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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 Strawberry Shadow

Watching TV through Met-colored glasses so you don’t have to…

In the 1979-80 season of The White Shadow, situated at a fictional ghetto high school in Los Angeles (and delved into on DVD over yet another baseball-starved weekend), members of the Carver basketball team said they were headed to “Crenshaw” to watch the cheerleaders practice, heh-heh. If they had made it there, they may have very well run into 17-year-old Darryl Strawberry, then a senior at the very real Crenshaw High School. Theoretically, Darryl Strawberry could have been posting Warren Coolidge up under the backboards before any of us knew who he was.

But it was the Christmas episode and there were trees to trim and parties to plan and so forth, because on television, high school students obsess on Christmas for days in advance. In other words, no Crenshaw, no Darryl, no Mets at all, not even a dig that “man, Richie Hebner could have buried that jumper.”

Sadly, in that same Crenshaw Christmas episode, Coach Ken Reeves, a retired Chicago Bull made memorable by Ken Howard, wore a Cubs cap while recent transfer student Nick Vitaglia — Salami’s cousin from New York (because the show apparently needed another over-the-top Italian kid playing hoops in the vicinity of South Central) — showcased his uncouthness with the wrong NY headgear to say nothing of a grating accent. You weren’t going to find a lot of Metswear in 1979 New York, why should you expect to stumble upon it in L.A.?

The only Met mention I can recall on any installment of The White Shadow came in a two-parter when the coach visited his alcoholic/dying father in Bayside. Portrayed by James Whitmore, the crotchety dad, an avowed Yankees fan (no wonder YES has been showing it lately), was so desperate to avoid chatting up his son in some Queens restaurant, that he went out to the car to “listen to the Mets game on the radio,” a.k.a. choosing Steve Albert’s play-by-play over his son’s reluctant company. That was in the astoundingly crappy third season, not available on video (just like that night’s Mets game, apparently). Mickey Mantle made a cameo, smiling just long enough for Whitmore to screw up his courage and tell him “you’re my biggest fan.” Whitmore dies anyway.

I liked The White Shadow a lot in its prime, the two years that coincided exactly with tenth and eleventh grades for me. The first season came out on DVD in 2005 and its mix of Afterschool Special earnestness, well meaning if kinda clueless topicality and sports — especially sports — was a big kick all over again. Every week, we’d find a Carver regular had a “real” problem (venereal disease, drugs, gambling) or a new transfer to the team was gay/unnecessarily militant/autistic. Either way, Coach Reeves would provide lighthearted, world-weary, fish-out-of-water guidance and we’d all learn a valuable lesson about ourselves. It was Lou Grant with training wheels.

Rewatching season one was fun. The second season, however, proves the memory can be selective, for I don’t remember the episodes being so, well, boring. I never realized how incredibly lengthy shows were in those days. An hourlong show when it aired on CBS, the average WS runs 48 minutes on disc, six minutes longer than The West Wing, for comparison’s sake.

It’s a huge difference. There’s lots of driving across town, lots of pointless chit-chat leading up to the unsurprising plot twist, lots of basketball drills. TV is so much faster now, literally and mentally. I took the Shadow down from the shelf after getting hooked on another socially conscious, high school athletics-centered show, Friday Night Lights. The football-obsessed hamlet of Dillon, Texas can endure eight crises, solve six, create five more and make the playoffs in the time it takes Thorpe to bring the ball up court and pass it to Heyward. Friday Night Lights could go three hours and never feel boring.

But FNL has never, even accidentally, evoked Darryl Strawberry, so score one for Carver High.
Also, for what it’s worth (admittedly not much if there were an actual game on right now), the sitcom writer and baseball broadcaster Ken Levine recently recounted his experiences directing the late-’90s Al Franken vehicle Lateline, a sitcom set behind the scenes at a Nightline-type show (if you hadn’t guessed by the title). It was shot in Astoria, a factor he considered an imposition to the creative style of the series:

There aren’t too many multi-camera shows filmed in New York. So there aren’t a lot of cameramen familiar with the form. Of our four cameramen, two primarily covered Mets games on Channel 9. If a character reached for a phone they zoomed in on his hand. I had to tell them, this was an actor not a shortstop.

Rey Ordoñez, on the other hand, was a fielder, not a hitter. And something of a bad actor.

19 comments to The Strawberry Shadow

  • Anonymous

    Salami later brought us the Pine Barrens episode of The Sopranos. All is forgiven.

  • Anonymous

    Would I expose myself as completely insane if I said that the one thing that I remember from The White Shadow was the MTM Productions cat at the end of the show dribbling a basketball after meowing? When you're 8 years old, that's the greatest thing in the world!

  • Anonymous

    Nine episodes left if we're ever gonna find the Russian.

  • Anonymous

    No you wouldn't. Nor would I if I noted it's disappointing to see that cat dribble that ball and hear no bouncing sounds. I could swear they were there back in the day.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    Reminscing about the White Shadow made me wonder which New York team has been more represented on TV and the silver screen since 1962 – “us” or “them” (you know who I mean).
    On both the tube and silver screen Yankee parathanalia was never seen as much as Oscar Madison with his Met cap and pictures of the Flushing faithful hung in his office. When “Get Smart” premiered agents 86 and 99 had not yet met so a sure-proof recognition code was developed by Control which they were sure nobody else would say: “New York Mets win doubleheader”. Prior to the 1966 opening day Soupy Sales and his sons sang “Meet The Mets” on “Hullaballo”. Not an avid watcher of today's television programs I can't say if Met or Yankee garb is donned by any character on a regular basis
    At the same time, the Yankees were an integral part of motion pictures like “Love Of The Game”, and “Major League” – but both times they were on the losing end.

  • Anonymous

    Another Greg interest converged on The White Shadow. The Carver High basketball team doubled as a vocal soul group — under the name Shower of Power or somesuch.
    I'll take White Shadow pacing any day.

  • Anonymous

    There was an episode of Friends in its penultimate season (2004) where a paleontologist colleague of Ross's (the smokin'-hot Aisha Tyler) came to New York for the first time & of course fell for Joey.
    She was telling him what she wanted to do during her stay. “I wanna see the Met,” she said.
    Joey retorted, “No, you wanna see the Yankees: the Mets suck.” (big laugh)
    Aisha: “No, not the Mets, the Met. Singular.”
    Joey: “Singular or plural, doesn't matter. They all suck!” (bigger laugh)
    Then there was the earlier (2001) episode, where Kirsten Davis from Sex & The City played Joey's girlfriend, and Joey thought she could be “the one…”
    Joey: “Only 1 problem, though: she's Mets fan.”
    In a later scene, the enter Central Perk together aguing Mets vs. Yankees..
    Joey: “The Mets have no bullpen!”
    Kirsten: “That's not true! What about Benitez?”
    Joey: “What about the Subway Series?”
    Kirsten: “What about shut up?”

  • Anonymous

    I happened to have recently seen some White Shadow reruns on YES but can't say I've watched an episode all the way thru since I was in 8th grade and chose the White Shadow as the subject of a report I had to deliver in Spanish class.
    I recall best the episode when they went to the Country Club and Salami was frightened by a plate of “vicious sauce.”

  • Anonymous

    Two incidences of the Mets being given pop-culture short shrift have vexed me of late:
    On HBO's Entourage, Turtle wears a Yankee cap on virtually every episode despite being born and raised (like the rest of the crew) in Queens. Although sometimes I wonder if it isn't a subtle dig at Yankee fans; Turtle is a status-seeking, wannabe schlub loser who can't score any chicks other than Vince's leftovers. Seems like a typical front-runner. Eric strikes me as a Met fan. Johnny Drama also, but the kind who booed Beltran in '05. Of course, HBO more than made up for this with Tony Soprano and Paulie Walnuts reminiscing over attending a Shea opener, “The first year Kingman was back”.
    The more egregious slight is the first Spider-Man film, when Peter Parker gazes mournfully at a picture of Uncle Ben and himself, wearing a Yankee cap! The Parkers, of Forest Hills! It's been well documented throughout Spidey's 44-year history which team he is a fan of. Many references have been made throughout the years, chiefly one of the most poignant Spidey comics (Peter Parker: Spider-Man Vol 2 #33) ever, where Pete visits Uncle Ben's grave and recalls their annual visits to Shea, and how even when the team was horrible they always held out hope for next year. An entire issue without a single punch, villain or even (if i recall correctly) picture of Spider-Man, and it summed up all of what makes one a Met (and Spider-Man) fan. In any case, Pete is a Met fan. It should be obvious, he's a superhero, not a supervillain!

  • Anonymous

    My favorite show, Futurama, disses the Mets constantly, but any publicity is better than no publicity. You can't quite see it in this screen cap –
    http://www.gotfuturama.com/cgi-bin/imageview.cgi?/Multimedia/FrameGrabs/2ACV16/Grabs/pic00170.jpg
    – but the sign outside Shea Stadium, where the New New York Mets play in the year 3000 (see? outdated already) says “Home of the World Champions, 1969 and 1986″. Took a minute for me to get it.
    Then there's “A Leela of Her Own” , in which Leela becomes the worst blernsball player ever, as a New New York Met. I didn't see any New New York Yankees in the year 3000. Perhaps they moved to Omicron Persei VIII.

  • Anonymous

    Then there's Family Guy, when the Rhode Island locals are bemoaning the arrival of “leaf peppers”. “These New Yorkers, they leave their garbage everywhere – New York Times, New York (something, I forget what), New York Mets”.

  • Anonymous

    With Laurie's help, I've been keeping a running tab of Met mentions in the popular culture for a couple of years and will definitely a) add some of these that I've missed and b) bring it forth in the near future.
    For now, I'll mention the most delightful, the Simpsons in which Apu is trying to pretend to be American to ward off deportation. He's wearing a circa-1986 Mets jersey (even though it's 1996 and, at the risk of sounding like Comic Book Guy, that was at least three home jersey iterations ago, so unless your middle name is Randy Niemann, you are woefully out of character) and suggests to Homer:
    What do you say we take a relaxed attitude towards work and watch the baseball game? The Nygh Mets are my favorite squadron.

  • Anonymous

    Shower of Power it was. That a late-1970s urban basketball team yearned to sing doo-wop after practice was the fantasy of creator Bruce Paltrow, but it was distinct.

  • Anonymous

    Turtle couldn't be anything but a Yankees fan, though if he shows up in a Mets cap this summer (more of a sure thing if we had gone five wins further), then that would be even more appropriate to his obvious front-runner nature.
    Totally agreed about Eric. Then again, I've had a lot of trouble figuring out where exactly in rough-and-tumble, mean streets Queens they're supposed to be from. The imaginary part, I'm guessing.

  • Anonymous

    I believe it was New York Magazine.
    I didn't see this episode until years after the fact on the Cartoon Network. I began to be insulted by the sight of various Mets tossed as if trash until I realized it originally aired in the summer of 2001 and, yeah, I could understand that completely.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, I think Apu said “the baseball match,” making it even more delightful.
    Another Futurama Mets mention, and my favorite, is in the episode “The Luck of the Fryrish” which starts with a flashback of Fry being born in the 20th century – apparently the early 70s. Mrs. Fry is listening to a Mets game on the transistor radio while in the hospital giving birth, and between labor pains is able to yell at Kranepool for striking out with the bases loaded. Then:
    Announcer: “Grote gets hit by a pitch! The Mets win!”
    Doctor: “It's a boy!”
    Mrs. Fry: “This is the happiest day of my life!”
    I'd like to think whoever wrote that dialogue was a Mets fan in the 70s, as he seems to have the batting order correct and all, but of course he could have just looked it up somewhere (or worse, started as a Mets fan and then switched to the Dark Side). A great bit, though, whatever the case.

  • Anonymous

    I was taking a relaxed attitude towards accuracy.
    Louis DePalma was on message as well, according to Ken Levine.

  • Anonymous

    And of course, who could forget Growing Pains?
    The Seavers lived next door to the Koosmans and Alan Thicke reminisced about taking an infant Kirk Cameron to Opening Day 1970 and (historical accuracy!) seeing Donn Clendenon hit a walk-off homer to win it.

  • Anonymous

    And, of course, on Everybody Loves Raymond, the dog's name is Shamsky and they do a show centered about a reunion of the '69 Mets ………………….