The year was 2005. I was 42 years old.
But you already knew that.
After these past eight months, I can’t imagine there’s much more that you don’t already know about me or the Mets, whether you wanted to or not. They were playing just a week ago and me, I haven’t shut up about it since. But given that you’ve been kind enough to ride the Flashback Friday express with me from 1970 to today, the last stop, I’ll go on just a little longer, far enough at least to pull us safely into the station marked OFFSEASON.
If somebody offered me a wishbone tonight, I swear I’d pull my end to get us a game tomorrow afternoon. But I don’t think Nathan’s still sells fried chicken and offseasons are, sadly, as necessary as any time passages.
As September and the Mets faded, I couldn’t get over how it seemed like just a week ago that the season started, that I had made a big point of walking down Grand Avenue to buy an Opening Day sandwich (not from Subway; sorry Willie), bringing it home, eating it for lunch and then nearly losing it when Joe Randa, that human pitchfork, filleted Braden Looper. But with a couple of weeks to go in the season, I realized it wasn’t anything like a week ago, that it was indeed almost six months ago. Baseball seasons have that way of being just long enough, no matter how badly you pine for them to go on just a little bit longer. By early September, I was pleading, let me up, I’ve had enough. And by late September, I recanted. I always do. But I know better, no matter how stark the months up the tracks loom.
We’ve arrived in a cold, cruel terminal, but ultimately, it’s where we all wind up. The good news is terminals are also places where we can wait in warmth until we climb aboard the next train out. The 2006 local is set to depart in a mere 178 days. We’ll keep each other company until then, just as we have since February 16 when the golden spike was driven into the ground and Faith and Fear in Flushing linked two fans’ love of the Mets with a surprisingly large number of likeminded individuals whose own faith and fear synced up to ours.
What a year it has been.
I learned a lot this year. I learned that next year isn’t now, it’s next year. I learned that this year would have to do, and that was fine. I learned that what was gripping to me at the ages of 7 and 12 and so forth was still capable of grasping me and squeezing me here in my early 40s and that I was tickled to be grasped and squeezed anew.
And I learned, at last, to listen to what they were saying.
They? I’m referring to the “they” who told me I should write about baseball. They’ve been telling me that for years. They who read my e-mails or the articles I wrote about other things. They who knew where my passion was and they who saw fit to helpfully suggest that, gee, you have a way with words and you obviously love the game. You should really write about baseball.
I forced a smile, nodded and thanked them for their kind endorsement. And then I went back to work on other things.
Write about baseball? Me? Yeah, sure, I could see why you’d say that. I’m not deaf, dumb and blind to what I can do or to what I like, but…
…and it always trailed off there. If the well-intentioned inquisitor hadn’t moved on to other topics, I’d explain that I never wanted to be a sportswriter, that I’d made a semi-conscious decision years ago that I didn’t want to stand in sweaty locker rooms and beg young millionaires to “tell us about your career, slugger.” I had wanted to maintain the distance and innocence that so many baseball beat writers said they lost when the game they loved became the job they hated.
Of course there’s more than one way to write about baseball as I think I’d been proving since 1994 when I began composing long and thoughtful e-mails, first for a few and then for a few more. I’d been amusing and enchanting a circle of friends and acquaintances and their friends and acquaintances for a decade, but only for the hell of it. It was something to do while at work so I could avoid my work…the job I hated.
I was an editor with a beverage magazine for almost 14 years, from the beginning of 1989 to the end of 2002. It wasn’t a bad experience but I was there too long. About four years after I couldn’t stand it any longer, I got out. And what did I do?
I joined another beverage magazine. Actually, I started another beverage magazine. I was hired to be the first editor of a trade publication that was owned by, get this, the same man who owned a Major League baseball team. He owned a lot of businesses. These were two of them, baseball and beverages. Those of us charged with launching this new magazine were told he loved both.
You’d think working for a man who owns a baseball team, especially if you love baseball, would be the bee’s knees. And it was, briefly. When his team came to Shea, my staff and I (we were all Mets fans) got fantastic seats. And later in the season, we held a conference in which the attraction was a chance to romp around the field where the team he owned played. I can’t say it was all in vain.
But it didn’t last much more than a year. A situation that sounded too good to be true turned out to be exactly that. And like the men who are enlisted to manage baseball teams, perhaps I was hired to be fired. It was the first job I was ever dismissed from. A few months later, the man who owned the baseball team sold that magazine altogether. Guess he didn’t love beverages quite as much we’d been told. He still has the team. It’s doing quite well.
By then, I was inside my fifth decade of trying to figure out what to do with myself. My beverage background had given me enough credibility and contacts to try my hand at…something in it. I didn’t know what, but I couldn’t go back to trade magazines full-time. It’s an honorable profession but it had worn on me. I was only taking the first beverage job for six months. I’d overstayed my welcome.
Having had that decision made for me in April 2004, I freelanced a little here, consulted a little there. I don’t even know what that means, consulting, but it was just enough of a living to keep me from being unemployed (not an incidental concern as the baseball team owner gave me my unconditional release just as Stephanie and I were buying our first home).
Why does any of this matter to you? Only because in February 2005, a week before pitchers and catchers were to report to Port St. Lucie, I got a phone call from one of the people I’d been doing some work for at what I shall refer to as a real company. He said he asked the person he worked for about putting me on retainer. That person thought that was a capital idea. I was offered a figure. It was a sustaining figure. It wasn’t going to make me rich but it would keep me from being washed away.
In other words, I was in business. I had work, something like a steady income and, best of all, flexibility in my hours. My projects and deadlines were the kind I could tend to from home and, if an opportunity arose to do something I really wanted to do, I could probably take it on full-force.
As it happened, I got another phone call. It came with an intriguing and compelling proposition.
“Hey man, you wanna do that blog we were talking about?”
It was Jason, my favorite baseball correspondent. We’d been through the wars together for bad seasons and good seasons and bad seasons again. Through it all, we had entertained each other with what I have to say were probably the sharpest, funniest, occasionally poignantest e-mails going about the Mets. Every couple of years, one or the other of us would say something to the effect of, hey, we should like do a book or something. And then we’d forget it. But somewhere in late ’04, early ’05, one or both of us had noticed that this blog thing was taking off. I’d read a bunch of political blogs during the presidential campaign — even the ones I agreed with came off as twitchy and hypercaffeinated — but I didn’t know they had them for sports.
“Sure. Let’s do it.”
And like that, the grand distraction of 2005, the reason I have not written a book, the reason I have not grown my beverage consultancy, the reason I have not gotten nearly enough sun on my psoriatic hands, was born.
That was it. No meetings. No asking anybody for their permission. I found an obscure blog host that my browser could handle. Jason came up with a name. I wrote the copy that explained what it was. And after thinking about doing something like this forever, I was suddenly doing what I’d been told I should be doing. I was writing about baseball.
You hath borne witness to the rest.
Jason and I jumped in without knowing what we were doing, though what was to know? We knew how to write and we knew the Mets. If there’s any other qualification, it wasn’t made apparent.
It’s only a blog, but it was, for the first time in my adult life, something that somebody was going to read that I actually wanted to write every single day. I may have been the best beverage magazine writer in America for 15 years, but there’s a real point of diminishing returns there in terms of professional gratification. The premier soft drink and beer purveyors of our great nation were there before me and they’re there after me.
This was different. This was baseball. This was the Mets. I was writing about it and them, and somebody — somebody I didn’t know — was reading me. Somebody else was reading me the next day and by the week after that, a few more somebodies were reading me.
They were reading me writing about the one thing that I cared about. The one thing that had been a part of me since I was old enough to have discerned that I was made up of parts. Baseball. The Mets.
From the time I was 4 and enrolled at the TLC Nursery School of Island Park until I was 22 and earned a diploma from the University of South Florida, I went to school. Otherwise, I haven’t really known where to go or what to do with myself. We’re talking about almost half of my life being navigated without so much as a compass. I’ve gotten lucky in that I met a woman long ago who became my wife, my best friend and my true companion. If I didn’t need to pay bills and stuff, she (and the cats) would be all I’d ever really need. That I’ve been sure of. Everything else in life has just kind of happened while I’ve been looking at my watch.
But the Mets have been different. The Mets I sought out. I came looking for Tom Seaver in 1969 and Ray Sadecki in 1970, just as I stayed up late last winter seeking word that Carlos Beltran would spurn Drayton McLane (he owns the Houston Astros; he owns a lot of businesses) in favor of us in 2005. If I couldn’t write about that with some emotion and some logic on a daily basis, then I had no business calling myself a writer, let alone a blogger.
It was a rush, one that recharged itself over and over again as February became March and March became the season and the season became more interesting than a season had been in a good long while, both because I felt it was my obligation to be interested in it and, gosh darn it, because the 2005 Mets were the kind of team with whom a blogger could have a blast.
Truth be told, I never really thought we would win anything. There were moments of belief. I’m a Mets fan, there have to be. But moments were all. This seemed like a team that might, not a team that would.
Might makes right, though, when your stake in the outcome becomes having something to write about night after night after night. I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s easier to write about your team playing badly than your team playing well. The prospective solutions are myriad and the shots are prohibitively cheaper — and who doesn’t want to save money? But lose too much, then who wants to read about them at all? I guess a team that wins just enough so as to be tantalizing but loses just enough so as to be aggravating is a blogger’s dream.
But we’re fans first, bloggers second. We’d have accepted the challenge of energizing painfully dull success, I guarantee we would have.
It was enough that the 2005 Mets weren’t their immediate predecessors. They assured us of that in December when they signed Pedro Martinez, the actual Pedro J. Martinez. We were used to rooting for a club that signed Pedro A. Martinez, the reliever who came and went very quickly in the mid-’90s. It was the same way we ran out and grabbed Mike Maddux the winter the Braves inked his younger brother Greg. It was always like that. But not anymore.
Pedro Martinez made us all look like winners. There were people who thought he was a bad idea. Too flaky, too much the prima donna, too fragile, too late. Their theories weren’t without merit, but they were all wrong. Pedro was all right. In his wake, he brought in the other Met who assured 2005 would resemble only accidentally 2004 and 2003 and 2002.
He paved the way for Carlos Beltran. Now there was a mammoth signing with which nobody could argue. Beltran was the kind of player we were incapable of cultivating on our own. He was fast, he could hit, he could field, he wasn’t on his way to prison. He had shown himself to be a full-fledged superstar the previous October and there was no way we were supposed to get him. Surely Carlos Beltran would sign with the Yankees or, failing that, stay with the Houston Astros. Neither happened and I was thrilled to pieces the January night it was reported he’d chosen the Mets.
Those were our two beacons of light for 2005, our biggest ones. We also had a dashing young third baseman and an intermittently galloping young shortstop when he wasn’t limping. David Wright and Jose Reyes were our kids, two baby Mets we’d actually managed to raise on our own. That’s a centerfielder in Beltran, a left side of the infield and an ace pitcher, Pedro. There was just enough there to believe in.
On Opening Day, which I was home to watch without having to take a vacation day for the first time since 1988, everything went to plan. Pedro Martinez was brilliant. Carlos Beltran homered. And the Mets carried a two-run lead into the ninth. We were about to be…
Oh and one. Braden Looper gave up home runs to Adam Dunn and Joe Randa in Cincinnati and just like that the Mets weren’t as new as their ads promised they’d be. Four games later they were 0-5. Six games after that, however, they were 6-5. Then they were 6-6.
The pattern for the season was set. Win one, lose two. Win two, lose one. The 2005 Mets set a franchise record for most instances of being at .500. They excelled at mediocrity. They offered hope in equal proportion to frustration. They were pretty good. They were kind of bad. Martinez was brilliant. Beltran was disappointing. Wright was on his way. Reyes was healthy.
Some guys I’d written off, like Cliff Floyd, starred. Some who had previously starred, specifically Piazza, began to dim. And a couple I’d barely known — Marlon Anderson, Chris Woodward — ingratiated themselves to me in small doses. I enjoyed them all more than I disliked any Mets who drove me nuts, the ones like Kaz Matsui who, nice guy though he may have been, could not get the hang of American baseball, and Looper, the closer who couldn’t shut the door on Opening Day and left it ajar with disturbing regularity.
But they were all Mets, so I liked them all. One thing I noticed in the blogosphere, just as in every other iteration of Metsiness, was the desire by so many fans to throw overboard so many Mets. Maybe I’d just seen too much to instantly demand that heads roll. Maybe at 42 I have natural simpatico with the veterans who are barely hanging on to their dreams.
Except for Jose Offerman. Geez — even a geezer like me can have standards.
The best part about our .500ish team was that we were appreciably no worse, if no better, than our competitors in the N.L. East for the first few months. The Braves were playing their usual possum, giving us the impression that they wouldn’t win their fourteenth straight division title. The Phillies, the Marlins and the transplanted Expos — the Nationals — were fairly Metsish in their approach to wins and losses. They all had plenty of both.
The Braves pulled away as the Braves tend to do and the Mets clawed their way into the Wild Card muck with those other Eastern juggernauts plus my pals the Astros. The season was thus imbued with more meaning than the previous seasons, and that was good for Faith and Fear. Good for me, too. A pennant race, even erratic participation in a five-team scrum for a runner-up spot, is all a fan can ask for.
It was fun while it lasted but it didn’t last nearly long enough for it to translate to October. Martinez kept doing his job; Beltran never quite did his; the kids got better (that’s what I love about these young ballplayers, man — I get older, they stay the same age); Piazza enjoyed a brief renaissance as prelude to a bittersweet and slightly confusing adieu; and I even found room in my heart for an old enemy named Tom Glavine. But the 2005 Mets didn’t have nearly enough to rise much above that irritating .500 mark. McLane’s Beltranless, beverageless Astros won the Wild Card; live and be well.
Every year there are one or two teams that slip precipitously from contention when the rest of the world is otherwise occupied. One day they’re in the Wild Card standings box and a week later they’re not. In 2005, we were one of those teams. It happened so fast that it was easy to forget that we were — were, not coulda been — a contender. That’s how I’d like to remember us.
About the time the competitive contours of 2005 revealed themselves in agate type, I realized I’d been here before. Never mind watching enough baseball and seeing something you’ve never seen before. I’d lived this season or portions thereof ever since I began taking baseball seriously. I’d been here every five years leading up to this year all so I could learn one more thing: that we are the sums of all the seasons that came before the one that we are in.
In 1970, I discovered the best pastimes consume you whole.
In 1975, I discovered plateaus can reveal themselves as peaks.
In 1980, I discovered transcendent satisfaction in fleeting triumph.
In 1985, I discovered the journey can outpoint the destination.
In 1990, I discovered what it means to maintain hold of a constant.
In 1995, I discovered progress isn’t always quickly discerned.
In 2000, I discovered fellowship in its finest and most urgent form.
In 2005, I rediscovered all of that. It never hurts to take a refresher course.
So we didn’t win anything — but we had the briefest of junctures in late August when it appeared we would, just like in 1975.
The best game of the year was surrounded on either side by three losses, but when Marlon Anderson roared around third with that inside-the-parker in June, setting up Cliff Floyd to poke an immense walkoff shot two innings later, they combined to call to mind what Steve Henderson did in the same stadium almost exactly 25 years earlier in the Magical summer of 1980.
Living and dying with my team is a craft I practiced the way I honed it in 1985.
While my career hurtled through its uncertainties, I knew I had my Mets just as I had my Mets when my mother was dying and my fiancée was moving in with me in 1990.
I would catch the LIRR and the 7 and go to as many games as I could, watching Reyes and Wright bloom before my eyes the way I went to see the likes of Edgardo Alfonzo do the same in 1995.
Being part of a tribe of dedicated and eloquent true believers proved as essential to my existence as it did when we won the National League pennant in 2000.
The 2005 Mets finished in third place, six victories shy of a post-season berth, with a record of 83-79.
The 1970 Mets finished in third place, six victories shy of a post-season berth, with a record of 83-79.
Maybe good does go around, and maybe we really are the sums of all the seasons that came before the one we were just in.
When it comes to the Mets, maybe I have seen it all already. But I found extraordinary comfort in Shéajà Vu this year. There was a stretch in July and August when the Mets were winning most of the games I was attending and I was just as excited at 42 as I was at 7. After every win, my pace down the ramp would get brisker and brisker as the mezzanine turned into the loge and the loge turned into the field level. My walk became a skip, an honest-to-goodness skip. I would seek out the EXIT sign, the one with the picture of Mr. Met and, if it wasn’t too terribly high, I’d skip until I could leap and I would high-five that picture of Mr. Met. Maybe with my hand, maybe with my cap. The important thing was I never lost contact with our mascot or my inner Mets fan.
Y’know, I was too mature for my own good when I was a kid and I’ve yet to really nail this adult thing. Maybe baseball’s the only place I’ll ever really feel safe at home. It’s a game you understand better and better as you age, but if you ever completely lose your childish take on it — that it’s my team and my team is the best team no matter what anybody tries to tell me — then you can never really be more than a visitor here.
Me, I’m a fulltime resident. I’ve got the blog and the bags under my eyes to prove it.
From April 1 to October 7, my partner and I posted on Faith and Fear in Flushing for 190 consecutive days. That encompassed the entire Mets’ season, one in which I watched, listened to or attended at least some of (usually all of) every single game. I don’t think I ever did that before. I don’t know if I was doing it for the blog or the blog just made my screwing around seem more necessary. Once I made it a point to write about the Mets, I felt it was my responsibility to sit on the living room couch from first pitch until the last West Coast out was recorded. Then it was off to the computer to tell you what I thought about it. (I’m up ’til all hours blogging and I’m supposed to criticize Reyes for a lack of discipline?)
It helped that in practical terms, I took up the life of a veritable shut-in. I mean as a consultant, but one who didn’t get out much. Most of my paying work flew back and forth over a cable modem. It allowed me to set up shop in proximity to the TV, the radio, the Internet and all the baseball those vehicles could carry. Don’t know if I’ll always be so lucky or nearly as insular but it worked this season.
I giggled when I watched the telecast of the final Milwaukee Brewers home game of 2005 (and not just because I was watching the telecast of the final Milwaukee Brewers home game of 2005). Their announcers were slathering praise all over their regular viewers with “Brewers fans are the best fans in baseball!” Most patient? Most tolerant of ineptitude? Top tailgaters? Maybe. But Brewers fans as the best in baseball? That seemed a tad excessive.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to tell your patrons that you think the world of them and, well, we do all of you. Jason and I conceived Faith and Fear as a way to talk to each other and, frankly, that’s all who we thought would be reading along. But this Web is a funny thing. During the half of February when we were on the air, this blog attracted 106.4 page views per day. Come September, our numbers had risen to 1,035.5 page views per day. By then, I knew it wasn’t just me clicking on my own posts to make sure they were still there.
Is that a lot? I’d like to think so, but I also know the Mets drew better than 35,000 to Shea Stadium for an average date in 2005. That means if everybody who clicked on Faith and Fear in Flushing in any given 24-hour period actually chartered a few railroad cars to Flushing, they would make up, at most, 3% of the paid attendance. About 97% of the house would have no idea who we are.
But that’s all right. A year ago I had never seen a Mets blog either. Since then, I’ve run across all kinds of kindred spirits churning out their own efforts on a near-daily basis. I admire them all because I know what it takes: time, passion and, sooner or later, an extended aural encounter with Fran Healy. We’re all happier bloggers when we have readers and that’s where you guys come in.
For all the sporadic delight I’ve derived from the Mets since 1969, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as personally gratified by a season as I’ve been by 2005. It was the first year that I dared to stick my head out the virtual window and shout to you the last ten things that popped into it. You not only listened but you came back to the curb the next night to hear what else I had to say. So screw the Brewers. You are the best fans in baseball.
I’ve lived through two world championships, two league championships and two other playoff appearances. I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain and I’ve seen pennant races that I thought would never end. The Mets have seen better years than 2005, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a better Mets year than this one. It was a season that, because of this, felt like it was mine.
Thank you for letting me share it with you.
“You should really write about baseball,” they told me.
I think I just did.
The year was 2005.
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight.
Flashback Friday has been a weekly tour through the years, every half-decade on the half-decade, wherein a younger Mets fan develops into the Mets fan he is today. Previous stops: 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000.