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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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Closer To Real

Holy crap! The baseball season starts in less than a week!

I’ve been holed up with my Snigh for the last few days and realize that everything I’m seeing (except for the sailing show, the poker show and the Dean Martin Roasts infomercial) translates to potential implications for the first days of the rest of our life.

Seeing this afternoon’s slightly meaningful exhibition, for example, implied strongly that Mr. Lima and Mr. Iriki, each conch-shelled by Marlin hitting, will not be joining us for Opening Day. And by implication of his non-appearance at the game’s beginning, Aaron Heilman will be joining the bullpen, ceding his slot in the rotation to Brian Bannister, a positive dual development.

Heilman to the pen? Never fully understood why he was being airlifted out of it. He was a tremendous reliever last year and relief counts in this man’s game. If he doesn’t think you can get rich pitching often and briefly, he should chat with his wealthy teammate Billy Wagner. A lights-out setup man can become a lights-out closer elsewhere. I’m not endorsing the transactioning of Aaron anywhere but to the seventh or eighth inning, but he shouldn’t be wearing that hangdog (I mean the really hangdog) look of his at this development. He can help the team now and eventually help himself on the open market (or as Billy Wags’ successor if he’s extremely patient).

As for Bannister, he could storm out of the gates and into the rotation like Bill Latham in 1985 or Tyler Yates in 2004 but I’m thinking otherwise. The kid looks good — sorry, that’s as deep as my analysis goes on limited exposure — and it demonstrates the kind of starting depth for which the New York Mets weren’t supposed to be known in 2006. It’s also a little gratifying to see the farm system produce an arm that’s ready to produce in kind. I’m generally and literally with the guy in this discussion who said developing your own prospects is akin to having good posture…

People admire it, but if you can slouch your way across the street just as quickly, who really cares?

…but it’s nice to rediscover that the land of Seaver and Gooden isn’t a total slouch when it comes to creating pitchers.

With Heilman in the pen, I don’t know what that means for Heath Bell’s immediate future. I have to be honest and say I’ve never really worried about Heath Bell’s immediate future, which puts me in the minority in the Metsosphere, where Heath has been a hurl célèbre for as long as I’ve been here. I’ve not been interested in freeing Heath Bell from Norfolk purgatory because I haven’t been all that impressed with his pitching (lifetime ERA 4.88) to this point in his young career.

But a) he has been pitching well this spring and b) on his son’s bedroom wall, as captured by the cameras of Mets Weekly, is a faux road sign that says TO SHEA STADIUM. When I saw that, I felt a kinship for the Bells, father and son. What if Heath’s released or traded, I wondered. Does the kid take down the sign and replace it with, hypothetically, TIGER FAN PARKING ONLY?

More concrete questions have been arising this week as well. Trachsel gets lit up this late in spring and I ask, is Trachsel going to be OK? That’s normal. But Zambrano is sharp and I worry, is Zambrano just teasing us to get us overconfident so we throw around misguided phrases like pitching depth? That’s normal for me in the course of a season, never taking very much good news very well for very long. It’s another sign that Upper-Case Spring is ending and lower-case spring is really here.

Second base is really decided as well. Was it ever a contest? We knew Bret Boone would disappear, we knew Kaz Matsui would implode and we knew Jeff Keppinger would need Anderson Hernandez to step on a grenade to get a legitimate shot at the job. Hernandez didn’t and now Hernandez is the second baseman.

Unless Hernandez has a kid with a TO SHEA STADIUM sign on his bedroom wall, I’m not ebullient over this development. I don’t trust too many second basemen since Fonzie was truly Fonzie. The recent track record (Alomar, Sanchez, Garcia, Gutierrez…Kaz looks pretty good by comparison) is littered with disappointment and Disabled List visits. Hernandez is the rawest rookie to start the season at second since Kelvin Chapman in 1979, not counting Gregg Jefferies in 1989, but Jefferies was mostly raw in the head.

The rationale for A-Hearn over J-Kepp (somebody slap A-Rod for starting this dopey T-Rend) is defense, which sounds awfully familiar…

• “Robbie Alomar brings a Gold Glove to Shea.”

• “Don’t worry about second. Ricky Gutierrez will be a surehanded glove until Reyes gets back.”

• “Having Randolph as his manager will help Matsui adjust to second, as will having Mientkiewicz at first.”

What’s that? Ancient history? Maybe. And defense becomes a primary concern with Delgado lumbering around first? Perhaps. But will it be enough to make up for whatever we don’t get out of the eight-spot in the order if Anderson Hernandez is as feeble in April as he was last September? If he’s been tearing it up in camp, it’s been when I haven’t been watching. Hernandez and the pitcher equaling two outs is a lot to overcome even if one through seven are as nifty as advertised.

If.

You know which second baseman could hit for us at least some of the time? Jeff Kent. You know who’s the longest-ago Met still active? Jeff Kent. Not sure why this occurred to me the other night, but I’ve poked around and concluded that no player who played for the Mets as long ago as Kent — August 28, 1992 — remains a big league player. He quietly replaced John Franco in this heretofore unheralded role last summer upon Franco’s designation for retirement.

Following Kent as LAMSA:

• Jeromy Burnitz, 6/21/1993

• Jose Vizcaino, 4/4/1994

• Kelly Stinnett, 4/5/1994

Fernando Viña, who Met-debuted somewhere between Vizcaino and Stinnett in Chicago a dozen years ago, was just cut by the Mariners. The shelf lives of 1994 Mets are dwindling as we speak.

Preceding Kent as LAMSA:

• Felix Mantilla, 4/11/1962; reigned until 10/2/1966

• Al Jackson, 4/14/1962; reigned until 9/26/1969

• Chris Cannizzaro, 4/14/1962 (C for Jackson at the Polo Grounds, so he technically saw action after his pitcher); reigned until 9/28/1974

• Ed Kranepool, 9/22/1962; reigned until 9/30/1979

• Tug McGraw, 4/18/1965; reigned until 9/25/1984

• Nolan Ryan, 9/11/1966; reigned until 9/22/1993

• Jesse Orosco, 4/5/1979; reigned until 9/27/2003

• John Franco, 4/11/1990; reigned until 7/1/2005

Six days to go…

I’m not a big believer in preseason predictions, but you can count on these at Gotham Baseball coming true.

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