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ABOUT US

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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The Season Thus Far

As of tonight’s off night, per the current non-operative schedule, the 2020 Mets would have played eight games already. They were slated for nine, but the second of them, on Saturday, March 28, would have been rained out. I can’t prove that — I can’t prove anything where the 2020 Mets are concerned — but it rained all day in New York two Saturdays ago, and not even the large gate attached to a Pete Alonso Bobblehead Day seemed likely to pull the tarp from Citi Field’s diamond. In context, the rainout would have caused consternation and chaos in modest doses. Context ain’t what it used to be.

So let’s say the Mets would have played eight games by now. Let’s figure BobblePete would have found a makeup day to nod agreeably. Let’s assume, which you can never do in normal times, whatever those are, that the pitching would have been pushed back to a point, meaning the optimal utility of Jacob deGrom, whose Bobblehead Day dawned dry enough to play on March 29, didn’t get leapt over during the season’s second week, which, if you’re not scoring at home (though you’re likely doing everything else there), was just last week. I know, I know; who can tell anymore?

DeGrom in the Opener. Stroman that succeeding Sunday, which was three days later. Then Porcello, Matz and I gotta believe deGrom again, because you don’t want him sitting and waiting for a week. Wacha in Washington for their disgusting flag-raising and so forth. Then it’s another day off, followed by Stroman on Saturday, going on five days’ rest and, I guess, Porcello Sunday, a.k.a. yesterday. We arrive in Houston, packing righteous indignation and who to pitch? You can use deGrom on proper rest tomorrow or you can keep Matz from going altogether stale.

You’d use deGrom, right?

I don’t know who Rojas — and the calls Rojas would have gotten from Van Wagenen that Rojas would already be getting a little edgy from — would have chosen. I don’t know what would have happened in the eight games the Mets would have played by now. Without indulging in the well-meaning simulations out there that I can’t bear to look at, I have a hunch the Mets would be somewhere between 3-5 and 5-3 after eight games. It’s just a hunch. The Mets haven’t been 5-3 after eight games since 2017, 3-5 since 2016 or 4-4 since way back in 2011 (I’ve lived long enough that 2011 now qualifies as “way back”). It just feels right that these Mets would be settling in somewhere between a little better than .500 and a little worse than .500.

I could be wrong. I could be absolutely wrong. The Mets were 7-1 two years ago, 6-2 last year. They’ve never been 8-0, but there are six instances of them being 2-6 (most recently way back in 2010) and three times when all they had was one or zero wins. But I’m a little too hypothetically optimistic to think they’re as bad as they were in 1962, 1963, 1964 or, for that matter, 2010. Just call me wide-eyed. Or Zoom me any adjective you like.

Scenarios:

The Mets are 3-5. We are healthily panicked, just ill at ease enough to fit the circumstances. Three wins and five losses after eight games is not a good look. We are reminding ourselves multiple times a day that there are still 154 games remaining, and even if somebody among Washington, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Miami (hey, you never know) is off to a 7-1 launch, well, there are still 154 games remaining. After losing five of eight to start the season, we are trying to not doubt Luis. We are trying to not doubt whichever element of the staff, starting or relieving, we deem culpable for 3-5. We’ve probably called for and will receive by tomorrow night some change to the batting order and maybe somebody who’s been mostly glued to the bench entering the lineup. Just a scheduled off day for Cano, Luis will say. Just letting Amed clear his head, maybe. Say, how’s Conforto’s oblique, anyway?

The Mets are 4-4. We’re not thrilled, but we’re not overtly hostile. Four wins and four losses after eight games is what our record says it is. It’s OK. It’s not great, because we’ve already experienced the agony of defeat four times, and that’s three times too many. Jason or I wrote that first “so we won’t go 161-1” column and we all ingested easily enough the reality that there are a third you win, a third you lose, et al. But a team we fancied jumping up to immediate playoff contention muddling along doesn’t strike us as a an adequate break from the blocks. Somehow 4-4, doesn’t feel 125 percentage points better than 3-5. Not much of a sample size there from to which to judge, of course. Then again, we have zero sample size in actual 2020, so I’d take 4-4 over 0-0 ASAP as long as nobody spreads or catches anything from it.

The Mets are 5-3. That’s not bad. That’s more than not bad. But if we’re 5-3, why aren’t we 6-2? You know if McNeil had gotten that base hit with the sacks full, we’d be 6-2. You know Alonso is gonna finally belt one and more will follow once he loosens up, and it’s pretty good that we’re pretty good with the Polar Bear obviously trying a little too hard. Familia’s weight loss has made a difference. Brach may be the secret weapon. And what about that running grab Marisnick made? Luis putting him in for defense really paid off. Still, it feels like they could be better than 5-3. But we shouldn’t be complaining. It’s just eight games.

If only.

Nothin’ Could Stand in Our Way

EDITOR’S NOTE: To help us through these troubled times, today we dig into the Faith and Fear archives and share posts that some of our longtime readers might get a kick out of seeing again or our newer readers might enjoy checking out for the first time. This one originally ran on November 10, 1980, part of an annual series we still publish to this day.

So, when did you know or at least have an inkling? That day in May when we blew one to Cincinnati only to suck it right back? A couple of weeks later when we went into shall we say overtime to skate away with a cup of satisfaction? You couldn’t deny it come the middle of June. By then, it was obvious. It poked its head into our faces most of the rest of summer, and even peeked out at us from behind clouds as September closed.

But you knew it was there. You could practically feel it in your hands. You could hold it close to your bosom, certainly in your heart. In your head, maybe you were never so sure, but this isn’t about the head. It was only a little about cold, hard statistics.

It was all around us, though. It defined us. We embraced it and embodied it. Hell, we were “we” again, and it made us want to go “wheeeeee!”

That’s why Faith and Fear in Flushing has selected The Magic as the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Mets Player of the Year — an award dedicated annually to the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or transcends the year in Metsdom — for 1980. The Magic was, indeed, Back. And if it wasn’t “better than ever,” it made things around here as good as it could have possibly gotten under the circumstances.

You know The Magic. You were introduced to it by brand name in April, via a series of newspaper ads, and you’re pardoned if the first thing you did was smirk. “The Magic is Back,” they said. “What Magic?” you asked. Weren’t these the same Mets we suffered through in 1979, give or take Richie Hebner for Phil Mankowski and Jerry Morales? We were supposed to be excited that Abner Doubleday’s great, great, grandnephew or whatever he is bought the team? That the guy who ran the Orioles when we beat them in legitimately Mets-magical 1969 was the new GM? Really…what Magic?

The ads said something about the “New Mets” being “dedicated to the guys who cried when Thompson connected with Branca’s 0 and 1 pitch” (and, yes, the ad misspelled Bobby Thomson’s last name; consult the Baseball Encyclopedia, why don’tcha?). I don’t know what ancient Brooklyn Dodger complaints have to do with the New Mets (and doesn’t our orange “NY” imply maybe some Mets fans have fond Giant memories?). At first glimpse, it was a swing and an I don’t know what. The TV commercials were a little on the weird side, too. Whistling “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and reminding us that long ago the Mets were good.

This was the Magic were selling?

Yet you can’t say the Madison Avenue phrasing didn’t catch on. The back page of the Post, over a picture of a mostly empty Shea Stadium snapped while the Mets and Expos were busy playing, captured the early reaction to the campaign: MAGIC GARDEN. Ha-ha. Let the record show that the Mets defeated Montreal, 3-2, in front of 2,052 souls on the afternoon of April 16, no matter what the Post wanted to poke fun at. I listened to that game on the radio. I would have been there had it been possible. So would have you. We didn’t need selling. At most, we needed a ride.

Let the record also show that that game was our first come-from-behind win of the year. It wasn’t a terribly dramatic comeback. We were down, 1-0, to Bill Lee when we cobbled together four singles in the third to create three runs (and then not blow it). It was a 1980 Mets kind of rally, more effective than showy, yet it showed anybody who was watching or listening that maybe the Mets didn’t have to stay buried when behind — and that they could be good company.

Still, The Magic was mostly a punch line. The Mets were telling people it was Back when the baseball part of the equation (the 1980 version, not 1951 or whenever) wasn’t cooperating. On April 16, we were 3-3. By May 13, we were 9-18 after losing in Cincinnati. Final score: Reds 15 Mets 4. The Reds scored eight runs in the fifth inning. Ray Knight hit a pair of home runs…in that inning. Ken Griffey hit one, too. Going to the library and looking up those box scores all these months later makes for a frightening experience, and that’s before glancing at the covers of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. Never mind the hitting or lack thereof. Who gives up fifteen runs to the Reds? Burris. Pacella. Kobel. Bomback. Glynn. Hausman. Weren’t we a team always known for our pitching?

You wouldn’t have guessed things were about to get better. You wouldn’t have been thinking about The Magic, either. Maybe you still weren’t the day after, not in the bottom of the ninth, when — with Craig Swan on the hill and a 6-2 lead feeling as secure as Linus Van Pelt does when clutching his blanket — it all began to slip away again. Driessen doubles. Knight singles him in. Reardon enters and, not too many pitches later, Harry Spilman blasts a three-run homer to tie it at six.

Harry Spilman? Good grief!

Before we could all line up at Linus’s sister Lucy’s booth with our nickels out for Psychiatric Help, the Mets of all people gave us aid and comfort in the top of the tenth. John Stearns doubled. Jerry Morales (thanks, Hebner) singled. We led, 7-6. Then Jeff Reardon made up for that messy ninth-inning Spil by quickly picking up for his mistake. by retiring three dangerous Reds — Concepcion, Foster, Driessen — with a bounty of tidy relief. It felt like a save, because the Mets had saved their dignity, but rules are rules, so Jeff was awarded the vultured win. Somewhere, Phil Regan smiled.

Can you feel the excitement? Only in retrospect, for the Mets were 10-18, and a good day in Cincinnati maybe gets you to Columbus. But it’s November now, and we have the benefit of hindsight. We know The Magic was bubbling under the surface. Or the ice, if you will. On May 24, like any good Long Islander, I was switching back and forth between the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Finals on Channel 2 and the thirty-sixth game of the Mets season on Channel 9. They both went into extras. They both wound up 5-4 in favor of New York. Admittedly, what was going on in Uniondale was a bigger deal than the events unfolding in Flushing — the Islanders had finally won a Stanley Cup — but if you couldn’t see the parallels between Bobby Nystrom scoring at 7:11 of overtime and Elliott Maddox driving in Lee Mazzilli in the tenth inning, well, you just weren’t trying.

But the Mets were. They were trying and they were succeeding. Maybe the crowds at Shea could only fill half of Nassau Coliseum, but word was getting out that the Mets were not only not always losing, but they were making a little bit of a habit of winning. That Saturday we beat the Braves in ten came after a Friday night when we beat them in nine and before a Sunday when we shut them out in regulation. We swept a three-game series! Since when do we sweep three-game series?

Since when do we speak in terms of “we”? Have we always been so first-person pluralistic about our team, or did we take a hiatus sometime after 1973? Let William Safire track trends in language. In 1980, we felt anew that the Mets were ours.

That was The Magic in action in ways you couldn’t see. Soon, however, we’d have plenty of evidence in ways we could reach out and touch like the phone company only wishes we would (when we’re not busy calling Sportsphone for Mets updates, that is). Soon, The Magic was on the line. You couldn’t put it on hold any longer. And calling in from Hollywood, it was Casey Kasem to tell us that climbing the charts was the song about to serve as soundtrack for our surge.

You have to believe we are magic
Nothin’ can stand in our way

“Magic” by Olivia Newton-John entered Billboard’s Hot 100 on May 24, the same day Maddox and Nystrom cast their respective spells on the Braves and Flyers. It would hit American Top 40’s airwaves on June 14. By then, the Mets would be reaching for the stars and we’d have trouble keeping our feet on the ground.

Ah, June 14. We’ll get to that soon enough, but let’s enjoy the ride that lifted us there for a moment or two. Let’s remember what it was like to take off toward a place that felt at once both familiar unattainable. Let’s linger at Shea for a week-and-a-half. Was it a real-life Xanadu (the mythical destination, not that awful movie)? Was it a slightly less suds-intensive version of Schaefer City (surely we were sitting pretty)? Or was it enough that it was Shea Stadium? Whatever it was, we hadn’t had that spirit there since 1969.

June 5: Swannie throws nine innings of one-run ball. Swannie, how we love you, dear old Swannie, but we and the Cardinals are tied at one. In the bottom of the inning, against George Frazier, Steve Henderson — remember that name — singles. He steals second. Joel Youngblood walks. Alex Treviño bunts and reaches. The bases are loaded. Doug Flynn is supposed to be up, but Joe Torre sends Mike Jorgensen in to pinch-hit. Jorgy singles to win the game. Jorgy, we love you, too!

June 6: We’re down, 1-0, in the second facing Bert Blyleven and the Pirates. By the time it’s the third, we’re up, 8-1, and Blyleven is no longer pitching. The defending world champions didn’t make any errors and we didn’t hit any home runs, but we scored eight runs in an inning en route to winning, 9-4. Olivia Newton-John may have been onto something.

June 7: The Pirates are up, at various times, by scores of 2-0, 4-1 and, most distressingly, 5-4, distressing because that last score is in the middle of the eleventh inning. Grant Jackson is on for the save. Instead, he grants us a stay of execution with a single and a walk. Chuck Tanner takes out Jackson and brings back Blyleven from the night before. Blyleven again gets his team in Dutch. Youngblood doubles home Treviño to tie the game and, after an intentional walk to Maddox, Doug Flynn is again pinch-hit for. Doug’s a Gold Glove second baseman for sure, but let’s say Torre knows his bat. The pinch-hitter is Ron Hodges, whose spirit we’ve had here since 1973. Ron awakens it long enough to single to right and bring home the winning run.

June 8: This time, in the first game of our Banner Day doubleheader, we jump in front. This time, Mike Easler hits two home runs to put us behind (like this is news?). Yet another time, we roar from behind. In the seventh, it’s Frank Taveras driving in Doug Flynn (sometimes Joe lets him hit) and Henderson brings home two more. In a Flushing flash, Ed Glynn comes on to put away the Pirates in the eighth and ninth. Put that on your banner, Buccos!

June 10: We didn’t sweep the aforementioned twinbill, but we had something more definitive in mind for the week ahead. The Los Angeles Dodgers came to town and got rained out on Monday. They’d get used to felling all wet. This night, a Tuesday, saw the former Brooklynites give back a four-run lead they’d built on three home runs in the fourth (Pat Zachry didn’t care for the power display and knocked down Ron Cey; we’ve all felt like knocking down Ron Cey at one point or another). The Mets evened matters up with three singles, two walks and two sac flies. And, perhaps, The Magic. It’s OK to invoke it in the early innings and long as some is left in store for later. In the bottom of the sixth, Doug Flynn drove in what proved to be the winning run of a 5-4 Met victory. Is it The Magic that got into Dougie’s Louisville Slugger all of a sudden or was it just hard-earned confidence from his manager?

“Magic?” Torre had rhetorically responded to reporters a couple of days before. “I’ve told you all before that’s just for public relations. I don’t care what they do upstairs. If we keep playing like this, that’s all I care about.”

June 11: The Mets keep playing like this. That’s all we care about. Treviño and Swan knock in runs with singles. Baker and Garvey get even with homers. We went to the tenth, loaded the bases and this is for the guys who cried when Jorgensen connected with Rick Sutcliffe’s last pitch. Tears of joy in Brooklyn and all nearby precincts these days, no doubt. Queens product Jorgy (a Frances Lewis graduate, you know) launched a grand slam to win the game, 6-2. Upstairs, downstairs, all round the Shea, everybody’s coming down with Mets fever.

June 12: Monday’s rainout was made up for on Thursday night. With no advance sale to speak of, you’d assume another MAGIC GARDEN sized crowd. But that’s only if you’d been snoozing since the middle of April. This was June. This was the month of The Magic. If you doubted it, you weren’t among the 19,501 — it would have sold out the real Garden — who witnessed the Mets taking it the Bums one more time. Of course the Mets fell behind (5-0). Of course the Mets came back (6-5). This is how The Magic works. Not quite 20,000 sounded like about three times that many. “The fans help,” Torre said. “I haven’t seen crowds like this since I came in here with another club.”

He ain’t seen nothing yet.

June 14: Flag Day. Wave it high. Wave it proud. That’s what we can imagine doing with a flag we’ll win someday. We imagine such a lofty goal and valuable piece of cloth because of nights like that of Saturday, June 14. It’s a date which will live in the opposite of infamy. I would bet all the nickels we no longer had to pay Lucy for counseling that we will remember June 14, 1980, for decades to come…that if I bring it up to you, I don’t know, some chilly spring day forty years from now when maybe things in the world aren’t going as we wish, its events will still feel as fresh and hopeful as it did when they transpired.

We talk a lot here about June 14, 1980. Why wouldn’t we? As this past season progressed, it was the cloud we floated on when maybe The Magic wasn’t so visible and it was the force that elevated us when we were down in the dumps. It was a more reliable conveyor of our upward aspirations than the escalators at Shea were (will those stupid things ever be fixed)? But because June 14, 1980, is our orange & blue-letter date, it’s worth diving back in yet again.

Remember that entering that Saturday night, we were 26-28. That was because after coming back on the Dodgers on June 12, we had edged to within a game of .500 at 26-27. This itself was a dream almost come true. No flags are issued for .500, but c’mon. You know where we’d been lately. 64-98. 66-96. 63-99. When Torre told Dave Anderson in the Times before the season began, “I think this club could play .500 ball if everything goes right,” it could have been chalked up to lip service (just call him Joey Chapstick). We’d lost 99 games the year before and improved our immediate prospects with Phil Mankowski and Jerry Morales, albeit subtracting frigging Hebner in the process. After reaching 3-3 on April 16 in front of that small gathering versus Montreal, the lip service read as delusion. Yet nearly two weeks into June, Torre was almost right. We were almost .500.

On June 13, we fell back slightly when Vida Blue outpitched Ray Burris and the Giants beat us, 3-1. (“I didn’t encounter any Mets magic,” the long-ago Oakland phenom sniffed.) Close, but no cigar. It would become a theme, but we didn’t know it yet. All we knew was we had gotten a taste of winning, and it would sure be nice to take regular bites. Toward that end, Frank Cashen, the old Oriole general manager who decided he needed a challenge and thus became ours, finally made a move. He got us Claudell Washington during that June homestand. Not a bad idea, given Washington’s ability to occasionally hit a home run. Jorgensen’s grand slam notwithstanding, we didn’t do very much of that…or didn’t you read that insulting little box every morning in the Daily News? No, we were no match for Roger Maris. Mike’s big shot off Sutcliffe was our twelfth home run of a season that was already a third gone. You don’t have to be Roberto Duran or Sugar Ray Leonard to know that’s a few pounds shy of lightweight.

Were the Mets concerned they couldn’t punch above their class? Not when they had The Magic at their back. No less a reliable source than Steve Henderson, who was batting .340 — yet had confined his slugging thus far to doubles and triples — dismissed the notion that a lack of power constituted a Met drawback. “Home runs,” Hendu declared, “are overrated.”

On Saturday night, June 14, the Mets tested their offensive theories against John Montefusco and the Giants before 22,918 at Shea. If anything appeared provable, it was that maybe Mets Magic was overrated, or at least Northern California teams were less susceptible to it than their rivals who’d transplanted themselves to the south twenty-two years earlier. Montefusco was having just as easy a go of things as Blue had. The Mets’ hit count versus the Count was easy to count through five innings. They had zero…which is just about what Mets starter Pete Falcone had in the way of stuff. The Giants jumped our Brooklyn boy for four in the first (three on a Rennie Stennett home run) and another in the second before Torre pulled Pete in favor of Mark Bomback. The man known as Boom-Boom — an unflattering reference to his penchant for surrendering the long ball — mostly tamed the Giants, but did give up an additional run in the fifth, deepening the Mets’ deficit to 6-0 by the time they batted in the home sixth.

The Mets guaranteed they’d avoid being no-hit when Flynn led off with a single. They guaranteed they wouldn’t be shut out when Washington drove in Flynn from third to make it Giants 6 Mets 1. Doug had arrived on third after a one-out error by Stennett and a bunt base hit from Taveras. That’s how we were building our runs in June 1980.

Glynn replaced Bomback in the seventh and kept the Giants off the board for another two innings (all the better to increase hot dog sales). In the bottom of the eighth, another Met rally that would meet Henderson’s approval was generated. Mazz singled to center. Taveras scratched out an infield hit. A Washington grounder forced Frankie at second, but moved Lee to third. Henderson hit one to short and beat the play at first as Mazzilli scored. Another homerless uprising, another run. Giants 6 Mets 2. Reardon pitched a scoreless ninth, giving the Mets one last chance in the bottom of the inning.

With Greg Minton having replaced Montefusco, the Mets didn’t get off to an auspicious start when Elliott Maddox grounded out to shortstop Johnnie LeMaster. But Flynn bunted his way on. Another grounder to LeMaster, this one by Jose Cardenal, moved Flynn to second. Doug was in scoring position, but there were two out. Mazzilli singled up the middle to score Flynn and cut the Giants’ lead to three runs. Minton then walked Taveras before allowing a single to Washington (so new to the Mets that his No. 15 uniform conspicuously lacked a last name). Mazz came home on the hit and suddenly it was a 6-4 game.

Giants manager Dave Bristol had seen enough of Minton and brought in Allen Ripley, the former Red Sock. Do you remember Ripley from before June 14? Ripley was essentially the sixth starter in Don Zimmer’s five-man rotation during the 1978 season when pitching-rich Boston held such a large lead in the American League East that — believe it or not — Zimmer bemoaned having little opportunity to use the rookie righty. Despite some flashes of promise, Ripley was sent down midsummer and wasn’t around for the Sox’ epic collapse. After not impressing in the second half of ’79, Boston sold him to the Giants just before the 1980 season commenced. A 5-0 record at Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League won him a promotion to the big club in late May. Bristol had used him out of the bullpen three times in the previous three weeks before calling on him to face the next Met batter, the guy who had no use for home runs, Steve Henderson.

I know it never leaves our consciousness, but let’s have a recent ancient history lesson. June 14 was one night shy of the third anniversary of June 15, 1977. Talk about days of infamy. Henderson became a Met that night. So did Flynn, Zachry and perennial prospect Dan Norman. They were acquired for merely the best player we ever had, Tom Seaver. (Cashen gave up Jesse Anderson to get Claudell Washington, so he’s already ahead of Joe McDonald in the GM category.) It was the Seaver trade as much as anything that depleted all remaining reserves of magic from Shea’s confines. The breach of faith in trading a pitcher known as The Franchise is what drove attendance to historic lows in the late ’70s, though the undeniably dismal play of the home team didn’t provide any great advertisement for rushing to Flushing.

Nevertheless, there is no guilt by association for Henderson, who earned our admiration with an outstanding partial rookie campaign in ’77 (he finished second to Andre Dawson in N.L. Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing only 3½ months) and his all-around hustle. We may still miss Tom Terrific, but neither that fact — nor Hendu’s complete and total lack of home runs through a third of the 1980 season (with none since July 13, 1979) — stopped us from rooting hard for Stevie Wonder.

Henderson, who had struck out three times against Montefusco before singling to LeMaster in the eighth, stepped in against Ripley. Ripley started him off with a curve, which fooled Steve for strike one. Hendu called time to gather his thoughts. He was looking fastball and berated himself for feeling “tight” and not concentrating properly.

Ripley gave him something to concentrate on: a fastball under his chin, one that knocked him off his stride, but focused his energies completely. “I try to keep my temper,” the left fielder said, implicitly teaching Ron Cey a thing or two about baseball decorum, “but when somebody does something like that to me, throwing too close, I sort of turn into a monster.”

Sort of? One can judge by the results just how monstrous Steve Henderson can get when two pitches later, on a two-and-one fastball, he unleashed the fury within.

Or was it The Magic?

I can’t tell you how, but I managed to track down recordings of what what happened next sounded like on both the radio and TV. I think they usually erase these things, but I got lucky.

Bob Murphy, on WMCA:
“Steve Henderson takes a deep breath, trying to relax himself in a very tense spot. Ripley makes the one-second stop at the belt. And the pitch. And a high fly, to right field, it’s very deep, going back…it may go…”



Steve Albert, on Channel 9:
“It is going…it iiiissss…”


Murphy:
“HOME RUN!

Albert:
“GONE! THE METS WIN! The Mets have won! Unbelievable!”

Murphy:
“The Mets have won the ballgame!”

Albert:
“What an incredible finish! The Mets win seven to six on a three-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth by Steve Henderson! Here’s another look, off Allen Ripley, to right-center field! And into the bullpen!”

“Listen to the crowd!” Murph advised after a 21-second pause to let the mass ecstasy pour through the AM speakers.

“They’re carrying Steve Henderson off the field on their shoulders. Five runs in the last of the ninth inning. A three-run homer by Steve Henderson landing in the right field bullpen. The Mets defeat the Giants seven to six. They were behind six to nothing!”

Albert, delighted to note Henderson’s opposite-field home run was caught by reliever Tom Hausman, added that the Mets “have come from behind once again, for the seventh time on this homestand, to win a ballgame!”

Noise still surrounded Bob on the radio, but like Hendu, Murph hung in there:

“Crowd clamoring for Steve Henderson! They’re demanding Henderson come out and take a bow! The crowd STANDING and CLAMORING. They want Steve Henderson. They want him to come out for a bow. Steve did not have a home run ALL year long. Playing in his forty-fifth ballgame of the year, two outs in the last of the ninth inning, the tying runs on first and second, the pitch by Allen Ripley, Henderson hit it, HIGH into the air, DEEP to right field, it just kept carrying, over the right field wall and into the bullpen. The most dramatic win of the year for the amazing New York Mets. Yes, the MAGIC is back.”

Whether we were at Shea on Saturday night, June 14, or not, we stood. We clamored. “They’re waiting for Steve Henderson to come back out,” Albert reported as the WOR-TV cameras focused on the Mets’ dugout. “Fred Wilpon, the president, just went into the clubhouse. It is delirium, pandemonium…here he comes!”

Henderson, that was. Not Wilpon, who, if you haven’t bothered to notice, is Nelson Doubleday’s minority partner (and the guy who seems to be the source of that well-advertised fetish for the Brooklyn Dodgers; no wonder he was thrilled the Mets beat the Giants). The slugger with one home run on the season took what amounted to a Broadway-style curtain call, slapping the club president’s hands in the air at its conclusion. A high-five, the kids call it.

Just “another magical moment here at Shea Stadium,” in Albert’s estimation.

Thanks to Stevie Wonder, everything was alright, uptight, clean out of sight, just like that fastball from Ripley. “I knew it was out,” Henderson said after belting the Mets’ thirteenth home run of the season, “and I loved it.”

“The ones over the Pirates and Dodgers were nice,” Flynn appraised the recent spurt of dramatic wins, “but this one was unbelievable.” As for the crowd and all their clamor, Torre said, “It’s really revving people up. Nobody left the park, even when they’re behind by six runs.”

Nobody left Saturday night, but seemingly everybody in town showed up Sunday afternoon. The Magic, after that 7-6 startler, was contagious. Because of ongoing stadium refurbishments, large chunks of seating were unavailable to potential paying customers. The homestand finale (a 3-0 loss to Bob Knepper) was played to a sellout crowd of “only” 44,910. So compelling were the Mets that management issued a public apology to the more than 6,000 people who had to be turned away from Shea’s gates because there were simply no more tickets to sell.

“We have a long way still to go,” that nice fellow Wilpon said, “but two months ago, I never anticipated that we’d get the public’s attention to this degree.”

Fred must not have thought much of the very marketing campaign he OK’d, but after Steve Henderson’s walkoff wizardry, nobody dared bring suit against the Mets for false advertising.

Eight days passed before the Mets won again. It would take three home runs from Washington in Los Angeles to ensure they’d break a vexing losing streak that pulled them far from the brink of .500, but The Magic would rear its beautiful head again before long. If nothing quite conjured the mystical properties of June 14, we’d come close. We took four consecutive one-run victories in late June, the last three of them from the eventual world champion (grrr…) Phillies. We’d wake up on the Fourth of July trailing the first-place Expos by only 4½ games, and we’d stand tall for America by taking two of the next three from the Canadians. We’d keep edging near .500, finally reaching the plateau of plateaus in Atlanta on July 15, reaching 42-42…and do it again on July 17 at 43-43. We’d brawl a little (just ask the Expos and Braves) and we’d keep fighting, often from behind.

In all, we won 29 games in come-from-behind fashion. That’s part and parcel of The Magic, I suppose, though it can’t help but make a Mets fan nervous. After back-to-back wins over the Astros, each of which were woven in the eighth inning at Shea, to start August, Steve Albert said, when we fell behind the next day, something to the effect that it was only fitting the Mets do it this way. I told Steve Albert, through the TV, to not say such foolish things (the Mets lost).

Still, Steve Albert’s overused word, scintillating, was an adjective that fit clear into mid-August. We were pitching. Not just Swan and Zachry, but Burris and Bomback and Pacella with the hat falling off and Roy Lee Jackson emerging from basically nowhere. We were relieving as if the Mets bullpen was a source of strength: Allen, Reardon, Hausman. We never did get around to homering much — 61 for us, 61 for Maris — but we were an exciting bunch. Mazzilli ran. Taveras ran. Flynn fielded. Youngblood threw. Stearns was Stearns until he got hurt. I’ll always love Steve Henderson.

On August 13, as “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John sat for an extended stay at No. 1 on Billboard, we — the Mets — were 56-57. We’d been taking care of the Cardinals and Pirates on the road and were coming home to take on the Phillies just 7½ games from the top of the division. Granted, it was from the vantage point of fourth place and normally you wouldn’t think any of that looked close. But we’re not normal. We’re Mets fans. We remember the Mets were 9½ out in the middle of August in 1969. We remember the Mets were in sixth place at the end of August in 1973. We were primed for The Magic all along. We were about to make it sing.

You had to believe in magic. Nothin’ could stand in our way. Except for the Phillies — who would sweep the next five games from us in depressing Boston Massacre fashion — and, as much as I hate to admit it, our own lack of depth and general shortcomings. In early July, when we got close to enough to first to start making playoff arrangements in our head, I believed. In the aftermath of what turned into a horrid 11-38 finish and eerily similar to the previous few years 67-95 record, I can see I was sort of crazy.

But what was it Tug McGraw said? Not that part about telling New York we could take that championship he won with the Phillies and “stick it” (I forgive him his excitability). No, Tug said in 1973 that we gotta believe. Actually, he said “you gotta believe,” but he and we were in it together, and seven years later, we as Mets fans remain perpetually in such a state.

I was still there, together with the Mets, definitely in spirit if not at Shea, on September 29 (paid attendance 1,787) and September 30 (1,754). Those are dates that may not glimmer into the future as June 14 feels destined to, but they were worth spending time in Metwise. On the 29th, down 5-4 in the tenth, Youngblood cranked Met home run No. 59 in Met game No. 157, a two-run job off old friend Grant Jackson, to sink the Pirates, 5-4. On the 30th, after being behind 2-1, Jorgensen and Treviño each pushed a run across the plate in the seventh, supporting Falcone on his way to a complete game 3-2 win.

If we’re still cheering on behalf of the likes of Youngblood, Jorgensen and Treviño when late September isn’t so empty at Shea, that would be swell. But what I really like about revisiting those late-season box scores at the library is the presence of the literally new Mets. The newest at any rate: Mookie Wilson; Wally Backman; Hubie Brooks. Ed Lynch and Scott Holman came up and pitched some in September. Mike Scott is still young. Jesse Orosco is allegedly getting it together at Tidewater. Way down in the minors, we’ve got Darryl Strawberry, the No. 1 pick in the nation with a name that will never not be best in show. We don’t have to get too far ahead of ourselves here, but The Magic doesn’t only have to be about 1980, our wins not just the residual echoes of week-and-a-half in June.

Before Airplane! implied disco was dead, Cheryl Lynn had a big hit last year with “Got To Be Real,” and we do. We’re not necessarily one Dave Winfield or one Don Sutton from reversing 67-95 (sign both free agents, and maybe we can talk). We do need some more pop, probably. And pitching (seriously, weren’t we a team always known for our pitching?). Shea may have been refurbished in a year, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. We gotta hope Cashen knows what he’s doing and Doubleday and his buddy Wilpon don’t get in the way à la Steinbrenner. Someday soonish, when we face reality, we gotta believe it will take on the shape of Shea in June, when The Magic was real.

That kind of reality. What a concept.

Until then, I’ll wear my “The Magic is Back” t-shirt, pin it with my “The Magic is Back” button and proudly display my “The Magic is Back” bumper sticker. If the best of The Magic is what the Mets are selling, on this day or any day, then, my fellow Mets fans, we oughta be buying.

FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS MANUFACTURERS HANOVER TRUST METS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

1962: Case Management
1963: The Old Yard
1964: Carousel of Progress
1965: Impatience
1966: Escalation
1967: The Rohr of the Crowd
1968: Heart
1969: The Miracle Workers
1970: Splashdown
1971: Voices of Our Generation
1972: Aches and Pain
1973: This Way Again
1974: Disbelief
1975: New Standards
1976: After Race Delight
1977: Dissolution, Disillusion, Desolation
1978: All the Trimmings
1979: 1969

The Other Side of Opening Day

Having grown up with Tom Seaver as a mortal lock to take the ball Opening Day after Opening Day, I always took it on faith that the other team was sending out to face us the closest thing they had to Tom Seaver…with the caveat that there’s only one Tom Seaver. Some opponents understood the gravity of the situation and gave us the respect we were due (even if that might not have worked to our advantage). Some opponents’ staffs lacked Seaverian gravitas but they dutifully offered up the best pitcher they could present. Some managers messed around with matchups or were messed around with by weather. Injuries coming out of Spring Training might have also played havoc with best laid plans.

When I think about Mets Opening Days, I think of Seaver. I think of Gooden. I think of Santana and every Mets starter from Roger Craig and Al Jackson to Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. Given time to think deeper on the subject lately, I found myself thinking about the other side of Opening Day. We know who’s pitched for us. Are we particularly conscious of who’s pitched for them?

I am now. Having spent a chunk of the copious baseball void during the runup to and aftermath of Fauxpening Day 2020 sorting through box scores and memories, I am now prepared to loosely rank each of the 48 pitchers who’ve started a season — or split season — against the Mets. On a couple of those occasions, the Mets were starting a season when the other team (the same team 35 years apart) wasn’t, but from our perspective, it was Opening Day, so the pitcher in that kind of case gets sucked into our exercise.

Rankings are rendered in good faith, though I can’t swear it won’t get a little arbitrary along the way.

1. Steve Carlton, Phillies: 1973-1975, 1982-1983
Nobody pitched more often against the Mets to start a season. Four times Carlton was Seaver’s direct counterpart (the other time he matched up against another former Cy Young winner, Randy Jones). Four times he lost. The one time his team won, he had already departed as the pitcher of record on the losing side. Nobody lost more to the Mets in general. This first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, who went in two years after Tom, was the ideal Opening Day foe in that he personified the concept of ace, yet we inevitably overcame his impressive credentials. That Silent Steve was hard to like made defeating him all the more satisfying.

2. Don Drysdale, Dodgers: 1965
Like Seaver and Carlton, Drysdale was a Hall of Famer in the making. Unlike Carlton, he refused to serve as an episodic easy mark. Big D came to Big Shea and toyed with the Mets for a complete game four-hitter, indicative of how he (and almost everybody) handled the early Mets as a rule (24-6, 2.24 ERA).

3. Juan Marichal, Giants: 1968
The Mets were in the midst of conquering Marichal (Cooperstown Class of ’83) for their very first Opening Day win. It would’ve been Seaver’s, too, in his first such assignment, at Candlestick. The visitors led, 4-2, heading to the bottom of the ninth, with Juan already gone for a pinch-hitter after eight. All Seaver had to do was get by Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Jim Ray Hart. That’s a lot to ask of any ace. Just enough went wrong to force Gil Hodges to remove Tom with one out, one run in and one runner on. Danny Frisella came in and couldn’t save Seaver’s bacon. The Mets would lose, 5-4, with no-decisions allotted for each stellar starter. Marichal went on to win 26 games in 1968, the fifth of six seasons he’d rack up more than twenty wins. Somehow, the Dominican Dandy never received a Cy Young.

4. T#m Gl@v!ne, Braves: 2001
F*ck this guy, one is tempted to say before moving on, but we have to spend a moment with T#m as he is the only pitcher to have started for and against the Mets on Opening Day. You might have thought he was working against us in 2003, when he gave up five earned runs on eight hits and four walks over three-and-two-third frigid innings at Shea. His effort on behalf of New York employer was stronger in the Openers of 2004, 2006 and 2007. But this is about that one time he matched up against the Mets to get our season going, April 3, 2001. It was Opening Night for us at Turner Field, but it was only the Home Opener for the Braves. Atlanta had been in Cincinnati a day earlier, Cincinnati being the kind of town that marches to its own Opening Day drum. By the time the Mets arrived at our favorite ancient burial ground, Gl@v!ne must’ve been tired, as we nicked him for two in the first. He and Al Leiter dueled to a 2-2 deadlock into the eighth. The future Manchurian Brave left with Benny Agbayani on. John Rocker would let him score on Robin Ventura’s ensuing two-run homer. It would be swell to report either Gl@v!ne or Rocker took the loss. That honor would go to Kerry Ligtenberg, after John Franco and Turk Wendell gave up the 4-2 lead but Robin got it back in the tenth.

5. Max Scherzer, Nationals: 2015, 2019
Scherzer, on track as we speak to join Seaver, Carlton, Drysdale, Marichal and Gl@v!ne in the Hall of Fame, has an uncanny knack for pitching like the Mets can’t touch him, though sometimes they do. The Mets eked out just enough offense to triumph over Mad Max in the pair of Openers when they faced him, including his first National League start five years ago. The Nats’ ace’s next start was to be last week, against us again. He and every other ace will just have to wait.

6. Curt Schilling, Phillies: 1998
Sociopathic in his post-career tendencies, but a helluva pitcher in his day, a segment of which arrived March 31, 1998. Schilling’s line versus the Mets in the most anticipated Opener of the post-Gooden, pre-Piazza era was as scintillating as the nearly 90-degree weather in Flushing: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 9 SO and no runs. Bobby Jones wasn’t quite as impressive but essentially as effective. This was the scoreless tie that went to the bottom of the fourteenth before Alberto Castillo could push across the only run of the afternoon-turned-evening. One can only imagine what Schilling might’ve tweeted that night.

7. Rick Reuschel, Cubs: 1979-1981; Pirates: 1986
Something about this guy screamed “YEOMAN!” Reuschel didn’t overwhelm (a mere 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched across nineteen seasons), but he did get outs. Against the Mets on four Opening Days in two different uniforms, however, Rick wasn’t terribly fortunate, as the Mets pinned four defeats on him. The first three outings were against Mets clubs nearly as bad as Reuschel’s Cubs. The fourth, when he’d transitioned to the Pirates as they were — to put it charitably — going through some changes, came against the 1986 Mets just as that was about to imply unbeatable.

8. Larry Jackson, Cardinals: 1962
The first pitcher to face the Mets set the tone for the year and years ahead. In terms of 1962, it was an 11-4 loss (complete game eight-hitter) dealt to the new team from the east. In terms of Jackson’s career, he’d emerge as a Met-killer so brutally efficient that Pat Burrell must look at his stats in envy. Larry versus the Mets through 1968: 21-2, 2.24 ERA. The first year Jackson didn’t pitch was the year the Mets won the World Series. Coincidence?

9. Edinson Volquez, Padres: 2013; Royals: 2016
We beat him and his Padres at home in 2013 three years before losing to him and Royals on the road in 2016. In between, there was the little matter of Volquez starting a pair of World Series games in which he was no-decisioned (like that helped). Volquez gets Top 10 treatment here for being the only pitcher besides Reuschel to be sent out to face the Mets on Opening Day for more than one team.

10./11./12. The Rest of the Steves: 1970, 1976, 1978, 2014
Steve Blass was the first opposition starter whose team lost to the Mets on Opening Day, getting no-decisioned as the Mets went on to win in eleven innings at Forbes Field as defending champs (thereby winning an Opener only after they won a World Series). The righty was a season away from closing out a Fall Classic of his own and a couple of campaigns more from completely losing the plate. Steve Rogers was one of those solid starters who never quite got fully appreciated outside Montreal. He acquitted himself fine in two Opening Day starts versus the Mets during that nine-year span when the Mets literally never lost on Opening Day. More notably in Quebec, he gave up the pennant-deciding home run to Rick Monday in 1981. Any chance to taunt Steven Strasburg that HAR-VEY’S BET-TER on Opening Day 2014 went by the wayside as our ace had already stepped aside for a year of Tommy John rehab. Strasburg struck out ten Mets at Citi Field but trailed, 4-3, when he was pinch-hit for in the seventh. The Mets would lose in ten.

13./14. The First-Timers: 1969, 1993
Roger Craig started the Mets’ very first game, in 1962. Twice the Mets have faced somebody else’s Craig. In 1969, it fell to veteran righty Mudcat Grant to carry the Expos’ unsullied banner into battle against none other than Tom Seaver. The former 21-game winner was knocked out in the second inning, but Montreal rallied for a legendary 11-10 win (legendary for how so few of the Mets’ next 161 games were anything like it). Twenty-four years later, the Original Rockies tumbled into Shea on the shoulders of David Nied. Whereas Grant, 33, was pitching in the 394th game of a career that stretched back to 1958, Nied was that rarest of species: a rookie Opening Day starter. Made sense that a new team might want to go with youth. Nied was the Rox’ first pick in the 1992 expansion draft, plucked from the Braves after six appearances for the NL champs. At the outset of 1993, the 24-year-old wasn’t quite a match for Doc Gooden. Whereas Mudcat would start or relieve 571 times in his career, Nied’s promise was curtailed by injury. The kid pitched in only 52 games and was through by 1996.

15. Josh Johnson, Marlins: 2010-11
Kind of the Steve Rogers of his truncated day in that he was really good and only intermittently noticed. Injuries got the best of Johnson, eventually, though not before he provided the teal opposition on consecutive Opening Days: a loss to Johan Santana at Citi Field, followed by a win over Mike Pelfrey at whatever the hell where the Marlins played was called in 2011.

16. Kerry Wood, Cubs: 2003
Through breath visible from muttering regarding the inauspicious Met debut of T#m Gl@v!ne, perhaps it was easy to overlook who was mowing down the Mets in the 15-2 defeat that got 2003 rolling immediately downhill. Wood pitched five innings, took his 6-2 lead to the presumably heated visiting clubhouse and enjoyed the remainder of what became the Cubs’ 15-2 Opening thrashing. Kerry’s greatest day came five years earlier, when he struck out twenty Astros, but the rest of his ’03 was pretty decent, too, seeing as how it culminated in a trip deep into the postseason, if not deep enough to suit North Side tastes. Despite injuries continually haunting him, Wood lasted until 2012.

17. Ernie Broglio, Cardinals: 1963
He could be known for the two-hit shutout at the Polo Grounds that suggested 1963 wasn’t gonna be a whole lot more fruitful for the Mets than 1962 had been. He could be known for having won 21 games in 1960 and 18 in ’63. He could be known for being trusted with the Opening Day assignment once more in ’64, edging Bob Gibson for the honor. Instead, Ernie Broglio is known not as a Cardinal stud, but the guy the Cubs wanted so badly that they traded outfielder Lou Brock to get him. Brock collected more than 3,000 hits, stole more than 900 bases and was voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Broglio…wasn’t.

18. Mario Soto, Reds: 1984
Good lord, this guy was intimidating. Soto’s seven-hit complete game took the fun out of the one time the Mets were the visitor to Riverfront Stadium to start the major league season back when that was a thing. To be fair, Mike Torrez (1.1 IP, 6 ER) didn’t make it a great day, either.

19. Mike Krukow, Cubs: 1981.2
Wore Met hitters on his watch chain, as Bob Murphy liked to say. Krukow went 22-7 against us between 1976 and 1989. He was a good choice to thwart our second-season ambitions on August 10, 1981, going six innings and allowing only a run on two hits at Wrigley on the one and only ReOpening Day in Mets history. The game went crazy in extras, so Krukow took an ND.

20. Dennis Martinez, Expos: 1988
El Presidente could veto the Mets’ hopes any day, but the only time the Mets opened their season in Montreal, it was their bats that proved unimpeachable. New York produced six home runs, the strongest of them from Darryl Strawberry, who launched one that was destined for the North Pole until the ring around the roof of the Big O got in the way. Martinez gave up three of the dingers, then got on with his career revival in splendid fashion. In 1991, he pitched a perfect game. In 1998, at age 44, he competed in the playoffs for the Braves.

21./22./23./24./25. Future Considerations: 1964, 1972, 1977, 2006, 2009
Give or take enmity for a real rival, (see No. 4), maybe take it easy on the next Opening Day starter you see face the Mets, because someday you may see that pitcher face somebody else on behalf of the Mets. Six times the Mets’ opposition was a pitcher who’d later pitch for the Mets. One was Gl@v!ne. The other five will have their names spelled traditionally.

• In 1964, the Phillies sent out not Jim Bunning or Chris Short, but Dennis Bennett. Before 1964 was over, Gene Mauch mostly sent out Bunning and Short versus all comers, speaking of collapses, but when the season was new, Mauch put his faith in Bennett and went unrewarded; the lefty lasted fewer than five (the Mets lost, anyway). Bennett’s claim to Met fame came in his first start for New York in 1967, though the fame was rather incidental — he was the starting pitcher the afternoon The Odd Couple filmed its triple play scene at Shea.

Dock Ellis was hardly the focus of the sad Opening Day at Shea in 1972 when the Mets, the Pirates and the baseball world mourned the passing of Gil Hodges. Most of the rest of his career, Dock was tough to take one’s eyes off of, whether he was intentionally plunking three Reds to begin a game; throwing a no-hitter under the influence of LSD; or not minding who saw him wearing curlers in his hair. By the time the Mets picked him up, in 1979, his legend was secure, though his right arm had little left.

• The workmanlike Ray Burris started and lost versus Tom Seaver on Opening Day 1977, a game that had to be played in broad daylight given that it was taking place at premodern Wrigley Field. Sun or something like it would have come in handy when Ray met the Mets at Shea three-plus months later. Seaver was gone and so was all semblance of light. This was July 13, the night of the New York City blackout. Burris was on the mound for the Cubs, Lenny Randle was at the plate for the Mets and, come the sixth, nobody could see anything. When the action of July 13 was unsuspended on September 16, Burris was “still” on the mound for Chicago. He wound up winning a complete game that took two months to finish. Ray would do a decent job as a Met in 1979 and 1980, with Con Edison not getting in the way whatsoever.

Livàn Hernandez knew a good milestone when he saw it. First Marlin to win an NLCS MVP award. First Marlin to win a World Series MVP award, too. First National to throw a pitch that counted. First National to start on Opening Day two years in a row, which takes us to his presence at Shea Stadium on April 3, 2006. He’d wind up losing the first game telecast on SNY, but would come back to Queens under friendlier circumstances in 2009 — throwing the first Met pitch (albeit one that didn’t count) in Citi Field’s inaugural major league exhibition versus the Red Sox. He’d also throw a passel of pitches during the season ahead, including 127 on May 26 for the first home team complete game victory in the new ballpark.

• For a couple of seasons, Aaron Harang was a force for the Reds, winning sixteen games apiece in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, he was basically the opposite, losing seventeen, with only six wins and an earned run average pushing five (lest you think he was modeling hard luck for teenager Jacob deGrom). Nevertheless, Dusty Baker judged him the best option to start the 2009 season with the Mets in town. Harang wasn’t terrible in defeat, which, after a pitcher has gone 6-17, is high praise. Four years later, Aaron was what you’d call available, which was good enough for the injury-riddled 2013 Mets. Bereft of starting pitching down what passed for the stretch, Terry Collins asked Aaron to make four September starts. He was, yet again, not terrible.

26. Paul Wilson, Reds: 2005
Nine years had passed since Wilson’s debut as one-third of star-crossed Generation K. It felt like nine decades for the only former Met to start against the Mets on Opening Day. Most eyes back in New York were on Pedro Martinez, which was usually how it went in 2005, but Wilson filed away a quality start for homestanding Cincy: six innings, three earned runs. The second “P” in “IPP” (Izzy, Pulse & Paul, in case you weren’t haunting AOL Met boards c. 1995) would be no-decisioned, thanks to Braden Looper’s timely relief work. Wilson’s arm miseries essentially ended his career eight starts later. His last time on a major league mound came at Shea on May 16. He gave up six earned runs in five-and-a-third innings.

27. Doug Drabek, Pirates: 1990
Starters on Mets Opening Day who have used the first game of the year to initiate a successful Cy Young campaign include Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Jacob deGrom, Steve Carlton and this guy. This guy started against the Mets, however, on Opening Day at Shea, an event delayed by the lockout that kiboshed much of Spring Training. Drabek was ready for action on April 9, even if Gooden may not have been. The Bucs crushed the Mets, 12-3. Doug was on his way to the 22-6 mark that would earn him pitching hardware and help the Pirates to the first of three consecutive NL East titles, dammit.

28. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals: 2007
The pins in the Fredbird voodoo doll were meant metaphorically on Opening Night. Sure, we wanted to take a little one-season-removed revenge on St. Louis in St. Louis as they commemorated the 2006 world championship that was supposed to be ours, and yeah, we didn’t mind scoring five runs off Carpenter over six innings en route to a 6-1 Sunday Night Baseball victory that was intended to serve notice that 2007 was totally gonna be our year. But then Carpenter felt something in his right elbow and was out for the rest of ’07 for Tommy John surgery and rehab. Sorry about that, Chris. We wanted to hurt you, not, you know, hurt you.

29. Terry Mulholland, Phillies: 1991
You see the name “Terry Mulholland,” and maybe you think of him tossing his glove with the ball in it to first base to retire Keith Hernandez in 1986, the smart play for a pitcher who couldn’t remove the Rawlings from the webbing fast enough. Maybe you think of the first pitch Mulholland threw on June 30, 2000, to Mike Piazza, a delivery Mike sent sizzling above the left field fence to cap a ten-run inning for the ages (throwing his glove might have worked better). Perhaps you think of a journeyman’s journeyman who more or less replicated Steve Miller’s travelogue from “Rock’n Me,” as he plied his craft at various times in Phoenix, Arizona; all the way to Tacoma’s sister city of Seattle; Philadelphia; Atlanta; L.A. Do you think of Terry Mulholland as an Opening Day starter? Well, think of him as Doc Gooden’s opposite number on Opening Day 1991. He lost, 2-1, but kept on rock’n batters, baby, until 2006.

30. Mike Morgan, Cubs: 1994
In the realm of “I’ve been everywhere, man,” Mike Morgan had already been an A, a Yankee, a Blue Jay, a Mariner, an Oriole and a Dodger when he joined the Cubs in 1992. The righty who got rolling in Oakland at age 18, in 1978, got the ball to start 1994 at Wrigley. It didn’t go well for the veteran, who gave up six runs in four innings to the Mets. It also went largely unnoticed, as Tuffy Rhodes cranked three home runs off Doc Gooden in what became an uproarious 10-6 Mets win. Morgan didn’t have much of a season in ’94, going 2-10 before the strike shut things down, but he got back to having an impressive-as-hell career, adding five teams to his résumé and keeping at it into the twenty-first century.

31./32. One-Hit Wonders: 1996, 2017
On July 3, 1994, Andy Benes absolutely put the Mets away in San Diego, shutting them out on one hit and one walk, striking out thirteen in the process. On June 19, 2016, Julio Teheran did basically the same thing, tossing a one-hitter of his own at Citi Field, with seven strikeouts and zero walks. With outings like those rattling around our collective subconscious, who wants to start a season facing these spiritual descendants of Larry Jackson? On Opening Day in 1996, the Mets drew Benes and his new team, the Cards. Andy wasn’t as stifling as he’d been two seasons earlier, but he pitched well enough to win and, in fact, left after six with a lead. That wound up the day Rey Ordoñez threw Royce Clayton out at home with a fling from his knees, so nobody much remembers Benes’s role. Tackling Teheran, a modern-day Met-killer in the mid-2010s, was the unwanted assignment on Opening Day 2017. Julio looked a lot like the king of Corona in Flushing that afternoon: six innings, four hits, no runs, essentially matching Noah Syndergaard’s performance. Fortunately for the Mets, he had thrown 96 pitches, which meant a seventh-inning trip to the Atlanta pen, where all hell helpfully broke loose in the Mets’ favor. Lesson? Not every nightmare comes true on Opening Day.

33. Joaquin Andujar, Cardinals: 1985
Andujar’s status as Cardinal ace and tough customer would undergo some changes before 1985 was out. John Tudor would assert himself in the St. Louis pecking order and Joaquin would lose his composure along with the final game of the World Series and get himself traded to Oakland by December. But on Opening Day, Andujar was coming off a twenty-win season and slotted into the April 9 narrative as a worthy foe to Dwight Gooden in Dr. K’s first Opening Day start and, not incidentally, Gary Carter’s Mets debut. The Cardinal righty would go on to win 21 games in 1985. This wouldn’t be one of them. The Mets scored five off the veteran on a chilly Shea afternoon that would take ten innings (and Carter) to settle.

34. Alex Fernandez, Marlins: 1999
Heartwarming comeback stories lose a little of their capacity to inspire when you’re on the wrong end of one. On Opening Day 1999, the Mets watched Alex Fernandez return from a year lost to the rotator cuff injury that had kept him out of the 1997 World Series. The Miami native thrilled his hometown supporters with five innings of one-run ball that lifted Florida to a 6-2 win over former Fish Al Leiter. The ensuing season turned out to be the last full campaign for the righthander. He’d have to step aside for another surgery in the middle of 2000 and announce his retirement in 2001.

35. Bill Swift, Rockies: 1995
Throwing the first pitch in the history of Coors Field seems about as vital a task as collecting paid admissions at Woodstock. You’re going to be rather superfluous to the proceedings about to follow. In August of 1969, deluged by peace & music pilgrims, Woodstock quickly became a free concert, and on April 26, 1995, the Colorado Rockies’ new ballpark hosted a run-scoring free-for-all amid high elevation and higher-octane offense. Swift, two years removed from winning twenty-one games as a San Francisco Giant, held the fort admirably at first, but after six innings, his stats served as precedent for waves of pitchers who would go through the Coors ringer: five runs, ten hits, yet not necessarily in line for a loss. Despite surrendering a grand slam to Todd Hundley a half-inning before being pinch-hit for, Swift figured as the pitcher on the winning side. That wouldn’t last, though the Mets didn’t ultimately benefit. Rockies won in fourteen, 11-9.

36. Bob Veale, Pirates: 1967
When one considered the Pittsburgh Pirates over a span of a couple of decades, one thought of Clemente, then Stargell, then Parker. They were all MVPs for a franchise eventually known as the Lumber Company. The pitching might have gotten a little lost in the shuffle where the Allegheny and Monongahela meet to form the mighty Ohio. Bob Veale, however, you could make out just fine. In the middle of the 1960s, Veale could be counted on to land among the National League’s strikeout leaders. The hard-throwing lefty finished first in the category in 1964, second to Sandy Koufax in 1965 and third in 1966. The last two of those years he was an All-Star. No wonder he was Harry Walker’s choice to start Opening Day 1967 at Shea Stadium. The wonder in retrospect is why Wes Westrum didn’t counter with a budding strikeout artist of his own, someone who would lead the senior circuit in K’s five times. To be fair to Westrum, that pitcher, 22-year-old Tom Seaver, hadn’t yet thrown a single pitch in the major leagues. Instead of leaning on his promising rookie, the Mets’ manager opted for veteran experience, going with ex-Buc Don Cardwell versus Veale. Veale prevailed, giving Walker eight innings and the Pirates a 5-3 victory. (Seaver would pitch the second game of the season for the only time in his Mets career.)

37. Russ Ortiz, Braves: 2004
Greg Maddux was a Cub. T#m Gl@v!ne was a Met. John Smoltz was a closer. All the usual suspects the mind’s eye would conjure to start a Braves season were unavailable on April 6, 2004, but in real time, it made all the sense in Georgia for Bobby Cox to call on Russ Ortiz. The righty wasn’t exactly without credentials. He’d been not only a division champion Brave in 2003, he’d been their leading winner, racking up twenty-one victories. Russ was Atlanta’s Game One starter versus the Cubs in the NLDS and won Game Four to extend the set to a deciding fifth game (where, per usual in this century, they’d lose). Ortiz’s postseason experience wasn’t limited to the Braves. If anybody associates anything with Russ Ortiz, it’s his leaving the mound in the seventh inning of Game Six of the 2002 World Series with a 5-0 lead over the Angels, and Giants manager Dusty Baker theatrically handing him the ball as a souvenir of what is about to be the clinching contest of San Francisco’s first-ever world championship. The Angels smashed that tableau in a hurry, with the righty an innocent clubhouse bystander. By the time Ortiz took the Turner Field mound to face the Mets to begin 2004, Russ had experienced quite a career. By the time Ortiz had thrown one pitch in ’04, he trailed, 1-0, as Kaz Matsui belted it out of sight. Ortiz would exit Opening Night in the third inning with the bases loaded and behind by three runs. The Braves would not rally to his defense in the Mets’ 7-2 win.

38. Joe Magrane, Cardinals: 1989
In 1988, the year Jacob deGrom was born, a righthanded pitcher led the National League in earned run average despite a deceptively unimpressive won-lost record. Talk about foreshadowing. Joe Magrane went 5-9 in ’88, but his 2.18 ERA outpointed everybody, including Orel Hershiser, who finished the year on a 59-inning scoreless streak. Maybe Magrane’s luck would change in 1989. The Cardinals went about finding out by sending him to the mound at Shea to start Opening Day. With seven runs allowed in fewer than four innings, Joe couldn’t blame bad luck for the loss he’d take. At least it didn’t foreshadow his season. Magrane would go 18-9 in ’89 and fashion another ERA under three.

39. Jose DeLeon, Cardinals: 1992
The first time the Mets faced Jose DeLeon, in the nightcap of a Banner Day doubleheader in 1983, the Pirates rookie nearly no-hit them. He got to the bottom of the ninth with one out before Hubie Brooks singled. As Mike Torrez had been keeping the Buccos off the board at Shea himself — he tallied eleven scoreless frames — DeLeon’s effort went for naught. The Mets would win memorably in twelve, scoring the only run of the game when Mookie Wilson hustled home on from second on a would-be double play grounder. Jose certainly projected as a comer, but the road ahead proved bumpy. In 1985, he lost nineteen games. In 1990, he lost another nineteen games. Yet on Opening Night 1992 at Busch Stadium, he was Joe Torre’s choice to begin the season. You can’t say baseball doesn’t promote second acts. DeLeon did well against the Mets: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 6 SO, 1 ER. Alas, it was another superb performance that fell away in the face of extra-inning Met magic, with Bobby Bonilla homering off Lee Smith in the tenth and DeLeon taking another no-decision.

40. Carl Morton, Expos: 1971
At a glance, the 1970 Expos didn’t have much going for them. Sure, there was Rusty Staub (30 HR, 94 RBI), but the second-year club wound up in last place, albeit with “only” 89 losses, versus the 110 that weighed them down in ’69. But if you look closer, you’ll find a remarkable rookie season from Carl Morton, an 18-game winner for a cellar dweller. That’s the kind of promise a young team yearns to build on. That’s the kind of pitcher you hand the ball to Opening Day the next year to show his stuff against the best in the business. Morton was indeed the Expos’ starter to start ’71, and he definitely had an aspirational figure to match up against at Shea in Tom Seaver. The only thing he didn’t have was cooperative weather (though playing home games at Parc Jarry should have prepared him for inclement conditions). In rain and wind that shortened the game to five innings, Morton lost to Seaver, 4-2. Carl would move on to the Braves later in the 1970s and put up some good numbers. Tragically, he died of a heart attack in 1983 at the age of 39.

41. Tommy Hanson, Braves: 2012
Entering his rookie season of 2009, Tommy Hanson was Baseball America’s No. 4 prospect and listed in the Top 20 by Baseball Prospectus. An 11-4 freshman campaign, featuring an ERA of 2.89, indicated promise being fulfilled. When Opening Day 2012 rolled around at Citi Field, it was Hanson who was called on by the Braves to duel Johan Santana. For five innings, it was an even exchange of zeroes. In the sixth, the Mets got to Tommy on a walk and two singles, the second of them, from David Wright, producing the only run of the game. Hanson was removed trailing, 1-0, the score by which he’d take the loss. Still, 2012 looked all right on paper, with Hanson going 13-10. He’d be traded to the Angels in the offseason, pitch one more season in the majors and then bounce around the minors for three organizations, trying to come back from a shoulder injury. On November 9, 2015, Hanson, 29, died from what were deemed “delayed complications of cocaine and alcohol toxicity”.

42. Jon Lieber, Cubs: 2000
Many pitchers might say they’d travel halfway around the world for a W. Jon Lieber became the first to actually do it. On March 29, 2000, Lieber opposed Mike Hampton in Major League Baseball’s initial stab at starting a season in Japan. It worked out better for Lieber’s Cubs than it did Hampton and the Mets. While Mike couldn’t quite find his footing on the Tokyo Dome mound, Lieber persisted and prevailed, allowing just one run on five hits in seven early-morning innings (prime time in Japan). A year later, Lieber would be a twenty-game winner without ever having to leave North America.

43. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals: 2018
A two-time All-Star before he turned 26, Carlos Martinez earned the honor of opening the 2018 season at Citi Field. The honor, it turned out, was all Mets. New York accepted six walks from Carlos, added four hits and took an insurmountable lead before the fifth inning was over. By then, the righthander was done for the day. By August, in deference to shoulder problems, he was in the Cardinal bullpen, where he has remained ever since.

44. Joey Hamilton, Padres: 1997
Joey Hamilton, in the midst of his perfectly serviceable ten-year career (74-73, 4.44 ERA), did not get off to a good start in 1997, giving up four runs on eight hits and six walks to the Mets in six innings. Something would have had to have gone terribly wrong for the Mets to have not won their only Opening Day game to date in San Diego. Something did. It was called the bottom of the sixth and it yielded eleven runs off four Mets pitchers. By that point, Hamilton didn’t have to be good, he just had to be there.

45. Denny Lemaster, Braves: 1966
Lemaster was not the Braves’ Opening Day starter in 1966. He didn’t start until the fourth game of his team’s season, which marked the first road game in the history of the newly transplanted Atlantans. The Braves’ opponents, the Mets, were a different story. They were a rainy story in Cincinnati, where they were slated as the visitors for the traditional Crosley Field opener on Monday, April 11. But in poured in southern Ohio, and the cats and dogs just kept coming down in buckets as the week went on. The Mets couldn’t play at all until their regularly scheduled Home Opener on Friday, April 15, which is the latest a Mets season has ever started, save for years affected by strikes or, pending further developments, pandemics. Either way, Lemaster, a righty who had won seventeen games for the then-Milwaukee Braves in 1964, left the Mets high and dry, giving up only one earned run in eight-and-a-third innings for the 3-2 victory.

46./47. What the Buc?: 1987, 2002
Let’s be clear: a major league career, let alone one that lasts, is nothing to dismiss lightly. Those of us who watch baseball would, at least in theory, give our left arms to play baseball at the highest level in the world. That disclaimer out of the way, how on earth did the Pittsburgh Pirates on two Opening Days fifteen years apart deign to start seasons behind Bob Patterson and Ron Villone? Other than not having loads of viable alternatives and counting on their respective left arms to neutralize Mets clubs that always seemed susceptible to southpaws, it’s hard to frame these guys as “Opening Day” starters in the mold of Seaver, Carlton or, for that matter, Joey Hamilton. Patterson, a rookie with a couple of cups of coffee behind him as of Opening Day 1987, was thrown into intimidating surroundings. The Mets were raising their 1986 World Champions flag and handing out their hard-won World Series rings. Bob’s first inning was rough, culminating in Darryl Strawberry’s three-run homer (lefty vs. lefty matchup notwithstanding). Patterson did OK overall, though, lasting six and giving up no more runs in what became a 3-2 Pirate loss. Villone’s moment in the Shea sun, on Opening Day 2002, wasn’t quite as fraught with symbolism, but the Mets were trotting out Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn for the first time, which was supposed to be a great thing. Ron, a New Jersey native whose 5.89 ERA the year before left him unsigned until mid-February, gave up four runs over five innings and absorbed the 6-2 defeat. Villone’s career spanned 1995 through 2009. Patterson first pitched in 1985 and continued pitching until 1998. Both were Opening Day starters in games countless Mets fans couldn’t wait to see. How many people can say that?

48. Mark Hendrickson, Marlins: 2008
Opening Day 2008: Johan Santana debuting to universal anticipation for the Mets, and opposing him for the Florida Marlins…Mark Hendrickson? My reaction at the time was, “HUH?” Hendrickson had been in the majors since 2002, had won in double-digits for dreadful Tampa Bay clubs in 2004 and 2005, and pitched against the Mets for the Dodgers the summer before, yet I was still in a state of “HUH?” when I saw Mark Hendrickson was the opposition for us and Johan a dozen years ago. Twelve years later, with baseball and everything else except a virus at a standstill, I’m grateful SNY is showing edited versions of old Opening Days on what was supposed to be the new Opening Day. I greet the 2008 Opener from Dolphins Stadium with fresh enthusiasm (the first recorded instance of any Mets fan evincing an iota of nostalgia for the ol’ Soilmaster Sack). There are Gary, Keith and Ron looking surprisingly younger. There’s Johan, carrying with him dreams of converting last September’s dismay into this season’s redemption. There, in various stages of their prime, are Reyes and Wright, Beltran and Delgado, even a little hope invested in Schneider and Church. And on the mound, for the Marlins…Mark Hendrickson. And despite having lived this Opening Day once before quite happily (we did win it, after all), my reaction at this time, in 2020, is, “HUH?” I didn’t really grasp who Mark Hendrickson was the first time and I apparently failed to commit him to memory thereafter. It’s reassuring in troubling times to know some things never change. (Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve spent the past decade vaguely certain Jeremy Hellickson was Mark Hendrickson, or that perhaps both were close relatives of Todd Hollandsworth.)

For Pete’s Sake

Without a baseball season starting, we don’t know precisely what we’ll be missing. Some things, however, we do know.

We do know our familiar rhythms will be off from being on collective hiatus, as what was going to be Opening Day dawns as just another weekday.

We do know what waking up on Opening Day is like and how, come Thursday morning, we won’t have rushing through our veins that annual blend of nervousness and anticipation that inevitably attends the very first pitch of a brand new year.

We might forget, come 1:10 PM EDT, that our lives aren’t clicking into their usual place, the space we choose to inhabit as baseball fans, but we do know we will wish we could slide right back in as soon as it hits us that, oh yeah, I’d be watching the Mets game right now.

Yet we don’t know exactly what, or who, we will be missing in the realm of a Met we didn’t fully see coming and a Met we didn’t fully see staying as the Met we can’t not look at. We don’t know who, if anybody, was going to be the Pete Alonso of 2020…not counting Pete Alonso, who we hope will still be the Pete Alonso of 2020 when/if 2020 comes back around in the baseball sense.

Pete wasn’t what you’d call a mystery guest as we played What’s Our Lineup? entering 2019, but the scale of “Pete Alonso” as we understand him today was someone we couldn’t have recognized late last March. What could have we possibly expected a year ago? Minor leaguer who’d hit a bunch of home runs the year before; reportedly not much of a first baseman; it would sure be great if he made the team and shows something.

Boy did he ever.

Every Met who’s ever been a Met (1,091 to date) has an origin point within our universe, but it is rare to meet the Met/greet the Met who defines his and our time almost upon arrival. It goes beyond a Met showing up and performing well. Some guys just make that first year in front of us their own. Even with varying degrees of warning, bracing for impact proves pointless in hindsight. These Mets were meteors landing louder in our backyard than we could have reasonably guessed. Betting the under didn’t bother you after the fact because wasn’t it fantastic to have a Met overdeliver?

Since we began doing Faith and Fear fifteen years ago, I can think of four Mets who showed up and immediately “changed everything” to an extent that transcended the team’s record and their own statistics. They weren’t just pleasant surprises or promising new faces. They were everything instantly and then some. Life felt one way before them and utterly different with them.

• Pedro Martinez in 2005
• R.A. Dickey in 2010
• Yoenis Cespedes in 2015
• Pete Alonso in 2019

Martinez was hardly a stealth acquisition, yet the sheer Pedroness of what he meant to the Mets in his first year at Shea was stunning. He pitched like Pedro Martinez most of that season, even if, at 33, he couldn’t have matched the standards he established in Montreal and Boston. Pedro was an event regardless of runs allowed. That the Mets improved in accordance with his presence didn’t hurt.

Dickey was the epitome of a stealth acquisition. He filtered in through the vents at Citi Field and provided a blast of fresh air. Nobody ever talked quite like R.A. and nobody pitched exactly like he did. Though the apex of his success was a couple of years away, he began endearing himself to us ASAP and never stopped.

Cespedes was the deadline acquisition you dream of prior to the deadline and produced at a pace you wouldn’t have dared dream possible when the trade gets made. He produced a pennant, for goodness sake.

Pedro Martinez, R.A. Dickey and Yoenis Cespedes each respectively joined an existing cast of Mets. Within minutes of their debut, they catapulted their names atop the marquee of our consciousness. This was Pedro’s team from April 4 onward in 2005. You couldn’t take your eyes or ears off Dickey when he started throwing and talking about his knuckleball on May 19, 2010. Cespedes was traded for on Friday, July 31, 2005. Before the weekend was out, we were all getting fitted for neon-green compression sleeves.

What those three Mets who rocked our paradigm had in common was they’d come to us from elsewhere — even Dickey, who had lingered for an eternity in obscurity, had stamps on his MLB passport. Not Pete Alonso, though. Pete was ours from the moment the rooster crowed, a fresh-cracked egg in the lingo of ubiquitous fast food breakfast commercials. He emerged from his shell on Opening Day 2019 and, no yolk, we never looked back with a shred of regret. Really, all we did as we took in the whole of this magnificent beast was look forward. We looked forward to the next at-bat, the next swing, the next trot around the bases, the next number on the milestone countup.

Yet it was about more than an ungodly accumulation of Met home runs. There was something about the way Alonso carried himself and his ballclub. You wanted to watch Pete do everything. You wanted to hear and read everything Pete was thinking. You wanted to live in Pete’s world for a few hours every night and reflect on the state of that planet for a spell the next afternoon.

That’s what Opening Day 2019 presaged without our knowing it. Something like that doesn’t happen every season, but it happened in the most recent one. We can only guess when it will happen again. Same for when we’ll get a season.

Until then, join us for an extended Polar Bear Flashback: almost each and every one of Pete Alonso’s 53 home runs from last year, as told by Faith and Fear in Flushing directly after they disappeared into the stratosphere. (We somehow missed one while it was in orbit, but we never claimed FAFIF was NASA.)

***

OVERTURE
Welcome aboard the first active roster of 2019 to the eight Mets who have never been Mets before: Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Wilson Ramos, Keon Broxton, J.D. Davis, Justin Wilson, Luis Avilan and Pete Alonso. […] A special welcome to Alonso, that rare breed of pristine rookie who makes an Opening Day roster. Get that service time going, son. Make it count.
—March 28, Nationals Park

1. Then Pete Alonso turned Steckenrider’s low fastball into a missile. Oh, it was wonderful — a sizzler to center, its trajectory a viciously efficient line drive rather than a majestic arc, instantly and obviously gone. Alonso high-stepped around the bases with his big aw-shucks grin, was greeted rapturously in the dugout and the Mets were up by four.
—April 1, Marlins Park

2. Alonso is up to two overall, one at the ballpark where was born to slug. Pete won’t be fenced in by any stadium, but this one is clearly his. Has a rookie in the eighth major league game of his life ever seemed so ready to roll? Not just in deed (which in Alonso’s case was done in the eighth inning, just prior to Cano’s) but in manner. Pete jumps up and down after he hits ’em like we jump up and down when he hits ’em. The whole team seems to be following his excited lead.
—April 6, Citi Field

3. [I]t was fun watching Pete Alonso scamper around…
—April 7, Citi Field

4. & 5. [I]n the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Swoboda, Pete Alonso [is] writing a new foreword to the Met record book. The first baseman whose service time clock ticks on sans regret hit two more home runs Tuesday to bring his season and lifetime total to five. No Met rookie before Pete had hit five home runs in his first ten career games. No rookie of any kind had accumulated eleven extra-base knocks in his first ten career games. Pete has. If his unprecedented power display doesn’t fully make up for the first Met losing streak of 2019, it sure as hell makes you look forward to the Mets’ next chance to break it.
—April 9, Citi Field

6. Everybody groans about the region’s horrible traffic, but if more commuters would park at the Pete & Ride, they’d get where they’re going in no time at all. Alonso’s two-run homer’s exit velocity was measured at 118.3 miles per hour. For reference purposes, that’s a homer hit as hard as hell. Perhaps harder. When Pete Alonso leaves a ballpark, Pete Alonso leaves a ballpark. Seriously, that thing struck water, specifically splashing into a decorative fountain beyond dead center field. That adorable touch of exterior decorating is a Metropolitan landmark now.
—April 11, SunTrust Park

7. In between [Lugo’s] frames, that young hellcat Pete Alonso — who’d somehow gone an entire week without exploring the real estate beyond National League fences — stepped up and belted a 432-foot home run to center off Cards reliever Ryan Helsley. Pete mashes all his taters off relievers. He loves the other team’s almost as much as Mickey is compelled to rely on his own.
—April 19, Busch Stadium

8. You want clickable highlights? You got to press “PLAY” to your heart’s content, albeit in a losing cause. Pete Alonso going 444 feet off erstwhile college rival Dakota Hudson was immediate social media gold, especially with the backstory that he beseeched Mickey Callaway to let him play the day after a pitch hit him in the hand. “I must rain down plagues on the House of Hudson!” Alonso righteously thundered as dramatic prelude to his eighth homer of the young year. Or Sweet Pete simply pestered his manager persistently and, ultimately, effectively. Either way, Alonso got even with whatever forces he had it in for in the first inning, launching a ball so far that it was not only hit off a Dakota, it probably landed in one.
—April 21, Busch Stadium

9. Pete Alonso provided a powerful antidote to the mounting blahs, but nothing anybody did well could overcome everything everybody adorned with dollops of ineptitude.
—April 27, Citi Field

10. Let’s celebrate the recently dormant power source known as Pete Alonso, who decided going down meekly was no way to continue a weekend in Milwaukee. Alonso’s leadoff homer in the ninth was a bolt of beauty. It was almost worth the staying up long thereafter that it mandated.
—May 4, Miller Park

11. Pete Alonso was National League Rookie of the Month for April and National League Rookie of the Night on Tuesday. He is a veteran in kid’s clothing any time you hear him speak. He is a franchise player exploding all around us. […] Let’s just say Pete took Petco out for a walk, pulling a two-run, ninth-inning job to the Western Metal building that, had the edifice not gotten in the way, was bound to land somewhere in the Far East.
—May 7, Petco Park

12. Alcantara’s downfall arrived via back-to-back homers to Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto that left the Marlins behind 2-1 and then 3-1. The homers were a fun contrast: Alonso’s just cleared the fence in right-center, and was basically muscled out of the park by our favorite gigantic enthusiastic rookie, while Conforto’s was a no-doubter, a fastball left over the plate that he destroyed.
—May 11, Citi Field

13. & 14. Pete Alonso is ridiculously fun to watch no matter what — he hit a 417-foot homer essentially with one hand in the second, then a no-doubter in the eighth, and continues to have a wonderful time surprising even himself.
—May 17, Marlins Park

15. Amed Rosario and Pete Alonso homered in the first and two innings later the Mets plated two more on a pair of walks, a Todd Frazier single and a double from Carlos Gomez.
—May 20, Citi Field

16. [N]o moment resonated as more milestone than Pete Alonso’s eighth-inning swing for the fences, and by fences, I mean the fences at LaGuardia’s Delta terminal. Oh, that baseball he connected with was soaring, all right — it flew high enough to slice Venus, never mind the space above the left field pole — but of more concern was the angle his breathtaking launch was taking. Fair? Foul? Somewhere in between somehow? I paused, as I imagine we all did to gauge its flight pattern. I hoped it was fair, I thought it was foul, I heard silence, I looked around. Was that Pete going into a trot? Was that a roar rising from the modestly sized crowd? Was that the Apple accurately elevating? Hey! It’s a home run! A Pete Alonso late & clutch home run at Citi Field! And I am there, Walter! Being in proximity to a Met doing a superb Met thing doesn’t usually strike me as overly noteworthy, but as I mentioned, I’d not been to a game yet this season, and this season has been the dawn of the Pete Alonso Era at Citi Field, so this was also the first time Pete and I linked our fates in the same facility. Yes, Pete Alonso gets his own era capitalized. We are all in his Polar Bear Club.
—May 21, Citi Field

17. “You can never have too many home runs. People love home runs!”
“I suppose. Let me take a look. Did you get an Alonso home run?”

“Like we’re gonna host a party and I’m not getting an Alonso home run. Of course I got an Alonso home run.”
—May 24, Citi Field

18. & 19. Highlights included Pete Alonso’s two homers, a sign that Alonso might have made the latest adjustment in the endless sequence of pitcher-hitter riposte-and-parry.
—May 29, Dodger Stadium

20. One of the Met runs driven in for a change at Citi Field against Bumgarner was by Pete Alonso via his 20th home run. Alonso needed a souped-up DeLorean to make it count in that Wild Card Game of yore, but let’s not put everything on Pete.
—June 4, Citi Field

21. Pete Alonso chipp[ed] in an insurance run with a homer just above the left-field wall. Alonso arrived at third along with the ball, then hung around a bit sheepishly in the dugout with his helmet on until the umpires declared that it was, in fact, a home run.
—June 8, Citi Field

22. Pete Alonso compacted the dimensions of Yankee Stadium even more Tuesday night with his 22nd homer of the season, placing him ahead of all local comers, including Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit and Oriole-feaster Gleyber Torres, to name three players I will now return to devoting no thought to. The Polar Bear is chilling as champ in every city ’cept Milwaukee. The Brewers have Christian Yelich, and Yelich has 25 homers at the moment. Alonso thus has the most unChristian home runs in the majors presently.
—June 11 (N), Yankee Stadium

23. “I call it Study of Launch Angle and Stuff. I smashed a home run as soon as I could to see how far and how fast it would leave the ballpark.”
“Uh-huh. And what were your findings?”
“See, I got this pitch from Michael Wacha in Mr. Shildt’s class and crushed the shit out of it…”
“Language, Pete.”
“Sorry, I get excited. I crushed it a lot and it flew a lot more.”
—June 15, Citi Field

24. Pete Alonso was on base six times, connecting for a home run that looked like a routine fly ball until it came down 425 feet away.
—June 18, SunTrust Park

25. Pete Alonso reached out and touched the hell out of a Tyler Chatwood fastball for a two-run homer to furnish Lockett with a 3-0 lead heading to the bottom of the third.
June 20, Wrigley Field

26. The power was sourced from Pete Alonso and two others. No disrespect to Todd Frazier and Wilson Ramos, each adding eighth homers to their ledgers, but when Pete goes deep immediately, as he did in the first inning for a solo blast Bob Seger-style — against the wind — it’s hard to concentrate on what anybody else hits out. The Polar-izing figure’s 26th of the season tied him with Darryl Strawberry for the Mets rookie record and set the National League first-half rookie record, not likely the last time we use phrases involving “tied,” “set” and “record” where Pete and home runs are concerned.
—June 22, Wrigley Field

27. We don’t regret Pete Alonso hitting his 27th home run, thereby setting our franchise rookie record in our 78th game. We’d be making a bigger deal of this milestone — he surpassed Darryl Strawberry, for goodness sake — but we’ve had some incidents.
—June 23, Wrigley Field

28. The one thing the homestanding Mets accomplished Friday night in dropping a 6-2 decision to first-place Atlanta was not blowing a lead. They didn’t blow it because they never had it. They came close to taking one. In the seventh — after Jacob deGrom had pitched well if not as well as Mike Soroka, and Pete Alonso snapped his endless four-game homerless drought — the Mets looked very serious about closing the 3-1 advantage the Braves held on them.
—June 28, Citi Field

29. The Mets built a 2-1 lead behind Jacob deGrom. Pete Alonso blasted his 29th homer and later doubled in Jeff McNeil. Your three All-Stars were being a part of some beautiful goings-on.
—July 5, Citi Field

30. It’s another lost season, but somehow not one without its pleasures. The Mets’ first hit off Aaron Nola was a home run from Pete Alonso, leaving him standing alongside Dave Kingman as the only Met to hit 30 before the break.
—July 7, Citi Field

INTERMISSION
Pete Alonso has reminded me what winning a championship feels like. A championship — a title definitively captured immediately and viscerally. Nothing that needs to be judged and awarded later. Nothing dependent any longer on what anybody else does. Nothing provisional or partial. That instant when the most that can be won is won and there is nothing left to win because we, the Mets, have won it. That’s what we got a simulation of on Monday night when Pete Alonso won the Home Run Derby, a demonstration in microcosm (or Alonsocosm) of how it might be if/when we witness the real thing. Pete wore a Mets uniform, hit more home runs than his opponent in each of three rounds and exulted as we wish a Met to do. Only as humble as he needs to be, the Polar Bear roared. Or growled. Or whatever it is Polar Bears do after hitting home runs.
—July 8, Progressive Field

31. Pete Alonso, America’s home run heartthrob, reminded us how close 474 feet from home plate can be in the hands of the above-average Bear. FOUR-HUNDRED SEVENTY-FOUR FEET…WHOA! Y’know? Yeah, Polar Pete powered a pitch from Matt Magill so high above the Twin Cities that it took out a heretofore sturdy television station transmitter and knocked WJM off the air. In his typical oblivious fashion, local anchorman Ted Baxter continued to read the news as if nothing had happened.
—July 17, Target Field

32. That would have been cruel — but not much more cruel than what actually happened, which was that Pete Alonso clubbed a homer to give the Mets a 2-1 lead, except Chris Mazza — lanky with a certain mien of ironic acceptance — went out for a second inning of work and didn’t record a single out.
—July 18, Oracle Park

33. And then there was Pete Alonso, who greeted the news that he was being given a day off the way you’d hope — by complaining volubly, fussing in the dugout and then appearing for a sixth-inning pinch-hitting assignment that ended with him obliterating a baseball, sending it 444 feet to the opposite field. Alonso, numbers burnished and point proven, then got to continue his day of rest.
—July 20, Oracle Park

34. [Wheeler] gave up one homer on a night the Mets hit four (one dinger apiece from puppy pal Jeff McNeil, Todd Frazier, Wilson Ramos and, now with twice as many as the 17 Jay Payton belted in his rookie season, Pete Alonso), allowing three runs in all.
—July 26, Citi Field

35. Stephanie and I both watched on television as Alonso built a full count of his own. Pete hadn’t homered in what seemed like an ice age. There had been only nine consecutive games without one of his Arctic blasts, but we had gotten used to these things coming around every couple of days. The rookie, unfortunately, was gaining experience in slumping. It was pretty much the only thing he hadn’t done since appearing fully formed in our lives in late March. I don’t know if Pete Alonso has emerged from his slump, but I do know that he interrupted it very effectively in the bottom of the seventh inning of the second game of Monday night’s Mets-Marlins doubleheader. Against Jeff Brigham, somehow still on the mound, the Polar Bear struck like the Polar Bear does, lining a fastball into the leftest portion of the left field stands. It didn’t rise particularly high, but it exited forcefully. When it did, it changed the scoreboard once more: Mets 5 Marlins 4. High-fives were exchanged. Stephanie went to bed. She can sleep through the endings of games like these. Go figure.
—August 5 (2nd), Citi Field

36. The four of us took our seats with our team 2½ games from the second National League Wild Card. After Zack Wheeler grounded the Marlins into submission — assisted by slick fielding from substitute DP combo Adeiny Hechavarria and Luis Guillorme and augmented by power displays off the bats of Wilson Ramos and Pete Alonso — the Mets were poised to inch closer.
August 6, Citi Field

37. Wednesday’s series capper showed off all their strengths, not so long after enumerating the Mets’ strengths made you feel like a dutiful aunt trying to spruce up a shiftless nephew ahead of a wing-and-a-prayer blind date. The Mets rode home runs from Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso, awakened from his brief post-All-Star hibernation to continue his assault on the single-season club record for homers.
—August 7, Citi Field

38. The Mets did not overcome the first of two three-run deficits when Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis did not launch back-to-back fourth-inning home runs off Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg. For Alonso, it wasn’t his 38th home run, not moving him closer to both the National League rookie record and the Mets’ all-time single-season standard.
—August 9, Citi Field

39. On Thursday night the Mets came roaring out of the gate against Julio Teheran, with Pete Alonso smashing a ball into the pool far beyond center field. It was one of those Alonso home runs that reminded you just how strong he is: Alonso didn’t connect with a ball in his happy zone or put a classic slugger’s swing on it, the one that ends with the satisfied look skyward and dropping of a no-longer-needed bat. (A Todd Frazier special, in other words.) Rather, Alonso reached across the plate for the pitch and hit it near the end of the bat, only to have the ball go 430-odd feet anyway.
—August 15, SunTrust Park

40. Familia did allow a run, but it was a point in the game where you’re more concerned with counting down outs, and the Mets would keep the Royals at bay behind another Rosario RBI double and Alonso’s 40th homer, a nice round number that leaves him one shy of the prime number that would tie the single-season club mark.
—August 18, Kauffman Stadium

41. Saturday, though, the folks who lined up for the fireworks could enjoy a premature explosion, Pete taking Max Fried on a VIP tour of that black backdrop that surrounds the Alonso Apple in center field. They might as well rename it for Pete, who has made it ascend 21 times, already the twelfth-most in Citi Field history. That’s the twelfth-most of any Met in the course of a post-2009 Met career, courtesy of a kid who’s worked at the ballpark less than five months. As all of Pete’s home runs seem to be, whether aesthetically or narratively, it was a big one. Alonso’s three-run blast gave the Mets a 5-4 lead, climaxing a fifth inning in which our summertime heartthrobs displayed their best selves. […] Pete got ahold of a fastball and let it fly. It went 451 feet, it was worth three runs in a playoff chase, and it sent at least one heretofore seated veteran Mets fan from his couch into the kind of vertical leap that surprised even the leaper. “Man,” I thought, “he just tied the record.”
—August 24, Citi Field

42. Lest we be overtaken by sullenness, how about a huzzah for Pete? Forty-two huzzahs, to be exact. Fifty-eight seasons of Mets baseball, and we saw something Tuesday night that never crossed our path during the first fifty-seven. Like just about all of Pete’s previous 41 home runs, No. 42, when struck in the fourth inning, was enormous in form and impact. It shot out to right-center like a comet; it crashed into a barrier a couple of planets from home plate; it shoved a couple of fellas of genuine Met renown a respectful notch downward in our statistical annals; and it pushed the Mets ahead of the Cubs, 1-0.
—August 27, Citi Field

43. (Pete Alonso’s forty-third home run, a solo job off the Phillies’ Zach Eflin in the first inning on Sunday Night Baseball on September 1 — his first at Citizens Bank Park — eluded the FAFIF recap of the 5-2 Mets loss the homer couldn’t prevent. Some details fall away in the course of recounting a long season already in progress. For the record, No. 43 traveled over the left field wall at a speed of approximately 96 MPH, landing an estimated 390 feet from home plate.)

44. The Mets proceeded to sail on Hudson. A wild pitch. An error. A walk. An incredibly baffling error of omission by Trea Turner who didn’t turn an easily turnable 6-4-3 double play, instead throwing to first with one out. McNeil responded by singling in two more runs and Alonso followed with his 44th home run of the season, the Polar Bear marking Nationals Park as his territory for the first time since the 2018 Futures Game. Heading to the bottom of the ninth, the Mets held a lead of 10-4.
—September 3, Nationals Park

45. As has so often been the case in this strange, maddening but rarely boring Mets season, it was Pete Alonso who made me cheer up a little and start listening to the game like it was just a goddamn game. Alonso’s fifth-inning homer was a line drive right down the left-field line, a trajectory initially baffling to Howie and Wayne, and forgivably so because what precedent is there for Pete Alonso? That was No. 45 for the Polar Bear, it gave the Mets a 4-1 lead, and it gave me permission to think that maybe, just maybe, this might not end horribly.
—September 4, Nationals Park

46. & 47. Pete Alonso, the Met with the most home runs in any season, socked a pair to raise his total to 47. Breathe that in for a moment. A Met has 47 home runs. It was a big deal when Pete got to 42. Pete just keeps getting more. He has a shot at leading all of baseball at losing baseballs, which he’s already doing. He’s within reach of 50, which nobody anywhere used to hit more than maybe once per baseball generation. He can share the rookie record of 52 with Aaron Judge or, preferably, set a new one with 53.
—September 9, Citi Field

48. And, of course, there’s Pete Alonso. The Polar Bear awoke from his home-run slumber to club a ball 467 feet into the Denver night, his 48th of the season. The club RBI mark is probably out of reach, but 50 homers is not, and “I’m disappointed Alonso won’t also break the single-season RBI record as a rookie” is a complaint deserving a truly microscopic violin as accompaniment.
—September 17, Coors Field

49. Then we got to the eighth and back to September of 2019, with one run scratched out so tenuously you wondered whether it worth the trouble of trudging to the medicine cabinet to find the tube of cortisone you were pretty sure was still in there from your last bout with hives. Alonso, who briefly raised hope and unfurled tape measures in the sixth with his 49th homer of the season (distance: somewhere on the outskirts of Boulder), led off with a single.
—September 18, Coors Field

50. Either way you heard it, it looked like it would never come down. It finally did, somewhere amid Great American’s kitschy riverboat backdrop, appropriate enough in that Pete has sailed away with every single-season Met home run record that used to seem impressive. Geez, a Met has hit 50 home runs. Did you ever think such a total was possible from one of our guys?
—September 20, Great American Ball Park

51. The other Mets backed deGrom ably. Pete Alonso ended his minor power outage with his 51st homer, a no-doubter deep into the Flushing night…
—September 25, Citi Field

52. He’s tied George Foster. He’s done what I couldn’t grasp as a kid. He’s done what I saw only once as a teen. He’s done it while I’m an adult…and I can only kind of grasp what he’s done and thus have to keep repeating it to make certain it’s really happened. Pete Alonso has hit 52 home runs. For the New York Mets. As a rookie, with two games to go in his pure rookie season. WOW!
—September 27, Citi Field

53. Pete Alonso has set a home run record. It seems we should have our keyboards set up to generate that sentence with one click. The record in this instance is the major league mark for most home runs in a season by a rookie. Pete has 53. Second is every other rookie ever. Pete’s 53rd came in the third inning of Saturday night’s game at Citi Field, off Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz. It traveled far, deep and doubtless as it soared into history. We should have a single keystroke to take care of that sentence, too. Pete was awed by what he’d done. We all were and presumably still are. We’re Mets fans. We’ve been waiting our franchise’s entire lifetime for a Met like this. This is a Met unlike any other…or have you previously seen a Met introduce himself to us in March and proceed to hit 53 home runs for us before September ends? Pete is 161 games removed from the gate and he just keeps galloping. What fun it has been to have accompanied him on a romp that, careerwise, is only just starting. May his and our ride together continue at a brisk pace for seasons to come.
—September 28, Citi Field

FINALE
Pete Alonso would have one more crack at one more homer. Pete didn’t need one more homer to lead the National League. He had that. Same for the major league lead, a first for a Met to hold at season’s end. I wanted Pete to hit No. 54 on merit — for mathematical symmetry, 162 games divided by 54 home runs equaling one every three games, which struck me as nearly as beautiful as Pete himself. I wanted Pete to match Ralph Kiner’s highest total, 54, because I’d occasionally imagined Ralph marveling at Pete’s power had Ralph still been with us. I wanted Pete to make it to 54 because it would certify that he’d kept the exact pace he was on before the Home Run Derby, the glorious contrivance Pete captured in July that the naysayers brayed was going to ruin the rookie forever, or at least the rest of the year. Pete seemed to recover OK from earning that enormous novelty check they gave him. Mostly, 54 would look good on Pete because it would win us the game on one swing. Pete had been very good with one swing 53 times already. His final swing of 2018, for Las Vegas, was of the walkoff home run variety, ending the Mets’ affiliation with the 51s along with his own affiliation with minor league baseball with as powerful an arrivederci as could be conjured. His final swing of 2019, however, amounted to no more than a foul pop…caught by Hechavarria.
—September 29, Citi Field

CURTAIN CALL
[A]s voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and revealed Monday night, Pete is the National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year, winning the award almost unanimously over a strong freshman slate that, honestly, didn’t seem particularly imposing by comparison to the man known popularly as the Polar Bear. Twenty-nine voters out of thirty listed Alonso atop their ballots; a lone misguided soul strained for a reason to stand apart from his colleagues and placed Pete second (there’s one in every crowd). Lack of unanimity notwithstanding, Alonso is the sixth Met to win the BBWAA’s NL ROY, following in the hallowed footsteps of Tom Seaver in 1967, Jon Matlack in 1972, Darryl Strawberry in 1983, Dwight Gooden in 1984 and Jacob deGrom in 2014.
—November 11, MLB Network Studio 21

Their Elbows from Their Past

Had baseball been proceeding as planned, the Mets and Orioles would have been completing their Spring Training schedule with an exhibition game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis on Tuesday. We know baseball — and everything else — isn’t proceeding as planned these days, but the time frame we’ve likely lost track of is instructive. The tail end of Spring Training is still Spring Training, and, it can’t be stressed enough, almost no news that comes out of Spring Training is good news.

Tuesday brought Mets news, which at this point could have been good news only if it involved a vaccine somebody suddenly discovered while padlocking Clover Park, or SNY suspending the chess set commercial that runs every half-inning of their otherwise welcome Best of 2019 marathon. No, it wasn’t that kind of news. It was the kind of news you duck and cover from in a normal Spring Training. It’s hardly news in the scheme of current pandemic things, but since we’re Mets fans and this is a Mets blog…oh, you already know what we’re talking about. Noah Syndergaard was diagnosed with a torn UCL; prescribed Tommy John surgery; and listed as out for the next year and change.

The entire sport and most of society is out for an indefinite period, so maybe the “THOR ON SHELF” bulletins — and inevitable “Whither Wacha?” sidebar — don’t quite resonate as they would in other Marches, but the flash gets your attention nonetheless. Thor was the only one of the legendary Five Aces of the 2010s to have not gone in for repair of a vital pitching element prior to 2020. Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom had Tommy John at the dawn on the decade, long before anybody outside of Stony Brook or DeLand was particularly cognizant of either of them. Matt Harvey was sitting on top of the world like Michael Jackson at the Beverly Palm Hotel until he felt something in his right arm in the late summer of 2013. A year-and-a-half later, just as Harvey was regaining his strength, Zack Wheeler’s rise was interrupted by the need for TJS. No wonder it took until April 2018 for the Five Aces to pitch in rotation (albeit for all of two entire turns).

Syndergaard was the lucky one until he wasn’t, which was apparently before the whole of this Spring Training got called off and the status of this regular season was thrown into limbo. Noah experienced that dreaded discomfort and it didn’t go away with rest, despite baseball going away altogether. It’s bad news at a bad time in the broad sense if an inactive time in the baseball sense. Still, the one thing you’ll notice about his aforementioned current and erstwhile Met colleagues is they all had the surgery, they each rehabbed an elbow, and they all got back to pitching. DeGrom and Matz became major leaguers; both started World Series games; one has two Cy Youngs. Harvey may not have quite been the Harvey of 2013 in 2015, but he was a pretty substantial version thereof en route to that same Fall Classic (thoracic outlet syndrome was another story). Wheeler’s timing was dreadful where his contribution to the Mets’ competitive peak was concerned, but he eventually returned, excelled and got paid.

It’s not our elbow, but we’re pretty proprietary of its enduring power and remaining potential, certainly through 2021. We wish Thor only the best for his and our mutual future, whenever they meaningfully reconverge. We’ll take it on faith that “an acutely torn” ulnar collateral ligament with “acute compression of the ulnar nerve” meets surgical guidelines of the moment and that it’s essential he has it taken care of this week. Not at the expense of human life, we hope, but, you know, to get Noah Syndergaard on a mound again when there are mounds to be gotten to.

That would be good news in any spring.

The (Very) Little Things

Somehow even people who aren’t baseball fans know that spring is about renewal. Bare tree branches begin sprouting tender green buds. Flowers and bright shoots of grass poke out of the earth. The sun’s around a little longer and starts to feel a little warmer. Everything feels fragile, but with the promise of heat and life ahead. It’s true of your backyard and also of that first few days of the new season. You know, the part where you know every score without straining for details, yet alone reaching for a reference.

This year, backyards are still doing their thing, but baseball is in lockdown like the rest of us. We’ve rapidly gone from “maybe there will be games but without fans” to “everything will start a few weeks late” to “I suppose a two-month season would still count.” And subconsciously, we’re already beginning to make whatever peace we can with the idea that there won’t be a 2020 season at all, and we will have to skip ahead to 2021 and a world in which a whole lot will have changed besides baseball.

Old habits die hard, though. (That’s how they get to be old habits.) I find myself checking The Athletic each morning, or looking to see if there’s Mets news on MLB.com. There isn’t, which is bad; the next round of such news is almost certain to be grim, which is worse.

What we have been given, I’ve devoured. On Twitter Pete Alonso was his gracious, well-spoken self about this strange new reality, a natural disaster in which the peril is ourselves rather than something around us. Then Alonso teamed up with Luis Rojas to send a pitch-perfect message of comfort and cheer to one of our fellow fans who could really use it.

Denied my primary familiar pleasures of games and roster moves and reporters’ notebooks, I’ve sought comfort in a secondary familiar pleasure. Baseball cards have kept following their release calendar even as baseball has proven unable to, and for that I’ve been grateful.

These days, the year’s first series of Topps cards shows up in early February, a diversion that feels equal parts welcome and artificial. The end of that month brings Topps Heritage, a recreation of a decades-gone yet — this year they’ve reached 1971, with its black finish and very much of-its-time lettering. (Manager cards have gone by the boards, alas, but that’s another post.)

Then March brings two more sets, or at least quasi-sets. Topps Opening Day arrives a couple of weeks before the actual event of that name, with a jaunty logo of bunting — in the “red, white and blue” sense of the word and not the “I am unwisely surrendering a precious out” one. Next to appear are the prepackaged team sets you can find at ballpark stores next to foam fingers and pennants, known in the trade as “factory team sets.”

Both of these sets are of interest primarily to completists, but offer their share of fun quirks. Opening Day has Topps cards that won’t show up until Series 2 and a tradition of entertaining inserts, which are cards outside of the main sets, printed in limited numbers and commanding a premium. The factory team sets are the first place to get cards of players who joined a franchise over the winter and are deemed significant to its fortunes. Once upon a time, such cards would have featured either airbrushed hats with hand-drawn team logos, or players in the pose known as “BHNH,” for Big Head No Hat. Now, players get Photoshopped into their new uniforms.

April brings Bowman, a brand name that’s what remains of a company that preceded Topps in the card business but was swallowed up by it in the 1950s. But by then, normally, there are actual games to obsess about, and baseball cards take a backseat to the thing itself.

This year we’re shorn of “normally,” and boy am I looking forward to Bowman — and everything else that I hope will still be coming our way.

In the meantime, here are some highlights and oddities from early-season baseball cards. Little things, I know. Very little things. But that’s what we have.

Pete Alonso 2020 Topps

Pete Alonso’s early Topps cards called him Peter; he got a 2019 Series 2 card in the flagship set, unfortunately in that dumb blue softball uniform. But his 2020 card is a keeper — Pete dieseling a baseball, dirty with hard work and wearing his socks properly high. Plus his card bears the coveted Topps rookie cup. This card made me happy the first time I saw a preview image of it, and it’s made me happy every time I pick it up since then.

Alonso, of course, has a ton of other cards these days — leader cards, team highlight cards, inserts, autograph issues, and what-not. And several of his cards are SPs — short prints, which are harder to find if you’re someone who still opens packs and more expensive if you buy them on the secondary market.

This is a good problem to have as a Mets fan and a baseball-card dork. Paying a premium isn’t my favorite thing, but I logged plenty of years during which few if any Mets cards were worthy of being printed at all, let alone short-printed so someone would be willing to pay extra for them.

Mets Team Card 2020 ToppsLike his friend Pete, J.D. Davis also got saddled with a dopey blue-top card in last year’s Series 2, but here he is in all his Solar Bear glory on the flagship set’s team card. Plus as a bonus you get a very determined Polar Bear pulling on his uniform, about to create work for the clubhouse attendants.

J.D. Davis, man. His initials are actually J.G., he’s baseball’s chirpiest heckler, he’s quite obviously mildly insane, he can’t play third base and can only kind of play left field, and I love him to pieces. I hope he’s still a Met in his Julio Franco years, even if he never rises above his limitations and the National League ignores newfangled folderol from jumped-up minor leagues and refuses to sully itself with the introduction of the designated hitter. Don’t care; we’ll find a spot for J.D.

J.D. Davis Topps HeritageSpeaking of Jonathan Gregory Davis, here’s his Topps Heritage card. This is not an ideal shot for a baseball card, but there’s a purpose behind that — the ’71 cards introduced “action shots” into Topps’ repertoire, with sometimes comical results. For instance, Bud Harrelson is one of five people visible in his card photo, a tag play at second. He’s less prominent on his own card than the second-base umpire and Nolan Ryan, who’s watching from the mound, his shoulders suggesting he’s slightly weary of it all. J.D. swinging at a pitch would have been a pretty good action shot for a ’71 card, all things considered. Kudos to Topps for respecting such traditions, as they have throughout Heritage’s run. Most famously for our purposes, the 2011 Heritage set used 1962’s design. There’s no Mets team card in that 2011 set, and most of the Mets are in the BHNH pose — things that made card collectors fuss but made me cheer, because Topps was recreating what had happened with the actual ’62 Mets cards.

Joe Panik Topps HeritageNext we come to Joe Panik’s Topps Heritage card. Joe isn’t a Met now — his new employer is the Toronto Blue Jays. And if you’re sharp-eyed, you may notice that he’s not a Met in that photo, either — he’s a San Francisco Giant turned New York Met via the wonders of Photoshop. Much as I love Topps, their current near-monopoly on the baseball-card market has eroded quality control a bit — recent years have seen players repeated between Series 2 and Update, show up on rookie combo cards as well as their own solo cards, and other small production bobbles. Given the uncertainty of his 2020 employer, Panik could have been reserved for Heritage’s high-numbers series, in which case he’d be a Blue Jay; failing that, Topps had ample opportunity to get an actual photo of him as a Met. Still, it’s a Joe Panik Mets card that I never thought would exist, and that’s a Good Thing, whatever asterisk you want to put on it.

Jed Lowrie Topps Team SetHere’s the opposite of the Joe Panik card. Yes, that is a 2020 Topps card featuring Jed Lowrie as a Met, from the factory team set. And there’s no Photoshop involved — it’s a shot from Lowrie’s cameo on the active roster. It’s a blue top, but that’s my own prejudice intruding — all in all, it’s a pretty good card. Certainly much better than Lowrie’s 2019 Topps Heritage card, in which his expression is that of a man trying to be polite but worried that the big, overexuberant dog he just met is about to ram its snout into his nuts.

This card’s existence is one of the reasons hardcore card dorks like me always seek out the factory team sets: They sometimes include Plan A players who never make the Series 2 or Update sets because their teams have gone on to Plan B. Which might well happen to Lowrie — though perhaps a very belated Opening Day will mean he’s shed his brace and the baggage of his mysterious injury.

One can hope — as I like to say, hope’s free.

Marcus Stroman Topps Team SetHere is Marcus Stroman’s 2020 team-set card. Assuming there’s a Series 2, Topps will probably reuse this shot, and with good reason — it’s a stunner. It also made me happy because it shows Stroman wearing 7, instead of the 0 he’s switched to. Stroman’s easy to root for, a bulldog pitcher and demonstrative teammate, but no player should wear 0, because it’s self-evidently ridiculous.

(To be sure: When the season starts, I will be overjoyed to get to watch Marcus Stroman wearing zero. If for some deeply weird reason that’s what it takes to DFA coronavirus, every Met can wear zero until the sun goes supernova and you won’t hear a peep from me. OK, that would never be true. But I would limit myself to muttering about it.)

Rick Porcello Topps Team SetHere’s another Photoshop job, this time from the factory team set. That’s Rick Porcello as a Boston Red Sock, pretty convincingly retooled as a Met. One of my dorky hobbies is making custom baseball cards, which means I’m conversant with Photoshop and know which uniforms are easy to convert into each other. Piping and arced letters make a switch from RED SOX to NEW YORK pretty straightforward — I made a bang-up custom of momentary Met Dave Eilers based on a photo of him in a late-60s Houston Astros away jersey, which shares the same characteristics. And I’ll bet you anything that photo was selected because the position of Porcello’s glove meant his uniform number didn’t need to be added. The background’s the tell, of course — Citi Field borrowed bits and pieces from a number of parks, but doesn’t have a Green Monster.

Should there be a Topps Update set this year — and oh, let’s hope there’s a reason to need one — Porcello will almost certainly have a Met card shot in a Mets uniform, making this card a curiosity.

<a rel=If you want to know why Topps chose that picture of Porcello, Michael Wacha’s Photoshopped team-set card is the answer. Letters, numbers and patches flex along with the uniforms to which they’re attached, but images snipped from one picture and added to another tend to look like they’re floating. Photoshop has tools for bending and warping images, but it’s devilishly hard to make the results fool the eye. The Mets logo on Wacha’s sleeve looks pretty convincing (it’s better than Porcello’s), but that 45 is kind of along for the ride. As someone who’s made many a custom card with a floaty Met uniform number, I feel the Topps designer’s pain here. But more importantly, I’m grateful to him or her for giving me an early Wacha card.

Jacob deGrom NL Standouts SetTopps’ oddest early-season offering may be the factory team sets reserved for National League and American League “Standouts.” I guess this hearkens back to the days of opening a pack and triumphantly holding up an All-Star card (“I got Johnny Bench!”), because who wouldn’t want a pack that’s all All-Stars? But in this day and age I wonder who, exactly, those two neo-team sets are for. The grandparent who isn’t sure which team is Little Suzy’s favorite, maybe? I looked at the National League Standouts checklist out of duty, only to discover it has a terrific Jacob deGrom card, using a shot that’s different than his flagship-set and Opening Day cards. Surely I don’t need to tell you that a Jacob deGrom card is never a bad thing.

Mrs. Met Topps Opening Day Mascots Insert

Here’s a card that you can use to win a bar bet one day, whenever we get to return to sitting in bars and making dumb bets in them. As far as I can tell, Mrs. Met is the first woman to appear on a Mets card. Or maybe that should be better expressed as the first female, since most women I know don’t have oversized heads with painful-looking red stitches. I don’t recall a Joan Payson tribute card, though that would have been nice, or a Lorinda deRoulet commemorative card, though that would have been weird. Nope, I’m pretty sure the honor belongs to Mrs. Met, courtesy of this Mascots insert card from the Opening Day set. Yes, Mr. Met is in it too. If you’re a person determined to be upset about things (don’t be), fair warning that the Mascots set also includes Mr. Red and his counterpart Rosie Red.

Dominic Smith Opening Day Walk This Way InsertI mostly pass up insert cards, but I had to have this “Walk This Way” card from Opening Day, featuring Dominic Smith at the very last moment of the very last Mets game of the 2010s.

Emily and I were in the park for that game as it wended its way through extra innings. I leapt to my feet when Dom made contact and rushed to the railing of our section to verify that yes, Dom had hit a season-ending walkoff. And the memory of that game sustained me through the offseason, making me smile when the world was frozen and baseball was very far away.

I had no idea just how far away, of course — none of us did. Just as none of us knows how far away it is now. But there’s that iconic moment in cardboard. It’s Dom Smith’s card in The Holy Books, and I can only hope the world is wonderful enough to let him surpass it one day and create an even more indelible memory. And if not, hey, it gave us this one.

For now, it’s what I have — a little thing, a memory of the last time baseball was our companion. Here’s to every little thing that will help sustain us until it is again.

Every Mets Opening Win Ranked

There is no such thing as a bad Opening Day win. More to the point, there’s no such thing as an Opening Day win that’s “worse” than any other. I guess that’s all self-evident, but there’s nothing run-of-the-mill about winning on Opening Day. There are no also-rans. Every Opening Day win is, at the moment it is achieved, the best win of the year.

It can go downhill from there, but there’s no way we can imagine it getting better.

You’ve waited all winter for Opening Day. You’ve invested every bit of symbolism in it that you can. This day will validate you. It will validate your offseason. It will tell you that whatever happened last year, if it was bad, is erased. It will tell you whatever happened last year, if it was good, was prologue for more.

You can’t go wrong with an Opening Day win. They all make for the happiest of recaps, they are all dreams comes true, they are all perfection incarnate, they are all the damnedest things.

Opening Day needs no introduction. It is our introduction and reintroduction to baseball as our way of life. It tells us it’s here, it’s real and, if we win, it’s spectacular.

If we lose, there’s always tomorrow, but that’s another story, one we won’t delve into at this moment.

All Opening Day wins are all right. Thus, ranking them is folly. But we’ll do it here anyway. Instead of going chronologically, we’ll attempt to put them in perspective — and we’re going to be expansive in our definition of “Opening wins”.

Games the Mets won to start the season, whether home or away, are included here. So are games the Mets won to start their home season in those years when Opening Day occurred on the road. This inclusion acknowledges the significance of having back what Howie Rose annually refers to as “the National League season in New York”. When the Mets open anywhere, it means everything. Yet when the Mets play in front of us for the first time — even if they’ve been compiling standings for a week in other ballparks — it means something else.

It means we’re home again, whether at the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium or Citi Field…where some 44,000 of us were planning to be on Thursday, March 26, but we’ve seen how plans sometimes go. With that in mind, we’re also including one Opening Day win that will appear totally out of time when you glance at the month it was played, but given that we don’t know in what month we’ll be opening 2020, it seems as organically sourced an Opening Day date as any listed below.

We have 54 wins to sort through here. We’ll rank them 54 to 1, with the caveat that nothing is the worst when you win on Opening Day. As the lawyer on TV likes to remind us, s’all good, man. Our rankings were determined by a blend of what’s massively memorable, what deserves to be remembered better, what stands up historically, what served as a harbinger of what was to come and what resonates emotionally. Plus anything else that felt right. Anybody’s who’s mainlined Joe Posnanski’s Baseball 100 from the Athletic straight into the veins should recognize that cheerfully ranking things we love is fun, while vociferously arguing over the ranking of things we love can quickly become a buzzkill. Honestly, in this case, the distance from 54 to 1 is shorter than the journey from home to first.

If you’re scoring at home — or even if you’re alone, which the CDC recommends strongly — (S/H) refers to Opening Day when the Mets season begins at home; (S) is Opening Day when the Mets season begins on the road; (H) is the Home Opener when the Mets have already played games elsewhere; and denotations of “1st” or “2nd” are exclusive to the split season of 1981.

Hope you have time to read all this. Ah, who are we kidding? Of course you have time…
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54. APRIL 6, 1971 (S/H): NYM 4 MON 2 (5)
What’s wrong with a Tom Seaver complete game? Nothing at all, except rain, gales and being called after five innings. UN Ambassador George Bush threw out the first pitch and then beat it out of Shea. Read his lips: they were chattering. But a win is a win, no matter how short, even in most unideal conditions.

53. APRIL 28, 1995 (H): NYM 10 STL 8
Ah, the charms of a season starting late. In post-strike 1995 some diehard fans worked through their lingering resentment by showing up at the ballpark and literally throwing money at the National Pastime. It wasn’t just a matter of buying tickets for the odd-duck Friday night Home Opener (which only 26,604 did). A trio of fans stormed onto the field from the stands in the fourth inning wearing t-shirts that read not Mets, not Cardinals, but GREED. They further communicated their distaste for what they perceived as the baseball business’s prevailing ethic by tossing $150, a buck at a time, toward the players until they reached second base, where they raised their fists in protest to substantial applause. In the course of the evening, others trotted onto the playing surface, showing their displeasure with the millionaires and billionaires who shut down the sport for so long, in various mischievous, ultimately harmless ways. But it was the GREED guys who grabbed everybody’s attention. “We did it,” one of them said, “because we wanted people to know that they can’t just come back and have everything be OK.” Fittingly, Bobby Bonilla, the highest-paid of Mets, cashed in the most valuable performance of the evening, going 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs. The most on-point commentary belonged to starting pitcher Bret Saberhagen. Had the fans thrown fifties rather than ones, Sabes said, “We might have picked them up.”

52. APRIL 12, 2004 (H): NYM 10 ATL 6
Though he was new in town, Mike Cameron made it his business to make Mets fans feel welcome. Prior to the Home Opener’s first pitch, the center fielder who had signed as a free agent sat atop the home dugout at Shea, faced the first base stands, and signed autographs for streams of fans. One inning into the game itself, he drove in the Mets’ first run of the season. They’d score ten (whacking ex-Met Mike Hampton in the process) and win by four, providing even those among the 53,666 who couldn’t get close to Cameron a cherished first-day souvenir.

51. APRIL 15, 1981 (H-1st): NYM 5 STL 3
In fiction, Tony Soprano led a party of four to this specific ballgame (“Kingman was just back from the Cubs”). In reality, ticketholders who couldn’t adjust as easily as the Mets and their legitimate-businessmen constituency did when the originally scheduled Home Opener was pushed back a day by rain missed a good one at Shea. With Mookie Wilson tripling in a pair from the leadoff position — and making an early case for Mookie of the Year consideration — the Mets took a four-zip lead in the second. Pat Zachry, Tom Hausman and Neil Allen (with a three-inning save) made the advantage stand up. Only 15,205 were in the house for the respective homecomings of Dave Kingman and Rusty Staub and the planting of the Home Run Apple. No doubt at least a few more had planned to join them, but not everybody can slot a precautionary off day into their schedules the way teams that play in April in the Northeast tend to do.

50. MARCH 29, 2018 (S/H): NYM 9 STL 4
Joy is Opening Day’s calling card, but sadness punctuates the pregame festivities as the news spreads that Rusty Staub has passed away. Soon enough the Mets would be wearing a black patch with Rusty’s signature emblazoned in orange. In the interim, they’d stencil his uniform number, 10, on the back of the Citi Field mound and play ball in Staub’s memory. The first game of Mickey Callaway’s regime proves grand, indeed, with Noah Syndergaard striking out ten Redbirds and Yoenis Cespedes driving in three Mets.

49. APRIL 3, 1989 (S/H): NYM 8 STL 4
The Mets alighted at Shea to defend their NL East crown with twenty-three 1988 Mets and just one offseason addition, journeyman righty Don Aase. Aase pitched a nice two innings in relief of Doc (7 IP, 5 H, 8 K), eliciting cheers of “AAH-SEE!” along the way, yet there couldn’t help but be an underlying sense that the roster that had made the Mets of the ’80s a powerhouse unparalleled in franchise history was maybe growing a wee bit stale. By October, there’d be turnover galore…and an abdication of the divisional throne.

48. APRIL 5, 1994 (S): NYM 12 CHI 8
Watching (or listening to) Jeff Kent, Jose Vizcaino and Todd Hundley tee off on Cub pitching was invigorating after the misery of 1993, but Doc Gooden giving up seven runs to the Cubs — three of them on three home runs to future Japanese league star Tuffy Rhodes — made a windy day at Wrigley uncomfortable in New York. Gooden’s frustration had him kicking a dugout step and breaking a toe, leading him to the DL, leading him back, by his reckoning, to cocaine. Oh, Doctor.

47. APRIL 12, 1977 (H): NYM 4 STL 0
It was a can of corn for every Mets manager from 1968 through 1977 to hand the ball to Tom Seaver to pitch the first game of the season. It was the luck of the rotation, however, that had Seaver — who had gotten ’77 off to a typically strong start in Chicago five days earlier — throwing the first pitch of the home season in what loomed as the most uncertain of Met times. Tom was embroiled in a dispute with the front office, but there was no disputing how suited Seaver was to pitching any kind of Opener. His five-hit shutout, accompanied by home runs from Johns Milner and Stearns, guaranteed the Mets a pair of strong impressions in a year where they’d create precious few of those.

46. APRIL 10, 1974 (H): NYM 3 STL 2
Mike Schmidt dampened the season Opener in Philadelphia when he launched a come-from-behind walkoff homer off Tug McGraw at the Vet. Rained pushed back the home version by a day, but once Shea dried off, the 1973 National League flag scurried up the pole and the Mets got back to making their acolytes Believers. That time-tested Jerry-rigged battery the Mets often depended upon hummed beautifully, as Jerry Grote drove in a pair and Jerry Koosman gave up one run over eight-and-a-third. Youngster Bob Apodaca came on in the ninth to retire Tim McCarver on a game-ending double play grounder. At 2-1, the Mets were over .500 for the first time since the end of last season…and, as it turned out, for the last time the rest of this season.

45. APRIL 10, 1980 (S/H): NYM 5 CHI 2
If a season opens in a forest and nobody sees it, did it happen? That’s a bit of an exaggeration to describe the lack of spectators at Shea Stadium on the first day of the Doubleday/Wilpon regime, but attendance was lighter than light, with only 12,219 paying for the privilege of sitting in Shea’s new plastic seats. It was less cynicism that the Magic was Back as advertised repelling potential ticketbuyers as it was difficulties getting to the game itself. A transit strike was on, so for many a trip to the ballpark was off…though Mets baseball figured to be a tough sell even when the trains were running (the 1979 Home Opener, albeit postponed a day by rain, drew a mere 10,406). What most everybody missed was Craig Swan going seven and singling in two runs himself, Neil Allen chipping in two perfect innings for the save and reacquired Jerry Morales — lost long ago in the 1968 expansion draft, collecting two ribbies as the starting center fielder. Maybe the Magic would be Back, but it was gonna need the 7 to get rolling soon.

44. APRIL 9, 1981 (S-1st): NYM 2 CHI 0
For the third consecutive year, the Mets opened their season versus the Cubs, and for the third consecutive year, they notched a victory at Chicago’s expense. Tradition! The Mets scored both of their runs on fourth-inning homers, one by Lee Mazzilli, a Met since 1976, the second by Rusty Staub, a Met originally in 1972 and back after a five-season hiatus in other uniforms. Pat Zachry drew his first Opening Day assignment, something the guy he was traded from Cincinnati for handled annually. Zachry was no Tom Seaver — not that this wasn’t common knowledge by 1981 — but he overcame four walks to keep the Cubs scoreless through five-and-two-thirds, setting the stage for one out from Tom Hausman and nine from Neil Allen.

43. APRIL 1, 2013 (S/H): NYM 11 SDP 2
It’s the Opening Day that follows Superstorm Sandy and the Sandy Hook shootings. The Metropolitan Area could use a lift in spirits after the grimmest of offseasons. Jon Niese does what he can. With Johan Santana sidelined and R.A. Dickey traded, Niese is designated ace and performs like it: 6.2 IP, 2 ER. The Met born the day the Mets won the World Series gets some championship-level support from a couple of understudies, as Collin Cowgill whacks a grand slam, while 31-year-old rookie Scott Rice tosses a scoreless ninth.

42. APRIL 12, 1999 (H): NYM 8 FLA 1
It was the fourth time in six years that the first pitch of the National League season in New York flew from the right hand of Bobby Jones. Given his familiarity with the festivities, it’s no wonder Jones felt comfortable enough to send one ball flying. The Mets’ starter launched the game’s only home run, off Livàn Hernandez, in the fifth, giving himself a 2-1 lead that his teammates would increase before the inning was out. The Bobbys were out in full force for this Home Opener. On the mound, Bobby Jones went seven innings and gave up only run. In the dugout, Bobby Valentine was raising the Mets’ record to 6-2. And at the center of a heartwarming story, Bronx native Bobby Bonilla received an affectionate welcome home for his second Met go-round from the 52,000-plus at Shea. Bobby Bo returned the love by recording three hits and scoring a pair of runs.

41. APRIL 7, 1977 (S): NYM 5 CHI 3
Tom Seaver starts for the Mets for the tenth consecutive Opening Day. The three-time Cy Young winner pitches seven strong innings. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever will be? Sigh. Someday, Seaver would pitch an eleventh Opening Day for the Mets. On Opening Day 1977 at Wrigley Field, that wouldn’t seem remarkable. By Opening Day 1978, it would seem inconceivable. What a difference June 15, 1977, made. But let’s stay in early April and consider just how inextricably tied is Seaver to opening Mets seasons. He is linked not just by showing up but by excelling. Take Tom’s eleven season-opening starts, plus the one time he pitched a Home Opener after the Mets began their year on the road. In those twelve appearances, when he never pitched fewer than five innings, Seaver’s ERA was 1.91. The Mets won nine times, with Seaver notching seven wins. He was no-decisioned five times, meaning Tom never incurred any kind of Opening Day loss as a Met. Four times he went unscored upon, and never gave up more than three runs in any of his dozen outings. He provided 1-0 records for Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, Joe Frazier and George Bamberger. Every manager knew there was no better way to start a season than handing the ball to No. 41.

40. APRIL 5, 2010 (S/H): NYM 7 FLA 1
David Wright homers to right, indicating maybe Citi Field won’t be a hex on him in its sophomore season. Johan Santana goes six, indicating maybe he will make it through the year. Below the marquee, the identity of several of the participants raise eyebrows. Mike Jacobs and Gary Matthews, Jr., are in the lineup after extended Met hiatuses; Alex Cora holds Jose Reyes’s place until the sparkplug shortstop’s recovery from injury is deemed complete; Long Island’s own Frank Catalanotto, entering his fourteenth season, pinch-hits; and Luis Castillo, who dropped a pop fly using one hand the previous June, is still the second baseman. Yet the Mets win easily. Maybe massively disappointing 2009 doesn’t have to be a leading indicator of future trends.

39. APRIL 1, 2002 (S/H): NYM 6 PIT 2
The offseason overhaul designed to return the Mets to the playoffs was on full display this Opening Day. Robbie Alomar, on a Hall of Fame path, was at second base. Mo Vaughn, after a year of inactivity, played first. Jeromy Burnitz and Roger Cedeño returned from the Met past to constitute two-thirds of the outfield. Jeromy in left and Roger in right flanked Jay Payton, the center fielder who bashed the season’s first home run. Al Leiter, making his third season-opening start as a Met, kept the Bucs at bay for six innings. Armando Benitez finished the game mostly without incident. On this first post-9/11 Opening Day, Art Garfunkel offered a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “God Bless America”. The Mets were undefeated. God bless the 2002 Mets. God bless us all, everyone.

38. APRIL 9, 1976 (S/H), NYM 3 MON 2
Tom Seaver and Skip Lockwood scatter eight hits and strike out eleven Expos. Jerry Grote knocks in Del Unser in the second, Bud Harrelson doubles home both Unser and Grote in the fourth. Heretofore minor league lifer Joe Frazier — eight different affiliates over ten seasons for a trio of organizations — has never before managed in the majors, yet as of this day, with his players performing to his specifications, there is no denying that Joe Frazier is as perfect a Mets manager as has ever been.

37. APRIL 13, 2015 (H): NYM 2 PHI 0
When the Mets dropped their fifth game of the season to lower their record to 2-3, it’s unlikely anybody realized it was the 22nd time in club history that the Mets had gotten off to exactly such a start. Yet when the 2015 Mets won their sixth game and evened their mark en route to their Home Opener, the collective memory recalled the 1986 Mets were once upon a time 2-3 before getting very serious about dominating their division. Those Mets turned 2-3 to 3-3, then 13-3, and eventually everything. These Mets not quite thirty years later entered their season with humbler expectations, but any harbinger was a good harbinger, and after Jacob deGrom and three relievers combined to shut out the Phillies, it couldn’t help but be noted by wishful thinkers throughout Metsopotamia that at 4-3, the 2015 Mets were tracing their 1986 forebears’ journey to a tee. (And, lo and behold, nine games later, the 2015 Mets were 13-3.)

36. APRIL 17, 1968 (H): NYM 3 SFG 0
Prior to 1968, the Mets had not only never won on Opening Day, they’d never even won their Home Opener in seasons when they’d started their season on the road. Gil Hodges came along and at least one of those situations changed immediately. Following a 2-3 road trip that wound down with a 24-inning 1-0 loss inside the suffocating offensive confines of Astrodome, the Mets began revising their first-chapter history ASAP, shutting out the ever-dangerous Giants at Shea in front of more than 52,000 fans. Six years of getting off on the wrong foot home and/or away will stoke a lot of appetites for a taste of success. There was no better chef to cook up this morsel than Jerry Koosman, who had shut down the Dodgers in L.A. the week before. After two starts, the rookie lefty who hadn’t much impressed across nine 1967 appearances had logged eighteen innings and an ERA of 0.00. In fact, after six games, Mets pitchers had given up all of six earned runs. It was shaping up as a great year to be a pitcher and, for once, maybe, not a bad year to be the Mets.

35. APRIL 12, 1988 (H): NYM 3 MON 0
The twentieth anniversary of The Year of the Pitcher was observed with nine innings of silence from Expo bats, all of them induced by Ron Darling, whose five-hit shutout at the outset of the home schedule started a trend that looked familiar to anybody who remembered how Jerry Koosman got 1968 at Shea off to a similarly quiet start. Bobby Ojeda followed Darling by tossing another shutout versus Montreal the next day, and Doc Gooden blanked the Cardinals for a rain-shortened shutout the day after that. During the Home Opener itself, Darryl Strawberry respectfully interrupted the meditative mood by blasting his fourth homer of the young season in the fourth. Howard Johnson drove in a couple of runs himself, suggesting that for the multitalented Mets, 1988 would be a year of hitters as well as pitchers.

34. APRIL 6, 2004 (S): NYM 7 ATL 2
Starting in right field for the visiting New York Mets was Karim Garcia. Had a lefthander been pitching for the Braves, the right fielder would have been Shane Spencer. Had the winter lived up to Mets fans’ fondest hopes, however, Vladimir Guerrero would have been out there regardless of pitcher. Guerrero was a free agent who dwelled on the market a surprisingly long time and the Mets were seen as having a genuine chance to swoop in and grab the all-world Expo. Instead, Vlad signed with the Angels and the Mets made do with a couple of Plan B types. With fondest hopes dashed, there was no particular hope for the Mets when the season began, yet when hyped leadoff man Kaz Matsui — signed from Japan and installed at shortstop despite the presence of promising Jose Reyes (who, in turn, hurt his hamstrings before he could acclimate to second base) — homered on the very first pitch he saw in North America…well, there was still no particular hope for the 2004 Mets, but it never hurts to jump out to a quick lead.

33. APRIL 6, 1973 (S/H): NYM 3 PHI 0
POWs released from North Vietnam throw out the ceremonial first pitches. Cleon Jones blasts the first two home runs off Steve Carlton. Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw deliver combined five-hit peace with honor.

32. APRIL 1, 2007 (S): NYM 6 STL 1
Nope, it wasn’t Game Eight. The 2006 National League Championship Series wasn’t tied at four apiece. Nothing could be done about the set of games that motivated ESPN to insist the Cardinals host the Mets on a Sunday night in what they could bill as a pennant rematch. The pennant match was all that mattered in terms of the year before. That one belonged to St. Louis, as did the spoils of victory, which the Redbirds didn’t at all mind showing off at Busch Stadium (they wore gold-trimmed uniforms, for cryin’ out loud). All the Mets could do was get 2007 off to a better start, and they did so by taking it to the home team on national cable television. “Take that, defending world champion creeps,” it was collectively muttered through clenched teeth back east. The Mets were 1-0. The Cardinals were 0-1. That they were respectively 3-4 and 4-3 the last time they came together was immaterial. The result from 2006 wouldn’t be forgotten, but we were reminded that new years can’t be pestered into perpetuity by their predecessors. They are, after all, new.

31. APRIL 3, 2000 (H): NYM 2 SDP 1
Technically, the 2000 Mets had already played a home game before taking the field at Shea Stadium for the first time in the new century. They and the Cubs split a series in Tokyo, March 29-30, with the Mets serving as home team in the season Opener, and Chicago batting last the next day. But everybody in New York who rose at 5:00 AM to witness international baseball history understood a neutral site when they saw it. Somewhat caught up on sleep, 52,308 filed into Shea to partake of the great American tradition of a Home Opener actually played at home. Al Leiter, who stayed behind during the Mets’ trip to Japan in order to remain fresh, threw eight five-hit innings that ensured a bright-eyed afternoon in Flushing. Two imports (from other teams, that is) gave Al the two runs he needed for the win: new first baseman Todd Zeile, with a sac fly, and new right fielder Derek Bell, with a solo homer off Donne Wall.

30. APRIL 15, 1972 (S/H): NYM 4 PIT 0
What could the Mets do but play on? There had been a strike to lop six games off the front end of the schedule, but the dispute was settled and it was time to go to work. For twenty-three other teams, it was some semblance of business as usual. For the Mets, though, it couldn’t help but be the saddest of Opening Days because we weren’t two weeks removed from the death of Gil Hodges. Gil suffered a fatal heart attack in Florida on April 2, just as the players were walking off the job. Turmoil crossed paths with mourning. On April 6, the day Hodges was buried in Brooklyn, the Mets announced Yogi Berra will succeed perhaps the most revered figure New York sports had ever known and, oh by the way, they traded Mike Jorgensen, Tim Foli and Ken Singleton for Rusty Staub. The strike would be settled a week later and, two days after that, it was play ball. “I don’t feel he’s gone, in a sense,” Bud Harrelson admitted. The Mets declared Hodges’s No. 14 would be retired (the ceremony came the following year) and trimmed their jerseys with a black armband. The rest was, indeed, playing ball. Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw pitched a shutout.. Ed Kranepool drove in three runs. Berra, in a job he never sought, had a win. Life and baseball were going on.

29. MARCH 28, 2019 (S): NYM 2 WAS 0
The most intriguing figure introduced at Nationals Park might have been a player already recognized by his nickname before taking part in a single major league baseball game. But when you’re known as the Polar Bear, word gets around. Pete Alonso’s presence was a victory in itself, given ballclubs’ tendency to hold back promising rookies in the name of preserving service time, but this Bear was there in the lineup, alongside the most recent National League Cy Young awardee, Jacob deGrom, who had managed to win pitching’s premiere piece of hardware before ever receiving the honor of pitching on Opening Day. DeGrom picked up where his 1.70 earned run average from 2018 left off, shutting out the Nats for six innings. The Mets notched two runs off Cyworthy opponent Max Scherzer, though they’d need only the first one, which was delivered in the first inning by highly decorated acquisition Robinson Cano. The last out was nailed down by Edwin Diaz, the ballyhooed closer who accompanied Cano from Seattle in the Met winter’s noisiest transaction. The big picture conceived by new GM Brodie Van Wagenen — one that featured elevating Alonso (1-for-4), locking down deGrom (he’d just signed a five-year, $137.5 million contract) and giving up top prospect Jared Kelenic to secure Cano and Diaz — was going exactly according to plan.

28. MARCH 31, 2008 (S): NYM 7 FLA 2
Six months earlier, the Mets’ season ended bitterly and, by the reckoning of everybody filling Shea Stadium that final afternoon of 2007, prematurely despite the presence of a two-time Cy Young-winning lefty on the mound for the home team. That southpaw, T#m Gl@v!ne, went figuratively south at the worst possible juncture and then literally south during the offseason, back where he came from, to Atlanta. He wasn’t missed in the slightest, but the Mets needed a replacement. They pursued one in the form of another two-time Cy Young-winning lefty. He wasn’t easily gotten, but he did get got. Thus, six months later, south of Shea, and south of Atlanta, stood Johan Santana in a Mets uniform on the mound for the visitors at what was then called Dolphins Stadium. Once you absorbed that stunning image, honestly, everything else was details.

27. APRIL 8, 1982 (S): NYM 7 PHI 2
The Mets had the 1977 MVP in left and the 1976 Cy Young winner on the mound. Was this any way to start 1982? As a matter of fact, it was. After withstanding a winter storm-impelled postponement of a couple of days, the snow was cleared from the Veterans Stadium carpet, and the Mets’ old guns took aim at a brighter future. Randy Jones lasted six innings, giving up one run. George Foster doubled home Bob Bailor in his first at-bat. The ice age that had defined the Mets for the previous five seasons was showing signs of melting.

26. APRIL 3, 2017 (S/H): NYM 6 ATL 0
Coming off back-to-back playoff appearances, the Mets do what they’ve been doing for the better part of two years. They win. To do so, they have to overcome the potentially karmic presence of former fan favorites Anthony Recker, R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon in the visitors’ dugout (all draw cheers when introduced, especially Bart) and, more dauntingly, the six shutout innings thrown by perennial nemesis Julio Teheran. But they have Noah Syndergaard going six scoreless and, come the seventh, they tear apart another erstwhile Met, Eric O’Flaherty (who received no discernible pregame applause but we sure love that he ended Day One with an ERA of 54.00). The most favored hometown hero of the age, Wilmer Flores, has quite a game practically all at once, entering as a pinch-hitter for Hansel Robles in the seventh with the score nothing-nothing and René Rivera on first; replacing Rivera as a baserunner on a fielder’s choice grounder; stealing second while Jose Reyes bats, despite being the polar opposite of Reyes speedwise; getting called out at home on Asdrubal Cabrera’s single to center after Reyes walks; being called safe at home when Terry Collins’s replay challenge yields the desired reversal; eventually batting a second time in the inning he pinch-hit for the pitcher, making him the eight de facto designated hitter in Mets history; and, with the score six-nothing, producing the third out of the seventh on his second consecutive ground ball.

25. APRIL 8, 1991 (S/H): NYM 2 PHI 1
Dwight Gooden strikes out seven Phillies in eight innings. Hubie Brooks, in his encore year, takes home on the front end of a double steal. It’s 89 degrees on April 8. What would be the point of the Mets losing when nature greets them so warmly?

24. APRIL 6, 2009 (S): NYM 2 CIN 1
Eager to erase the emotions attached to losing the last-ever game at Shea Stadium, the 2009 Mets traveled to Cincinnati one week before inaugurating Citi Field and did their best to usher in a new era. Daniel Murphy, the starting left fielder, homered and drove in another run besides. The bullpen’s back end of Sean Green, J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez was not only new but legitimately improved; they combined on three-and-third scoreless innings behind Johan Santana. Next year had indeed arrived. On Day One, it’s all anyone can ask for.

23. APRIL 11, 2005 (H): NYM 8 HOU 4
Not pitching in the 2005 Home Opener didn’t prevent Pedro Martinez from emerging as the star of the show. The season was already all about Pedro, a surefire Hall of Famer bringing his star with him from Boston. He’d been masterful on Opening Day in Cincinnati before Braden Looper blew his lead. He’d halted his team’s vexing five-game losing streak by outdueling John Smoltz in Atlanta. He brushed off talk that he oughta be at Fenway for the raising of the 2004 World Series flag he’d helped earn them after 86 years of waiting. Martinez had changed the collective outlook of Mets fans from morose to ecstatic. No wonder, then, that when an electronic malfunction on an advertisement in dead center messed with the batter’s eye ahead of the sixth inning, it was Pedro’s face that beamed from the billboard…and it was Pedro who came out of the dugout to offer a little dance for the fans’ amusement. Of course they cheered. His participation on a day when he didn’t play only added to the zestful atmosphere. “I was just having fun with the moment,” Pedro said, who could have just as easily been describing his impact on the campaign’s early days. Incidentally, the Mets scored five in the eighth to come from behind for a rousing victory.

22. APRIL 6, 2015 (S): NYM 3 WAS 1
Bartolo Colon, eventually the last ex-Expo extant, takes on the ex-Expos in the capital of the nation directly south of Canada and turns back the clock as only he could — like clockwork. The 41-year-old pitches like another 41 tended to on Opening Day, scattering three hits and allowing but one run over six innings. Max Scherzer, who Bryce Harper believes will win him a ring, is effective but not so lucky, giving up three unearned runs to the Mets over seven-and-two-thirds. The one that puts the Mets ahead to stay is brought home by David Wright, playing in his eleventh consecutive Opener, tying Buddy Harrelson’s franchise record. The final out is recorded by Buddy Carlyle, 37, who first pitched in the majors in 1999 but had never participated in a season’s first game until now.

21. APRIL 9, 2007 (H): NYM 11 PHI 5
Gametime temperature was 44 degrees, yet the anticipation was hot not to mention heavy among the 56,227 who crammed Shea to push the Mets a couple of steps beyond where they’d landed the previous October, when their journey to a world championship ended in the seventh game of the NLCS. Their assumed ascension was rudely interrupted by Ryan Howard’s three-run bomb off Ambiorix Burgos in the top of the sixth, but a seven-run explosion in the home eighth — facilitated by a graciously received Jimmy Rollins error — reassured the throng that 2007’s championship script would be followed thoroughly.

20. APRIL 8, 1986 (S): NYM 4 PIT 2
Dwight Gooden was almost untouchable in 1985. It was perfectly reasonable to project a deletion of the word “almost” from the vocabulary applied to the good Doctor as he entered 1986. Instead, he gave up a leadoff homer to R.J. Reynolds in the bottom of the first at Three Rivers Stadium. Perhaps 1986 wouldn’t go as smoothly as 1985 had for Dr. K. Still, it’s worth noting, the Mets had already staked Gooden to a 2-0 lead by the time he faced his first batter and, when Opening Night in Pittsburgh was said and done, the man completed a six-hit victory. Perhaps 1986 would go more smoothly than 1985 for the Mets overall.

19. APRIL 5, 2012 (S/H): NYM 1 ATL 0
“KID 8” goes up on the left field wall alongside the Mets’ 50th anniversary logo to commemorate the February passing of Gary Carter. In another sign of the times, Johan Santana returns from a year of Tommy John rehab to go five scoreless. Speaking of 5, David Wright drives in the first run of the season and only run of the game in the sixth. New closer Frank Francisco makes it hold up under a chilly sun.

18. APRIL 7, 1978 (S/H): NYM 3 MON 1
As of 1978, the last time Tom Seaver didn’t start on Opening Day for the New York Mets, Don Cardwell did. Also as of 1978, Don Cardwell was retired from baseball for more than seven years. Yes, in 1978, the Mets would have to find somebody to do something they’d continuously relied on one man to do for a decade worth of Opening Days. Good thing they didn’t have to look far. Jerry Koosman, 35 years old, had been the quintessential No. 2 starter for the Mets throughout Seaver’s tenure as Met ace. Kooz had been bumped up to ace the previous June by default, but perhaps it didn’t fully sink in to the Mets fan psyche until Opening Day 1978 that the role was all his because now, for the first time in a career that stretched back to 1967, he was starting on Opening Day. How would Jerry Koosman handle the one undeniable task that comes with being ace for a team that doesn’t have a pennant race or a playoff game in its immediate future? He handled it like an ace, which is to say he handled it like Seaver, throwing a complete game eight-hitter and lifting the Mets to a 1-0 record. This kid from Minnesota? He might just make it after all.

17. APRIL 3, 2001 (S): NYM 6 ATL 4 (10)
Was there a nicer Met than Robin Ventura? Was there more poetic justice than Robin roughing up that schmuck John Rocker with a lefty-on-lefty crime on Opening Night at Turner Field, taking him deep for a go-ahead homer in the eighth? And when the pen couldn’t hold it, how about that same nice Met Robin Ventura lashing another homer, this one off Kerry Ligtenberg? Two Braves closers, yet neither could shut a damn thing. Mets win in ten. As importantly, Braves lose in ten.

16. APRIL 8, 2016 (H): NYM 7 PHI 2
Was sending the Mets on the road to begin a pennant-defending campaign any way to treat a league champion? On the road to an American League ballpark? To Kansas City to bear witness to the team that defeated them in the previous World Series congratulate themselves? Not only was this some bizarre scheduling (the Mets had never before opened in an Interleague affair), it was just lousy logistics. ESPN wanted the Mets at Royals for its Sunday night lidlifter. Then there was an off day. Then there was the second game of the season. Then there were two off days. Can’t anybody here plan these games? Finally, after a week with barely any baseball, came a sense of normalcy blended with a touch of the extraordinary. Up on the right field terrace, three National League champions of yore — Rusty Staub, John Franco and Edgardo Alfonzo, added the 2015 flag to the pole already sporting the 1973 and 2000 models. Then the 2016 Mets endeavored to embellish the occasion, hanging seven runs in support of Jacob deGrom’s six effective innings. Those looked pretty good flapping in the wind, too.

15. APRIL 3, 2006 (S/H): NYM 3 WAS 2
Live from New York, it’s SNY! The cable network that took fledgling flight a few weeks earlier was now on the air for real, broadcasting its first game that counted to a cable- and satellite-subscribing public yearning for the Mets to become unmissable prime time programming. Technical glitches aside, SportsNet New York delivered to its audience two unmatchable assets: a booth consisting of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, and a team demonstrating it was poised to be must-see TV. New right fielder Xavier Nady enjoyed the strongest debut of all, going 4-for-4, but the key daytime drama for viewers came in the top of the eighth with the visiting Nats at bat and trailing by one. After singling versus Aaron Heilman to lead off the inning, Alfonso Soriano raced from first on Ryan Zimmerman’s double to left. Cliff Floyd chased the ball down and fired it to Jose Reyes. Reyes relayed it strongly to Paul Lo Duca. Soriano was still racing. In addition to replacing Mike Piazza, PLD was now charged with making the defensive play that would preserve the lead better than Heilman had. That goal he achieved instantly, putting down a tag on Soriano, according to first base umpire Tim Tschida, who ran over to make the call that could be argued yet not effectively disproven. SNY’s cameras revealed Lo Duca didn’t necessarily maintain control of the ball, but as the new Met catcher put it later, “Just show it and sell it.” That’s exactly what Lo Duca did. He grabbed the ball after dropping it, waved it at Tschida, and that served as proof enough eight years before managers could demand video replay challenges.

14. APRIL 13, 1982 (H): NYM 5 PHI 1
Mets fans had to see for themselves the two gaudiest upgrades any winter had ever brought to Shea: George Foster and DiamondVision. Both had immeasurably spruced up left field. Foster was an RBI champ of the first degree. DiamondVision was the big screen where George’s myriad big hits could be replayed to continual applause. That was the idea, anyway. Their mutual debut went well enough. With more than 40,000 in attendance —the most for a Home Opener since the World Championship flag rose in 1970 — Randy Jones replicated his solid outing from the season Opener in Philadelphia, while Dave Kingman added depth of the most crowdpleasing kind, belting a three-run homer off Steve Carlton in the fifth inning. Foster (1-for-3 with a walk) scored in front of him and video was readily available for mass consumption.

13. APRIL 9, 2001 (H): NYM 9 ATL 4
Out beyond the center field wall, Shea sported a new feature: a flagpole able to accommodate multiple World Series and National League pennants. How convenient, considering the Mets had a brand new one to add to their collection. Joining the fabric from 1969, 1973 and 1986 (which were usually kept in storage) was the 2000 flag, captured the previous October. Raised with great ceremony by two Met legends — Mr. Met and Ralph Kiner — the 2001 Mets commenced their attempt to defend their championship quite successfully. Mike Piazza homered twice. Tsuyoshi Shinjo, whose orange hair and wristbands were hard to miss, homered in his New York debut. Kevin Appier notched his first Met win and the Mets’ record of 3-4 was, at the very least, a half-game better than that of the rival Braves. Was it too much to think they’d need more room on that flagpole soon?

12. APRIL 7, 1987 (S/H): NYM 3 PIT 2
The Mets’ most consistent starting pitcher from 1986 was on the mound and throwing seven sturdy innings, yet you couldn’t escape the sensation that something was off. Bobby Ojeda had definitely earned an Opening Day assignment, but he shouldn’t have received this one. This was Doc Gooden’s stage. But Doc missed his mark in 1987. He was appearing off camera, in a drug rehabilitation facility. Ojeda did his part, but the star turn fell to Dwight’s comrade in arms, Darryl Strawberry. Make that legs. Straw donned the Doctor’s uniform pants (his way of walking a mile in his friend’s shoes) and ripped a three-run, first-inning homer that reminded one and all how mighty the Mets had been the year before and how awesome they projected to be this year. The World Series rings and the World Champions banner did that, too. It was festive, all right. It just wasn’t precisely what it was intended to be.

11. APRIL 4, 1988 (S): NYM 10 MON 6
The Mets had never opened in Montreal before, so it was fitting, perhaps, that they learned a new phrase while playing in the province of Quebec. We all learned it, actually: tension ring. Use it in a sentence. “Darryl Strawberry’s home run at Olympic Stadium traveled so far, it struck the tension ring just below the roof in right field.” Which home run? He hit two. The blast in question, which soared an estimated 525 feet (or 160 meters), was the one Darryl let loose on Canada in the seventh. It was but one of six Met home runs on the day. Kevin McReynolds accounted for two, Kevin Elster and Lenny Dykstra one apiece. At the time, it made for a math as well as language lesson, as the Mets had never before hit that many homers in one game. The things a person can learn on Opening Day.

10. APRIL 7, 1970 (S): NYM 5 PIT 3 (11)
Once upon a time, the Mets were so bad that they couldn’t wait to start losing, so they’d lose the first chance they got. They lost that way in their first year and their second year and so on, clear through to their eighth year. Their eighth year, 1969, would be different from all the years before it — it would be different from just about every year anybody had ever experienced — but the start was the same. The Mets lost at the beginning. They lost at Shea to the Montreal Expos, a team that hadn’t even existed until that very Opening Day. Come the ninth year, it was time to eschew the last of their chronic losing. It took eleven innings. It took a world championship in their back pocket. It took Donn Clendenon’s bases-loaded single, but it finally took. In 1970, the Mets were Opening Day winners for the first time. Five decades later, with the Mets virtually synonymous with Opening Day triumph, it’s almost incomprehensible that winning right out of the gate was once the Met exception and not the blessed rule.

9. APRIL 5, 1979 (S): NYM 10 CHI 6
You have to squint really hard at the end of this one. The Mets, led by an itinerant character named Richie Hebner, have built a lavish lead of 10 to 3. It’s another feelgood Mets Opening Day win in the making at Wrigley Field. The Mets have won seven of their last eight season Openers. This rich history is about to be enhanced by Hebner’s 4-for-5, even if he doesn’t at all wish to be a Met. A rookie named Kelvin Chapman (we’re sure who he is because for the first time the Mets have added names to the backs of their players’ jerseys) records his initial career hits. Everybody in Metland is happy, give or take Hebner. Except the Mets, being the Mets of this era, are in the process of giving away a seven-run lead in the ninth inning. It gets to be 10-4, then it gets to be 10-6, and the Cubs are bringing up their best hitter. To keep the day from unraveling further, manager Joe Torre goes to someone even more unknown than Kelvin Chapman, a lefthanded rookie pitcher who wasn’t expected to make the club. And this is where we squint, because the Cubs hitter is Bill Buckner and the Mets pitcher is Jesse Orosco, and from the vantage point of the distant future, we’re sure we’ve seen them in another setting, playing key roles in determining the outcome of something even bigger than Opening Day. In the present of 1979, however, it’s clear what’s going on: 21-year-old Orosco — so new to the Mets he doesn’t get a uniform with his name emblazoned on its back (or his assigned number; he wears 61 for just this one day) — gets a fly ball out of Buckner. The Mets win the game and the present is secured. As for the future as we will come to know it, the one that involves Buckner, Orosco and bigger things…well, it will just have to wait for now.

8. APRIL 6, 1992 (S): NYM 6 STL 4 (10)
“At this pace” is the currency of first games, so let’s go with the exchange rate that serves as every season Opener’s coin of the realm. At this pace, the Mets will go 162-0. At this pace, Bobby Bonilla will hit 324 home runs. At this pace, Bobby Bonilla will be a hero every day and night of 1992. At this pace, Bobby Bonilla will be the most beloved New York Met ever. At this pace, Bobby Bonilla will rescue the Mets from a tie game in one tenth inning after another. At this pace, Bobby Bonilla’s free agent contract will go down as the greatest bargain in franchise history. At this pace, it’s best to take them one game at a time. But still, for one Opening Night in St. Louis, Bobby Bonilla of the New York Mets set quite a pace.

7. APRIL 5, 1993 (S/H): NYM 3 COL 0
It fell upon the Mets to shepherd two opponents into full National League being. The first was in 1969, the Montreal Expos. The Expos did not cooperate to the Mets’ liking. They planted their flag at Shea Stadium and — sacre bleu! — outslugged Les Mets, 11-10. Twenty-four years later, the Mets were shepherds with a greater sense of self-interest. The Colorado Rockies were born in the Mets’ midst and the Mets made sure they came into this world kicking and screaming but not winning. The Doctor spanked the new baby just to make sure everything was working correctly. The infant Rockies were too little to touch Dr. K the brisk April afternoon of their birth. Ol’ Doc Gooden went the distance on a four-hitter. Three other star players of impeccable credentials — Tony Fernandez, Eddie Murray and Bobby Bonilla — each drove in a run. The Rockies learned their lesson to not mess with the big, bad Mets just yet. So it was a great day for the home fans at Shea to watch a new team take shape and lose to a fully established enterprise. Of course the best was yet to come after Opening Day 1969, whereas in 1993, the best was first to go. Ah, you can never tell what you might pick up from playing with a newborn.

6. AUGUST 10, 1981 (S-2nd): NYM 7 CHI 5 (13)
Reset! Just like that, the Mets were 0-0 again. It took a 50-day strike and a Solomonic settlement with more than a dash of Rube Goldberg in its execution, but it worked to the Metsies’ advantage, so kiss your asterisk goodbye. The Mets stopped being 17-34 when baseball resumed in 1981. They crawled through a river of labor unrest and came out clean on the other side. It was a new season come August 10, and a new season can only commence with an Opening Day. And this Opening Day at Wrigley was as delightfully dizzying as any the Mets have played. Mookie scores on a balk. Buckner ties it on a homer. We go to an eleventh inning, and it’s the Revenge of Kong as ex-Cub Dave Kingman clubs a three-run homer for his formerly old team against his recently old team. And now all that has to happen is Neil Allen preserving a three-run lead. But he can’t do it. Maybe Ray Searage can…no, he can’t. On comes Dyar Miller (Dyar Miller’s still active in 1981?) and off goes Bobby Bonds with a game-tying double (Bobby Bonds is still active in 1981?). In the twelfth, Mike Jorgensen singles home Hubie Brooks, but Miller can’t stand that strand of prosperity, either. So it’s 5-5 in the thirteenth. Lynn McGlothlen (Lynn McGlothlen’s…yes, yes, he, too, is still active in 1981) gives up a pair of runs. As it’s all hands on deck, Joe Torre calls on ambidextrous Greg Harris to slam the door. He needs both hands after allowing runners on first and third, but ultimately, Ken Reitz flies out to Mookie and, kooky as it sounds in the second week of August, the Mets are 1-0 and all alone in first place.

5. MARCH 31, 1998 (S/H): NYM 1 PHI 0 (14)
First, it’s fun. Natch, it’s fun. It’s Opening Day. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s impossibly beautiful weather. It’s actually hot — it’s March 31 yet it’s nearly 90 degrees in Queens. What fun! Fine pitching on both sides, Bobby Jones for the Mets, Curt Schilling for the Phillies. It’s fun to watch them breeze through hitter after hitter. More fun to watch Jones do it, but game recognizes game. Jones leaves after six. The Mets’ bullpen maintains their side of the shutout. Schilling just keeps cruising…through six, through seven, through eight. It’s 0-0 in the ninth. And now it’s the tenth, and while baseball is still fun and Opening Day is still a holiday, it’s less about buoyancy and warmth and more about shadows and uneasiness. Is anybody gonna score? More specifically, are the Mets are ever going to score? Are they going to score before the Phillies will? After more than four hours and more than thirteen innings, it’s less fun than unbearable. The good kind of “it’s not winter anymore” unbearable, but not as pleasant as a win would be. We’ve sat here too long to go home with anything less. So we go to fourteen. Turk Wendell, Bobby Valentine’s sixth pitcher of the day, has escaped damage in the top of the inning. Ricky Bottalico, on since the twelfth, stays in for the welcome-overstaying visitors. Matt Franco and Brian McRae turn into baserunners. Bernard Gilkey joins them. Two outs are made. It’s all up to the Mets’ last position player, Alberto Castillo, to pinch-hit. Castillo’s the backup catcher to Tim Spehr, the backup catcher to Todd Hundley, who’s out till July. Tell Castillo to get this day done lest he and/or Spehr go down hard. They call Castillo “Bambi,” as in short for Bambino. It’s an ironic nickname. There’s a reason Alberto Castillo can’t beat out Tim Spehr for the temporary starting job and it probably has something to do with his batting .203 the year before. But that was the year before. This is the year we’ve got now and in it, Alberto “Bambi” Castillo produces a ground ball that finds the narrowest of pathways between first and second, and that sends McRae comes dashing home. The Mets win. 1-0. in 14. It’s not so warm anymore. But it will always be remembered as a ton of fun.

4. APRIL 1, 1996 (S/H): NYM 7 STL 6
If expectations aren’t as sky-high as they were one decade earlier, they reach at least Mezzanine levels after the way the Mets surged to finished 1995 and cultivated young arms in St. Lucie. There’s no Bill Pulsipher in the house (injured) but Jason Isringhausen is back for his sophomore season and Paul Wilson has made the roster as a rookie. Yet before we can move onto Generation K, we have to endure what has become of the Lost Generation, a.k.a. Bobby Jones. Jones has looked pretty good since coming up to the Mets in 1993, but it isn’t working out today. The Cardinals rock his world. The Mets are behind 6-0, it’s spitting rain, it’s close to freezing and the figurative tomorrow of Izzy and Paul will have to wait until literally the day after tomorrow. In the meantime, we can distract ourselves with a home run from incumbent catcher Todd Hundley (6-2) and another from newcomer Bernard Gilkey (6-3). It’s doesn’t feel like a close game, but thankfully it doesn’t slip any further away in the top of the seventh when Royce Clayton attempts to score from second on Ray Lankford’s double to left. He should score. He ought to score. He’s absolutely going to score, except the rookie at short, Rey Ordoñez, takes Gilkey’s relay and — while on his frigging knees — fires to Hundley. Hundley tags Clayton out! OUT! Gray skies are gonna clear up, maybe. The bottom of the seventh thus yields the only available logical sequence of events: pinch-RBI from Chris Jones; infield RBI single by Lance Johnson; a Gilkey RBI to right; and a Rico Brogna sac fly. Huh? The Mets are winning 7-6? Bobby Jones is off the hook? The Mets are off the mat? Off their (if not Ordoñez’s) knees? The Mets are WINNING? So they are and so they do. And Isringhausen and Wilson are going later this week.

3. APRIL 8, 1975 (S/H): NYM 2 PHI 1
Besides it existing, what do we want out of Opening Day? As a rule, let’s say. We want the new guys to justify our excitement over coming to us and the old guys to justify our continuing allegiance to them. We want all these parts to mesh perfectly, like they’ve been a team forever, not just since camp. We want to be as certain as we can be that what we imagined as winter turned to spring is gonna function. We want our revamped lineup — Clines in left! Unser in center! Kingman in right! Torre at third! — to look as good on the field as it did on paper. And we want our ace on the hill and in control. Tom Seaver pitched more poorly than he ever had in 1974. Something about his hip, they said. He was our ace anyway, and he was on the hill. We needed him, desperately, to make like he was its king. Oh, Tom Seaver ruled, all right. He became the first Met to ever throw a nine-inning complete game on a season’s Opening Day: four hits, only one that drove in a run. Meanwhile, Dave Kingman, that power hitter we picked up from San Francisco (playing right in place of the aching Rusty Staub), made our close acquaintance just as we would have asked, with a home run that tied things up in the fourth. Seaver kept pitching and kept registering outs, nine via the K. Steve Carlton was his opponent and he kept pitching and pitching well, too. We headed to the bottom the ninth still wanting a little something more. One of our mainstays, Felix Millan, singled. Another of them, John Milner, walked. Finally, one of the arrivals, Torre — the Brooklyn boy long rumored to be coming to the Mets — singled. It was the Mets’ first hit with a runner in scoring position all day. It was the only one that was necessary. We got just enough of everything we wanted on Opening Day 1975.

2. APRIL 5, 1983 (S/H): NYM 2 PHI 0
If Opening Day had a crest, it would be a 4 and a 1 set against a silhouette of a perfect pitching form atop a perfect pitcher’s mound. The mound would be perfect because the perfect pitcher made everything better. On April 5, 1983, Tom Seaver, still bearing the form that used to make every season worth looking forward to that much more, reappeared on the Shea Stadium mound. In No. 41. In home whites. It was the first time in six years. It wasn’t just the appearing on the mound that was Terrific, though. It was the long walk to get there, first from all those years when we had never seen him be anything but a Met (and when he was our Opening Day starter ten years in a row); then from Cincinnati (where he charitably brought his genius to total strangers, as if doing missionary work for greatness-deprived Midwesterners); then, finally, from the right field bullpen, where he loosened up to resume his legend where it belonged. Reaching the mound was a must, but the walk itself proved pretty memorable. The crowd heard he was “Number 41,” but couldn’t catch his name because they roared like a flight rising from the runways of LaGuardia. They didn’t need to catch his name. The only catching that needed to be done was by Ron Hodges, who caught Seaver in 1983 just as he had done as Met backup in the heart of the 1970s. The public address announcer never mentioned Tom’s name, come to think of it. Once “41” was uttered, 46,000 figured out the rest. The rest? After his return to mound was fully witnessed, the rest could have been an anticlimax, but that wouldn’t have been the Seaver way. The ace of aces struck out Pete Rose to begin things and proceeded to go six scoreless, leaving only when he felt a leg stiffening. The run that broke the 0-0 tie he bequeathed to Doug Sisk scored in the seventh. It came off ubiquitous Opening Day opponent Steve Carlton and was driven in by Mike Howard, who would never play for the Mets again after the first game of 1983. Howard became a footnote to Franchise lore for timing his lone RBI of the season so perfectly. Perfection was surely in the air that day.

1. APRIL 9, 1985 (S/H): NYM 6 STL 5 (10)
A rather famous baseball player came along in the 1980s and declared an intention to announce his presence with authority. His name was Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, hard-throwing righty phenom for the purely cinematic version of the Durham Bulls. Nuke, however, wasn’t saying anything that hadn’t already been said a few years earlier, albeit with less of an explicitly self-aggrandizing edge by someone who was in a better position to walk the talk.

Gary Carter loomed as a game changer. He all but promised he’d be a game changer. After the Mets exchanged four young players of considerable promise to have him change their game, he stood up at a press conference, pointed to his right ring finger and said he was saving it for the World Series rock he planned to win in New York.

How’s that for announcing one’s presence with authority?

It would become something of a teamwide tic for the mid-’80s Mets to let you know what they were going to do before they could possibly do it. Carter may have set the trend in December 1984. He definitely showed the Mets were set on being a team of their word come April 1985.

Gary Carter was a game changer before he ever played a game as a Met. He wasn’t imported à la George Foster to make the Mets respectable. The Mets respected themselves plenty in 1984. They won 90 games without the benefit of a massive offensive superstar. Foster wasn’t that anymore. Darryl Strawberry wasn’t that yet. Keith Hernandez was wily and able and as clutch as they came, but he needed a companion piece. A massive offensive superstar…and then some.

Gary Carter was that guy. He was the catcher in the National League since the sun set on Johnny Bench. Despite the wear and tear crouching and blocking wrought, he led the league in runs batted in as an Expo in 1984. He’d been around for ten years, and though Montreal was, by its management’s own assessment, through as a title contender, Carter wasn’t.

He was what the Mets needed. He landed at Shea and in the Mets fan imagination as that proverbial last piece of the puzzle. The puzzle had only been unveiled in ’84, but here everybody was, frenzied to finish it.

Gary Carter made Mets fans view their team differently. Maybe for the first time ever, the Mets entered the upcoming season positioned not as a contender, but as a favorite. As the favorite in the National League East. There was Hernandez, who wasn’t getting any dumber. There was Strawberry, who was only going to get better. There was Foster, who had, if nothing else, reversed his disappointing trajectory since 1982. And there was all that pitching — Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling fronting the rotation, Jesse Orosco capping the bullpen.

And now to catch those pitchers and slug among those hitters: Gary Carter, superstar. With him, the thinking surrounding the Mets shifted perceptibly from “if” to “when”.

The thinking within the Mets began at the end of the 1983 season when Frank Cashen was engaged in conversation with his Expo counterpart, John McHale. Montreal’s perennially talented troupe had again come up shy of expectations. They were an expensive team not delivering sufficient value in their ownership’s eyes. Change was gonna have to come. And Cashen, being Cashen, let McHale know that if he was ever interested in moving his signature piece, the Mets would love to talk about it.

Come the offseason that followed 1984, the conversations between Montreal and New York began in earnest. Carter, more popular with Expos fans than Expos teammates (and stung by Expo owner Charles Bronfman’s comments that his long-term contract may have been a mistake), had let it be known he’d waive his no-trade clause if he were to land on a contender where he’d fit snugly. The teams he had in mind were the Braves, the Dodgers and the one he’d seen for himself improve by leaps and bounds in ’84 — the one on which he understood a sparkling personality like his could shine.

He informed the Expos he’d accept a trade to the Mets.

The talks between Cashen and McHale’s successor, Murray Cook, commenced. The Expos had needs. A catcher would have to replace Carter. Mike Fitzgerald could easily be that guy, at least in that he played the same position. They required a center fielder so Andre Dawson and his aching knees could switch to right. Mookie Wilson could have been that guy — the Mets dangled him — but the Expos preferred Herm Winningham, who hit .407 as a September callup. The Expos needed a shortstop, ideally with some pop, and whaddaya know, Hubie Brooks had suddenly become a shortstop in September.

Better yet, as December unfolded, the Mets had a new third baseman in the fold, having traded Walt Terrell to world champion Detroit for Howard Johnson. Brooks had been solid for the Mets for five seasons, but with Rafael Santana available to play short and with the man they called HoJo joining Ray Knight on the roster, they felt covered at third. The Expos could have Brooks. They could also have one of the many promising pitching prospects the Mets seemed to be growing as if they were weeds, Double-A righthander Floyd Youmans, a hard-throwing high school teammate of Gooden’s in Tampa.

So there was the package: Fitzgerald, Winningham, Brooks and Youmans for the most beloved baseball player in Canada since Rusty Staub. But the Expos sent Rusty Staub to the Mets once upon a time and they survived. The Mets once upon a time sent their most beloved baseball player away for four youngsters and they survived the Tom Seaver trade. The Expos consented to the Mets’ offer. Carter consented to the destination the Expos had arranged.

On December 10, 1984, word got out. Gary Carter was a New York Met. The game had been changed.

“The season should be starting tomorrow,” Carter told the media assembled at Shea Stadium for his hot stove introduction. His enthusiasm and optimism for what he called “the land of opportunity” proved infectious. The Mets sold more than a thousand season tickets in the two days following the announcement of his acquisition.

“Anybody who picked us right now would have to make us a top contender,” the new catcher in town projected. “And a team that could win the National League East. And a team that could go on to win the whole thing. We are on the verge.”

The sense Carter articulated permeated the rest of that winter, filtered into Spring Training — where the only comparable story was George Plimpton’s Sports Illustrated April 1 exclusive on LaLooshish Mets pitching prospect Sidd Finch — and grew ever more tangible as his official debut approached. There was as much anticipation packed into the countdown toward Opening Day 1985 as any there’s been for any Mets Opening Day. Dwight Gooden would be pitching to Gary Carter. Gary Carter would be batting after Keith Hernandez. Gary Carter would be batting before Darryl Strawberry.

How could the big day not beckon?

Kid, as Carter was known (though not always affectionately), turned 31 the day before his first game as a Met. His real celebration came in the company of 46,781 fans who were thrilled to pay for and attend that Tuesday game despite a cognitively dissonant chill in the air. This was to be the first Mets game Gary Carter would literally change. This was a day for heated expectation, for what Tim McCarver judged a “World Series atmosphere”.

Yet nothing was destined to come easy as 1985 got going. The Opening Day on which Gary Carter put his right ring finger where his mouth was unfolded as a frozen slog. Vice President George Bush showed up at Shea for ceremonial first-pitch duties, but it was too cold for Tampa native Gooden to get a good grip when the real game began. Still, Doc lasted into the seventh, leaving with a 5-2 lead. Foster (homer), Hernandez (a pair of RBI singles), HoJo (bases-loaded walk in his first Mets game) and Santana (run-scoring double) built the lead. With Gooden gone, Carter turned his attention to catching Doug Sisk. But Sisk, a weakening bullpen link as 1984 wound down, gave up a two-run single to Andy Van Slyke in the seventh.

It was 5-4. It grew colder. Then it turned positively icy. Sisk loaded the bases in the ninth. With two outs, he faced Jack Clark. Carter caught ball four. Tie game.

Gary Carter didn’t promise that.

The game moved to the bottom of the ninth. The Mets loaded the bases this time, but failed to score. Extras were next. Tom Gorman came on to pitch, relieving Jesse Orosco, who had bailed out Sisk. Gorman escaped the top of the tenth. To the bottom of the inning, then, where Neil Allen, a Met from 1979 to 1983, faced the man for whom he was traded, Keith Hernandez. It would be dramatic as anything if Hernandez (who reached Allen for a game-winning single the previous summer) could end this now frigid afternoon with one swing.

But Hernandez struck out. Drama, however, didn’t. Allen vs. Carter would do fine. Carter, in fact, did very well, ending his New York debut with a four-base flourish.

“Welcome to New York, Gary Carter!” is how Steve Zabriskie called it on Channel 9 after Kid’s game-winning shot soared over Shea’s left field fence.

“That’s what he’s here for,” is how Hernandez characterized the swing in the clubhouse.

“Ga-ree! Ga-ree!” was the chant that broke out in the stands.

And Carter, true to his Montreal reputation, wasn’t struck silent by his feat.

“There’s not enough words to describe what it feels like,” said the man who New Yorkers would discern rarely ran out of words. “I’ll certainly remember this the rest of my life. I don’t have enough adjectives to describe it, the feeling of warmth, of acceptance.”

The Mets had won 6-5, courtesy of the game changer. Carter, like the Mets, was 1-0 in 1985. Welcome to New York, indeed. Nobody had ever made himself at home so quickly at Shea Stadium.

That, young Nuke, is what it means to announce — and begin to sustain — your presence with authority.

To Be Determined, Determined To Be

It didn’t fully hit me what a void we’re staring into until early Friday morning when I went through my weekly ritual of checking the forthcoming C-Span2 (Book TV) and C-Span3 (American History TV) listings to record any programming I might find worthwhile, choosing among classroom lectures, author discussions, unearthed newsreels…yes, my weekends do rock. In making my taping decisions — no tape is involved, but old nomenclature dies hard — I asked myself if I’m really going to want to make time to watch this or that, and because it’s the middle of March, I reminded myself that Sunday afternoon wasn’t going to be a time to catch up on the C-Spans because there’ll be a game.

There’s always a game of some sort to watch on a weekend, of course, so specificity demands a clarification: the Mets and Nats, Sunday afternoon, one o’clock, Channel 11. Not a real game, but an exhibition game, as it used to be routinely called, Spring Training game as we call it now. Live from Port St. Lucie. I went through the mental machinations of what that would mean. Not a real game, so I’d probably sit down to take in the intro, be let down that Gary Apple or somebody who isn’t Gary Cohen was on the call, and decide to give it an inning. Or two. Or more. Because it’s mid-March in a year when Spring Training seemed to begin when confetti was still falling on Patrick Mahomes, I might not allow my cognizance to slip away as quickly as I did in late February. The names I knew coming into Spring were likely to stick around for an extra plate appearance or two. We wouldn’t be asked to accept as Mets young or young-ish men not slated to be Mets in 2020, not projected to be Mets in 2021, and maybe never to be Mets, until the sixth inning. Then would come the parade of Edgardo Fermin, Jake Hager and the fleetingly immortal Johneshwy Fargas into the lineup, along with relievers who aren’t the relievers whose bouts of hiccups worry us even when they don’t count. This would be the Ryley Gilliam pitching portion of the affair, with maybe a touch of Adonis Uceta to follow, give or take somebody being pinch-hit for by Jarrett Parker, who would remain in for defense.

This melange of mostly unfamiliar names and pleasingly proprietary colors wouldn’t mesh without cynicism, and as the game got later and I noticed I was still on the couch — eyes on something else, paying little attention to the Cohenless narration, yet with Channel 11 undeniably unchanged — I’d huff to myself that Spring Training has gone on too long. It’s a tic particular to the middle of March. The food is flavorless, the portions are too large, but I guess I’ll have another bite.

Then, of course, I remembered I was free to record and consume all the C-Span2 and C-Span3 programming I wanted this weekend, because there won’t be a game of any sort.

___

Welcome to lower-case March madness, of which we are all afflicted in one way or another. If it were only baseball that was going underground for an unspecified hiatus, especially if it were only the Mets, I’d be paranoid about the whole thing. But it’s the whole thing, and baseball and the Mets are collateral roadkill. Maybe we all are. Sunny thought.

No actual March Madness, let alone the conference tourneys that precede it, the latter likely my one-and-done chance to slip into alma mater mode on behalf of the USF Basketbulls. No Masters in the offing. No Ian Eagle, Sarah Kustok and Richard Jefferson giving me the Nets several times a week, or Brendan Burke and Butch Goring keeping me up with Islanders at least a little. No checking the lower rungs of the playoff picture for either of my winter affiliations. No stumbling upon XFL action and gazing curiously at Guardians and Defenders, whoever they are, for a few minutes.

No Spring Training baseball for the next week-and-a-half. No baseball at all after that.

No Mets.

Also, everything else out there that isn’t going to be out there and all the uncertainty that swirls about us and the danger inherent in something we never heard of a few months ago, and when we first heard of it, we did an aural double-take and wondered what they were saying about a Mexican beer making people in China sick.

The coronavirus disease is serious, serious business. It’s bigger than sports. Bigger than a sports void. Bigger than the chasm of voids every hour brings word of. But, now that the void is sinking in, no sports. And no Mets.

No Mets.

Opening Day was going to be a dozen days from now.

___

Wednesday night when I caught Adrian Wojnarowski’s tweet that the NBA was suspending its season (though who can remember what day was what this week?), I took a moment to absorb what that meant, and then turned from MSNBC to MSG. The Nets were off, but the Knicks were playing. I’m estranged from the Knicks most of the past couple of decades, but better Knicks than nothing, I figured. We’d be trying out nothing soon enough.

The Knicks were leading in the fourth quarter at Atlanta. Then, being the Knicks, they weren’t. We got overtime. Perhaps they could go into double-overtime so the sport wouldn’t go away and take every sport with it, then maybe quintuple-overtime, then phipple-overtime, provided no Knick or Hawk or ref or fan or anybody got sick, because, oh yeah, that’s the problem.

It was just one overtime. The Knicks wrangled the lead back from the Hawks in a match that would have no postseason implications within the context of the outdated assumption that there’d definitely be a postseason. At once, it dawned on the home team crowd and home team bench — Terry Collins was probably the last sports person to not know what Twitter is saying during a game — that if this was the provisional end of the NBA season, this was also likely the permanent end of the NBA career of Vince Carter.

Vince Carter’s been an NBA player for so long that I remember writing a Scope item about his new sports drink commercial. Scope was a section in the beverage magazine I edited what amounts to a million years ago. I think I wrote Carter projected as the new Michael Jordan, thus he’s an ideal spokesjock for the forthcoming new millennium.

Somehow Vince Carter is still playing fairly deep into the 21st century. He’s been Julio Franco without practically disappearing from view for a spell, Bartolo Colon without the air of exoticism. I rooted for Vince Carter when he was a New Jersey Net, which he hasn’t been since 2009. To be honest, I hadn’t paid much attention to him since. I don’t pay that much attention to the NBA when the Nets aren’t playing. I was surprised to see him in action versus Brooklyn earlier this season. “Vince Carter is still around?”

Now the Hawks fans were calling for Carter to come off the bench and get into the game. So was Twitter. So was I. This was no way to possibly end a career, but neither was sitting on the bench in overtime. Sure enough, his coach sent him in with about fifteen seconds left and his teammates fed him the ball. The Knicks, safely ahead, cleared out. Carter launched a three. It was good.

It was really good. From no more than vague awareness that there was a Knicks game on, to the need to tune in ASAP, to being immersed in the instant drama of what the 22-year veteran might do if given the briefest opportunity, I found myself raising my right arm and pumping my right fist and letting out a “YES!” because a so-called old guy got off one final shot.

That’s sports. That’s one of those chance encounters on a random Wednesday night. That’s what hooks us and keeps us coming back. That’s what we’ll miss over and over without realizing it.

And that’s before you factor in the Mets not being there.

___

As baseball fans, we ask each other how we think our team is gonna do this year. It doesn’t make much sense to ask too far in advance. It couldn’t have been too many weeks ago that I might have said, “Well, with Carlos Beltran managing and Steve Cohen preparing to assume ownership, I think we have every reason to look forward to starting the season on March 26.”

Permit me a chuckle at anyone’s fealty to ZiPS, PECOTA or Steamer as a roadmap to what will happen next. Project all you want. Life and baseball will do what it wants. Life just did. Baseball can’t do a darn thing about it other than suspend operations. Not even Opening Day turned out to be a sure thing. I had an inkling March 26 was a terrible idea for an event that feels innately wrong if it arrives before the first Monday in April in Cincinnati. It could snow in New York that day (though we don’t seem to get snow in New York that much anymore). It could rain, though I suppose it could rain any day of the year. It was probably going to be colder than it oughta be for baseball.

As for a worldwide pandemic, I didn’t see that in any long-range forecast, but there ya go.

___

You know the drill. “Pitchers and catchers.” Yay! “Position players report.” Yay! “First workout.”Yay! “First intrasquad game.” “First game.” “First televised game.” All the yays!

Then it gets tired and old, a little like those of us at the heart of baseball’s demographic. Port St. Lucie. Jupiter. West Palm Beach. Anywhere the Mets scare up a pretend game. They are datelines from nowhere after a very short while. The only news is non-news (Noah Syndergaard went shirtless today), unknowable news (will Eduardo Nuñez or Luis Guillorme grab the backup infield spot?) or bad news (Michael Conforto has tweaked his oblique). The losses don’t count and the wins don’t matter, though if the Mets lose too often, it’s discomfiting. Give it a few days and you have no idea what the Mets’ record is. I had to look it up: in the abbreviated Spring Training of 2020, the Mets won eight games and lost nine. It’s neither good nor bad. We were totally indifferent.

Still, I’d watch the televised games, even the ones without Gary Cohen. And I’d listen to the games broadcast on the radio, because I’d listen to Howie Rose gleefully kvetch about anything for three hours. The combined forces of SNY, WPIX and WCBS-AM could be bothered to transmit only so much meaningless baseball north this year, so after a while, I found myself resorting to out-of-town radiocasts on the At Bat app for midweek midday Metsian company. In other Springs I’ve found this an unsatisfying alternative because the announcers from elsewhere weren’t talking about the Mets in the least despite the Mets being half the teams in those games. In this Spring, I noticed Cardinal and Marlin broadcasts in particular were devoted mostly to repeatedly reading their club’s promotional schedules and reminding their target audience that it’s really gonna be a great time at Busch Stadium or Marlins Park this season, get your tickets now.

When I paid these third-tier broadcasts an iota of attention, I scoffed at the content and I scoffed at the delivery. I scoffed at the occasional realization that I had no idea what the score was on a given afternoon. But I kept every one of these games on until the end. Then I told myself that I wasn’t really that excited about the impending start of the season coming March 26 the way I used to be when the season started on, say, April 8 as the good lord and Ford Frick intended. No baseball fan likes winter, but this winter seemed artificially compressed. Too many managers. Too many owners. Too many distractions, some of it generated by the sport’s unique ability to tie its shoelaces together, some of it going on in baseball-free regions of my own head (they’re not sizable, but they’re there).

Yet March 26 was going to get here. Syndergaard’s shirt was going to be on. Conforto’s oblique was to be determined. The presence of Nuñez and/or Guillorme would be dependent on any number of factors, though probably none of them an upsurge in Jed Lowrie’s mobility. What of Cespedes? Matt Adams? Would Michael Wacha start or relieve? What would a 26-man roster look like as opposed to a 25-man? What would be the blowback from the three-batter rule if, worst-case scenario, Betances came on in the seventh and, with his velocity still down a notch, immediately gave up the precarious lead Jake left with after six? Could Luis Rojas handle his first flurry of postgame questions as ably as he accepted the pregame floral horseshoe from the Shea family?

Despite the calendar looking off, March 26 was going to be exactly right, because Opening Day is always exactly right. It’s right in March once it’s here. That it’s better in April should provide a touch of solace if we somehow get it in April. And if it takes until May or whenever, it will be welcomed with open arms.

Just don’t shake hands with it.

___

I will miss the major public health crisis in our world being the status of Michael Conforto’s oblique. I will miss getting in the car a little after six to pick my wife up at the train and putting on WCBS to hear their sad excuse for a pre-pregame show, but at least they mention the Mets frequently in the runup to 6:30. I will miss catching my wife up on Conforto’s condition or whatever Rojas reported on in his four o’clock briefing during our drive home. I will miss the instinctual turning on of the TV as soon as we walk in the door, straight to Channel 60 on our cable system. I will miss half-listening to Steve Gelbs’s further update on Conforto or Lowrie or whoever else isn’t yet off the IL. I will miss seven o’clock and the throw from the studio to the ballpark. I will miss discovering if both Keith and Ron or only one among them is joining Gary. I will miss the first thing that goes wrong in the first inning and the first snarky comment I commit to Twitter over it. I will miss maybe being proven premature in my snark once the game’s going better than it looked at the beginning. I will miss Rojas’s explanation of went right, despite never having heard him explain anything that counted yet.

I will miss what I do late at night or early the next morning or, if I’m distracted by non-baseball matters, early the next afternoon if it’s my turn to recap. I recently electronically thumbed through some of my 2019 game stories and couldn’t imagine ramping up to that level of engagement again by March 26 given how little I engaged with the games played through March 11, but I knew I would engage fully. Because that’s what we do when we root for and write about the Mets with all our heart.

Like Celine Dion, I believe that the heart does go on. Like those people on the Titanic, perhaps I have no notion of how much of a threat the iceberg on the horizon poses, but proceeding on the shaky assumption that we’re not all sunk, I plan to be here writing about the Mets in some form or fashion. Every winter I fully conceive and barely execute an array of historically themed articles and series. Then Opening Day comes earlier and earlier and I put them aside until next winter, and the winter after that.

We’ve got loads of winter now. Time enough at last, eh? Or so we hope.

___

Lest we transition into the void without a speck of 2020 game coverage, we were fortunate this past Wednesday to have on hand at Clover Park in St. Lucie friend of FAFIF, St. Lucie-area resident, professional fact-checker and literal man of faith Steve Jacobetz. Steve knew he’d be going to the game on March 11 and asked if he might write something for us. Neither he nor we projected it would be the last Mets game of any kind for the foreseeable future. His graciously provided perspective, filed Thursday afternoon, follows here.

___

Before I begin, I’d like to thank Greg Prince for this opportunity of being a guest correspondent here. Greg is a guy I’ve yet to meet in person, but I feel like somehow I’ve known him for most of my life because of the bond we share through Mets baseball.

These are extraordinary times. Last night, I saw someone I respect on Twitter write, “Sports, you really don’t matter much now.” I strongly disagree. First of all, anything “matters” if someone cares about it. Don’t let anyone tell you what should or should not matter to you at any given point in time. For instance, what mattered to me on the first Friday night after 9/11 happened was putting a tape in the VCR and watching the ball go through Bill Buckner’s legs. The following Friday night, what mattered to me and many others was Mike Piazza hitting a home run at Shea Stadium. Maybe the proper thing to do those days was to watch the news channel of your choice endlessly. Who’s to say? To each his own. No one should judge such things.

Secondly, life is short and not particularly fair. On the day I was born, a series of human errors were made concerning my delivery. As a result, I’ve lived 44+ years on this planet with cerebral palsy. My life hasn’t been all hot dogs and sodas and tubs of popcorn, so when I get a shot at those things, chances are I’ll take you up on the opportunity. This includes situations in which I may have a chance to be exposed to, contract, or spread, a deadly global pandemic. And yes, I am dealing with a [chronic] respiratory issue at the present time. I went anyway, and I’m glad I did. So were more than 6,000 other people happy they were there.

I’m not afraid of death. I believe the day I die is the day I’ll be healed. My eventual demise is a day I rather look forward to. Furthermore, I believe in a God who willingly subjected himself to crucifixion and death for my sake, and for the sake of all humanity, so that I might have the privilege of being healed in Heaven someday. Voluntary crucifixion is a lot worse than anything that may befall me in this life, including coronavirus. So pardon me if I don’t share in the general hysteria. When death comes, being in a ballpark would definitely be in my top ten choices of locations in my final days and hours. When the whole world seems to be going crazy around me, I think a ballgame is one of the better places to be. I have no regrets about being there.

By the way, personal religious views are not something I would normally share on a baseball blog, but like I said before, these are extraordinary times. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Now, on to the day’s events. I saw Jacob deGrom pitch yesterday in person. It wasn’t my first time doing so. I seem to be somewhat of a deGrom magnet. My last three times in a ballpark have all featured performances by him, and I don’t go that often. However, this was by far the most dominant outing of his I’ve seen. I’m sorry no one anywhere else in the world saw it due to no television coverage. How 100 years ago. Anyway, it was thing of beauty. Jake was in keeping with the pre-TV era feeling in terms of pace; four innings, fewer than 40 pitches, only a fourth inning homer by Matt Carpenter to mar perfection. A reporter wrote that he threw 15 pitches on the side afterwards just to get to his intended pitch count. That’s a great day.

A “great day” in St. Lucie, courtesy of correspondent Jacobetz (foreground).

Most of the other pitchers looked good too, including Dellin Betances; L.L. Slim J., a.k.a. Jeurys Familia; and Edwin Diaz. Ryder Ryan looked like Nolan Ryan when he came on in the eighth to strike out Harrison “Bader Tots” Bader. Joe Zanghi pitched last and got the final out. His name is Zanghi. He’s probably done everything last his whole life. He’s used to it.

Meanwhile, the offense hit Carlos Martinez hard, so much so that he had to suffer the indignity of being removed mid-inning in a Spring Training game. Robinson Cano was announced as the Wendy’s Double Stack Batter of the game, and he dutifully doubled in the third inning to win us all burgers. J.D. Davis immediately followed Cano with a home run. Jeff McNeil contributed two hits on the day, and the party was on. Now Robbie will forever more be affectionately known to me as Double Stack. (Who knew that Wendy’s would come up in a FAFIF post twice within a week?) We went immediately after the game to eat our prizes triumphantly. Final score: 7-3 Mets.

The “we” involved included my Cousin Mark, who came in from Arizona. Mark had this day planned for months in advance as part of his mom’s (my Aunt Lorraine) 80th birthday celebration this week. We weren’t turning back now. Lorraine came down from Long Island, along with my cousin Laura, and Laura’s boyfriend Joe, I hadn’t seen any of them in forever (or in Joe’s case, ever.) It was a great time. Let’s get together again soon.

Sprung Back

On the last day of Eastern Standard Time in the spring of 2020, I found myself in a Wendy’s. It was a throwback visit of sorts. I hadn’t been in this Wendy’s or any Wendy’s since early in 2012. The Giants were finishing beating up the Falcons in the first playoff game ever hosted at MetLife Stadium (there hasn’t yet been a second). Stephanie was getting her hair cut and called me when her appointment was complete. Wendy’s was steps from the hair place, which doesn’t strike me as much of an advertising slogan for a restaurant, so we had a late lunch there. A month or so later, my doctor advised me, in so many words, not to visit Wendy’s anymore.

I took him at his word for eight years. This past Saturday, though, we were running an errand close to five o’clock and Wendy’s was right where it was in 2012. I’ve passed it countless times but ignored it. Same for its major fast food brethren. I more or less follow doctor’s orders pretty well. But for whatever reason, after the errand was complete, Stephanie asked, “How about Wendy’s? Or would that be crazy?

It was ruled within the bounds of sanity. I’m out of fast food practice, so I needed a moment to take in the bounty that is the Wendy’s menu. It seemed more expansive than it had on my last visit and worlds removed from my initial exposure to the chain forty-two years ago. Back then it was three sizes of hamburger, chili, fries and two flavors of Frosty. Chicken and baked potatoes came along in the ’80s. Nowadays there appears to be much more, plus there are kiosks for ordering and monitors to tell you when your order is up. It’s not quite space age, but I did feel at least a decade behind.

I went with the No. 1 combo, Stephanie with the No. 12. More fries than necessary were included. Tall cups identified as medium were handed to us for drinks. Ketchup was still left to our discretion in much smaller cups. You had to pump hard to produce any condiments. My wife shared a generous fraction of her chicken sandwich. I offered up bites of my burger three separate times, but she demurred. I recalled Wendy’s double with cheese as state-of-the-art circa 1978. In 2020, I concluded that once you’ve had Shake Shack, your expectations are unreasonably high for a burger you unwrap from anywhere else.

Sitting in this Wendy’s, I performatively remembered that Sunday when the Giants beat the Falcons. “How do you remember that?” Stephanie asked. The answer, as always, was I just do. Then I remembered when this Wendy’s used to be a Roy Rogers. Stephanie didn’t remember that at all, but I clued her in. It was a Roy Rogers when we first moved to this town the first time. A few weeks before she graduated from college, I set up day camp in what was about to be our new apartment and awaited the delivery of our first box spring and mattress. It was supposed to come between ‘x’ and ‘y’ in the afternoon, a compressed enough period so that I could anticipate signing for it and being on my way to work elsewhere on Long Island.

That was an April afternoon in 1990. The Mets were playing a day game. To the extent one could enjoy waiting for a delivery in an empty apartment, I planned on making the best of it. I packed a folding lounge chair, the kind I’d take to the beach; a battery-operated radio, because I wasn’t sure if the utilities were turned on; and my usual hefty stack of newspapers so I could read about the Mets’ young season: the News, the Post, Newsday, almost certainly the Times (though I may not have bothered since we usually had one in the office) and definitely the National, which had become a mostly daily presence in my sporting life with its winter debut. Whatever I brought in the way of food and beverage was sufficient for a desk lunch, nothing more.

The mattress took its sweet time getting to me. The Mets and Pirates — reading about them, listening to them, absorbing the details of the pre- and postgame shows — weren’t enough to soak up the hours. Cable companies would have envied how long this took. Whatever I did eat wasn’t sufficient to hold me, either. As the day dragged toward evening, as the papers ran out of news, as WFAN blathered on once Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen had signed off, I had one thought: I really want to go to that Roy Rogers up the road, ’cause it’s been a while since lunch.

Eventually, the bed was delivered. It was the wrong brand. I remember paying for a nationally known name. I want to say it was Stearns & Foster, because it tickled me that there was a Stearns & Foster out there who weren’t John & George. Whatever showed up wasn’t them. It was had a Cross in the title — like “Red Cross,” but probably not that given trademark infringement concerns. My lousy consumer self-esteem, combined with my impatience, led me to not be cross and just take delivery. It must’ve been six o’clock by the time it came. Just give me the bed and I’ll lay in it.

Actually, I won’t. I’ll lock up in the dark (I’m trying to remember if there was enough daylight to lead the deliverymen to the bedroom; perhaps I’m forgetting the electrical situation and there was a functioning lamp around) and hit Roy Rogers on my way to the office. I think I went to the office that night. There was work to be done and I was never much worried about so-called working hours. Maybe I went directly home instead. I don’t exactly remember.

What I do remember — and this is why I’m going on about it — is that I listened to a Mets game. When I was regaling Stephanie with the origin story of our first box spring and mattress (or re-regaling, because after thirty years, i don’t have that much new material), I mentioned the game in question: Frank Viola started and John Franco finished. It was Franco’s first save as a Met.

This charmed her to an unexpected extent. “John Franco’s first save?” She laughed heartily at the thought. Although Stephanie moved to New York at the end of the same month that John Franco began pitching for the Mets, she’s never been fully baseball-cognizant of a time when Brooklyn’s own John Franco hadn’t pitched or been pitching or seemed to have been pitching for the Mets forever. He was there when she started paying attention by osmosis and, for the balance of fifteen seasons, he never left. He was always closing games or leaving them open. I knew I’d inadvertently passed my Met microbe along to her when, sometime in the mid-1990s, she heard me grumble for the umpteen-thousandth time about a ninth inning lasting longer than it should have and she asked me, “if Franco’s so bad, why do they keep using him?”

That shouldn’t have made me as happy as it did back then, but it did. Seeing her light up over this weekend at the concept that there was a discernible beginning to John Franco’s cautious dance with save opportunities did, too. I totally got her reaction. Yes, I said, it doesn’t seem possible that there was a time Franco wasn’t the Mets closer — and what you may not know on top of all that is Franco had a whole other career with the Reds. He was in their bullpen for six seasons before we ever got him. (I didn’t bother mentioning that I was visiting Stephanie at college in Florida the December 1989 day the Mets traded Randy Myers to get him and surely provided her with an on-the-spot scouting report.)

Wendy’s was over, with only the slightest indigestion, sort of like the bulk of Franco’s save opportunities. We went home. In our current bedroom, atop the dresser that faces our current bed — a Serta — there is a dusty blue baseball cap adorned with the uninspiring Citi Field logo. Stephanie gave it to me many winters ago not for what’s on the outside, but the inside of the lid, namely the signature of a lefty reliever with more saves than any Met ever. A work outing brought Stephanie to the ballpark for a holiday party sometime in the first third of the 2010s. John Franco was the alumnus designated to meet and greet all comers. He signed giveaway caps and posed for pictures. Stephanie sure as hell knew who he was when it was her turn to pose and collect. She didn’t ask him to explain why they kept using him.

Catapulted back in time Saturday night, I looked up the game I told Stephanie I listened to while I waited for our box spring and mattress. I realized I had the wrong game in my recollection. The Viola/Franco combination was the day before, the second game of the 1990 season. It was in all the papers and it was how Murph and Cohen led their broadcast. They were the St. John’s boys coming together to secure the Mets their first win of the year. Opening Day was a bust, Bobby Bonilla and the Bucs battering Doc (which I listened to at a McDonald’s on Northern Boulevard, when fast food was too often what I ate). It was Frankie V and Johnny F to the rescue the next day. Yes, that’s right, I clarified for myself Saturday night. I could even, in the mind’s eye, see the National story.

The game I listened to in the ever-darkening living room of our first apartment wasn’t nearly as joyous. It was a 6-2 loss, Neil Heaton defeating Sid Fernandez. Heaton I’d had it in for since he’d declined to sign with the Mets when they’d drafted him more than a decade earlier. Sid was Sid. A world of talent, rarely a continent of results. The more I placed myself in that wait for the bed in 1990, the more I remembered the disappointment of an early-season game that doesn’t go your way. You’re all stoked for baseball because there’s been so little to this point — even less in 1990 given that there’d been a Spring Training lockout and a week’s postponement to the season — and you have the opportunity to settle in for a matinee, and your team loses by some disturbingly definitive score like 6-2.

If there was an upside to the third game and second loss of 1990 is it lasted an hour longer than the second game and first win of the year. I needed all the baseball I could get since the guys from Sleepy’s were going to take the scenic route to my new apartment. Our new apartment, I should say. That was a weird yet exciting interval in time for me. My fiancée was about to graduate and head north. I’d been out of college plenty long but had never bothered to leave home. My mother was ill and my father was probably more of a wreck than I allowed myself to suspect. The timing was all wrong, in a way, but it was also time to move on and move in. It was just a few miles, after all.

Our new life was starting. The bed would be there. The Mets would be there. Stephanie would be there to meet me soon. And John Franco? He was always there.

Except, on Saturday night, before we turned the clocks forward, I had to offer my wife a correction. Hey, I said, that day waiting for the mattress and the box spring, when I went to Roy Rogers — that wasn’t John Franco’s first save. That the was the day before. I was reading about Franco while I waited and they made a big deal about it on the broadcast while I waited some more, but just to be clear, Franco wasn’t that day. We lost that day, 6-2.

Stephanie gave me the smile she’s been delivering on time for the thirty years we’ve lived together and went back to watching her movie.

Your Number or Your Name

Spring Training was welcomed heartily last Saturday to 31 Piazza Drive in Port St. Lucie and, perhaps because it’s only been televised back to New York thrice thus far, has yet to expend its novelty factor. At the intersection of Brinson (Lewis, one of those few visiting Marlins who doesn’t require an introduction) and Clover (Park, where Tradition went to die), Over and over we grow used to baseball that isn’t quite the baseball we are whetting our appetite less than four weeks from today. It’s the baseball with possible stalemates instead of decisive outcomes. It’s the baseball whose broadcast availabilities are piecemeal depending on your subscription choices. It’s the baseball played predominantly under the sun rather than the lights. It’s getting the hang of things on Piazza Drive as prelude to life on Seaver Way.

Mostly, it’s numbers and names. The names that we know will be the names we’ll summer with. For two innings, generally speaking, it’s McNeil, Alonso, Conforto, what have you. For the next seven (no extras), it’s vague familiarity that fills in with increased exposure to Mets who’ve never been Mets in the official sense, may never be Mets in the official sense, but are Mets in late February and, presumably, a while in March.

I don’t much know them yet, so until they make a lasting impression, they are who I decide they are.

They’re Quinn Brodey, a small-town New England operator with an accent to match in the latest Ben Affleck passion project. He can pahk his cah with the best of ’em and doesn’t even use Smaht Pahk.

They’re Ryan Cordell, a cross between Rydell High from Grease and Cordell Hull from FDR’s cabinet. Ryan and the outfield go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.

They’re Erasmo Ramirez, who, for me, evokes both Butters’s robot pal Awesom-O on South Park and Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall High School, from which my mother graduated the same year Jackie Robinson was a freshman in the borough.

They’re David Peterson, a legit pitching prospect, not to be confused with Tim Peterson, a middling pitcher who I just noticed left via free agency five months ago despite my keeping strenuous tabs on such departures.

They’re Max “The Island of Dr.” Moroff (per Chris Berman, you’d figure).

They’re Ali Sanchez, who I remember from last Spring Training, when every time his name came up, I Pavlovlishly hummed “Take A Little Rhythm,” an adult contemporary 1980 hit for Ali Thomson, because until further notice, Ali Thomson is what I hear when I hear Ali Sanchez.

They’re Chasen Shreve, in Chasin’ Shreve, a coming-of-age drama that airs Thursdays at 9 on Freeform, formerly ABC Family; Fox Family Channel; The Family Channel; and CBN…sort of like Clover Park is formerly First Data Field; Tradition Field (twice); Digital Domain Park; and Thomas J. White Stadium.

They’re Tim Tebow once more. Tim Tebow is a Brigadoon-level Met every Spring. He appears from out of nowhere, grabs our attention for reasons no longer obvious and fades into the mists of Binghamton just as quickly. Tebow homered on Tuesday in Lakeland, wearing No. 85.

Which is Spring Training like it oughta be. The minor leaguers who won’t be joining us on Opening Day should be wearing No. 85. Actually, the globally famous Tim Tebow should be wearing No. 15, just as he did for any number of football squads, but that’s Carlos Beltran’s number, and Carlos Beltran…well, Beltran isn’t currently around to lay claim to 15, but one imagines the Mets don’t want to be even subtly reminded of their previously best-laid plans. (Luis Rojas is an unobtrusive No. 19 in case you haven’t noticed.)

Tebow, besides being exceptional in most contexts, is an exception to how the Mets are cataloguing their participating minor leaguers these Springs. We are so wedded to the concept of the high-numbered extra men that we may not have allowed it to imprint on our consciousness that when the Mets borrow players ticketed for Syracuse and so forth, they let them play ball in the tops they wear in their usual guises on the other side of camp. That means blue jerseys with their names stitched like major leaguers and numbers that aren’t enormous, give or take a Tebow. The names are a nice touch, I suppose. Gives a person a sense of identity. As the publisher of a magazine I worked for in the last century said to my editor when my editor mischievously arranged for a conference badge to identify me to one and all as “Li’l Spud,” names are important. “You don’t want to make the kid” — me, that is — “look like a non-entity.”

An extra 5 in Spring 2014 (from Newsday).

Major league franchises may treat their minor leaguers like non-entities in ways that count, but at least the Mets haven’t been withholding their dignity from their Spring Training uniforms. In 2014, for example, Matt Reynolds, coming off a Single-A season of little distinction, saw exhibition game action in No. 5. No. 5, you are probably aware, was being used by another Met at the time — for a very long time. But it was Spring Training, and everybody tacitly agrees that what happens in Spring Training mostly stays in Spring Training because nobody much remembers what happens in Spring Training. Besides, in the Spring of 2014, you had no problem sorting through the 5s on the Mets. Reynolds would be off to Double-A, and the 5 among 5s, David Wright, would be where he always was, at third base in Flushing.

It’s six years later, and, perhaps because I wasn’t mentally prepared for it, when a Met wearing 5 appeared in the ninth inning of the Mets’ second Spring game of 2020, I was slow to absorb what I was looking at.

“That guy’s wearing 5.”
“Why does that look so unusual?”
“It’s Steve Henderson’s number.”
“And Davey Johnson’s. He wore 5, too.”

It took me more than 5 seconds to fully comprehend the significance of 5 on a Mets jersey. “Oh, right…Wright. He’s 5.” No Met has worn 5 in a regulation major league game since September 29, 2018, and unless amnesia overtakes Citi Field’s rosterization process, it never will again. It is not up for the slightest debate that it’s in line to join 37, 14, 41, 31 the recently sanctified 36 and the overdue 17 (I’m thinking Kooz coming high and inside on stagnant precedent makes room for Keith). Nothing is ever certain when it comes to the Mets tipping their caps properly at their heritage, but 5 looms as a mortal retirement lock.

Now pitching…No. 5? (From SNY via @jacob_resnick)

That said, and at the unintended risk of blaspheming the Captain, I have to admit: 5 looked good out there last Sunday. I don’t offer that as a specific assessment of the pitcher (!) wearing it; no offense to him, either. The single-digit hurler was Harol Gonzalez, whose one inning of work encompassed three hits but no runs (thanks to a 9-2 putout executed by Brodey the character from the Affleck film). Harol — who doesn’t mind “d” when it bails him out of trouble — has been in the Met system since 2014. The righty won a combined 12 games between Binghamton and Syracuse last season, with an ERA barely over 3. Maybe we’ll see him at Citi someday. We surely won’t see him in 5.

Still, 5, however fleeting its unanticipated appearance, was a welcome sight, almost as welcome as February baseball itself. I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing 5 on a Mets uniform in some semblance of Mets action. I don’t mean I’ve missed seeing Wright, who in a kinder world would be limbering up for the final season of his eight-year contract now, speaking of best-laid plans. Again, no disrespect to David. I’d love if he had remained robust and continued to add to his stack of club records. Of course I miss David Wright.

But on Sunday it hit me that I missed 5. It is, on its own aesthetic merits, a great sports number. It’s fresh. It’s clean, especially set against a white jersey. It’s inherently possibility-laden. It’s ready to go. It’s got a “whoosh” quality to it, not to confused with those obnoxious swooshes unnecessarily taking up space on MLB jerseys all of a sudden.

You can’t talk New York sports legends who have worn 5 without eventually recalling ALL the berry, berry good players who made it famous.

It’s a great New York sports number, too, and I don’t even need to pay homage to someone known as “the Yankee Clipper” to say that.

• Don May wore 5 for the 1969-70 Knicks. May wore it mostly at the end of the bench — only 238 minutes played, all of 96 points scored — but we’re talking about the best Knicks team ever, and the first team I ever followed from the beginning of a season to its glorious end. Bonus points for May sometimes being called “Donnie,” which also strikes me as fresh and clean.

• Billy Paultz wore 5 for the Nets of the early ’70s, anchoring the middle for a team that went to two ABA finals and won a red, white and blue-balled championship in 1974. They called Billy Paultz “the Whopper” — he had seven inches and a listed 35 pounds on Donnie May, but 5 worked for him as well. It’s a versatile number.

• Denis Potvin wore 5 for the Islanders for fifteen years. His debut in 1973-74, coinciding with the Nets’ first Long Island championship season, marked the start of something big in Uniondale, bigger even than the 6’11” Paultz. As a rookie, Potvin won the Calder Trophy. As a defenseman, he won the Norris Trophy repeatedly. As the Captain in a sport where Captain means everything, he skated four Stanley Cups around the rink. Like “Donny,” “Denis” sans the second “n” has a certain savoir five to it.

• Pat Leahy wore 5 for the Jets even longer than Potvin wore it for the Isles, kicking through if sometimes into brutal winds between 1974 and 1991. I groaned in the wake of a few of his more painful Shea misses, but that didn’t stop me, when I shockingly got his attention on the sideline at Tampa Stadium in 1984, from telling him, “Great kicking, man!” Pat momentarily stared at me like I was crazy before wisely ignoring me.

• Sean Landeta wore 5 for the Giants when the Giants were at their peak, adding substantial hang time to the grand punting tradition established by Dave Jennings. Jennings, No. 13 for Big Blue, was the best thing about otherwise unlucky Giants football most of the 1970s. By the time Landeta became available to New York in 1985, post-USFL, the Giants were about more than punting, but Sean did his part to secure the club’s 1986 and 1990 championships. He also brutally whiffed on a kick in Chicago one blustery January afternoon, but as Leahy could have told him, wind can a bitter enemy. Landeta punted deep into the 2000s, lingering as the last of the USFLers to remain active in the NFL. Talk about hang time.

• Jason Kidd wore 5 for the New Jersey Nets when the former New York/future Brooklyn Nets mysteriously won two NBA Eastern Conference titles and went to consecutive finals. It seems mysterious only until you remember how the state-of-the-art point guard quarterbacked the Nets from chronic obscurities to perennial contenders upon his 2001-02 arrival just west of town (mixed sports metaphors can be a slam dunk). No wonder Kidd’s 5, like Potvin’s and, yeah, Joe DiMaggio’s, is retired by the Metropolitan Area enterprise that benefited bountifully from its most premier wearer…no offense to the Whopper.

On the eve of the Mets’ first Spring game, I watched the Islanders finally retire 27 for left wing John Tonelli, who now has a banner accompanying Potvin’s 5 among others from those dandy dynastic days at the Coliseum. The most moving aspect of a deeply textured ceremony (hockey does that stuff so well) was Tonelli turning to the current Isles captain Andres Lee, the current occupant of 27, and telling him he’s happy to share it with him in anticipation that someday the number will hang high for the both of them. I don’t expect the Mets to circulate 5 in the same manner. I also don’t expect them to wait decades to give Wright his due.

One of those 5s you definitely expect to see emblazoned in your stadium, whether it’s Clover Park or Citi Field (from Jeff Hysen).

When — not if — the Mets explicitly retire 5 for David Wright, we presumably won’t see the likes of Harol Gonzalez or Matt Reynolds taking it out for a Spring fling. But since 5 has been spotted floating about in a minor key very recently, I didn’t mind being reminded not only of the 5s from other clubs for whom I’ve rooted over the decades but those Mets who made 5 look sharp before Wright made it his forever after.

Yes, I thought of Steve Henderson, specifically when he first appeared in June of 1977 under the worst of circumstances, as a heralded rookie with zero experience here to compensate for the absence of Tom Seaver. That’s all we want from you, kiddo. Ease our pain and brighten our horizon.

Hendu sort of did, and he didn’t wait very long: two hits in his first start; a walkoff home run in his fourth game; second to Andre Dawson in Rookie of the Year voting despite not making his debut until June 16 (or one day after, if you’ll excuse the expression, June 15, 1977). Steve gave us four fine seasons — and more than just that first game-winning homer, I might have mentioned in these pages more than a few times.

(Bonus points to Steve for loaning 5 to 1979 Spring Training comeback candidate Chico Escuela, a berry, berry classy move on Henderson’s part.)

And, yes, I thought of Davey Johnson, who embroidered his swing into Mets history as No. 15 for the Baltimore Orioles in the top of the ninth inning at Shea Stadium on October 16, 1969, with two out and the O’s down two. Davey swung and lifted a fly ball to deep left field. Cleon Jones caught it. You’ve probably seen video. We’d see Johnson for several years in the National League in the ’70s, but the next time we’d have cause to truly focus on his presence came in October of 1983, when he stood with Frank Cashen, showing off the uniform top the GM presented him upon the announcement that the ex-Oriole would skipper the Mets.

The jersey was No. 31, but that was simply ceremonial (and perhaps force of habit, as Cashen’s prior Baltimore-connected full-time manager, George Bamberger, wore it for a season-and-a-third before taking it off and going fishing). When Davey showed up to manage the Mets for real in the Spring of 1984, he put on No. 5 and kept it on until Cashen demanded it back at the end of May 1990. In between, Davey was the most successful manager the Mets ever had, leading us out of the second division and into the promised land. If somebody had decided 5 was to be retired by the Mets for a man with the given name David, it conceivably could have been done before David Wright approached middle school.

Though Henderson and Johnson were my instinctive 5s before Wright registered in my 2020 thoughts, goodness knows other Mets made 5 modestly to mammothly memorable along the way. You can start with Hobie Landrith, which is what the Mets did with the first pick in the 1961 expansion draft (reflexively insert Prof. Casey Stengel on the necessity of preventing passed balls here if you like). Hobie, whose 90th birthday is on track for March 16, caught the initial game played by the Original Mets and all or part of twenty more before he was traded to Baltimore in June of ’62, three passed balls debited from his Met defensive account. Landrith was the player to be named later for Marv Throneberry. Marv was to be named Marvelous immediately, but he wore No. 2, so he’s another story.

The story of 5 in those early days was catching. Before Joe Pignatano took up residence in No. 52 as longtime bullpen coach and tomato vinetender, Piggy and his mitt finished his playing career in Landrith’s numerical footsteps. Joe’s final major league at-bat produced a triple play, maybe only because a quintuple-play was statistically impossible (even for the 1962 Mets). The next year, Norm Sherry gave 5 a whirl; two years after, Chris Cannizzaro switched out of 8 to 5 in deference to a catcher who had dibs on 8, a fella by the name of Berra. The catching thread continued on and off for 5 through the pre-Wright years. Francisco Estrada, one-quarter of what it took to get Jim Fregosi here, wore 5 in his one Mets game in 1971. Defensive whiz Charlie O’Brien was a 5’er in 1991, after he’d tried 33 in 1990 and before he settled into 22 in 1992 and 1993. Brook Fordyce, whose decade in the bigs began with four games as a Met in 1995, was the last catcher in these parts to wear 5.

Listed in faint ink among the backstops in 5 is Jerry Moses, the Mets’ third catcher behind Jerry Grote and John Stearns when 1975 began. Yogi Berra kept the erstwhile AL All-Star coming out of camp but never saw fit to play him. Before April was out, so was Jerry, though he had the honor of getting introduced on Opening Day at Shea with the rest of the reserves. In the starting lineup that afternoon, batting fifth and playing right versus Steve Carlton and the Phillies, was Dave Kingman. Sky King (he hated being called Kong) socked a homer off Lefty in the fourth, supporting Tom Seaver’s complete game victory.

Dave Kingman wore 26 for the Mets in that game and every game that counted, so what’s he doing here in bold-face type? Well, after he returned for a second Mets go-round in the Spring of 1981, Dave was assigned 5. It was readily available in that the previous occupant, none other than Steve Henderson, was the Met traded to the Cubs to retrieve Sky. Kingman was in 5 when his encore was radiating excitement from St. Petersburg. He was also in 5 when he handed peace-offering pens monogrammed with his initials (D.A.K.) to Met beat writers in the stated hope they’d write fairly accurately of his next New York stint. By Opening Day, however, Dave was back to No. 26 and, soon enough, not that crazy about the press and its proclivity to cover his strikeouts.

Dave kept neither the beard nor the 5 (from AP via New York Times).

Maybe Kingman should have stuck with 5, given that its inherent versatility meant it fit sluggers pretty well. Chris Jones was a clutch homer machine in No. 5 in the mid-’90s. Jeromy Burnitz gave us our first taste of what was to be a pretty powerful MLB run as No. 5 in ’93 and ’94. Mark Johnson always looked like he’d hit more homers than he did, but the 6’4” first baseman-outfielder (same height as Donnie May) did knock a couple out of the park as a 5 in 2000 and 2002.

Mark Johnson’s 5ness served as parentheses for the flashiest of 5s: Tsuyoshi Shinjo in 2001. Orange hair. Orange wristbands. Charisma so contagious that he, like Kingman, was brought back for a curtain call. Shinjo slipped right back into 5 in 2003, making him the last to wear the number for the Mets before David…and Harol. And directly before the Johnson-Shinjo (squared) era was the hittingest and most elegant of 5s, John Olerud. A .315 average across three full Met seasons, highlighted by his franchise-record .354 in 1998. Man, that cat could swing.

Sandy Alomar never recorded as much as a single while wearing No. 5 for the 1967 Mets, though he’d be given 22 ABs to try. No worries for Sandy — he’d collect 1,168 hits in other major league uniforms and produce a pair of offspring who’d produce prodigious baseball careers of their own. The elder Alomar finished his Met playing tenure only two hits behind Shaun Fitzmaurice, the first Met who wasn’t a catcher to wear 5. Shaun, who attended Notre Dame like Kirk Nieuwenhuis played high school football, registered a .154 average in 1966, or two-hundred points off Olerud’s clip twenty-two years later.

The first Met to keep 5 for more than a year was Ed Charles, who wore it from May of ’67 through October of ’69. The last time the Glider graced it for real was right after Dave Johnson’s flyout to end the aforementioned World Series. Ed was elbowed off the roster shortly thereafter (how dare he turn 36?) and replaced at third base in the offseason by another 5, Joe Foy. The less said there, the better.

Jim Beauchamp showed up at Shea in 1972 and donned No. 24. It wasn’t like the Mets had Willie Mays filling it. Then, about a month into the season, they had Willie Mays filling it. Unsurprisingly, Beauchamp didn’t cite clubhouse seniority and switched quickly to 5, adding pinch-hit dependability’s to the number’s cachet. Jim became the second of three Mets to wear 5 in a World Series — four when we count the manager from 1986.

Beauchamp retired after 1973, but another Jim would jump into 5 in 1974: Jim Gosger, who’d been 18 and 19 in previous Met stretches and was not dead in 2019 despite an In Memoriam montage at Citi Field suggesting he was. After two Jims, two of the next three 5s were Mikes. Sandwiching Steve Henderson were Mike Phillips and Mike Howard, each of them bringing a footnote from home to the retrospective festivities. Phillips was traded away on June 15, 1977, same night as Seaver and Kingman (he also hit for the cycle in 1976). Howard drove in the winning run on Opening Day 1983, better remembered as the day Seaver returned to Shea in orange, blue and 41. Kingman played first base. Just like old 1975 times. Also end times for Howard, who was asked to remove 5 a few days later to make room for Mark Bradley. He never drove in another run or played in the majors again. No. 5 went into storage, awaiting Davey Johnson’s arrival in ’84. Nobody would wear 5 for as long as Johnson until that kid from Virginia came along in 2004 and stuck around until 2018.

Not fittingly neatly into any of these 5-themed sub-narratives is the late Jeff McKnight, but that seems appropriate. As the essential (especially to essays like these) Mets By The Numbers has expertly delineated, McKnight is a digital avatar unmatched in Mets lore, having worn 5 different numbers in a non-contiguous Met career that spanned 5 years. One of them was 5, his number for 1992, when he played 5 different positions. I’d love to tell you he hit 5 home runs or something similarly on point, but, honestly, hasn’t Jeff McKnight done enough for us already?

So has Harol Gonzalez, apparently. Pitching in 5 in St. Lucie on SNY drew a little too much attention for the Mets’ liking and perhaps generated a bit too much shame. Four nights after his 5 jumped off the screen, Howie Rose mentioned the Mets took 5 away from Gonzalez and gave him 93. Like Jim Gosger, those archetypal high Spring Training numbers live on.

It was definitely the Wright thing to do, yet, really, no harm was done in the wearing of that gorgeous number one more time, as long as it was for exhibition purposes only. Seeing a Met doing something in 5, if only for an inning late on a February afternoon, provided an unexpected kick and unleashed a flood of memories from what we can now accurately term a stream of Hobie-to-Harol consciousness.

So fresh. So clean. Seriously, 5 looked so damn good out there.

BTW, HBD to Jon Springer’s MBTN, which has been diligently tracking 5s and all the other numbers for 21 years as of February 22. Drink up legally, dean of the Met Internet!