a distance, it’s barely that.

Today, the Mets announced the composition of their coaching staff for 2022. Some of these names had made the rounds weeks ago, but now they’re official. Welcome aboard some highly qualified professionals you probably won’t hear about let alone think about again until something goes wrong or everybody’s dissatisfied.

• Bench coach Glenn Sherlock (a coach in these parts a few years ago)
• First base coach Wayne Kirby (a 1998 Met)
• Third base coach Joey Cora (brother of a 2009-2010 Met)
• Bullpen coach Craig Bjornson (who seems to enjoy the camera)
• Hitting coach Eric Chavez (we’ll forgive him previous place of employ)
• Assistant hitting coach Jeremy Barnes (formerly the Mets’ Director of Player Initiatives, a key component of the Department of Euphemisms)

Buck Showalter will remind reporters now and then that when a good play is made or a player gets on a hot streak that somebody who otherwise goes about his business quietly has been working hard with so-and-so and it’s really paying off. Sherlock gave Showalter a great suggestion. Kirby positioned the fielders just right. Cora took a chance that paid off. Chavez or perhaps Barnes has spent hours in the cage with somebody who’s no longer in a slump. Bjornson meshes well with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, the lone holdover from the Rojas regimelet (it wasn’t much of a regime) and maybe he keeps the guys in the pen loose. If we pay attention, we’ll take note of these brief notices and feel good about these coaches between pitches.

Then we’ll forget about them almost completely until a runner is thrown out or a slump doesn’t end or an error is committed by a fielder who was standing there rather than there. Why didn’t Sherlock warn Showalter? How come Cora sent or didn’t send that leadfoot/speedster? What does Bjornson do around here anyway? What we don’t see we don’t see. What we think tends to be influenced by what do see or hear, and usually we won’t see or hear much from Buck’s brain trust.

Then, likely when we’re fuming about Met things in general, they’ll be gone from the Citi Field scene, damaged collaterally by a little too much losing, hopefully after an ample amount of winning. Like Jeremy Accardo, who is no longer assistant pitching coach; or Ricky Bones, who is no longer bullpen coach; or ex-first base coach Tony Tarasco; or ex-bench coach Dave Jauss; or ex-third base coach Gary DiSarcina; or Brian Schneider, who you might remember as a catcher for the Mets for a couple of years a while back but you probably have already forgotten coached catchers and coordinated otherwise just last year. The only reason we knew Hugh Quattlebaum — still in the organization but no longer the hitting coach — was because Chili Davis was let go. Davis received more than a modicum attention for the reason coaches do: by serving as sacrificial lamb. The rest of the 2021 coaches, not all of whom were mentioned in this paragraph, were swept out with the Rojas tide, as if they all suddenly misplaced their savvy simultaneously.

All these new guys who are replacing them no doubt know their baseball. In the end, it won’t save them when somebody has to go.

Fixing a Hole

Keith Hernandez filled the hole between the two and four spots in the batting order for seven Met seasons. He filled holes between himself and either the first base line or the second baseman on balls that seemed destined for the outfield. He filled the hole in the knowledge base of one promising young pitcher after another before there was an All-Star catcher on the premises to guide them. He filled in who knows how many teammates on what to look for, what to think, how to be. Although it hasn’t been in uniform, he’s long filled a seat in baseball’s best booth with a proprietary blend of élan and absurdity. And now, finally, he fills a gaping void in Mets history.

Keith Hernandez’s No. 17 will be retired on July 9. With its official removal from circulation and its elevation above the left field stands, the 1986 New York Mets, the winningest team this franchise has ever known, will be represented at the highest level of consecration an organization can bestow.

It was strange that Keith’s 17 went unretired for more than three decades because, well, he’s Keith Hernandez. He transformed the Metropolitans upon his arrival and we view an entire decade for the better largely because of his impact. No number ceremony for Keith and none for anybody associated with 1986 was equally bizarre. Six members of our last world champions have been inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame along with their manager and general manager — Keith received his bust in 1997 — but not a soul responsible for the 108 regular-season victories had his digits totally and completely immortalized in the 35 years that followed their World Series celebration. Hell, Keith was the 17th-most recent Met to wear 17, which is to say 16 Mets have worn it since Keith, and that’s with nobody wearing it after Fernando Tatis in 2010.

The non-retirement of 17 and its continual random assignment made for a pretty dependable running gag in the SNY booth. Show the Mr. Koo clip (there’s only one) and Keith might let out a harumph. But after a while, fun was fun. How on Bill Shea’s green earth was 17 one of those numbers that any Graeme, Dae or Lima might take the mound in? Even Tatis the elder, a legitimate major league hitter during his Flushing residency, was a stretch. Keith Hernandez had to watch No. 17 in action on the back of anybody who wasn’t Keith Hernandez? While 1986’s hole went unfilled?

Enough of that, at last. We got Keith Hernandez in 1983. Keith Hernandez gets his number retired in 2022. Time lapse notwithstanding, it’s almost a good a deal as that June night we sent Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey to St. Louis in exchange for one of the best things that ever happened to us.

The 2021 Oscar’s Cap Awards

“There’s gonna be a lot of talk tonight,” Oscar Madison warned his audience during his tryout as a sports talk radio host in 1974. “Some of it you’ll like and some of it you won’t.” This was after he heeded his roommate Felix Unger’s advice and altered his style to reflect the hostility, sarcasm and venom that Felix identified as his strong suits.

Well, we have a few of those qualities warming up in the bullpen any given night, but we’ll save ’em for the next three-game losing streak. All the talk we’re about to tune in for is talk you should sincerely like because most of it reminds us how much fun the Mets can be when we come across them out of context and with no competitive implications.

It’s Oscar’s Caps time! For the tenth consecutive year, we review the previous twelve months’ worth of sightings of our New York Mets in the popular culture — television, movies, novels, basically anywhere you don’t necessarily expect to discover the Mets…and we don’t mean the postseason, ya wiseacre.

“The good news is it’ll be available again during the playoffs.”
—Wiseacre Seth Meyers, Late Night, January 13, 2021, on Citi Field being used as a 24/7 COVID vaccination facility…after which he acknowledged the Mets have a new owner but that he’ll keep making these stale jokes until the standings dictate otherwise

Seth Meyers announced early in 2022 that he tested positive for COVID. Because he’s vaccinated and boosted, he says he’s feeling fine, and we’re glad, even if he takes one too many shots at the Mets (FYI, Seth, Oscar’s foray into insult radio wasn’t a ratings-grabber).

Meyers’s jab might fall into the category of talk you won’t like. We’ll also throw in this scene from a 2021 episode of Showtime’s American Rust, which takes place in a downbeat town in Pennsylvania. The cranky dad played by Bill Camp is watching what looks like a Fox News report about immigration. His half-Mexican daughter who moved to New York is watching with him.

DAUGHTER: Do we have to watch this? Is there a Pirates game on?
DAD: I thought you would have become a Yankees fan by now.
DAUGHTER: At least it’s not the Mets.
DAD: That’s my girl.

Those two probably still carry NL East bitterness from 1973 and 1988.

Anyway, back to talk we do like.

As ever, the Oscar’s Caps, named for the Mets cap Jack Klugman wore in so many episodes of The Odd Couple (and Tony Randall put on for effect a couple of times), are awarded for whatever we noticed in 2021 if it’s something that was brand new; something from a previous year that we’d never seen before; or maybe something that we vaguely remembered from ages ago but were only lately able to flesh out. Although our internal staff is as vigilant as possible, it has limited shall we say bandwidth and can’t possibly monitor everything beamed or streamed. Thus, this project has become a manifestation of generous Metsopotamian crowdsourcing, and we extend our thanks to all who alert us when they see something or hear something relevant to our eternal quest to document every last Mets cap, Mets jersey or Mets murmur.

A great example of how the Oscar’s Caps works when it works best came at the end of 2020, when we presented the ninth annual edition of this feature and multiple readers piped up to let us know about Soul, the Pixar movie that had just debuted on Disney+, and why it was right up our alley. Sure enough, within the narrow window when I had access to a subscription, I was able to see for myself that, in a flashback scene, our hero Joe Gardner wears a 1980s-style Mookie Wilson jersey, replete with racing stripe (although designed with buttons, which weren’t a part of the racing stripe uni motif until 1991). Mets posters are visible on the wall of Buddy’s Barber shop as well.

Edward Burns’s 2021 Epix series Bridge and Tunnel definitely dispensed a flavor worthy of its Mets fan creator. Set in 1980, a Rusty Staub poster is visible, as is one of Burns’s own 1970s-era Mets road jerseys (worn by Pags, played by Brian Muller). Audio of Bob Murphy announcing a Mets foulout contributed to the soundtrack. In the third episode, Burns, as Artie Farrell, says of Tom Seaver, “I swear to Christ, it breaks my heart to see him in that Cincinnati uniform.”

If it breaks your heart to see another noteworthy righty in another uniform, maybe you couldn’t have imagined that on the night Pete Alonso won his second Home Run Derby (July 12, 2021), when Noah Syndergaard visited Late Night with Seth Meyers and discussed his book club, his ice baths and other aspects of his ongoing rehab from Tommy John surgery, he’d be trying on Angel togs by November. Yet because he hadn’t been anything but a Met by the time Jeopardy aired on December 28, 2021, we’ll count this, too, as Oscar’s Capworthy. It’s from the category “Noahs” for $600.

“With Scandinavian roots and a hammer of a curveball, pitcher Noah Syndergaard got this nickname. The hair helps.”
“Who is Thor?”

“Did you type up that Tom Seaver interview?”
—Oscar to a distraught Myrna (Sheldn — not Sheldon — has left her), “Rain in Spain,” The Odd Couple, Season 5, Episode 1, September 12, 1974

Tom, of course, was in a Mets uniform the night Myrna and Sheldn — real-life couple Penny Marshall and Rob Reiner — got together for good; on the night after, Tom would shut out the Cubs (on the night before, the Mets lost in 25 innings to the Cardinals).

Garry Marshall, who executive-produced The Odd Couple during its 1970-1975 run on ABC, wrote in his memoir Wake Me When It’s Funny that he always liked to cast character actor Hector Elizondo in his movies because Elizondo lent a sense of maturity to the business at hand. Perhaps it’s appropriate that Elizondo picked up Klugman’s — or Oscar’s — cap over the past year. In the November 4 episode of B Positive (Season 2, Episode 4 — “Baseball, Walkers and Wine”), Drew (Thomas Middleditch) takes Harry (Elizondo) to a Hartford Yard Goats game, where Harry wears a Mets cap, one with a blue rather than orange squatchee (implemented 1997) and no MLB logo (implemented 1992) on the back, indicating that, like Harry, the cap has been around, or is perhaps is a non-licensed knockoff.

Harry continues to wear the cap in the next episode (“Novocaine, Bond and Bocce,” S. 2, E. 5, November 11, 2021) while playing bocce, potentially making the Mets cap a running character trait à la Oscar Madison.

“All right, H.B. If you’ll play ball with me, I’ll play ball with you.”
—Darrin Stephens (Dick Sargent), “The Phrase is Familiar,” Bewitched, January 15,1970 (S. 6, E. 17) — as soon as he spouts this cliché (per Endora’s spell), Darrin and the client to whom he’s speaking are suddenly wearing Mets uniforms. Darrin’s is No. 9, with the MLB patch from the 1969 season, à la J.C. Martin.

In Perilous Gambit: A Mike Stoneman Thriller by Kevin Chapman (2021), the titular New York City detective visits Las Vegas and stumbles across a January 2020 reunion of former Met farmhands who played for the Las Vegas 51s. Mike is pleased to exchange pleasantries with Dom Smith a couple of chapters after hearing “Takin’ Care of Business,” revisiting late-period Shea Stadium in his mind and declaring to his companion that the song “always makes me think about a Mets win”. (In Mike’s previous adventure, the football-themed Fatal Infraction, our baseball-first crimefighter took time out to take his godson to a Mets game.)

Mario Reyes (Luis Figueroa) is a Cy Young Award winner who has just signed a $175 million contract with the Mets and is buying a waterfront mansion in Connecticut in the 2014 film And So It Goes.

The third-season premiere of FXX’s mostly animated anthology series Cake (July 9, 2020) had a short showing the Miracle on the Hudson from the perspective of the geese, prominently featuring the soon-to-be demolished Shea Stadium.

In the 2021 novel Out of a Dog’s Mouth by McNally Berry (who’s never been seen in the same room as Mets non-fiction author Matthew Silverman), there are dogs not coincidentally named Choo Choo, Turk and Kooz, plus a person named Robert Person.

The induction of the Beastie Boys into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame nearly ten years ago, on April 14, 2012, reminded their fans that as the Beasties were rising to superstardom, Adam Horovitz, a.k.a. King Ad-Rock, regularly showed his Met loyalty. One of the portraits of the trio that was projected while LL Cool J and Chuck D inducted them featured Horovitz in his mid-1980s pose, which meant it was topped by a Mets cap. After Adam “MCA” Yauch died on May 4, 2012, the Mets played nothing but Beasties Boys songs as starting lineup walkup music in his memory during their home game of May 5. “Fight For Your Right,” whose video is where Horovitz’s Mets cap got its most play in 1986 and 1987, started up Ike Davis’s trek to the plate.

“Do you remember the ’86 Mets-Red Sox World Series? Bill Buckner let a ground ball go between his legs and the Sox lost the game and eventually the World Series. Very few people remember who was on the field that day, but everyone remembers that Buckner missed the ball. And a baseball’s a lot smaller than your ball, which is not dropping.”
—Mr. Buellerton (Matthew Broderick) stressing to Claire Morgan (Hillary Swank) the importance of fixing the ball supposed to drop in Times Square in the movie New Year’s Eve (2011)

“I’m a big Mets fan to this day. The ’86 Mets was right like when I was 12, 13, this huge team […] I had a big crush on Tim Teufel because he seemed like a wallflower to me. He platooned at second base with Wally Backman and had chipmunk face, and I was just like ‘us!’ I had a very elaborate fantasy that I was married to Gary Carter, who was the star catcher, but that Gary Carter was mean to me and that Tim Teufel would be the guy who sort of wooed me. I fantasized about having a bad marriage to Gary Carter. And he was the kind of guy who was like, ‘Where’s a pen?! Is there a pen in this house?!’ And I’d go into the other room and Tim Teufel would take me out.”
—Jessi Klein, who would later perform as Jessi Glaser and serve as consulting producer on the Mets-friendly Netflix show Big Mouth, doing standup at Joe’s Pub, December 23, 2009

As long as 1986 has come up, let us note the back-in-the-day releases of the twelve-inch singles “Get Metsmerized” and “Let’s Go Mets” along with the visit of Roger McDowell and Lenny Dykstra to the MTV set, where Dykstra hit on VJ Martha Quinn, a little more than 35 years ago. All of this was featured in the Nick Davis opus Once Upon a Time in Queens, the Mets Pop Culture event of 2021. It was written about in some detail here.

Now for some more 1986-related content…

David Brenner invited a pair of world champion Mets on his ABC late night show Nightlife on consecutive Mondays in 1986, Ron Darling on November 24 and Keith Hernandez on December 1 (each airing followed a New York team playing on Monday Night Football). Brenner, a Philadelphia native, wore a Mets sweatshirt for the Hernandez show. Keith recalled the NLCS vs. Houston as a better postseason series than the World Series and told the already legendary story about retiring to Davey Johnson’s office with two out and nobody on in Game Six against Boston. He also explained he didn’t smoke in the offseason, only at the ballpark to relax. His take on Mets fans, no more than about 2,000 of whom would be at Shea when he came in with the Cardinals, is that they deserved this because they’d waited a long time, 17 years. (Hernandez would return to Brenner’s show the first week of the 1987 season.)

In the 2021 documentary Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, a 1968 commercial that was part of the “Give a Damn” campaign from the New York Urban Coalition is cited as the primary inspiration for the look of the landmark children’s educational program. In that commercial, excerpted in the documentary, actor Lincoln Kilpatrick suggests viewers “send your kid to a ghetto for the summer” and leads a world-weary tour of what underprivileged city youth faced every day. Among other things, we see kids trying to play stickball in the street while having to dodge cars. Kilpatrick turns toward the camera and shrugs, “It’s not Shea Stadium, but it’s exciting.”

In the credits to Street Gang, the show’s cast and crew provides the chorus to a respectable rendition “Put Down the Duckie,” with one of the women singing quite visible in her white 1986 World Champion Mets sweatshirt. Mookie Wilson and Keith Hernandez were not on hand for this singalong, though they did appear on Sesame Street twice in 1987 — with the Count on April 15 and with Snuffleupagus on May 11 — and take part in a celebrity “Duckie” extravaganza that aired on PBS on March 7, 1988.

November 30, 2016 Wahlburgers (Season 7, Episode 4 — “Take Me Out to the Paul Game” on FYI): in the process of preparing to throw out the first pitch at a Brooklyn Cyclones game, Donnie Wahlberg meets Mookie Wilson, which inflicts Game Six flashbacks from 1986 on the Massachusetts native actor/singer.

“So anyway, Vlad, it’s 1986, and I’m at Studio 54 with Tommy Lee and Wally Backman. Bad guy, nasty guy, nice to me, though. He was in a platoon with Tim Teufel, do you remember Tim Teufel?”
—Seth Meyers, imagining Donald Trump riffing during a previous summit with Vladimir Putin, Late Night, June 17, 2021 — and not taking a shot at the Mets, so we’re cool with it

On July 4, 1989, CBS aired a pilot for a sitcom version of the hit film Coming to America, this iteration starring Tommy Davidson as Prince Tariq (younger brother of Eddie Murphy’s character from the movie). Tariq wore a period-appropriate satin Mets Starter jacket, festooned with pins, just as Prince Akeem did in the movie when he decided to blend in with common New Yorkers. Though the pilot was not picked up, the sitcom NBC showed the very next night, The Seinfeld Chronicles, starring another standup comic who worked the Mets into his show, would eventually find a spot on its network’s prime time schedule and within Mets Pop Culture legend.

On February 25, 2021, life imitated art as Francisco Lindor wore the same Mets jacket Eddie Murphy wears in Coming II America as he arrived for that day’s Spring Training activities. The team’s Twitter account captured him greeting nobody in particular, “Good morning, my neighbors!”

At the 44:45 mark of the 2021 Netflix movie MOXIE!, a 1989 Topps Record Breaker card hailing Kevin McReynolds for setting a new standard for stolen bases without being caught in a season (21) appears as part of a zine…except the card has been doctored to cover McReynolds’s face with a sad-face emoji and cowboy hat.

When not stuck in a traffic jam in Harlem that’s backed up to Jackson Heights on Car 54, Where Are You? Toody gets jealous when Muldoon becomes friendly with an intellectual rookie cop. Feeling left out of suddenly elevated cop car conversation, Gunther finds himself partnered with Leo Schnauser and tries to conjure up a sophisticated level of dialogue himself, leading to this exchange:

TOODY: I hear they’re tearing down the Met.
SCHNAUSER: They’re tearing down the New York Mets, the new baseball team? How can they tear them down, they haven’t even been built up.
— “How Smart Can You Get?”; Season 1, Episode 23; February 25, 1962

This may have been the first Mets mention in the popular culture. The Original Mets were still stretching in St. Petersburg when the officers on Car 54 were talking about them. Truly, New York couldn’t wait one half-hour longer to get back to being a National League town.

The Mystery of the Mets by Kevin Mahon, published in 2019, is a murder mystery whose action is set at Shea Stadium. Released in 2021 as The New York Mets: A Shea Stadium Mystery.

Clips of Stone Cold Steve Austin, in his Mets jersey (No. 3:16), chatting with GM Steve Phillips from Austin’s first-pitch appearance at Shea Stadium, July 10, 1999 (the Matt Franco Game), show up in the Austin edition of Biography: WWE Legends that premiered on A&E April 18, 2021 We see the wrestler exchanging greetings with Derek Jeter and signing a baseball while GM Steve Phillips hovers nearby.

On Gilligan’s Island, “The Hunter,” (Season 3, Episode 18; loosely based on The Most Dangerous Game; January 16, 1967), Gilligan, the Professor, the Skipper and Mr. Howell are tuned in to a radio broadcast announcing that the Dodgers shut out the Mets 4-0, meaning the Skipper owes Mr. Howell “three-hundred thousand twelve bananas,” which the Skipper tells Mr. Howell he can subtract from the “nine hundred and sixty mangos you owe me from playing gin”.

“A fan rushed the field at the Mets-Giants game last night and stood on the pitcher’s mound. Thankfully, he was only able to strike out a few Mets before he was apprehended. Sorry, everyone on the crew.”
—Seth Meyers during his Late Night monologue, August 17, 2021 (we feel your pain, Late Night crew)

A subway station advertising billboard featuring Lee Mazzilli, Neil Allen, Joel Youngblood and Craig Swan using Gillette Foamy (with the message, “This year we’re getting back into the thick of it”) appears in the 1982 movie Smithereens.

On the June 1, 1989, episode of Classic Concentration, a drawing of a Mets player tipping his cap constituted a third of a puzzle whose answer was “Captain Kidd” (the other illustrations were of the ten of hearts and a couple of goats).

John Leguizamo wore his omnipresent Mets cap in the 2021 filmed production of the play Waiting for Godot, presented in the form of a Zoom call in these lingering pandemic times.

Visible behind Michael Che as he guested via Zoom with Howard Stern in 2021: a Darryl Strawberry poster of yore.

In the Wiseguy episode “Last Rites for Lucci” (Season 1, Episode 10 — or 11, depending on how you count the pilot; November 19, 1987), Nick Lucci (James Andronica) tells Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl) of his current state, “I get a check every week, a few beers every Friday. If the Mets win, I’m happy. I’m not aimin’ high anymore, Vinnie.”

“I see ya forgot about the ’69 Mets. They didn’t have the hitting or the fielding of the other teams, but they won the World Series. And you know why? Showers.”
—Coach Morris Buttermaker (Jack Warden), convincing his team they need to clean themselves up after games, in the sitcom version of The Bad News Bears, “Nakedness is Next to Godliness” (Season 1, Episode 3; April 7, 1979).

“First of all, uniforms do not a baseball team make. I mean, in order to have a good team, you gotta have determination… gotta have hustle…and skill…look at the New York Mets.”
“They have uniforms.”
—Chet Kincaid, unsuccessfully attempting to persuade his Little League team, the Tigers, that uniforms are not intrinsic to their potential success once a plan to purchase uniforms falls through The Bill Cosby Show, “The Worst Crook That Ever Lived” (Season 1, Episode 18; January 25, 1970).

The fact that the 1969 Mets took showers and wore uniforms may or may not have influenced guitarist Brian Bell’s decision to wear a Mets cap while performing with Weezer at Citi Field on the Hell Mega Tour, August 4, 2021.

“I looked at the building there in L.I.C., where all the Mets live.”
—One of Wally’s college buddies, musing over local real estate, Awkwafina is Nora from Queens (“Shadow Acting,” Season 2, Episode 8, September 29, 2021)

In the 2021 Netflix documentary Untold: Deal With the Devil, a photo of boxer Christy Salters Martin (the film’s subject) and Jason Isringhausen in his Mets uniform briefly appears.

Rapper Fred the Godson wore an orange Mets cap with a blue bill in his 2014 video for “The Session 4,” which was incorporated into the story of his death from COVID-19 in the first part of Spike Lee’s NYC Epicenters 9/11 —> 2021½, which first aired on HBO on August 22, 2021.

In the 2019 film Ode to Joy, lead character Charlie (Martin Freeman) — who has problems coping with joy — wears two different Mets t-shirts and a Mets cap

On Brooklyn Nine-Nine in “Renewal,” Season 8, Episode 8 (September 2, 2021), Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) finds himself with no battery power in his phone because he used it “mining for MetsCoin. It’s the first cryptocurrency that is also the Mets.”

British comedy team Tony Hendra and Nick Ullett performed “The Agony of a New York Mets Fan” on The Ed Sullivan Show, August 7, 1966. Hendra donned a Mets cap and became not just an American, but a prototypical New Yorker. Ullett portrayed “an unintelligent, inquisitive, twittering Englishman — in other words himself”. Sitting on stage as if at Shea Stadium, Hendra’s Mets fan suffers both the Mets’ mishaps and his grandstand neighbor’s clueless queries. Key exchange:

“I don’t know anything about the game.”
“You and the Mets both.”

For a handful of performances in 1981, Paul Dooley donned a Mets jacket and portrayed the lead character in The Amazin’ Casey Stengel or Can’t Anybody Here Speak This Game? at the American Place Theater. Frank Rich did not care for the production, or as he ended his review in the New York Times, “Can’t anybody here write a play?”

In 2021’s dystopian novel The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel, baseball teams are owned and operated by big pharma. Fighting for the pennant? The Monsanto Mets. Their best player, JJ Zunz, dies while batting in a playoff game (but at least these Mets made the playoffs).

“Quick favor — could you look up all the Mets scores for me for the last 37 years?”
“Again, the Mets?”
“Just tell me how many RBIs Keith Hernandez had in ’87? Give me something!”
—Pete, the scoutmaster with an arrow lodged in his neck since 1985, Ghosts, “Viking Funeral,” Season 1, Episode 3 (October 14, 2021), beseeching the new owner of the haunted house where he and the other spectral title characters reside to put her laptop to good use

For the record, Pete, Keith Hernandez drove in 89 runs in 1987.

In “Fortunate Son,” the third episode of Season 3 of The Sopranos (March 11, 2001), Johnny Soprano, in a flashback, is shown reading a newspaper sports section on October 25, 1969. A partial headline says “Mets Decision,” likely alluding to the Mets having given Ed Charles his unconditional release the day before.

An animated version of Shea Stadium appears in Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid, which aired on October 14, 1972, as part of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie series. In it, Willie has a guardian angel named Casey. Willie provides the voice to his character.

“You’re so desperate to stay relevant, to stay in the game, you can’t see that the game has passed you by. Willie Mays in center fielder for the Mets, misunderstanding the dewy eyes in the crowd for love.”
“You just never understood me or the Say Hey Kid. You play until your feet break. And they carry you off the field in a box.”
— Chuck Rhoades and Chuck Rhoades, Sr., Billions, “Victory Smoke,” Season 5, Episode 11, September 26, 2021

Richie Zyontz, an NFL producer for Fox and longtime friend of John Madden’s, appeared in the All Madden documentary that he was instrumental in shepherding to reality — it debuted on Christmas Day 2021 — and recalled, “I’m just a street kid from New York hired to be a broadcast associate…” while a photo of him in a Mets cap with Madden in the late 1980s pops up. Zyontz’s reverence for legends was apparent earlier in 2021 when he had a “Whack Back at Vac” note to Mike Vaccaro published in the New York Post calling for the Mets to retire 24 in honor of Willie Mays.

Heading from the sublime Say Hey Willie Mays to a let’s say less sublime New York National League icon, in the rebooted version of The Wonder Years (“The Club,” Season 1, Episode 3, October 6, 2021), Dean looks forward to getting to school and swapping baseball cards, especially the opportunity to “unload my Marv Throneberry card”.

It wouldn’t be a year in Mets Pop Culture without somebody sporting one very familiar head repeatedly sitting in front of us.

• In “Mothers and Other Strangers,” The Simpsons, Season 33, Episode 7 (November 28, 2021), Homer tries out a therapy app called Nutz that, among other things, promises “CBD gummies in the shape of your version of God,” with four icons appearing on his phone: Buddah, Jesus, a question mark and a pretty good Simpsonian rendering of Mr. Met.

• On the January 27, 2021, edition of Full Frontal, Samantha Bee explained getting a COVID-19 vaccine at a sports venue would be an issue for her since she’s “not allowed within a thousand feet of any professional sports stadium in this country” after “I tried to take off Mr. Met’s baseball and I realized it was his real head.” The gag was accompanied by a what we’ll call a disturbing image.

• On September 20, 2021, to welcome Mayor Bill de Blasio — who played himself on TV for eight years — to Queens Borough Hall for hizzoner’s week of conducting the city’s business from Queens, borough president Donovan Richards presented de Blasio with “a little mascot [of] the New York Mets. We hope to continue to try to convert you,” which the mayor accepted graciously: “Yeah, this is cool. This could do it right here.” The Red Sox-rooting mayor kept the miniature Mr. Met by his microphone for his further media appearances at Borough Hall. (A montage of Queens scenes behind him included a Mets logo with the message LET’S GO METS!!!!!)

In “Hello, It’s Me,” the premiere episode of And Just Like That…, the reboot/revival of Sex and the City (released on HBO Max, December 9, 2021), Carrie asks Big, “How was your day?” and he replies, “Perfect. The Dow and the Mets — both up.” Carrie’s reply: “Very nice.”

(Big, alas, doesn’t get to experience any more Mets games after that exchange.)

On the premiere of The Jerry Lewis Show on ABC, September 21, 1963, Lewis, from behind a desk, calls for a pack of L&M cigarettes as prelude to a live commercial read. Somebody off camera tosses him the pack, which hits Lewis in the chest, eluding his grasp in the process. As the host picks the cigarettes up, Lewis not quite good-naturedly remarks to the unseen person whose attempt an assist went awry, “You should play with the Mets.” On that very Saturday, the last-place Mets indeed committed three errors, yet prevailed over the Giants at Candlestick Park, 5-4.

Mets Pop Culture headliners Yo La Tengo promoted/commemorated their 2021 Chanukah residency (“I Am Curious Yo La”) at the Bowery Ballroom with a poster featuring animated figures very close in form to Mr. and Mrs. Met…minus the uniforms, if you will.

“I think the Mets are going to all the way this year.”
—“Glass half-full kind of gal” MJ displaying the “relentless optimism” Peter Parker loves in Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

“On Sunday Hugh attended a Mets game with his old friend Jeff Raen. He called yesterday to announce that he now loves baseball and tried to sound all butch about it. ‘Jeff’s son had a soccer match so we had to leave in the sixth inning,’ he said. ‘I watched the rest of it on TV and then read the review in this morning’s paper.’
“Review?”
—April 29, 2003 entry in A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries 2003-2020 by David Sedaris (2021)

Sharon Grote, wife of Jerry, “a catcher with the New York Mets baseball team,” is a contestant on the August 22, 1967, episode of Password, winning neither game, but attracting the admiration of guest Skitch Henderson, who avows he is both a National League fan and a Mets fan. The other guest, Arlene Francis, when asked by host Alan Ludden, “What does a catcher do?” replies, “He’s in the rye.” Indeed, in a sandwich vein, Sharon Grote would go on post-1969 to appear with her family in commercials for Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard.

Let’s stay with “Game Shows” for a thousand.

During the 1973-74 television season, the same year Bowling for Dollars with Bob Murphy premiered locally, the Sign Man, Karl Ehrhardt (and two masquerading as him), appeared as the object of guessing on the syndicated version of To Tell The Truth, pegged to the mystery man’s prominence during the 1973 World Series. Bill Cullen was the only panelist to correctly pick Ehrhardt — No. 2 — out of the crowd.

With that, we’ll hold aloft our sign that shouts HAPPY NEW YEAR! on one side and IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING on the other. Thank you again for passing along your entertainment, media and literature scouting reports for our detailing delight.

He Wore His Heart on His Head

The Mets turn 60 this year. They’re as old as the American League was when the Mets were first signing players in 1961, including their very first, a young feller named Bruce Fitzpatrick (Casey called him Fitzgerald) who not long ago told his story of being the original Met prospect. Bruce never made it to the big leagues, but the Mets did, and they’ve stayed, somehow.

We don’t feel a day over 1962.

One is inevitably reminded, whenever a commemorative logo sees light, that as your franchise keeps on keeping on, it can’t help but grow further and further from its roots. The people who created the Mets are gone. The players who constituted the Original Mets are ever fewer. The people who made the Mets something special in the first (or tenth) place were never going to last forever, except in legend, where their place oughta be secure.

Dan Reilly recently passed away. His name may not be instantly recognizable to hardcore Mets fans the way we always knew Jane Jarvis was our organist or Karl Ehrhardt was the Sign Man, but his persona became a global phenomenon that lives on to this day. Dan was the original Mr. Met. He worked in the ticket office and handled multiple responsibilities when in 1964 he was asked to take on — or put on — one more. Please wear this head was the request from his supervisors. It was made of papier mâché, it had stitches drawn into it and it was topped by a Mets cap. Dan donned a baseball uniform and a baseball head and radiated baseball cheer. The Mets sent him out onto the field at Shea Stadium now and then. He caught on. Dan brought Mr. Met from concept (he existed first as an illustration) to a reality.

“Once I saw the reaction of everybody in the room,” Dan remembered, “I knew Mr. Met was going to be a hit with the fans.”

When it came to mascots, the Mets were ahead of the game.

Mr. Met has evolved over the decades, but Dan was ahem ahead of the game. The head he wore is on permanent display in the Mets Museum at Citi Field, a magnet for snapshots like the Apple out on the Plaza. The first time I saw it up close was at a press luncheon to introduce the Amazin’ Era 25th-anniversary cassette in 1986. Even then it seemed startling to realize the Mets were as old as they were. They were the new kids in town just the other year. How were they having a significant milestone anniversary? Dan had brought his signature noggin to Jimmy Weston’s in midtown to help promote the VHS. I spotted it as it sat on a shelf in a foyer as Dan stopped to use a pay phone.

You don’t forget a sighting like that.

Mr. Reilly published a book some fifteen years ago, The Original Mr. Met Remembers, with Bill Curreri. It’s a wonderfully engaging memoir about life at the beginning of this thing of ours. Not just the low-tech unveiling of a mascot, but the close-knit vibe of the Mets family in the 1960s, when baseball might have been a business, but it didn’t seem all that imposing. Dan himself went in on the renting of a house in Whitestone with Ron and Cecilia Swoboda. The Swobodas, he wrote, had more room than they needed. If you knew this, you weren’t surprised that when Jay Horwitz passed along the sad news of Dan’s passing, Jay said he heard it from Ron, who’d stayed friends with Dan all these years.

Dan Reilly was first to fill the costume, but there’s a little bit of all of us in Mr. Met (and vice-versa).

It’s also fitting that when Jay Horwitz succumbed to all the “you oughta write a book” suggestions he received when he ran Mets PR, he appropriately titled it Mr. Met. All of us who inadvertently take on the personality of our team have been tagged “Mr. Met” or something in a more honorifically appropriate ballpark. I’ve been “Mr. Met” to several well-wishers (and maybe ill-wishers) in my time. I’m sure you’ve been “Mr. Met” or “Mrs. Met” in your time. We take it as the ultimate compliment given that we each fill our heads like we fill our hearts with what it means to love the Mets. Dan Reilly was the first to make a suitably big thing out of it.

He wore it well.

Casey Stengel Scouts a Maternity Ward

The following scene occurred at Caledonian Hospital in Flatbush on this very afternoon in 1962. Or so I’ve decided 59 years after the fact.

I know ya might be in th’ mood t’ wail yer lungs out, young feller, what seein’ ya just got yerself born, but no need t’ be spooked. It’s just yer ol’ friend on a scoutin’ trip. Well, we ain’t ol’ friends yet, but we’re gonna be. It’s never too early t’ start gettin’ t’ know one another, I figger.

It’s all frank an’ earnest. I got in here with one of them keys t’ th’ city, so I’m legitimate. This key is what ya get if ya live long enough an’ maybe stay in one place without being removed from yer place of high-profile employment, which I was a couple of years ago, but not until after I won that other team a whole bundle of flags an’ titles. They showed their gratitude by dismissin’ me when I won one but not th’ other. That taught me t’ start turnin’ seventy. Keep it in mind fer when ya start gettin’ old.

This feller could talk a newborn’s ear off.

I don’t mean t’ disturb yer sleep. Yer gonna need it after gettin’ born in th’ dead of winter, which is what a lotta men my age are at th’ present time, but commencin’ livin’ now is a good plan ’cuz ya get yer nappin’ in an’ not on th’ bench because we’re gonna need ya t’ start makin’ noise in April when we commence our second season. It’s gonna be yer first, which is why I come all th’ way t’ Brooklyn t’ have a chat with ya.

Ya don’t know me yet, but I wanna get t’ know ya an’ yer little chums. I guess ya don’t have any yet, but ya will. Ya need t’ come out t’ th’ Polo Grounds an’ help us as soon as ya can. I don’t think yer ready t’ take grounders, but maybe ya can get in th’ grandstand an’ start shoutin’ encouragements at my players. Between you an’ me, kid, they could use th’ help.

Here’s th’ truth, pal. We weren’t very good last year. Have they shown ya a sports page yet? We finished at th’ bottom of th’ league an’ even though th’ season ended three months ago, they’re still talkin’ about my Amazin’, Amazin’ Mets. I’ll let ya in on a secret, kid. I made up that “Amazin’” bit t’ keep th’ press’s an’ th’ public’s eyes from watchin’ my ballplayers too close. It caught on all ironical like.

Yer chart here says ya won’t be stickin’ around Brooklyn fer long. I got relocated from here myself an’ went t’ manage up in Boston. That didn’t work so good neither. Them Braves was so bad, they changed their name t’ th’ Bees. Losses found us irregardleess of identity. I didn’t get t’ be a genius until they got me some players. Life is like that, kid. Maybe ya should start writin’ this stuff down, as soon as ya can pick up a pencil.

Says on th’ chart yer gonna be takin’ up residence in Long Island. Oh, excuse me, on Long Island. Never met an infant that corrected my usage my burping at me. Well, yer in luck, pal, because we’re buildin’ a bee-YOO-tiful new ballpark out there near where yer gonna live. Ya can take one of Mr. Moses’s bright an’ shiny freeways, or maybe use th’ locomotive.

My players ain’t gonna be much better this year than last year. We’re gonna have some new players. Got this boy Hunt from Milwaukee, which used t’ be Boston. I’m gonna give him a shot when we get t’ camp. An’ this Bright feller…a very Burright feller, he’s comin’ over from th’ Los Angeleses with Darkness. Or Harkness. I can’t keep ’em straight. That’s why I didn’t want any more Bob Millers or Nelsons or whatever their name was. Th’ point is, son, my Amazin’ Mets won’t be Amazin’ fer th’ wrong reason f’rever. Mrs. Payson, th’ nice lady who owns all those horses an’ paintin’s an’ us, is preparin’ t’ fund a very generous payroll, my old friend George Weiss is hirin’ some first-class scouts an’ we’ve got that ballpark that’s gonna have escalators an’ clean restrooms when it opens an’ no pillars or posts. I’m hopin’ t’ not have t’ watch from a box seat just yet.

I used my key t’ th’ city t’ enter this here maternity ward t’ tell ya how Amazin’ it’s all gonna be an’ if yer lookin’ fer a ballclub t’ call yer own as soon as ya can talk an’ buy a ticket, ya oughta consider my Amazin’ Mets an’ make ’em yer Amazin’ Mets. I got this idea that we’re gonna be th’ Youth of America on th’ field an’ have th’ Youth of America pullin’ fer us in the new stadium, because even though we’re not world-beaters by any means yet, we’re gonna give everybody a chance, like that young Kranepool feller who ain’t as young as you but ain’t much older, an’, by th’ by, if yer thinkin’ of any other teams on th’ local baseball scene, yer not gonna be as comfortable as ya are in that blanket if ya go in another direction. That other team looks good now, but I know their farm system from th’ inside. It’s about run dry.

Look, I know ya prob’ly got a big night ahead a’ ya, bein’ born on New Year’s Eve an’ all. Fer me, every night is New Year’s Eve, except I don’t need t’ see a big droppin’ of th’ ball because my first baseman last year Mr. Throneberry dropped enough balls an’ when it came time fer a birthday party in our clubhouse, I preferred we didn’t give him no cake because he was prob’ly gonna drop that, too.

Hey, is that a smile on yer face? Look at that, yer a born Mets fan. I oughta be goin’. Just do me one favor, kid. Make yer first word “mama” or “papa”. Th’ parents in this here city are givin’ me grief how all th’ toddlers are goin’ around sayin’ “Metsie, Metsie” instead of “mama” or “papa”. They say “Metsie, Metsie”.

There’ll be plenty of time fer that. I’ll see ya at that ballpark soon enough.

The Seasons are Passing One by One

Because The Tonight Show was taped in beautiful downtown Burbank, it didn’t seem odd that one summer night in 1979, Johnny Carson would include Tommy Lasorda while doing his Carnac the Magnificent bit. Playing to the Southern California studio audience was one of Johnny’s staples, and Chavez Ravine was certainly within driving distance. Carnac listed the Los Angeles Dodgers manager among three beleaguered figures in the news. One of the others was either Jimmy Carter or a member of the Carter administration. The other I don’t remember. After Ed McMahon repeated the trio — and Carnac gave him the side eye — the Magnificent one tore open his envelope and revealed what they all had in common:

They were three people who’d be out of a job by next year.

On the Carter front, Carnac nailed his prediction. Maybe the other person, too. But Lasorda, despite a subpar ’79, wasn’t going anywhere. And why should he? Tommy won a pennant in his first full year managing the Dodgers, in 1977. He did the same in 1978. After the aberration, already in progress, Lasorda would go on to steer the Dodgers into a one-game playoff for the NL West title in 1980, take them all the way in 1981, to the final day in 1982, another pair of NLCSes in 1983 and 1985 and, for his signature scene, a second world championship in 1988.

When Johnny Carson bowed out of The Tonight Show in 1992, Lasorda was still managing the Dodgers. He’d remain the man visibly in charge clear into 1996, officially retiring a week after The Daily Show debuted.

For 20 baseball seasons, Lasorda was himself a daily show, and it’s not like he went into syndicated reruns after stepping down as manager. Tommy Lasorda never really left the Dodgers or baseball. Even with his passing at the outset of 2021, you don’t think of him as gone. No manager alive, and hardly a handful of them less so, remains as famous.

We don’t have managers normal people have heard of anymore. We barely have managers baseball fans have heard of. Lasorda everybody had heard of. He wasn’t just baseball famous like, say, Whitey Herzog or Earl Weaver (or Buck Showalter). He was Johnny Carson famous. Famous enough for Johnny Carson to weave into his sketches. Probably as famous as Johnny Carson.

He earned it, not just by managing successfully for a long span in a large market but by making himself too big to ignore. Him and baseball. “Ambassador” is kind of a catch-all for the role Lasorda served to promote baseball, the Dodgers and, one supposes, himself. It may not be specific enough. Tommy was an entire diplomatic corps.

After managing the Dodgers, he coached the U.S. Olympic baseball team to a gold medal in 2000. He coached third base for Bobby Valentine at the 2001 All-Star Game. He starred in MLB commercials in 2006 coaching fans of teams that didn’t make the playoffs to watch the postseason anyway because it was still baseball. He was around Dodger Stadium a lot. In 2020, in failing health, he made it to the new ballpark in Arlington, home of the neutral-site World Series. If the Dodgers were on-site, and Tommy was present, there was nothing neutral about it. He wasn’t gonna miss the Dodgers winning their first world championship in 32 years, the first world championship in Dodgers history won under the guidance of somebody who wasn’t Tommy Lasorda or Tommy Lasorda’s direct predecessor Walter Alston. The first season the Dodgers won one, Tommy pitched for them. That was 1955. He never left the organization.

Alston had Lasorda on his coaching staff during the 1974 World Series. Alston didn’t call attention to himself from taking the reins in Brooklyn in 1954 forward. That wasn’t a problem for his third base coach, who was mic’d up and gave the producers of the official Fall Classic film something to amplify. They talked about him during the NBC broadcast that October. The network of Carson and Garagiola knew a star when it saw one. The following spring, in a preseason special, Tommy was featured preaching the gospel of Dodger Blue at Spring Training in Vero Beach. He bled it, the coach told the minor leaguers. When he died, he’d hoped somebody would tack a Dodgers schedule to his tombstone. Come to his gravesite, pay your respects, divine whether the Dodgers were in town, decide to catch a game.

That’s the life Tommy Lasorda extolled. That’s the life Tommy led.

Maybe you remember Tommy’s appearance in the movie Fletch. It came in a framed photo, the kind of brag-wall shot Lasorda lined his own office with. Chevy Chase, as Fletch, notices his nemesis Joe Don Baker (the police chief) with his arm around the Dodgers manager.

“Hey,” Fletch says, “you and Tommy Lasorda.”
“Yeah.”
“I hate Tommy Lasorda!” at which point Fletch punches the glass loose from the frame.

That’s sort of how I felt about Tommy Lasorda after all the Big Dodger in the Sky proselytizing had taken its toll on me, but as I figure it, we owe Tommy Lasorda at least partially for four indelible Mets.

There was, most obviously, Mike Piazza, who the Dodgers drafted as a personal favor to their manager in the 62nd round 10 years before Mike became a Met and 28 years before he became the second player to be portrayed with a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. If Lasorda isn’t pals with Vince Piazza, and Lasorda doesn’t have the sway of a Lasorda, Vince’s son goes unselected in 1988 and Mets history doesn’t have a chance to change for the better.

There was Bobby Valentine, one of his most eager protégés while Tommy L and Bobby V both worked their way through the minors, manager and player, in the late 1960s. Lasorda would be managing in the majors by 1976 and in the World Series four times; Valentine would skipper at the highest echelons, too, most notably with the 2000 National League champion Mets of Piazza.

There was also Tom Seaver, the first Met to be portrayed with a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. Lasorda heartily recommended the Dodgers draft the righty out of Southern Cal in 1965 after scouting him, but lowballed the righty so badly in terms of a bonus — $2,000 — that Seaver opted to continue his studies. “Good luck in your dental career,” Lasorda told him. A year later, the Braves would draft Seaver, there’d be a glitch in the transaction, the pick was voided, Seaver’s name went into a hat, and a lucky team from New York had its destiny called. (Dentistry would have to get by.)

And there was Sid Fernandez, the pitching prospect Lasorda signed off on trading away in the offseason following 1983, underestimating the durability of the beefy southpaw. “Everybody felt he was kind of overweight,” Lasorda explained in 1986 as El Sid was pitching his way to the All-Star team and adding however many ounces a World Series ring weighs to his frame.

We won a few because of the influence Tommy Lasorda had on the course of events. We lost a few to Lasorda’s Dodgers in the two decades he managed, especially four games of seven in the 1988 NLCS that still stings Mets fans of a certain age. But you couldn’t miss Lasorda if you were a baseball fan all those years he ambassadored for a sport he never stopped believing was the National Pastime. When he died in 2021, even if you didn’t bleed a drop of Dodger blue, you sort of missed the man whose veins flowed with the stuff.

One of the many aces Lasorda had at his disposal when he took over from Alston at the tail end of ’76 was Don Sutton. Had Sutton been more amenable to a trade proposal on the table the previous Spring Training, Lasorda would have known right away what it was like to have his team face this future Hall of Famer. M. Donald Grant was already mad at Tom Seaver for Seaver being not thrilled at being underpaid, so a swap was engineered: Tom to the Dodgers, Don to the Mets. Sutton, though, wasn’t too hot on coming to New York and, while potential sweeteners were being worked out to change the West Coast righthander’s mind, the blowback in the press back east brought the trade tumbling down. A few years later, Sutton would hit the free agent market and the Mets, under new ownership, made a run at him. Don listened, but opted to sign with Houston. We never wanted to trade Seaver, but we could’ve used a guy like Sutton.

Lasorda, Sutton and Hank Aaron were three full-fledged baseball immortals who left us in 2021. I wrote about Aaron in January. I wrote about the Hank Aaron of the feline set, Avery the Cat, in December. Through the years, when I’ve made the time, I’ve tried to acknowledge the passings of those who touched us as baseball fans or me personally. As the season and other matters distract a person’s attention, sometimes I don’t say what should be said right away. Not everybody who leaves us is a legend. Everybody leaves a little something behind.

Ed Lucas, who I met once, was a remarkable man. Blinded as a child, he worked as a baseball writer the rest of his days and authored an incredible life I recommend reading about. Jazz musician Dave Frishberg’s gift to baseball fans was “Van Lingle Mungo,” a song I swear you can’t hear enough (and I couldn’t resist attempting to pay my own brand of homage). Stephen Sondheim scored more than a few of my baseball days and nights, regardless that he was writing for the theater rather than the stadium. After my Mets won the World Series in 1986, fate doubled down and allowed me to experience my Giants winning the Super Bowl, with John Madden’s buoyant analysis intrinsic to watching them at last conquer the NFL. With Pat Summerall, Madden did every Giants playoff game to which CBS held rights from 1981 to 1993. There’s so much more to Madden’s impact on football, but having him be the voice detailing why your team is suddenly the best there is is a thrill unto itself.

Roland Hemond was a revered baseball executive. To me, he’s the White Sox GM who plucked Tom Seaver off an unprotected list on Super Bowl weekend 1984; in his defense, at least he valued obvious talent more than Tommy Lasorda did. LaMarr Hoyt won a Cy Young for the White Sox and started an All-Star Game as a Padre. To me, he’s the pitcher who took an Opening Day start while being on the same pitching staff as Tom Seaver (only three other pitchers could say that) and won one of the four decisions Dwight Gooden lost in 1985, driving in a pair of runs off Doc in the process. Richie Lewis, a reliever for seven MLB seasons, learned just how much Doc appreciated good hitter-pitching on the final day of the 1993 seasons when he surrendered a triple to Gooden, who was serving as a pinch-hitter (something Doc remembered well when I asked him about it a mere 23 years later).

Ray Fosse was an All-Star behind the plate and tremendous behind a mic….but through this Mets fan’s eyes, he’s always going to be the catcher who didn’t tag Bud Harrelson in Game Two of the 1973 World Series, even if Augie Donatelli was sadly mistaken in ruling he did (we won despite the blunder in blue). Julio Lugo, who’d bat .269 over 12 years in the big leagues, and I, who never made it out of tee ball, were briefly corporate teammates. He was a Houston Astro. I worked for a publication owned by the man who owned the Astros. The Astros let Julio go. Lugo left behind his bats. I know this because at an event my magazine staged at Minute Maid Park, I got to take batting practice with one of Julio Lugo’s abandoned bats. His name was etched into it. Despite the lumber’s pedigree, I didn’t hit .269.

In 2021, we lost nine men who at one time or another played for the New York Mets. We remembered Willard Hunter, Randy Tate and Pedro Feliciano in this space earlier this year. The other six deserve a tip of the cap as well.

Norm Sherry was a top-flight defensive catcher. He helped Sandy Koufax harness his talent in Los Angeles. He brought his wisdom to bear coaching Gary Carter in Montreal. And, let’s face it, it had to have been his defense that appealed to Casey Stengel in 1963 because Norm spent the entire season with the Mets, came to bat 161 times, and batted .136. No position player with as many as 100 plate appearances has ever recorded a lower season’s batting average as a Met. Twice Tom Seaver logged a lower BA with 100 or more PAs, but six times within those parameters Tom hit higher. It’s worth noting, however, a) Norm played with a bad back much of 1963; b) the 1963 Mets weren’t exactly bulging with better all-around catching options; and c) Sherry bounced a grounder over the head of Jimmy Wynn — playing shortstop — to bring home Rod Kanehl and beat the Colt .45s in walkoff fashion one fine July afternoon at the Polo Grounds. Norm managed all of 20 hits across a full campaign. One won one of 51 games the Mets won all year. That’s called making the most of your OPS+ of 13.

Duke Carmel was Norm Sherry’s teammate on the 1963 Mets. He began the season as Stan Musial’s teammate on the 1963 Cardinals. A midseason trade may have represented a precipitous drop in the standings, but the Mets’ second Duke — this was the year Snider was our All-Star representative — dealt the Cards a little regret about as soon as he could. In the first series in which St. Louis made their erstwhile first baseman/outfielder’s reacquaintance, they watched Carmel go deep off Bobby Shantz in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and give Al Jackson all the support he needed to complete a rare Mets victory. “I’m getting a chance here,” the hero of the moment exulted afterward. Duke’s opportunity with the Mets wouldn’t last long, but his legacy still shimmers on two fronts. First, he became the first former Met to join the Yankees, which perhaps said a little something about where both franchises were heading once New York (A) deigned to acquire somebody New York (N) wasn’t hanging onto in the Rule 5 draft of 1964. Second, and of more lasting importance, he was a good man. My source? A gentleman who recently passed along a few tidbits about Carmel’s post-baseball life because “the guy deserves to not be forgotten”. Per our polite correspondent, Mr. Carmel “worked in the liquor business with an old friend and I met him a few time and he was great.” Good enough for us.

Bill Sudakis became a Met in 1972. I was excited we were getting a recent Dodger All-Star. Maybe I was conflating Bill Sudakis with Billy Grabarkewitz, the L.A. infielder Gil Hodges added to the National League squad in 1970, because this Bill had never earned such accolades. Nevertheless, I was reasonably familiar with Sudakis and welcomed him with open arms. Bill played a little first, caught a little, came off the bench to pinch-hit a little. During one of his starts, at San Diego, Bill’s two-run single in the top of the first, with Willie Mays and John Milner scoring on Sudakis’s hit to center, held up via the pitching of Gary Gentry and Tug McGraw to manufacture a 2-1 win on a starry Saturday night in July. When Sudakis reached again in the eighth, Yogi Berra pinch-ran for him with Tom Seaver.

Mike Marshall, the free-thinking reliever who won a Cy Young for the Dodgers after pitching in 106 games in 1974 (man, we sure do get or try to get a lot of ex-Dodgers), landed on the Mets after play resumed post-strike in 1981 and bolstered a bullpen that was a major reason the club hoisted itself into Second Season contention. By August of ’81, Mike had been inactive in the majors for more than a year, but at age 38 he picked up where his 188-save career left off and made a difference in Flushing. On August 27, Marshall threw a scoreless inning to keep the Mets within a run of the Astros, watched his teammates take a one-run lead, and then shut down Houston in the ninth to seal the deal at Shea, ensuring the Mets would remain barking in the NL East dogfight and raising his own record to 2-0. The Mets were surprising the National League in the wake of the strike, but Marshall wasn’t surprising Joe Torre. “Marshall is really what I wanted,” Mike’s manager said, “because he can still throw physically. And he’s got experience. That’s what we need with so many young pitchers,” an assortment that included Neil Allen, Jeff Reardon and, after rosters expanded, Jesse Orosco. “If you don’t love going out,” Marshall said of the mound where made his living for so long, “you can’t pitch.” Mike toed the rubber professionally for close to 20 years.

Dick Tidrow was another battle-scarred veteran who the Mets added to their bullpen, in 1984. His experience contrasted vividly with the rookie whose first major league start he took over for on April 7. Dwight Gooden, 19, gave the Astros a preview of what the rest of the NL would be looking at in ’84 by striking out five of them and holding them to one run in five innings. With Davey Johnson deciding young Dr. K had shown them enough, he handed the ball to the 36-year-old Tidrow, who held the lead for an inning and paved the way for Doug Sisk and Jesse Orosco to take care of the rest of that Saturday night’s business. The decision, a 3-2 Mets win, went to Dwight, his first in a career that was about five minutes from taking off for the stratosphere. Tidrow’s pitching days, however, were about at an end. The Mets released him a few weeks later, but he’d stay in baseball for decades succeeding wildly as part of San Francisco’s front office in the 2010s and receiving due credit for helping to construct the team that won three World Series titles in five years.

Phil Lombardi was a catcher in the Yankee organization who must have gotten a lot of local press in the mid-1980s, because when the Mets got him as part of the trade that sent Rafael Santana to the Bronx in December 1987 (sorry, Raffy), I was pretty pumped. We got their big-deal catching prospect? Perhaps I overestimated Lombardi’s potential once he joined the Mets’ organization, but he gave me and the Mets one big night. On June 28, 1989, in his first start as a Met, Lombardi led off the eighth inning at Olympic Stadium and crushed a Mark Langston pitch to somewhere amid the distant precincts of Quebec. I had just walked in the door from one of my first business trips as a trade magazine editor when I witnessed the blast. It was quite the welcome home.

Speaking of Canada, one of the best baseball expatriates the Mets ever picked up from the Great White North was former Blue Jays batting champion John Olerud. John had raked for Toronto until he didn’t. When he came to New York in 1997, he found his stroke again, with significant assistance from hitting coach Tom Robson. Bobby Valentine’s lieutenant was someone Olerud thanked mightily for reviving his sweet swing. “He was the perfect hitting coach,” John once reflected. “He helped save my career. We came from the same philosophical school of hitting — hit the ball where it’s pitched — and we really hit it off.”

One of my coaches, you might say, was a journalism professor named George Meyer (not to be confused with the Simpsons writer of the same name). Unlike Olerud and Robson, I had no deep personal relationship with Meyer. I had him for one semester of News Editing my junior year in college. By the time I was a senior, I’m convinced he would have no idea who I was if you mentioned my name to him. But damned if, as the years have gone by, I haven’t continually found myself remembering something specific Meyer taught in class and applying it to something I was writing, something I was editing or something I was thinking. I had several instructors in the Mass Communications department at the University of South Florida. George was in the distinct minority of those who left an impression I feel to this day (I’m holding up two fingers). He was also a mensch when I realized I’d totally misinterpreted an assignment as I was handing it in and asked him if I could do it over now that I figured out what he was looking for. “Sure,” he said, rescuing me from my own unforced error. More prepared for any eventuality than his addled student, George Meyer even wrote his own obituary in advance. There’s a person who understood an assignment.

The year I took News Editing was the year I hung out with John Pazman. John, you might say, is here on a do-over. My close friend from my dorm my junior year died in 2014, but I didn’t learn about his passing until a little curious Googling in 2021. Somehow the subject of clove cigarettes came up — John is the only person I knew to have smoked them — and I got to thinking about him. I’m sorry to learn he’s been gone all this time. I’m delighted I got to know him as I did when I did. We were down-the-hall neighbors, each of us with roommates who ghosted, so we visited each other frequently for company. He was kind of a surfer type, though I can’t recall if he actually bothered to surf. Maybe he just liked soaking up the rays (there was a lot of that going on at a college not terribly far from Clearwater Beach). I don’t necessarily remember much we had in common other than a fondness for Steely Dan and disdain for certain residents of our floor. Despite being from Pittsburgh, he had no interest in the Pirates, though the Steelers were sort of cool, he decided, because when they’d won all those Super Bowls, he got to go downtown and party.

John moved out of the dorm the following fall, and we remained friendly when I was a senior, but we were already drifting apart. The reason I’m moved to mention him here is the letter I received from him in the waning weeks of 1986, more than a year-and-a-half from the last time I’d heard from him. The line he dropped was to congratulate me on the Mets having won the World Series. He didn’t go in for baseball, but my room with all its Metsaphernaila had stuck in his mind, and he figured I must be very happy and he wanted me to know he was very happy for me.

One time our dorm had to clear out into the parking lot because of a false alarm, John took note of some scaffolding on the side of our high-rise building. Hey, he mused, we should get up in that thing and pull ourselves back up to our floor — everybody will see us and we’d be the coolest people here. Then he thought about it and decided, “Nah. We’re already the coolest people here.”

One of us was, anyway.

Conversely, there wasn’t much cool about Todd Feltman, which is what made him such a warm character to be around. I met Todd on the first day of fourth grade. Our teacher told us to introduce ourselves to somebody sitting near us and get to know each other. Todd and I shook hands and exchanged vital information: I was a Mets fan, he was a Yankees fan. This was 1972, when Yankees fans on Long Island were in short supply, so I assumed he wasn’t putting on airs. Despite our core difference, we hit it off and stayed, in some form or fashion, hit off for the next nine years of public school, then friends from afar while we were in college, then in touch sporadically for a pretty good while thereafter. Upon learning from an old mutual friend in September that Todd died this past spring, I found myself mentally opening my “Feltman, Todd” file. The memories filled a warehouse.

When I say Todd wasn’t cool, I don’t mean he wasn’t capable of wearing a stylish shirt. He just put himself out there with limited self-awareness. No pretenses. He didn’t care how he came across so much as he cared that you felt good about yourself. I mentioned we shook hands in fourth grade. We shook hands a lot. Todd was one of those gregarious guys who’d shake your hand every day if you saw him every day. When we were older, he’d want us, with our significant others, to meet up so we could “cocktail”. It was his approach and it was genuine. He was delighted to see you, to ask how you were doing, to listen to the answer. It didn’t matter that your cause wasn’t his. He wanted your cause to succeed for you. And yes, I’m talking about the Mets, but it applies to everything else. I’ll stick with the Mets here, though.

Monday afternoon, September 20, 1976. Eighth grade. Todd was coming over after school. On the way to my house, we stopped by the Lido Deli to pick up a snack. I don’t remember what I ordered. He asked the counterman for a seltzer and a sour tomato. He was 14 years old and ordering like his grandfather would. But it’s what he wanted, so why not? We take the food and drink back to my house, sit down at the kitchen table and I turn on the radio. The Mets are finishing up a series with the Pirates. I don’t know that every 14-year-old would have planned an afterschool get-together around the final innings of a Monday matinee, but it’s what I wanted, so why not? Todd, whose team was soon to go to the playoffs for the first time in his sentient baseball life, may not have been thinking this was the most fun activity, but he went along with it and he joined me in rooting for the Mets. It wasn’t a big game for them. It was a big game for the Pirates, who were chasing the Phillies, so the Mets were at least playing spoiler if they could come from behind.

With two out in the bottom of the ninth, trailing by one, John Milner singles off Kent Tekulve, Leo Foster runs for Milner and September callup Lee Mazzilli gives Tekulve’s final pitch the ride of its life, taking it over the right field wall for the 5-4 Mets win, or a win that I’m still talking about 45 years later. Todd and I celebrated. The high-five had yet to be widely disseminated. We probably shook hands.

Todd was living out of town when Stephanie and I got married fifteen years later, which is now thirty years ago, so he sent his parents in his place. He was back in the area when he got married five years after that, in 1996. We went. He and I not only shook hands a lot, but embraced. “We’ve got to get together more often,” he told me with utmost sincerity, the only sincerity in his portfolio. “I’m serious.”

We never saw each other again. I looked for him on Facebook, but remembered he was inevitably the kid who didn’t know to order the sixth-grade autograph book or that today was the day to show up for the yearbook photo. No, I never found him on social media. I didn’t need to. My mental file is blessedly crammed with silly, sincere and authentic interactions with Todd Feltman that spanned nearly a quarter-century and have lived with me for another quarter-century since.

I’ve still never “cocktailed” with anybody. Or seen anybody else order a seltzer and sour tomato.

Steve Cohen’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve

The last two instances of the Baseball Equinox, marking the spot when we sit equidistant between the final out of last season and the scheduled first pitch of next season, were rendered inoperative in retrospect once COVID had its way with them. The opening of the entire 2020 baseball season was pushed back to July and the Mets had their first three games of 2021 postponed when too many Nationals tested positive. We can do the math, but we can’t control the science.

But, if you choose to believe that lockouts will be settled and variants will be tamed, this year’s Baseball Equinox arrives in our midst on Saturday, January 1, 2022, at 3:28:30 AM Eastern Standard Time. If you are in the greater New York Metropolitan Area, you’re forgiven in advance for possibly sleeping through it. But maybe you’re the type who saves it all up for New Year’s Eve and you’ll be partying deep into the morning. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll be digging on the WLNY 10/55 Odd Couple marathon (Felix and Oscar will be finishing their stint as mismatched hospital roommates just before 3:30 AM).

If you’re in another time zone in the Continental U.S., you stand a better chance of still being up when the enticing promise of the 2022 season becomes temporally closer than the lingering disappointment of the one from 2021. And if you’re in Hawaii —perhaps hanging with Benny Agbayani or Sid Fernandez as one imagines all Hawaiian Mets fans might — by all means, make the Equinox a part of your extended countdown to midnight.

Offer good in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

In the Nick of Time

Later this week I’ll be along with the Tenth Annual awarding of the Oscar’s Caps, recognizing the year in Mets Pop Culture. But one Mets pop culture sighting in particular was too big to confine to a sentence or paragraph amid a catalogue of other, albeit worthy sightings (all Mets pop culture sightings are worthy), so we’re going to dwell on it by itself here for a spell. And we’re going to start, as the Mets did in 681 regular-season games during the 1980s, by leading off with Mookie Wilson.

Mookie Wilson has never seen Do The Right Thing, at least he hadn’t when the Los Angeles Times asked him about it for a story regarding Mookie Blaylock joining the Dodgers. Most every high-profile Mookie came up, including the Mookie director/star Spike Lee played in his landmark 1989 film. “I’m not a moviegoer,” Wilson told LZ Granderson. “I heard people talk about it and I know it’s Spike Lee and he’s from New York, but I haven’t seen it yet. I have no idea if he named the character after me, but it sure seems that way, doesn’t it? I’m sure there were Mookies before me, but I didn’t know of any…definitely not one who was doing the things I was doing when I was playing. It’s just one of those funny timing things, I guess.”

Can you ever have too many Mookies?

Funny timing, says Mookie? The L.A. Times article appeared on February 11, 2020, five days after I met the Mets fan who a) would soon be spending a decent amount of time himself speaking with Mookie Wilson and b) when asked if he has a particular favorite Metsian pop culture moment, replied, “I love that Spike Lee’s character was named Mookie.”

Timing says the Mookie who delivered pizza in Bed-Stuy while wearing Jackie Robinson’s 42 and called out hypocrisy when it stared him in the face in the summer of 1989 was not only trying to do the right thing, but he was in the right place at the right time. Mookie Wilson was in his tenth and final season as a New York Met. The New York Mets were in their sixth of seven seasons as a National League East powerhouse. The Mets of the era were a totem Spike latched onto while making or promoting movies during this period — TV appearances, trailers, dialogue or background in at least three features. Meanwhile, the nearby New Jersey Nets had just drafted, in June of ’89, Mookie Blaylock, pretty much the second (or third, depending on when you went to see the movie if you were a moviegoer) Mookie most folks had heard of. Wilson would be traded to Toronto by August and propel the Blue Jays to the playoffs, making Mookie an icon in two nations, but he’d retire from baseball in 1991 and inevitably fade a bit from the collective consciousness outside of Flushing.

Our Mookie was no longer the Mookie who leapt universally to mind when you mentioned a Mookie as the 1990s rolled on and the 21st century was born. He was for us, of course, but Blaylock would have his day in the sun as a 13-year NBA guard (and brief moniker for Pearl Jam before Pearl Jam was Pearl Jam); Lee’s film with its lead character maintained enormous cultural staying power; and then, in 2014, came All-Star-to-be Mookie Betts, and all wagers were off as to whom a later generation would point as the Mookie of record. When he was a Red Sox rookie, the newest Mookie — Markus by birth — explained his parents started calling him by that nickname from watching the Mookie who played basketball, not baseball.

But the guy I met in person on February 6, 2020, a New York-bred movie director in his own right, has done his best to keep the original Mookie atop the Mookie marquee — even if William Hayward Wilson wasn’t necessarily the lead character in his screen gem.

Nick Davis is the auteur behind Once Upon A Time in Queens, the four-part film documenting the ascent and ascendancy of the 1986 New York Mets, how they rose from the ashes of the lowest point in franchise history nine years prior to reach the heights of the baseball world for a moment that both ended too soon and lasts to this day. Soaring in approximate tandem with the ballclub was the city it represented. When we met New York at the outset of Davis’s story as it aired on ESPN as part of the 30 for 30 series in September, it was still smoldering from the great blackout of the night before, July 13, 1977, a Wednesday that clocked in exactly four weeks after June 15, 1977, the aforementioned franchise low point for the Mets.

New York was in rough shape that summer. The Mets’ shape was rougher. Tom Seaver was traded. Dave Kingman was traded. Last place was held on a long-term lease. And rooting for the Mets, despite M. Donald Grant doing the wrong thing, were kids like Nick Davis in Manhattan and me on Long Island. We didn’t know each other then, but we might as well have been each other. Every Mets fan of a certain age in the late 1970s was, when it came to the object of our baseball affections, determined to do the unpopular thing. We were all one. We were all alone. We couldn’t imagine there were any longer many of us constituting us.

We’d rooted for the Mets before Seaver was traded. We’d keep rooting for the Mets after Seaver was traded. We’d hope for the best. The hoping was laced with waiting, because there was a ton of waiting to be done. The Mets were down and were not getting up in 1977. Or 1978. Or 1979. A glint of light shone through in 1980 — the franchise was sold, a Magical slogan fleetingly resonated — but prone remained the default position for the Mets. As it did in 1981. And 1982. And well into 1983. Every one of those years lasted no more than 366 days and every one of its baseball seasons no more than 163 games (I’m a stickler for counting ties), but if you were Nick or me or perhaps you, every minute when the Mets were dismal and we were sure there were hardly any other Mets fans besides our hardy handful, lasted an eternity.

Then eternity turned around. You say “1983” differently from the years that immediately preceded it, last place or not. Then you say “1984” and “1985” and it’s an entirely new ballgame. Which gets us to 1986 and the rest of the story Nick had in his bones and was ready to cinematically spill by 2020.

Which is what got Nick and me together face-to-face for the first time that February. We had been in touch via e-mail and phone in the months prior as Nick, a faithful FAFIF reader for a few years to that point, let me in on this project he was working on about the 1986 Mets and asked if I would I like to be, in Ken Burns’ The Civil War terms, his documentary’s Shelby Foote, its voice of historical perspective.

He had me at “1986”.

I never watched The Civil War, but got what Nick meant. The difference between the epic battle for the American soul and the Mets marching through the National League East, it would occur to me later, was Burns couldn’t interview the principals who were around from 1861 to 1865. Davis would have access to plenty of alive & well veterans of the Mets of the 1980s, no matter how astounding it is that so many of them had survived to 2020 despite putting their minds and bodies through the wringer way back when. But there was a role for me, nonetheless. I was the guy who — with no cameras rolling — paced around his living room late at night when not sleepy and talked to myself about the Mets, usually while a cat ignored me. Not just about the 1986 Mets, but surely a lot about those halcyon days. They represent the Mets’ most recent world championship, you might have heard.

I’m also the guy who, unlike so many real-life characters testifying in Once Upon a Time in Queens, went back to my room, so to speak, after the final out. The 1980s in New York on display in Nick’s movie was one I knew about from a distance of an hour by train and 180 degrees by inclination. Maybe I’d go out for a couple of beers with my friends on a Saturday night, but not until Jesse or Roger nailed down the latest win (if, in fact, somebody didn’t pitch a complete game). That was about it for my nightlife. My priorities in 1986 were pretty much the priorities that would remain my priorities. My memory of the Mets leading up to and all throughout 1986 was intact. The recollections I relished recalling to myself remained accurate and vivid. Nick, sensing this was who I was and what I remembered, invited me to sit in front of a camera in somebody else’s living room that was doubling as a documentary set.

I was asked to keep my involvement quiet because the project had not yet been officially, officially been signed off on by its eventual network partner. After I spent what turned into a very long day in that other living room, somewhere in Crown Heights, I dutifully bit my tongue. The pandemic would fully hit a month later, so the interview between Nick and me lingered as The Last Fun Thing I Did outside the house for quite a while, yet could tell nobody about. Once it was announced as set to air on ESPN and had been given its name, I was delighted to mention to others that it would be on but felt reluctant to make too much of a personal to-do about my being included. Pop Culture Week here is my excuse to more than whisper about it.

Nick’s framing device notwithstanding, I wasn’t Shelby Foote. And I wasn’t Mookie Wilson or any of the actual 1986 Mets who were going to make this thing fun for everybody who watched it. I’d be me, though, and that would have a purpose. I’d be what Nick called “foundational,” the head talking with first-person plural affinity for the subject — we/us/our are my Met pronouns — but with the remove of someone who understood he was not a player, but a fan. Fan with benefits, you might say, activating my fan superpower of delineating between what a moment felt like one veritable minute before the moment changed. I’ve watched a lot of Mets, I’ve read a lot of Mets, I’ve written a lot of Mets and I remember a lot of Mets. If that adds up to a hint of authority judged valuable enough to contribute a little foundation to what would become the definitive retrospective on the most spectacular team in New York Mets history, ask away. I’ll give you what I’ve got in complete sentences. I won’t pretend to know what I don’t.

When I arrived at the house in Brooklyn where the filming would commence, I assumed I was the eleven o’clock appointment, with other Shelby Footes, or perhaps Shelby Feete, slated for 1:30 and 4:00. There was a large crew and loads of equipment. I’d done other talking-head shoots over the years, but never with this much heft to it. They were set up for one interview, however. Just me. I was also the first project-dedicated interview they had scheduled overall (though Nick had the foresight to grab the opportunity to record a 1986-themed chat with a fellow named Roger Angell a couple of summers before). I think I was sort of the guinea pig for how they planned pre-pandemic to go about approaching other sessions.

Two people talked. A lot of people preserved it.

The day boiled down to two people talking and a lot of people preserving it. Camera person. Light person. Sound person. Persons of job titles I couldn’t tell you, but everybody who had taken over this handsome house in Crown Heights was a stone pro at what they did. They put such care into the shooting. The windows were covered so thoroughly that there was less light coming into our set than there was Shea Stadium before de Roulet sold to Doubleday. If a car rumbled down the street, “cut!” might be ordered. And this was all so Nick could ask me to talk about what it was like when Darryl Strawberry was called up to the majors.

It was an exhausting late morning, afternoon and early evening, but exhausting in the extra-inning doubleheader-sweep sense. You want to be exhausted by something like that. Without even knowing COVID was about to wreak havoc, I couldn’t have asked for a more fun Last Fun Thing. It was work for the crew. It was work for Nick (during our lunch break he learned George Foster was declining a chance to participate). It was a blast for me. Somebody who truly cared was asking me to meander through Mets history, a little in 1962 and 1969; then to dig into the dark times without fear; and then, as my reward for reliving our state of Seaverlessness, to come out of the tunnel on Field Level, with Darryl and Keith and Doc and Kid waiting to greet me on the other side.

To get from where kids like Nick and me sat, nursing our Wednesday Night Massacre wounds from June 15, 1977, to the top of the mountain on October 27, 1986 (and the crush of parade humanity I threw myself into downtown the next day) was what being a Mets was all about in the time span covered by Once Upon a Time in Queens. Someday it would stop hurting so much. Someday it would stop sucking so much. Someday we wouldn’t be practically the only Mets fans we knew. Someday we’d have the best young player in the game and the best pitcher of any age in the game plus a couple of superstars we used to root against because they were always beating us when they were a Cardinal and an Expo, but somehow they’d become ours. Hell yes, I’m down to talk about those Mets days all day in somebody else’s living room. I’d do it with almost anybody. But I couldn’t have asked for a better Mets fan to do it with than Nick Davis.

Nick and his editors took my interview and a few dozen other interviews — whose logistics might have been hampered by COVID, but the impact of their content went unharmed — and a torrent of period footage and game footage and created four incandescent hours. His original cut clocked in closer to seven. I would have watched that many, but the four minus commercials that made it to air take care of their business beautifully.

There’s New York after the blackout. There’s Sergio Ferrer not reaching base. There’s Nelson Doubleday and Frank Cashen coming into our lives. There’s Keith Hernandez going deep and personal. There’s the throbbing nightlife in which Mets would indulge but to which they would not (yet) succumb. There are National League opponents who would succumb to the Mets. There’s Lenny Dykstra worming his way back into our hearts. There’s two people I know who sent in their own “here’s where I was” stories from Game Six — the second Game Six — when Nick put out an APB for fan anecdotes. There’s Kevin Mitchell crooning. There are snippets from local news and other evidence of how we consumed the ’70s and ’80s. (One of my kibbitzing suggestions — a clip I recalled of Johnny Carson poking fun at Dodger World Series goat Bill Buckner in 1974 — wound up just missing the final cut, much as John Gibbons would be the last player removed from the postseason roster a dozen years later.)

All of this was for the Mets. All of this was for us. The 1986 Mets earned themselves and us this treatment. Nick and I wouldn’t have guessed it was possible in 1977 and 1978 and so on that a Mets team could or would. Nick, like me, savors Mets pop culture sightings. He treasures, as he did as a kid, any evidence that the Mets exist anywhere outside the basement of the NL East. “It always makes me very happy and feel very seen when the Mets enter pop culture, because there was this period when we were so bad,” he told me when we last spoke, right before Thanksgiving, “Those years, coming of age as a fan between the Seaver trade and 1983, it was just so bleak, and any time at all that they entered the national conversation, it was just thrilling. You were just clinging to these things where they’d get to be on Monday Night Baseball or Mazzilli would hit a home run in the All-Star Game, it was like, ‘Oh my god!’ [and] ‘Hey, we’re in the major leagues, too!’”

Then Nick allowed himself a 42-year-old gripe that “of course they’re not gonna give him the MVP because somebody made a good throw from right field,” because Nick, like me, was a Mets fan in 1979 and that inner Mets fan from 1979 is always going to be a little bit bitter about Dave Parker being voted hardware that could have just as easily gone to Lee Mazzilli.

I theorized to Nick that being from New York probably makes us a touch myopic in our thinking that our two world championships are absolutely among the two biggest World Series achievements in baseball history. Well, he replied in so many words, it is New York, no doubt gaining him fans in the so-called heartland. I asked him if he thought he could make the same sort of film if ESPN or MLB came to him and proposed that Minneapolis in 1987, especially but not only the Twins, really symbolized something enormous about their moment. They, after all, won a World Series some 35 years ago, just like the Mets (then, unlike the Mets, won a second a few years later). Nick played along — Prince, Paisley Park and the Minneapolis sound were certainly influential, he reasoned — but maybe “Kent Hrbek, for all his wondrous qualities,” wouldn’t resonate for multiple hours for a national audience as a testament to his times.

I might not be as invested in it if I weren’t in it, but I believe that no matter my involvement, Once Upon a Time in Queens emerged on ESPN not only as compelling and entertaining but as Met canon. It’s going to be embroidered into the telling of our larger story the way Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? and The Bad Guys Won and The Worst Team Money Can Buy are. Hell, it could be up there with Kiner’s Korner. There’ve been other programs and films that have examined 1986, enough that the reflex reaction to this one might have been, “what, another?” but this one is the one you put in the time capsule for all time, right alongside your VHS copy of the presciently titled A Year to Remember. The way we saw the 1986 Mets in Once Upon a Time in Queens will define how we remember that year — especially for Mets fans who weren’t lucky enough to experience the 1986 Mets first-hand.

The first time I saw Nick in person after our day on the set in Brooklyn was September 3, 2021, at Citi Field, the evening he publicly screened the first two hours of the movie. The first thing he asked me with no cameras recording us was whether I thought we still had a chance to win the division. Yeah, we were still essentially the same person. Mookie Wilson was also there, joining Nick and Bobby Ojeda in a little pre-movie Q&A conducted by Colin Cosell. This was a movie Mookie didn’t mind going to see. He and Bobby O, much the way their 1969 world champion predecessors do, confirmed that Mets fans never get tired of bringing up their exploits to them. It’s fair to say they don’t mind the attention. Mookie, however, implored us to not live in the past — except when it came to remembering him, in which case, he was OK with it.

As were we in the crowd once CitiVision lit up with parts one and two and when we tuned in a couple of weeks later to take in the entire production on ESPN. My god, Nick and his crew captured those Mets and those times. At first, I looked for myself on the screen. Then I basically forgot I was in it because I was too caught up in the story and the sound (Tears for Fears was never put to better use). I’ll take the word of the likes of Tama Janowitz and Chuck D for what New York c. 1986 was like after dark, away from Shea. I worked in the city then, but took the LIRR home by sunset. If it was baseball season, I wanted to get myself in front of a television by 7:35. Kurt Andersen was capable of putting the raised financial stakes of the Go-Go Eighties in context without my two cents, which is roughly what I had relative to the “Greed is Good” goons down on Wall Street. The only place I aspired to go-go was to an occasional game.

The reach of Once Upon a Time in Queens was staggering in that my sister watched the whole thing, and not just because her brother was in it. After the first installment, she wanted to tell me what a thrill it was to see me on television. After the fourth, she demanded to know why the Mets would ever trade Kevin Mitchell. She wasn’t asking me such questions in 1986.

Talk about feeling seen. I heard from my doctor, who is not a baseball fan; he saw me in a commercial and bragged on it to his other Mets fan patients (uh, confidentiality?). I heard from my mechanic, who is not a Mets fan, but he takes good care of my ancient car, so I’m respectful of Gerrit Cole when we’re not talking brake lines. I heard from a guy who was one of the few determined souls I knew in high school who stuck with the Mets. I’m pretty certain we hadn’t spoken since 1986. He saw me in this. I was grateful to connect again. I was grateful to all who said they enjoyed seeing or hearing me in it. I’m glad, quite frankly, that I never ran across any criticism of a “who the bleep is Greg Prince and why is he on there instead of so-and-so?” nature.

When I caught up with Nick in late November to ask him how it all felt now that it was done and so many had seen the result of all the work he put in, he reminded me I was on his get-list all along. He couldn’t get every player he wanted, but he had no problem getting me. When I asked, ostensibly on behalf of my curious sister, why the background for my segments was so dark that the bookshelves in the background weren’t visible (I wondered if my lack of telegenicism had to be compensated for, or if a network suit urged my face be obscured as much as possible), he explained the choice: “This man has the weight of Mets history behind him.” I’ll buy that.

Oral history like it oughta be.

I also bought the highly worthwhile companion volume to Once Upon a Time in Queens, an oral history version of the same time period with much the same cast as the documentary. Leafing through it, it hit me just how amazing it is that I somehow slipped into what stands as the definitive retelling of 1986. Being on TV was indeed a fun thing. Print is where I live. On page 79 of the book, there is a string of remembrances that are from, in capital letters, BOBBY OJEDA, WALLY BACKMAN, DWIGHT GOODEN, GREG PRINCE and DARRYL STRAWBERRY, as if Bobby, Wally Doc, Darryl and I always hung out together.

I blush just thinking about it.

Do You Know Where You’re Going To?

In Bicentennial Detroit, when Mark Fidrych was in full flight, The Bird was the word. On TV in the 1950s, a duck delivered the $100 prize to contestants on You Bet Your Life who used Groucho Marx’s secret word. Frankie Valli ruffled few feathers when he informed us repeatedly in the summer of ’78 that “Grease” was the word.

For us lately, -ward has been the word. Not ward as in “the Mets have so many guys on the injured list they must have their own hospital ward,” but –ward as in the homophonic suffix that attaches itself to other words or word parts to form new words that indicate a direction something or someone is taking. Where something or someone is going is good information to have, particularly if we’re contemplating something or someone we care about.

Other than streaming to the IL, where the Mets were going was a question that demanded asking even if it elicited no lasting answer. This is why, as 2021 reaches its final week, Faith and Fear in Flushing chooses Trajectories as our Nikon Camera Mets Player of the Year, an award presented annually to the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or transcends the year in Metsdom. Where the Mets were going was of paramount interest to us who root for the Mets, yet elusive in terms of pinning down.

Or did we just not like the answers the duck dropped off? Let’s revisit some of the –wards where the Mets went in ’21 and try to figure this out.

UPWARD
It’s understood that the Mets ascended through the National League East standings fairly early in 2021, climbed into first place, and maintained their grip on the top for quite a while. Having spent 103 days in first place only to finish with a losing record — most ever for that distinction — became their calling card, much as the 1984 Mets are remembered for being in first place until the Cubs blew by them or the 2007 Mets are remembered for being in first place until they themselves plummeted with neither pause nor grace. Neither ending was optimal, but if you clear your head, you can recall the exhilaration of ’84 and, even if there was a lingering sense of discomfort all summer, the satisfying divisional hegemony of ’07. It was our year, we were pretty certain, until it wasn’t.

Was this one? “If you’re going to be in first place for a hundred days,” Steve Cohen said in November when asked about what he learned in his first year as owner, “try and do it at the end of the season and not the middle.” Nevertheless, most years with significant days logged in first place will leave an impression of how much fun it was until it wasn’t. If you remember the momentum the 2021 Mets projected or how we as their rabid supporters fed off their energy, you’re a better fan than I am, Gunga Din. I can look up on Retrosheet when we took first without letting go of it (May 8) and check our archives to see what I thought of their status (I called them “stealthy”), but less than eight months after it happened, I don’t have a strong recall of what it was like to stand back and say, “Wow, the Mets are in first place!”

I did it in 1984. I did it in 2007. I did it in the years the Mets actually completed the job of being in first place. I’ve done it almost any year by the second week of a season when the Mets led their division. But in 2021, the trip north from meandering beneath .500 in late April and early May to surging past their competition and then consistently fending them off was…oh, what’s that very complex term analysts use?

Meh. Yeah, that’s it. It was meh.

Despite preseason predictions that several enormous bundles of talent were going to battle it out at a high level, the whole division had revealed itself rather quickly to be rather middling. The Mets were the best of the so-so lot. It was better than not being better than Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington and Miami, but I don’t think it was capable of captivating us.

How many teams that stay in first place for multiple months without pause leave you waiting for them to finally get on a hot streak? The Mets, at their 2021 best, were perpetually lukewarm.

I’ll also allow for the possibility that I’m getting old and whatever that implies. Maybe I’m incapable of remembering every step in a season the way I used to. Maybe, after you’ve been around nearly six decades and living with your team more than five, things don’t pop the way they used to. I used to listen to Ralph Kiner tell the same stories about Casey Stengel in sparkling detail, yet, by his own admission, not remember what he had for breakfast that morning.

In February 1984, there was a spate of 20th-anniversary stories commemorating the Beatles’ arrival in America. Can it really be 20 years since 1964? One of the stations I listened to at the time, while I was in college in Tampa, featured an interview with Louise Harrison, George’s sister. She was local, living in Sarasota. Louise and the host marveled at what a time it had been two decades earlier, how it all seemed so vibrant, how it all stayed with them, not like today. Louise invoked 1978, which at the time was only six years ago, and asked rhetorically, who even remembers 1978?

“I do,” I replied in my head. I remembered Frankie Valli defining Grease as the word, and a thousand things besides. I was 15 years old in 1978. I suspected in 1984 that my youth was being memory-holed by my elders. I didn’t know how old Louise Harrison or the DJ on The Wave 102.5 were as they spoke, but it hit me that at some point this is what happens with everybody. There’s the stuff that stays with you, then the stuff that doesn’t stick quite as much, then less and less. I mean the Beatles were the Beatles, but if you were 15 in the summer of ’78, whatever was big then will have groove, will have meaning six or more years later.

Maybe baseball (and everything) gets like that for all of us. The Beatles can only come to America once. The Grease soundtrack can only dominate the airwaves once. The thrill of the Mets commandeering first place can only resonate with profound resonance so many times. After a certain point in a person’s life, maybe everything else just becomes noise.

But I don’t really think that’s the case here, for me at any rate. Give me what’s memorable and I pledge to remember it. I still have my AccuWeather certification when it comes to tracking the microclimates of a season. Honestly, that’s my Mets fan superpower. I can tell you, for example, what it felt like the dizzying July weekend the Mets blew an enormous lead in Pittsburgh on Saturday night; overcame an enormous deficit the next afternoon; then both allowed and scored tons of runs in Cincinnati the night after that. I can gripe with specificity about ice cold early August and tumbling off a cliff in Philadelphia. I can dwell for effect in the barren September faceoffs against St. Louis (0-3), Boston (0-2) and Milwaukee (0-3), each miserable series emblematic of how the Mets performed against playoff-bound teams as it became apparent they wouldn’t be one of them (5-22 down what passed for the stretch).

What I don’t remember so vividly is the part before the All-Star break when the Mets got on a roll and we rolled with them and everybody was smiling, laughing and bumping virtual fists over our wonderful first-place team. Probably because, Bench Mob heroics notwithstanding, it wasn’t much like that.

But they were in first place for a while. So there ya go.

WAYWARD
Diesel Donnie Stevenson. Rat or raccoon or a double play combo not exactly meshing. “Just smile and know that we got this.” Tweeting highlights of oneself in the minutes after a loss, having it noticed and then rather predictably crying poo-poo take at the reporter who dared mention the juxtaposition of personal celebration and collective defeat. Thumbs down.

To invoke another –ward, Awkward!

If we didn’t already love the Mets an entity/concept, these Mets would have made themselves hard to love. They did, actually. Hard to watch as they slid under .500 and hard to take as they, at various intervals, couldn’t handle not just their opponents, but their teammates, their chroniclers, their coaches, their loyalists and their reality. The lingering sweetness of 2019’s stirring if ultimately doomed Wild Card lunge — when the Mets were the team that I swore loved us back — dissipated by the end of 2021. Their best players (among those who were on hand, thus excusing Jacob deGrom) could be the toughest to take. I came to really dig the way Javy Baez played but questioned my self-esteem for doing so, which perhaps calls for looking inward. I really wanted to want Marcus Stroman back, but was not feeling jilted when he left. I went from adoring everything about Pete Alonso toward consciously separating his shtick from his bat. I’m not quite sure what to make of Francisco Lindor other than knowing he’ll be making whatever he makes here for quite a while. I’m not terribly invested in erstwhile All-Star Jeff McNeil being here or gone.

Bubble was a word Gary Cohen mentioned when the most telling if correspondingly goofy of the contretemps, the players booing their fans with their thumbs, flared. These guys, the announcer discerned, had been physically separated from those who covered them and had taken on a harsh us-against-the-world mentality that wasn’t playing well when they weren’t. Accountability was a word I read quite a bit after the season ended, and not because the Mets led the league in it.

WESTWARD
The Mets played the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers thirteen consecutive games in August. They won two and lost eleven. Many of the contests were close, but the difference between the elite of the National League West and the standard-bearers of National League East mediocrity couldn’t have been more stark. In “The Stranger” Billy Joel advised, “Don’t be afraid to try again, everyone goes south, every now and then.” The Mets won their season series against Miami and more or less held their own versus Atlanta. Going south in the literal sense was a better idea than getting involved with the West.

ONWARD
Even as the season oozed away what modicum of zazz it contained, damned if we weren’t still a part of it all. Fans stay. Some of my fellow fans love relish telling me in an almost boastful fashion once campaigns are all but mathematically lost how they’ve “checked out,” yet they keep coming by to confirm that they don’t care. There’s probably a little more caring going on there than meets the ear.

I’m a chronic carer. I cared about the Mets in September. I cared that they still sort of, kind of had a shot entering the final month. I cared that if they could just do this, that and the other thing, and a half-dozen clubs cooperated on a nightly basis by not doing this, that and the other thing…no, they weren’t going to make a run let alone run through the tape and into Dodger Stadium to roll the Wild Card dice…but I couldn’t be absolutely sure they wouldn’t. So I kept caring and kept watching, and even when mathematics took over, I kept caring and kept watching.

What the hell else was I going to do — not care and not watch?

FORWARD
In 2015, the most successful year the FAFIF Awards Committee has ever had to consider for Nikon purposes, we warned against getting too hung up on precedent. Similarities can be noteworthy, but the distant past isn’t retroactively predictive of the future. Which isn’t to say noting noteworthiness can’t be fun — or eerie. With that grain of salt poured, consider that, in retrospect, Mets years that end in “1” seem to take place because they have to. Mets years that end in “2” are then constructed in immediate response to obliterate what we just saw in Mets years that end in “1”. The Men in Black would appreciate how efficiently the Mets attempt go about it.

Every season that has ended in a “1” has been a major disappointment. The Mets dropped out of contention in 1971 after logging time in first place with much the same team that had won the World Series two Octobers earlier. Nascent signs of life were doused by a severe lack of talent in 1981. The imperial phase of Mets baseball abdicated for good in 1991. Defending league champions in 2001 spent nearly five months indulging in pacifism. In 2011, the Mets showed up just long enough to disappear. The collective reactions of the franchise that let us down on the 1s was to cut loose by one method or another Nolan Ryan, Lee Mazzilli, Gregg Jefferies, Robin Ventura and Jose Reyes, to name a handful of Mets who were sacrificed on the altar of erasing our memories of very recent sour times. Here came Jim Fregosi, George Foster, Bobby Bonilla, Roberto Alomar and Frank Francisco with the ambition of raising expectations. Managers would change. General managers would change. Records tended to stay static. At least when we turned the calendar from 1961 to 1962, we eventually picked up 40 wins.

The reboot has come around again. Goodbye manager Luis Rojas, every coach but Jeremy Hefner, acting general manager Zack Scott, 2021 stalwarts Stroman and Baez, MVM Aaron Loup, old friend (who was totally stoked to return until he wasn’t) Noah Syndergaard and — probably for certain once the lockout is lifted — erstwhile 2015 pennant-winners Michael Conforto and Jeurys Familia via free agency plus 2016 playoff-push godsend Robert Gsellman, non-tendered just before the Hot Stove gate slammed shut. Goodbye to a whole lot of the 77-85 Mets of the year past. We used 64 players last year. Fitting them all into another team picture would require a lens too wide.

The year that ended with a “1” and a thud is history from a baseball sense. The year that will end with a “2” is antsy to shove it aside. New players like Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte and Max Scherzer, the latter with, among other distinctions, a Tigers pitching ledger more astounding than even that of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. A professional general manager in Billy Eppler. And a manager, Buck Showalter, who’s been around the block a few times and seems raring to take Seaver Way by storm. Showalter met the media anew a few days ago via Zoom. He held up a Mets jersey, donned a Mets cap and talked Mets like he’ll be watching everything and caring more than we do. He used phrases like “magic sprinkle dust” (he doesn’t have any) “spongeable” (he soaks up information) and “connectivity”. Buck will seek to connect all the assets of the organization and create a winner. We, despite the desire for a fresh start, will connect what we see to what we’ve seen.

We long to see something spectacular, something we will remember without remorse, something that will continue to catapult us forward rather than having us trudge along through our own intense personal histories with this team. It looks promising. Years ending in a “2” always do before they start. One of these years ending in a “2” is bound to follow through and deliver.

FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA METS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

1980: The Magic*
2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2007: Uncertainty
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands
2010: Realization
2011: Commitment
2012: No-Hitter Nomenclature
2013: Harvey Days
2014: The Dudafly Effect
2015: Precedent — Or The Lack Thereof
2016: The Home Run
2017: The Disabled List
2018: The Last Days of David Wright
2019: Our Kids
2020: Distance (Nikon Mini)

*Manufacturers Hanover Trust Player of the Year

Let’s Just Be Glad for the Time Together

Avery the Cat, not acting as if he’s doing the author any favors.

Avery the Cat, who said goodbye to Stephanie and me on Saturday night after more than 16 years of lighting up a room in ways Fred Wilpon and Art Howe could only imagine, hung in there long enough to learn the identity of the new Mets manager. Steve Cohen tweeted that Buck Showalter was his choice. I looked over to Avery after relaying the news. Avery seemed comfortable with Buck. You might even say Avery got to see Showalter manage the same number of games he saw Carlos Beltran manage.

Avery, the fourth of our cats overall but the first of our cats to choreograph an offseason departure, showed up at the Prince abode on a Friday night in September of 2005. Pedro Martinez was pitching for the Mets and shutting out the Braves while Avery acclimated himself to his new surroundings. Pedro needed two hours and four minutes to dispose of our rivals. Avery needed about two hours and three minutes less than that to feel at home with us. When we adopted Avery’s future brother Hozzie three years prior, we followed expert advice and quarantined Hozzie for about a week-and-a-half before intermingling him with reigning Prince cat Bernie. It was sound advice and it worked for Hozzie.

It wasn’t the script to follow for Avery. Avery would not be contained to one room for ten whole days or, really, ten whole minutes. We gave up on the futile quarantining by Saturday afternoon. Released from kitten purgatory, Avery bounded into the living room and commenced taking up residence. He lived rent-free in Hozzie’s head. And anywhere else he damn well pleased.

The arrangement was ideal for everybody. Even Hozzie got on board with having a little brother. They formed a cordial working relationship in 2005 and maintained it until Hozzie’s farewell in 2017. When we were down to one cat previously, as happened when Casey left us in 2002 and Bernie said au revoir in ’05, our instinct was to begin the process of pairing up anew. Our first pair of cats could never be replaced, but, we reasoned, they could be succeeded. We didn’t do that post-Hozzie. Stephanie and I agreed Avery preferred life as a solo act, the total focus of our feline-directed attention. He wasn’t looking to add “welcome a new kitten into my sphere” to his portfolio of eating, sleeping and running around like a kitten himself. We knew that not having a spare on hand might come back to haunt us — and maybe it has (“solo act” is almost an anagram for “cat loss”) — but from July of ’17 to Saturday night, it was the right call. We were cat people, singular.

Now we are catless people. Avery’s still here in every sense but the physical. You don’t stop having Avery with you just because you stop having Avery with you. I sense his presence everywhere. I imagine that will wear off somewhat, but not for a while. Avery stayed close to Stephanie and stayed close to me and stayed close to us. He was better at proximity — laps, chests, heads, rides on my right shoulder like I was the driver from Kitty Uber — than any cat we’ve experienced. He was as interactive as he was wired. He never acted like he was doing us a favor, either, for Avery the Cat didn’t do us any favors intentionally. He just happened to be warm for our respective forms and if we happened to like that he liked us, good for us.

Great for us, actually.

In baseball terms, Avery was Hank Aaron. Bernie, you see, was Babe Ruth (forgive me for invoking Pinstripe mythology here). Bernie, Stephanie’s and my first cat together, actively roamed our hearts for nearly 13 years, set what seemed like unbreakable records and changed the game completely. Before I met Bernie on Halloween 1992, I didn’t realize I was a cat person. For his deeds, of which we still speak in awe today, Bernie earned the nickname The World’s Greatest Cat.

Then comes Avery to succeed (not replace) Bernie, and Avery, quite frankly, surpasses the records set by Bernie. He was, after a while, clearly the No. 1-ranked cat in the world. Our world, anyway. He put up bigger numbers than the Babe. He’s Hank Aaron, in other words. What was it Hank Aaron said about trying to withstand the pressure of chasing and bettering the all-time career home run mark?

“I don’t want people to forget Babe Ruth. I just want them to remember Henry Aaron.”

Needless to say, we remember all our cats fondly and thoroughly. And we’ve loved all of them equally. But, per George Orwell, some animals are more equal than others. Avery earned that top ranking of his. No cat was smarter, whether he realized it or not. No cat was more fun, whether he meant to be or not. No cat was better equipped for having his people shelter in place during a pandemic. Avery might not have gone for quarantining when he was a kitten, but he was delighted to discover Stephanie and I planting ourselves on the couch, presumably for his playing pleasure, in the spring of 2020. Presence made everybody’s hearts grow exponentially fonder.

I’m a cat half-full person. I don’t notice the effects of cats getting on in years. I don’t notice when a cat’s shape isn’t quite what it was. I didn’t notice Avery losing weight at a precipitous rate as 2021 progressed. Stephanie would point it out to me with a raised eyebrow. I’d point out Avery was just on my shoulder this morning…and on my shoulder again twenty minutes after that for another ride. He had his medical conditions, but we were treating them. He’d outlasted all his predecessors. Let’s not question his longevity.

In late November, we took him to the vet for a checkup. The weight loss I’d looked past…the litter box-related discomfort I’d looked past…this thing the doctor was feeling that was probably something…there was no looking past all of it. Winter had arrived. Without much drama, we were told Avery was on the clock. Maybe he’d be around long enough to learn the identity of the next manager. Spring Training was listed as doubtful.

Last week it became apparent Avery’s ninth inning was underway. By Saturday morning, I was insistent that he was still fouling off pitches, stepping out of the box (so to speak), adjusting his wristbands, looking to the third base coach — delaying the game. I wanted it to go on a little longer, but that was probably me being selfish. Avery had given us all he had to give over the 16 years and three months since entering our home and hearts as a kitten with a Kitler mustache that I must admit I found offputting, but he grew out of it soon enough. I just wanted him to last the weekend, not to soak in the news of Buck Showalter, but to extremely reluctantly get him to the vet when the vet was open and the vet could do that “make him comfortable” euphemism for euthanasia — because, I swear, I thought Avery had a couple of more days in him. We could’ve made that trip Saturday morning, but he seemed to me in relatively decent shape Saturday morning. He was drinking water. He was visiting with us a little. Cat half-full. I’m not taking Avery out of the game before he’s ready to go.

Avery’s final swing came Saturday night, shortly before nine o’clock. He wandered around the house in strange ways. He sought refuge in a closet where Hozzie regularly hid but Avery almost never frequented. He prodded himself upstairs, which was usually too much of a schlep for him in recent weeks. He was being a cat, and cats nearing their end go off by themselves. They do that in the wild to elude predators, Stephanie reminded me…and they do that in a duplex where he was vulnerable only to our petting and stroking and telling him, in so many words, that he was our Hank Aaron.

He settled in under the dining room table, just off the kitchen. That had become one of his two spots of choice of late. There was a blanket on a recliner that became his and there was under the table, which he cultivated as his de facto office after Stephanie had taken to using the table for doing her job from home. Day after day, she’d be on her laptop, he’d be at her feet. When she’d shut down her workplace, he’d follow her to the couch and drape atop her lap. Or my chest, if it, too, was nearby. We were a full-service Avery buffet.

Saturday night, it was the table. His people gathered around him — two fiftysomethings sitting cross-legged on the floor like kids — each of us trying to soothe him, each of us failing miserably. Blessedly, there weren’t too many minutes of this, though it lasted too long for comfort. We had SiriusXM ’70s on 7 on in the background. I wondered what song what would be playing when the inevitable occurred, what song I’d hence never be able to hear again without associating it with Avery. Though it wasn’t the last number we’d hear with him, the one that has now become Avery the Cat’s song was delivered to us by Diana Ross: “Touch Me in the Morning”. Avery touched us in all dayparts. We never walked away.

After the final pitch — Pedro Martinez to Buck Showalter via Hank Aaron, if you will — well, we still had Avery in our midst, and no matter what was playing on our favorite satellite radio station, he wasn’t what you’d call the life of the party. That would be a bit of an issue on a Saturday night when your friendly local vet, who’s equipped to handle such details, is closed until Monday morning. Stephanie ferreted out some Hefty bags from under the sink and brought our handy Coleman cooler out of storage, I ran to the Superfresh for a couple of bags of ice, and…let’s just say Avery was one cool cat.

This morning, we brought him to the vet, where they handled the last detail. Maybe Buck Showalter would be proud to know we were detail-oriented. Or perhaps he’d fine us for not having prepared for every last eventuality. I can assure Buck that in our minds, we did. But you never want the game to be called until you’re absolutely certain your Hall of Famer can’t play any longer.