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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
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 Phantom of the Ballpark

Ever heard the term phantom tickets? It refers to tickets printed for games that were never played. For example, a ticket to the 2004 World Series at Yankee Stadium would be a phantom ticket because the 2004 World Series wasn't played at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees had a three games to none lead on the Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series but then lost four straight and didn't make the World Series.

(Gratuitous enough for ya?)

While I keep meticulous records of every game I've attended, I have no idea what the Mets' record is in my phantom games — those contests for which I've held tickets and failed for whatever reason to show. These might also include times somebody held a ticket for me and I had to send my regrets. Or games I was sure I was going to buy tickets for and didn't. It's too amorphous a category to track.

But I can say that Saturday made me 2-0 this year in games whose tickets turned into $30 bookmarks. Got waylaid by a summer cold at the exact moment summer broke out around here. Summer colds are the worst (unless they're winter colds or colds any other time of year).

While I felt like a creaky phantom myself every time I deigned to do so much as raise my thumb to the remote control yesterday — this is no ordinary cold — my hearing was sharp enough to make out the voice analyzing the game on Fox.

I already felt physically ill. Listening to Jeff Torborg, the phantom of the manager's office, made me physically iller.

Earlier this season, I was discussing the state of things with a well-informed Mets fan. He was going on about Art Howe having been obviously and totally the worst manager in the history of the Mets. I interrupted him.

“What about Jeff Torborg?”

“Oh yeah. He was worse.”

It's been more than a dozen years since he made out a Mets lineup card, but I can't get over my hatred of Jeff Torborg. This is hatred of an actual and personal nature even if I've never met the man. I feel I would have to be restrained should I ever find myself in an elevator with Jeff Torborg. Keep me away from him for the good of all involved.

Art Howe? Nice guy. Overmatched. Shouldn't have been here. (Kansas City actually considered him? Aim high, brothers.) I resented Howe taking over for Bobby V. I was frustrated that he did such a poor job. It bothers me that a quote like Jason Phillips' from several weeks ago in SI

“Move a runner over or string out a five-, six-, seven-pitch at-bat, maybe hurt a [starter] later on, get into their bullpen early. Those things have gone unnoticed on a lot of teams I've played for, but here when you have a good at-bat, even if you make an out, [Jim] Tracy's the first one to say, 'Hey, man, great job.'”

…reflects so accurately on Howe's turning being unengaged into a Zenlike thing. But I never hated Art Howe.

I hated Jeff Torborg. I still do. I hated him when he mysteriously got jobs with Montreal and Florida. I gloried in the Fish revival under McKeon because it made Torborg look all the worse by comparison.

I'm still mad that on an October day in 1991, upon hearing the news that the Mets had hired Jeff Torborg, I said, “oh good.” Like Al Harazin, I was blinded by the one good season he had had with the White Sox. It would turn out to be his only good season. Much like Steve Phillips a decade later on so many occasions, it never occurred to Harazin to ask, “gee, if this guy is so good, why is he so available?”

It wasn't the lousy record the Mets compiled under him. Almost every Mets manager has a losing record lifetime. It was the sanctimonious prickdom of Jeff Torborg that got under my skin and stayed there. It was the non-accountability of Jeff Torborg. It was there yesterday when Thom Brenneman noted we had just passed the anniversary of the beginning of Lou Gehrig's Iron Horse streak. Brenneman made some light, time-filling remark about how you sure would've liked to have had that guy on your teams, huh Jeff?

“I sure had a lot of Wally Pipps on the teams I managed,” Torborg snarked in reply. He sort of took it back, but it was typical. They never gave me the players. The players never did what I wanted them to do. If only they had followed my rules.

The man couldn't manage a cardboard box if you sealed all the flaps for him. And for the record, Wally Pipp had a pretty fine career.

I didn't listen to Jeff Torborg for very long. With few exceptions this season, it's been TV sound down, radio sound up, delay be damned. I've gotten so used to watching this way that when I actually settle for the television announcers, I don't expect the action to match their words. When one of them says “Beltran fouls off the pitch,” I assume the pitcher is still in his windup.

It's a small price to pay in order to enjoy Gary and Howie. There's also the bonus delusion of thinking that when Floyd flies out on the radio while on television he has yet to swing, that maybe when he does make contact on screen, something different will happen.

Watching/listening to Roberto Hernandez face Fonzie tested my ongoing loyalties versus my dormant ones. Circa 2003, in the anything goes 'cause nobody cares era of Howe, I probably would've been with Edgardo. Not Saturday. Not anymore. If he's wearing another uniform, he's an opponent. Come home Fonzie and be Rusty II. It appears you're built for it.

Nothing's more important than the laundry right now. Too much appears to be at stake to get caught up in sentiment or sort through personalities (TMB! TMB! Every time the Man from Manchuria legitimately contributes to our '05 pennant drive, his past gets a little cloudier.) Entering Sunday, every team in the East is a contender. Or a pretender. It won't last. It can't last. This was more or less the case a year ago well into July. It didn't last. But while it does, whatever's there for the taking needs to be taken.

There are no prizes for being in first place on June 5. But it beats being in one of the other four places. Besides, this is haymaking time. These are the home games against teams that, while they must all be respected, can be played against. The Dirty Thirty — those out-of-division, out-of EDT games — remain and they still scare me. To be in any position to withstand them, we have to win one and then another.

And that's just for Sunday. Let's play two! Let's win one! And then worry about the other.

6 comments to The Phantom of the Ballpark

  • Anonymous

    Since FSNY and MSG see no reason to interrupt darts, beach volleyball, poker and horse racing to show the Mets, I'm on the FAN. Quite enjoying Howie's disgust at the constant and very tiresome booing by the so-called “Met fans” at Shea. Yes, Howie. Perhaps I will call in as discuss it, as you suggest. I have what are now phantom tickets for today/tonight and have no intention of going, for that very reason. If I want to be surrounded by people who hate and abuse my team, I'll go to the Bronx, thank you very much.
    And how 'bout them Twins??

  • Anonymous

    You do know the first game was on Channel 11.

  • Anonymous

    I put on channel 11 and “Forget Paris” was on. ?!

  • Anonymous

    That's what the readout said because this was a last-minute (since Friday) add to the schedule. I take it you turned it on during a commercial. Game was televised.

  • Anonymous

    I saw the listing on the screen said “Forget Paris” was on from 3-5. So I switched on Channel 11 (must have been somewhere around 4, otherwise why would I bother?) and there was Debra Winger. So I figured, intrepid reporter that I am, that said listing+appearance of Debra Winger=”Forget Paris” indeed on channel 11. Pissed, I put on the FAN.
    Did it start on 11 right at 4 or at 4:10?

  • Anonymous

    I'm not sure what time the game started, but weirdly, they put Forget Paris on, as scheduled at 3:00, and then interrupted it for a “special presentation” around 4:00. They couldn't find a two parter of Taxi or The Odd Couple to run for an hour? I guess they didn't want to upset their advertisers, but didn't mind upsetting the three or four viewers that were dumb enough to think they were getting the entire movie. Forget Paris, indeed.