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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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Earning Their Stripes

I'll leave the account of the feeling in the park to my co-blogger (probably making his way into the cheerfully crowded front car of a 7 train as I type) and concentrate (mostly) on the broadcast. Because the second Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling came back into the booth from the celebration on the field, I knew this was going to be a good one. Good with a slight chance of Rick Sutcliffesque greatness.

While Gary Cohen's partners were down below, it was time to marvel at what time has done to the '86 Mets. Some — Tim Teufel, HoJo, Greg Prince favorite Danny Heep, Bobby Ojeda — still looked thin and fit. Hell, HoJo looked like he could still play. Others — Doug Sisk, Ed Hearn, Kevin Elster (who appeared to be doing some kind of Buddhist thing with his hands) — had ballooned to El Sid levels. (By which no insult is meant: If transported through time from 1986 to the present day, my 17-year-old self would take one look at his future and burst into tears. And it should be noted that El Sid himself looked pretty slim.) And tonight demonstrates that Met fans do forgive: I was wondering if Doug Sisk might get booed.

No surprise, but Keith returned to the booth on fire. That was immediately clear when he answered Gary's rather straightforward question about how it felt to be down there receiving cheers by saying he felt like Scipio Africanus returning to Rome. Yes really. Then there was a nice moment. Keith was still wearing his '86 uni top, while Darling wasn't. When Gary asked about the discrepancy, Keith said they'd have to rip his off. Everybody laughed, but he meant it. Keith's sharp tongue, unvarnished opinions and libertine ways could make it easy to get lazy and assume he's too hard and cynical to be moved overmuch by a sentimental evening like this one; by the same token, you might assume that being in New York and connected with the Mets would make this night not as special for him as for someone who'd been away for years. Wrong on both counts — it was obvious this meant an enormous amount to Keith, and that was nice to see. (The jersey did come off later — they're being auctioned for charity.)

As the innings went by some of the '86ers dropped by the booth for an inning or two. Lenny Dykstra was funny, saying he'd dreaded facing Mike Scott in a Game 7 of the NLCS because that would have meant listening to Gary Carter moan about how Scott was cheating. Nails's response (paraphrasing): “We know he's cheating — we can't do anything about it!” He then looked at the camera and gave a rather nice speech, telling “all you little guys” that are told they can't do it not to listen to that, that if they worked hard enough they could do it. Moving stuff, except Gary then tried to work with Lenny by bringing up David Eckstein as proof. Nails was curtly dismissive, because Eckstein doesn't hit home runs. OK, Lenny. (Later, Keith offered a priceless, squeaky-voiced impression of Dykstra complaining about how starting pitchers made so much money working every fifth day.)

I admit I cringed when HoJo (who didn't visit) came up for discussion and the conversation turned to Whitey Herzog doubting how Howard could hit all those home runs. Darling started talking about how deceptively strong HoJo was, and I realized he wasn't around a couple of years ago, when Keith stunned the booth by matter-of-factly discussing HoJo's bat-corking prowess. Uh-oh. But Keith, for once in his life, was diplomatically silent.

Jesse Orosco's visit was interesting, too. I confess for years I've watched the image of Jesse flinging his glove into the air after striking out Marty Barrett and looked for one thing: The Glove That Never Came Down coming down. Because obviously it did, and I was sure that if I looked at the peripherals instead of the obvious, I'd see it. I never have, but Jesse discussed what happened to it: Buddy Harrelson retrieved it, and it was given to Steven McDonald, a police officer who was shot while trying to stop a robbery in the summer of 1986, an injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. (As recorded here.) It was tempting to imagine The Glove somewhere above our heads in low orbit, but this is nicer.

Orosco also said he got “smoked by Gary Carter” in the celebration and wound up pinned in the celebratory pile, which led Keith to recount being stuck in that same pile, nose-to-nose with Kevin Mitchell. He said neither of them could move and just started laughing. “It was a good pain,” said Keith.

The last visitor was Darryl Strawberry, who spoke movingly about trying to help people by recounting his own experiences going from the top to the bottom and then clawing his way back again. (Well, it sounded good. Not to be unfair, but Darryl's off-field walk hasn't always kept up with his talk.) After Milledge tried and failed to corral Garrett Atkins' at-the-time-fatal-looking home run, Straw muttered that he still thought he might have caught Mike Scioscia's decidedly fatal homer off Doc in the '88 playoffs if only he'd gotten back to the fence quickly enough. Straw also dissected his '86 postseason homers off Nolan Ryan and Bob Knepper. It always amazes me how players remember the small details of key games, at-bats and even pitches so well years after the fact. Maybe they do nothing but watch old game films, but I'm inclined to take it as a reminder that this game demands more than physical gifts. Many of these guys are stars because they can also summon up superhuman focus.

Anyway, it was a nice coincidence that the on-field Mets, the 2006 variety, were extraordinarily quiet while honored guests were parading in and out of the booth and there were tales to be told. Then, once the visits were over and the present-day Mets had the stage to themselves again, they took full advantage, cold-cocking the luckless Jeff Francis and his hapless Rockie teammates.

It was odd to see them in racing stripes, down to the blue button on the caps and the patch on the sleeves. (Even the gilled Jetsons helmets were all blue for the night.) I'm glad those uniforms are gone, but I suppose it isn't shocking that for at least one night they looked absolutely appropriate, and made me feel sentimental.

And whether it was Jose Reyes working back from an 0-2 count to draw a bases-loaded walk, Lastings Milledge shaking off all the dirt kicked on him by the fan base, Dave Williams answering the bell before a packed house on a mound he'd never seen before, or Carlos Delgado playing first like he should have worn #17, the current edition of the Mets earned those stripes. Save me a seat for the 20th anniversary of this very special team, willya?

Postscript: Oddest sight of the night? Glenn Close singing the national anthem (very well, too) in the horrifying '93-'94-style uni with the tail. I decided against immediately pouring Drano into my eye sockets in hope that some reasonable explanation for this might be offered. And, happily, one was: The back of her uni said CLOSE 94. 1994 wasn't particularly close — we were mediocre and 18.5 out when the owners tried to kill the game — but good enough for me.

4 comments to Earning Their Stripes

  • Anonymous

    The only one whose appearance really shocked me was Wally Backman, but maybe it's because I'm reading what I know of his story into his looks. I was pleased to see how fit and healthy Darryl looked. If I recall correctly, Kevin Elster had bulked up considerably by the time he started hitting all those home runs for the Rangers. (It's interesting that of all the players, only Dykstra, Aguilera and Elster had careers as good or better as they had with the Mets after leaving the team.)
    As the amended saying goes, baseball is a young man's game, except for Julio Franco.

  • Anonymous

    Glenn Close sang the Anthem on Opening Day in '86 as was explained in her introduction.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, and during the Series as well. That's no explanation for wearing the worst uni top in Mets history, though.

  • Anonymous

    Think anybody asked Wally, “Hey, how's the wife?”