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

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

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

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Shea Abhors a Hateful Vacuum

The most telling sign of Mike Piazza's status upon his return to Shea Stadium was the graphic posted on DiamondVision in advance of the sparkling “In My Life” video tribute. There was a circular icon with a 31 in the middle. The numbers were blue, the trim was orange, the numerals were adorned with pleasing pinstripes.

That's right: A retired number. It was an implicit public promise that what we all think should happen will happen, barring long-term memory loss on behalf of ownership or the re-emergence of Kelvin Torve. No. 31 will go up on a wall, here or next door, alongside the ones you know in your sleep: 37, 14, 41 and 42. Without dredging up dozens of fun but tangential arguments on behalf of removing 24 and 17 and 6 (what, no Orsulak?) from active duty, 31 getting Stengeled is so appropriate that Miss Manners could emcee the ceremony.

Until then, we'll have to make do with turning our own backs on Mike Piazza. Thirty-Ones were in full effect last night, tens of thousands doing as I did and diving into their jersey and tee collections to break out a classic (though one joker in my section invested in a Padre road top with 33 and MET FOR LIFE on the name plate). We're on the same page with the Wilpons here. We're all respecting 31 however it's embodied.

This, by the by, is something the Dodgers won't do as is evidenced by their assignment of 31 to Brad Penny, so let that end any notion that an LA can adorn Mike's HOF cap…and how in bloody hell does Brad Penny get to keep wearing 31 when Greg Maddux is on the same team? Not our problem, but tacky.

Mike should receive the digital honor of honors just for pulling off the neat trick of returning to Shea and maintaining virtually every fan's loyalty while not pulling it at all away from the home team. The 2006 Mets get an assist there, too. In other not so long ago years, the crowd could be easily swayed against the Mets if one charismatic personality alighted in the wrong shirt. It is to Mike's credit that his Met popularity is rock solid. It is to the Mets' credit that last night didn't devolve into a late-'90s Merengue Night fiasco when even a Felipe Alou could turn a plurality of attendees into raucously supportive Montreal Expo acolytes and there wasn't enough of the royal we to convene a critical mass on behalf of our guys.

By the same token, in other years and on other nights, contagious amnesia has been known to break out. I was bemoaning to my friend “Other” Jason last night that I was here for the returns of Alfonzo and Olerud (and, we determined as I reminisced, most of the '99 Mets), and they were all treated like gray-suited strangers by almost everybody but me.

Say, who's that vaguely familiar character batting for the other team?

Oh, just somebody who used to work here. Pay him no mind and root for Tyler Yates.

But Tuesday with Mikey was invigoratingly different. The love in the room was intoxicating, the priorities were sober. Let's Go Mike and Let's Go Mets: concurrent emotions sung in perfect harmony. Nice job.

Having established that Mets fans don't always turn their old heroes into hero sandwiches, I am now left to wonder about some other sentiments expressed at Shea in recent nights and why we en masse think the way we do.

He's slightly old news, but what was with the booing of Chase Utley Friday night? Co-blogger and I were just reaching our seats Friday when Utley of the 35-game hitting streak was announced. You'd think Chase was a Pennsylvanian abbreviation for Chipper. Ya gotta be kidding me — we're booing Chase Utley for his recent spate of excellence? Talk about tacky. Worse than tacky…it's Yankee. It's Juan Gonzalez hitting a couple of home runs in the '96 playoffs and then becoming Public Enemy No. 1. We did the same thing with Utley, except without flinging Duracells at his head (can't beat that Yankee tradition).

Whatever happened to “Here comes that Man again”? Brooklyn fans may have hated what Stan Musial did to their Dodgers (owning them), but they recognized they were witnessing a great player and they applauded him. Didn't don Cardinal 6 jerseys as far as I know, but they respected him. When I was a kid, Mays the Giant and Aaron the Brave were above spiteful booing. You see an immortal among us and you clap.

What's that? Utley ain't them? No doubt. But Utley was doing what Pete Rose was doing in 1978, hitting every night and nearing history. Pete Rose really had been Public Enemy No. 1 in these parts since October 8, 1973; he still hasn't been forgiven for upending Buddy Harrelson. But when he came to Shea with the National League hitting streak record in sight, Mets fans — and not just the frontrunners who infect big events — saluted his feat. 1978 was like 2006 in one respect: There were no real ramifications in this for the Mets. If Rose had gone hitless, those Mets still would have sucked, just like if Utley had singled Friday night, these Mets would still rule.

You didn't have to root for Chase Utley to keep at his skein successfully (though why you wouldn't want a Yankee Clipper toppled clear out of the record books is beyond me), but you really couldn't take a moment from preserving the integrity of Metdom to put your hands together a few times and say, “hey, you're a real good player accomplishing a pretty great thing…now strike 'em out Duque!”? There has to be an aesthetically satisfactory middle ground between the Stockholm Syndrome that turned New Yorkers into home run whores for McGwire and Sosa and the brainless state that dictates anybody who's the enemy has to be fully and frontally attacked.

Listen, I cheered real hard when Pedro Feliciano put an end to the streak. Just because I admire what Utley had done doesn't mean I wanted to actively encourage him to succeed at our expense. But I also applauded him for having gotten that far. It's not that hard.

If you don't care for Pete Rose, maybe Axl Rose will do it for you. I'm thinking in terms of the acoustic G N' R of “Patience,” as in take it slow, things will be just fine. Consider this a long-distance dedication to the fans who are pumping up the volume, notch by disturbing notch, on booing Lastings Milledge.

Remember him? He's the extremely talented rookie you loved approximately two months ago. He's apparently been optioned to oblivion in your estimation because the Lastings Milledge at Shea on this homestand isn't being offered any high-fives down the right field line.

I won't argue that Milledge isn't showing nagging indications of shrinking into Jason Tyner, Size 2000, right before our very eyes. There is a growing process here and with growth comes pain. Thanks to Miami DUI fucker Cecil Wiggins, Milledge is back before his time. He's learning at the highest level and the lessons are complex, but I and, more importantly, those who evaluate talent for real think he's capable. Heck, even Jason Tyner is playing for a contender (the Twins) these days.

So why is Lastings Milledge being booed like he's Chase Utley without portfolio? I sensed a smidge of it on Sunday night and it definitely built into something noticeable by his final fruitless at-bat Tuesday. Booing Royce Ring is silly enough, but I get that: Reliever comes in, gives up hit, you react. Unnecessary, but instinctive. This Lastings thing feels like something else, as if the eighth-place batter in your first-place lineup is really becoming a bane of your existence. Because he's got a touch of the Mendoza? Because he leapt and missed for Geoff Blum's homer like Ron Swoboda did Don Buford's? Because his body language isn't as upWright as you'd like?

I can only conclude that there's a significant swath of Mets fans who need to be down on at least one of their own at all times. It ain't gonna be the left-side youngsters with the big contracts and, because they've performed so effectively, it ain't gonna be one of the Carloses (Beltran we've always showered with adoration, right?). Lo Duca is more of a folk hero than ever for being somebody else's unreasonable target. Cliff has always been blessedly immune to anything more than mild “he's hurt again?” grumbling. Booing Jose Valentin didn't harm him, the bastard. Endy Chavez never had a chance to be disliked, what with his good playing and such. Trachsel's monumentally boring but regularly victorious. Billy Wagner refuses to screw up every chance he gets. Aaron Heilman and Chris Woodward didn't play last night. Eli Marrero has left the building.

I see. It's all about to be Lastings Milledge's fault.

Whatever it is.

8 comments to Shea Abhors a Hateful Vacuum

  • Anonymous

    As you might be able to guess from my username, I'm all for retiring 17.
    If we're going to retire 24 for his lifetime if not Mettime achivements, how about about retiring 30 for his post-Met achievements? (I'm against both moves.)
    8 is also on my list, and this year would be the perfect time for 8 and 17.

  • Anonymous

    Greg, you make way too much sense. Do you think all this unneccesary booing is a result of too many casual fans or too many beers?

  • Anonymous

    There was no full circle with Ryan. He left New York early in his career and never came back except as a disinterested competitor. Never expressed a moment's remorse that it didn't work for him here. Nothing wrong with that, it just speaks to the detachment between Nolan Ryan and the Mets. He was a contributor to the '69 Mets and it should be a cherished chapter in his life story, but it's not a defning one. So, no, I can't figure out a way to retire 30 on his behalf.
    For Mays, there was a full circle. His coming back at the end of his career was an acknowledgement of what he meant to New York National League baseball, what he continued to mean to New York National League baseball fans despite being taken away from them after 1957 and not coming home to them until 1972. The candle never went out for Mays. We knew exactly what he was when he had him, which was not the case with Nolan Ryan.
    It would be very much a symbolic (as opposed to Met-accomplishment-based a la Hernandez) gesture to retire 24 in recognition that the single greatest player in National League history played for this franchise, played at his end, as in his beginning, as a New Yorker.
    If the Mets announced they were doing this in 1974, when he was a member of the Met family in good standing, nobody would have blinked. It's what the Milwaukee Brewers would do for Hank Aaron when he finished up with them a couple of years later. It was recognition of the greater scope of one extraordinary player's impact on a team's fans even if those fans' team was different in the mid-'70s than it was in the mid-'50s. It was the right thing to do. It hasn't stopped being the right thing to do.

  • Anonymous

    Beer is America's beverage. Let's not blame beer.
    Casual? Not sure. Those who were heating up the rhetoric on Lastings last night seemed to know their Mets, just not what to do with them.

  • Anonymous

    I think there are numbers you put up on the wall (14, 41, 37, 31, 5 and 7 hopefully someday) and others that are unofficially retired. If a Hall-of-Famer like Rickey comes along and wants to wear #24, he gets it, but it's otherwise unavailable. If a rookie catcher comes up to Shea in September and asks for #8, you chuckle at him and hand him something else. Were I the equipment manager, if Jose Reyes asked for #3, he'd get it. Rafael Santana would not have.

  • Anonymous

    Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest player in any league ever, started and ended his career with two different teams in Boston. Maybe they should retire his number in Fenway, and, if we want to be technical, in Turner Field. :)
    When I think of Mays in toto, I think of the great fielding, the speed, the grace, the home runs. When I think of Mays with the Mets, I think of him stumbling around in the outfield. Only 96 of his 3,283 hits and 14 of his 660 home runs were with the Mets.
    I think baseball provides so many feel-good moments that we don't need to create artificial ones like the one you're suggesting. To me, the numbers on your stadium's wall should represent the gold standard of excellence of the players who played on your team at the time they played on your team.
    An exception to my feel-good moment rule: I did like it when John McNamara left Buckner at first base because he wanted him to be on the field when the Red Sox won the World Series. That moment certainly made me feel good.

  • Anonymous

    1) Ruth was with the Red Sox when players didn't wear the numbers, so technically the Braves are on top of the situation by retiring nothing.
    2) But as long as you brought it up, let's run up to Boston right now and retire No. 6 for them.

  • Anonymous

    If I had to guess, I'd say most of the booing stems from the school of thought that “we held on to Lastings rather than ship him out for a big-name pitcher. He better be worth not having Zito/Dontrelle/Oswalt” (never mind that D-Train wasn't available and Angelos fucked up the Oswalt deal). Quite a burden of expectations to put on a young player (if I'm not mistaken, a graphic on one of the nationally televised games this weekend stated that he was the youngest player currently on a major-league roster), and not a particularly fair one.