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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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Our Day of Jubilee

If we’ve been waiting all winter yet have to wait a little longer, then Opening Day must be rushing close on the heels of Flashback Friday at Faith and Fear in Flushing.

Life, despite what Thomas Boswell says, does not begin on Opening Day. But it does peak then.

Is there any day better than Opening Day? Like what? Your birthday? On your birthday, you just get older. On Opening Day, we all get younger.

Opening Day is better than Christmas and Chanukah and Kwanzaa all rolled into one. Whatever their merits, they each occur in December, when it’s nasty outside. Opening Day might carry the chill of late winter, but it’s really early spring — the glass is at least 75% full on Opening Day.

You like getting gifts? How about the gift of baseball, presented in 162 pinkynail-sized boxes on your pocket schedule? And the first box you open is always the best. It has to be. There’s nothing to which you can compare it. You’ve been 0-0 since October. You get to start filling up those columns with W’s and L’s after six months of Z’s. Happy new year!

Several years ago, a friend of Stephanie’s sent her one of those pointless Internet surveys. She forwarded it to me. The only question I answered with any conviction was, “What’s your favorite holiday?” Without irony, I replied, “Opening Day.”

Opening Day is my holiday. Opening Day is an Upper-Case occasion for celebration. For baseball fans, it is our day of jubilee. Life may not begin on Opening Day, but it does leap from mundane to magnificent. And for that I am thankful.

Opening Day is good any way you can get it, and if you have to get it on TV or radio or Internet or smoke signal, well, get it there. But it’s not a fully realized sensation unless you attend its ceremonies, partake in its rituals, surround yourself with its affirmation. I’m not in the habit of telling anybody “ya gotta” do anything. But to observe Opening Day, ya gotta go.

I realize saying so does not make it a done deal. Admission for these sacred rites is, as a rule, hard to come by. We’ve been subject to an avalanche of ticket-package come-ons and vague lottery promises and demand always outstrips supply. But you’ve got months to strategize if you’re bound and determined. What is there to do in December and January except, as Rogers Hornsby suggested, stare out the window and wait for spring? Rogers Hornsby would figure out a way to get to Opening Day, and he’s been dead for more than 40 years.

It has been my great fortune to attend Opening Day services eight times since 1993. Four of those were true season openers, the rest Home Openers, but the spirituality is the same. Just because the Mets played two games in Japan or three in Florida or four in Canada doesn’t make the first appearance on Shea soil any less sacred.

My most recent true Opener was the very first game of the 2002 season, five years ago next week. It was April 1, just like this season’s starter in St. Louis will be. It was a win, 6-2 over the Pirates. Of course it was a win. It was Opening Day. We’re not supposed to lose on Opening Day. I myself am 8-0, forever skewing my expectations. (Somebody get me a ticket for this Opening Day if you want 2007 to get off on the right foot.)

Entwined with the score was the inherent optimism — this was the sun-drenched Opener of Alomar and Vaughn, Cedeño and Burnitz, the year of the big comeback from the letdown of 2001. There’d be plenty more of these, 53,734 of us assured each other. It didn’t turn out to be so, but on Opening Day, who knew? A 1.000 in the Pct. column looks good no matter that it foreshadows nothing.

I came into six tickets that year through the graces of a friend with connections. Immediately surrounded myself with all my favorite Mets people from the earliest part of the century: Jason, Rob, Laurie and Richie, who came with his son, also named Richie. (This business needed an actual hooky-player, I decided.) I’m a big man when I’ve got six tickets on Opening Day. I live to spread the wealth.

Everybody was pumped. Rob met me at home and we took the train in together. We met Jason and the Richies at the gate. Laurie, who worked in the same place as me, already had her ticket and met us at the seats in the right field boxes. She proposed a pre-game toast to the Diamondbacks, who brought all of us so much joy the previous November. We were giddy.

My cell phone, which usually lay quiet in my bag, blew up. That’s hip-hop for rang a lot. I had put the word out that I would be going to Opening Day; if you’re going, give me a call, we’ll hook up. A couple of guys called. They were in the stadium somewhere or on their way. Yes, Shea Stadium was the center of the universe…even more than usual.

Like I said, the game was a success on field and off. The best line belonged to Richie the Elder. On a grounder to first in the ninth, Mo Vaughn went after the ball and Armando Benitez covered the bag. “Geez,” Richie said. “I think the whole stadium is tilting toward us.” Ha!

The great part about Opening Day is that it is a whole day. The excitement swells in the small hours’ sleeplessness, crests as one grabs one’s LIRR schedules and Walkman and water bottle (how did my father go places without a bag?) and then, of course, the game. The yearbook, the media guide, the first program. I get weighed down. The first pretzel or chicken sandwich or, if I’m gastronomically daring, hot dog. The first win. And the first happy recap and enthusiastic exit of the year.

And then? Then, the thrill continues. On the train back to Long Island, Rob and I stick out among the work-weary. We went to the game. We went to Opening Day. The day is still in progress, ours a lot better than that of everybody who wasn’t there. Somebody at Jamaica asks who won. Somebody at Jamaica always asks who won on Opening Day. This is no obscure affair in August against the Expos (it’s 2002, there are still Expos). Everybody knows this is Opening Day. The Mets won, I volunteer to anybody who even looks curious, 6-2.

I say bye to Rob at my place and the day continues. Stephanie is home and I fill her in on all the fun, on Richie’s stadium-shifting remark, on Laurie’s Diamondbacks toast, how exciting it was to see all the new players and old pals. I pass along my publications for inspection.

But it’s still not over! We go to dinner at the East Bay Diner. I’m wearing my Mets sweatshirt and my Mets jacket. People can figure out where I’ve been. I’ve been doing something important. Important to me, noteworthy to them. Then, because this is a Monday and we didn’t do it Sunday, we go grocery shopping. In the Waldbaum’s lot, we run into Officer Tom, a Nassau County cop with whom I went to high school and ran into at our reunion the previous summer. He’s one of the Yankees fans who stuck it to me but good back in the day. But now, like Rupert Pupkin’s fantasy in The King of Comedy,

I’m getting even everywhere. That’s right, Tom, I was at the game today. The Mets won. Get used to it. Go arrest somebody.

We do our shopping and then we land on Sydra, our favorite cashier, the only cashier who asks after us, asks if we found everything we were looking for (we realize in later years that this is kind of robotic-friendly, but at the time, it’s refreshing). I’ve worn enough apparel to Waldbaum’s so she remembers my allegiances, reinforced tonight. “Today was Opening Day, wasn’t it? Did you go to the game?” she asks. Did I go to the game? Why yes I did! Let me tell you about it.

It’s one more chance to extend Opening Day. I never want it to end.

Next Friday: Not quite a quarter-century since the No. 8 song of all-time came along.

28 comments to Our Day of Jubilee

  • Anonymous

    Greg,
    Same sentiment exactly from this corner. When I was a student, the first day and last day of school, as well as the day before and day back from the fall and spring break, were the touchstone markers we all used to delineate time. These days, work is year round and vacations are erratic, sometimes non-existent. The last game of the Series, the first game of spring training, and Opening Day are my markers now.
    I have no doubt that in the future, man will have populated worlds millions of light years away. Some rabid fan somewhere in Alpha Centauri, whose day is not 24 hours anymore and whose year is not 365 days, will have a digital readout on his desk. Like the one in Matthew Perry's office in “Studio 60″, counting down how many days and hours until the next show begins. This fan's clock will mark, in big red numbers, how long until pitchers and catchers report back on earth.
    In this month's Reader's Digest, a heart attack victim is asked some of the standard questions to check her lucidity. She knew it was Thursday, but when asked when the next day was, she answered unhesitatingly, “The first day of spring training”. That would be my response; I'm sure it would be many of yours' as well.

  • Anonymous

    O, Greg, ye lucky, lucky dog.
    We've all got a lot of work to do to get baseball's Opening Day back to the status it once held before football muscled it's way to the #1 spot. Parents need to push the game for it's own sake, and not as some road to as yet unwritten checks. Kids need to be convinced that baseball is cool for so many reasons, the least of which involves hero worship. Good players need to be encouraged to aspire to become great players, because the game itself is worth the effort.
    MLB is a business, and exists only to make money, make no mistake. Baseball is our sport, our leisure activity, our escape and release from the daily grind of just being alive. The two certainly have much in common, but should never be confused as one and the same.
    I'm optimistic, if only for having lived long enough to hear Ernie Banks say: “Let's play two!” and later in life see the pure joy of Jose Reyes playing a game he'd probably do so for free.

  • Anonymous

    That day was SO much fun! The first Opening Day after the end of The Reign of Terror. Thanks for the memories!! :-)

  • Anonymous

    Any day that begins with my Muse Laurie and ends with Tom Difusco is great in my book. Unfortunately our attempt at Opening Day fell short but I'm now there in spirit.

  • Anonymous

    For heaven's sake, will you just move back here already??

  • Anonymous

    as it happens, i went to that opening day with my friend peter without tickets, prepared to pay whatever was needed for a pair of upper deck sherpa specials.
    except between the new security measures and shea's stiffening against scalpers, there were no tix to be had. we wandered around from gate a to e and back and beyond for close to two hours, the only time i've gone to shea and NOT GOTTEN IN.
    peter and i caught the 7 back to times square and watched what remained of the game at the espnzone (on the couple of screens it had tuned to the mets) until it was time to head to the office (i worked nights then).
    not.
    the.
    same.
    i knew then the season was probably not going to live up to expectations.
    i don't expect to be at opening day this year, but i'll be there by the end of the week. (why does it have to be the nationals, though?) the first game is always opening day.

  • Anonymous

    I've long thought of opening day as “the other Christmas.” I did the play hooky thing in high school with large groups and was there for that freezing day in '85 when Vice President Bush threw out the first pitch, Glenn Close sang the national anthem and Gary Carter went deep in the 10th.
    I've been fortunate in that 2007 will be my 12th opening day in a row. I vividly recall Ordonez's relay throw (so often written up here) in '96, Castillo with the bases loaded in '98, Derek Bell and Al Leiter in 2000. Geez, we really never do lose these things, do we? (Having flushed the coldest day ever, Glavine's debut in '03, down the memory hole long ago).
    Anyway, the most poignant opening day for me was 2001. It was my first as a mini-plan subscriber and the day they raised the National League pennant from 2000. It was as beautiful a day weather wise as I ever encountered and Mike went deep twice as the Mets crushed the Braves something like 9-3. That the Mets would return to the World Series that year wasn't even a question in my mind.
    I guess in hindsight what transpired five months later has made that day stand out that much more.

  • Anonymous

    I don't have a least favorite Opening Day of the eight I've attended, but 2001 is my favorite for all the reasons you mentioned and then some.

  • Anonymous

    Believe me dude, if you were there in '03 you'd certainly have a least favorite.

  • Anonymous

    You can draw a straight line from December 15, 2002 (Met who was not re-signed) to March 31, 2003 (Met fan who did not attend), but that's a well-worn line, so never mind.
    Corey Patterson's favorite Opener, though.

  • Anonymous

    I believe Sosa came in with 499 career home runs and the place was lousy with Cubs jerseys and the happy fuckers who wore them.
    All around it was the opening day equivalent of finding no presents under the tree.

  • Anonymous

    That is the worst thing there is. To have it on Opening Day (along with wind chills and all that) is even worse.
    Makes me feel better about the Victor Diaz/Craig Brazell game, and I already felt pretty damn good about it.

  • Anonymous

    And Steve Bartman?
    He's ok in my book.

  • Anonymous

    My public stance has always been that that was a shame, especially for a very good friend of mine out there, but when HBO ran that Cubs are chronic losers documentary last fall and I was drenching myself all over again in the euphoria of '69, I admitted out loud for the first time that, re Bartman, “I have to admit that deep down I thought that was pretty cool.” My wife was kind of shocked by this particular strain of Sheadenfreude. Yeah, I said, I know, but the Cubs…'69…screw them…forever.

  • Anonymous

    I'm impressed that you've become very good friends with Moises Alou so quickly, especially given your oft stated fondness for Cliff Floyd.

  • Anonymous

    Considering the Alou pedigree and his well-stamped National League passport, I find it surprising Moises hasn't already been a Met. It's an easy fit. Cliff was wonderful and he'll be the first Cub I ever standing-ovate, but he lost me a bit with his Floydian version of the events of the Ninth Inning. Sounded more CCA (Cover Cliff's Ass) than the uncovering of the awful truth (that Willie was confused and Manuel pulled his strings).

  • Anonymous

    Thankfully though that version of events has apparently turned out to be a dog that wouldn't hunt. The Mets lost that series because they didn't hit and they arguably lost it well before game 7. I was ok (and remain so) with the decision to bring in Cliff to swing away in the ninth.
    Hopefully the troglodyte element at Shea will not see fit to vent their fury at Randolph, Beltran or Heilman.

  • Anonymous

    Come back from St. Louis and Atlanta 2-4 and all bets are off.

  • Anonymous

    Are you sure he'll be the first Cub you standing-ovate? I'm almost positive you standing-ovated The Greatest Pitcher Ever To Take The Mound, Bar None for my sake at least once. I think maybe once was the day you had the Roberto Hernandez tantrum.

  • Anonymous

    Are you sure he'll be the first Cub you standing-ovate? I'm almost positive you standing-ovated The Greatest Pitcher Ever To Take The Mound, Bar None for my sake at least once. I think maybe once was the day you had the Roberto Hernandez tantrum.
    GPETTTMBN–EFTSOC…respect for the career.
    Cliff…affection

  • Anonymous

    Well, 2-4 is a disgrace and hopefully the Mets won't even bother showing up. Seasons over at that point anyway.

  • Anonymous

    HAHAHAHA! Yeah, I of course plan to boo their sorry a**es out of the place on Opening Day if they're not 6-0. Also, if every hitter doesn't go 4-4, and the pitcher doesn't pitch a perfect game. Anything less is boo-worthy. I am a Met fan after all.

  • Anonymous

    “The Greatest Pitcher Ever To Take The Mound, Bar None
    Is there some sort of alternate universe where Tom Seaver was a Cub, not a White Sock?
    Through a combination of tenacity, good luck, and friends with season tickets I've only missed maybe three home openers since I started attending regularly in '84. It is the best day of the year, every year. Even days like the Cub fiasco were still great because, hey, there's another game tomorrow! (or Wednesday, you get the point).
    My favorite is still '85. Thousands of us chanting “Gary! Gary! Gary!” out of Shea, into the parking lot, and onto the Grand Central.

  • Anonymous

    “[Today is] opening day. Or Opening Day, depending on how you look at it.” — Jim Bouton, Ball Four

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    We all have our memories of those opening days. Two of them, of course, celebrated the return of a world champion. Let's hope the last Shea opener becomes the third.
    I was at the 1970 opener and have yet to forget the feelings I experienced as Joan Payson and Gil Hodges raised that first championship banner over the centerfield field. Six other personal moments from that historic day:
    1) Even as the Mets ran out just to do their pre-game stretches the stadium began to rock with “Let's Go Mets”.
    2) During the ceremony the crowd was caught off-guard when the name “Ed Charles” was announced and the Glider ran out from the Met dugout, wearing a trench coat, to receive his ring. We gave him a standing ovation and he waved back while returning o the dugout.
    3) When the championship banner was raised I turned my head to the Met dugout and saw Tommie Agee standing on the dugout steps, wearing his warm-up jacket and cap, with a big boyish smile on his face.
    4) Jerry Koozman was on the mound and I sensed his poise and confidence of a world champion.
    5) I was upset that there were about 10,000 empty seats in the upper deck.
    6) I was even more upset in the 9th – and not because the Pirates came back to win. Ron Swoboda short hopped a fly and tried to fool the umpire by raising his glove to hoping to get the out call. In 1969 Swoboda would have either made the catch or immediately followed through by whipping the ball back to the infield. No Met would have considered such a juvenile display. Right then and there I knew 1970 would not be a repeat of the previous year's miracle – the discipline was lacking.

  • Anonymous

    No. But in my universe, TGPETTTMBN is former Cub Greg Maddux. We all have our preferences.

  • Anonymous

    Joe,
    Any idea why Opening Day wasn't always a sellout? It's a rather recent phenomenon that the Mets get upwards of 45,000, 50,000. You look at some of the crowds, even before the dreadful De Roulet days and they fell far short of 50,000. Even if those were truer counts (instead of tickets sold), it's hard to understand the shortfall. Between 1971 and 1981, Shea ODA never reached 28,000 — and that included 1974's flag raising. (Yankee home opener attendance was similarly lame, so was it a New York nonchalance thing?)

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    I wondered about that myself. At the time I thought the non-capacity crowd was because so many were focused on the Knicks quest for the NBA crown and the Rangers being in the Stanely Cup Playoffs (the late 60's/early 70's were baseketball and hockey's glory years in New York) but as you mentioned, sellouts weren't assured in those early days. Also, a million coming through the turnstile was the seasonal goal for many clubs at that time So, attendance figures being what they were, crowds between 35,000 and 45,000 were probably considered opening day successes.
    The approximate attendance for each of those early Met openers:
    – 1962 – a cold dreary Friday with maybe 13,000 fans in the Polo Grounds.
    – 1963 – A sunny day with 28,000 in the seats against St. Louis to welcome back the Duke.
    – 1964 – 5,000 empty seats at the inaugural despite pleasant weather.
    – 1965 – Cool and overcast and about 35,000 attended the season opener, despite it being against the
    Dodgers.
    – 1966 – Our first sellout – we were all excited having Boyer and Stuart in the lineup and how well
    Wes Westrum's crew did in spring training.
    – 1967 – A cold, blustery sun filled day but again with approximately 37,000 in the stands to see the debut
    of Tommy Davis and Don Bosch.
    – 1968 – Near capacity crowd of 53,000 saw us win our first opener on a sunny and warm afternoon against
    the Giants.
    – 1969 – About 44,000 on a cool but sunny day for the maiden voyage of the Montreal Expos.
    – 1970 – Again, about 44,000 to great the world champions. It was overcast and blustery.
    – 1971 – The first snow game – maybe 27,000 in the park.
    And the Yankees did draw worse. They had 40,000 in the stands the same year Shea had it's first sellout (1966). The following season home openers drew between 13,000 and 17,000. The Mets overtook the Yankees in season attendance that first year of Shea drawing more than 1,700,000 fans – about 400,000 more than the Yankees – and the gap became larger and larger each year until the mid-seventies.