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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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All Hail Freddy Sanchez

Fifteen teams are sending just one representative to San Francisco for the All-Star Game: the Braves (Brian McCann), Marlins (Miguel Cabrera), Nationals (Dmitri Young), Cardinals (Albert Pujols), Pirates (Freddy Sanchez), Reds (Ken Griffey Jr.), Giants (Barry Bonds), Rockies (Matt Holliday), Blue Jays (Alex Rios), Orioles (Brian Roberts), Devil Rays (Carl Crawford), Royals (Gil Meche), White Sox (Bobby Jenks), A's (Dan Haren) and Rangers (Michael Young).

Some of those guys are superstars (Pujols, Griffey, Bonds), while others are rising stars (Cabrera, McCann, Holliday, Crawford). But some of the others fairly shout obligation. Do Michael Young's underwhelming numbers shout “midsummer classic” to you? Gil Meche has five wins — should he go to San Francisco for that? Does a punchless singles hitter like Freddy Sanchez really deserve an All-Star berth?

Yes, yes and yes. And I won't hear otherwise.

Why? Because of John Stearns. And Pat Zachry. And Joel Youngblood. And Lee Mazzilli.

I remember those players from my first plunge into Met fandom, which started when I was seven and was as all-encompassing and life-changing as anything you love to distraction when you're seven. Except having traded Tom Seaver away, the Mets were terrible. Embarrassingly terrible. Avert-your-eyes, bag-over-your-head terrible. A few thousand at Shea terrible. And growing up on the North Shore of Long Island as a Met fan, not surprisingly, was terrible too.

In the late 1970s, I made many, many bus rides to and from school and many, many circuits around the cul-de-sac where the kids of my neighborhood rode bikes. And from March through October, many of those bus rides and bike circuits were spent taking heaping portions of abuse for being a diehard fan of an irrelevant team. Most of my neighbors were Yankee fans, an allegiance they'd either come by honestly (if being soulless and evil can ever be arrived at honestly) or taken up because it was the easy thing to do. Up and down Miller Place I'd go, hearing the catcalls of sneering, braying junior Yankee fans. Mets suck. The Mets are so gay. How are the gay sucky Mets doing this year? Back and forth to school I'd go on the bus, tormented by the Steinbrenner Youth singing the version of “Meet the Mets” that was better known in our town than the real thing.

Beat the Mets, beat the Mets

Step right up and beat the Mets

Hit your kiddies with a bat

Guaranteed to want your money back

Because the Mets are really stinking this year

Fourteen behind and still acting queer

From Expos to Giants, everybody's comin' round

To beat the M-E-T-S Mets of New York town!

I wasn't stupid. I knew the Yankees spent money and had a good chance of winning their division every year. I knew the Mets were embarrassingly cheap and had no chance. I knew they and I would be disrespected for it from spring training to the fall, that nobody wanted Met cards, that Herman's Sporting Goods barely bothered stocking Mets caps, that everybody in Little League wanted to be on the Yankees and groaned when they had to be on the Mets. (I was a Dodger.) This was my lot in life, and I gloomily accepted it while reading about 1969 and 1973 and dreaming about years yet to come, when things would somehow be different.

I had one thing, once the hope of spring training faded and the reality of another dismal regular season set in: the All-Star Game. No matter how good the Yankees were, or how bad the Mets were, a Met would go to the All-Star Game. Unfortunately, when I was a kid the Met who usually went was John Stearns. Stearns would be the backup catcher, the just-in-case guy who never got to play. The Bad Dude went in '77 (Tom Seaver wore the colors of the Reds), '79 and '80. Between those three All-Star appearances he got one at-bat. And so it was for the Mets: Pat Zachry got tapped in '78 and didn't pitch. Joel Youngblood went in '81, after the strike, and went 0 for 1.

But that was OK. Because what mattered to me was all the silly stuff I now usually miss. Just hearing “from the New York Mets” and seeing John Stearns come out of the dugout to the tepid applause of some far-off place was enough. Why, he'd slap hands with Pete Rose and Johnny Bench and Dave Parker, then look up at the crowd and tug on the bill of his cap. He was a New York Met All-Star, one of the elect, on national TV like all the rest of them. It didn't matter that he was usually alone in orange and blue, or that Sparky Anderson or Tom Lasorda wouldn't find a place for him. By lining up with the rest of the National League's best he was proof that we mattered after all, no matter what the kids on Miller Place said.

And then there was 1979. Stearns went to the Kingdome and didn't play. But that year we somehow had two All-Stars. Lee Mazzilli, he of the basket catches and Italian good looks and Brooklyn roots, went too. And Maz did get to play. He led off the top of the eighth, pinch-hitting for Gary Matthews, whom the Mets had famously tried to recruit as a free agent by sending him a lowball offer via telegram. Facing Jim Kern, Maz cracked a home run to tie the game at 6-6. Then, in the top of the ninth, Mazzilli batted again. With the bases loaded. And on the mound was Ron Guidry … of the New York Yankees.

Ron Guidry. Louisiana Lightning. The year before, he'd won 25 games and the Cy Young Award. And for all that he seemed overshadowed by the Yankees' other stars, by Reggie and Thurman and Nettles and Randolph and Piniella and Gossage. We didn't face the Yankees, unless you counted the farcical Mayor's Trophy Game, which nobody did. But now we were. Tie game, bases loaded, the entire nation watching. It didn't count, but it sure as heck mattered.

And Maz, the New York Met, coaxed ball four from Guidry! He walked! In came what would prove to be the decisive run in a National League victory. I lay awake that night thinking happily of how tomorrow I'd get to see if the Yankee fans wanted to talk about how Ron Guidry had lost the All-Star Game to the young star of the Mets. I'd get to argue, perfectly plausibly, that Mazzilli should have been the MVP instead of Dave Parker. It wasn't a home run or a liner up the gap or even a clean single, but it had done the job. Guidry had thrown a complete game two days earlier and tired himself out warming up several times, but that was excuse-making. It wasn't winning the World Series, but I knew we weren't going to do that. Maz had beaten Guidry, and that was enough.

And so every time I hear that it's an anachronism for every team to be represented in the All-Star Game, I remember those summers and that night, and the only day I ever got to strut through the halls of my elementary school because I was a fan of the New York Mets. And I think, for once utterly without irony, “Won't someone please think of the children?”

There are young fans of the Nationals, Pirates, Royals, Orioles, Devil Rays and other downtrodden clubs who'll stay up to watch the All-Star Game tomorrow night. They're fans every bit as rabid as me and Greg and all of you reading. They pass the time memorizing stats and collecting cards and asking for replica jerseys for their birthdays. And mostly they spend their time dreaming — fantasizing about an impossible time when their love will be requited and their loyalty repaid. When their fandom won't hurt. When they won't feel their shoulders slump at the first brush of disdain and pity from those who root for winners.

Does John Maine deserve to go to the All-Star Game? Undoubtedly. Would I trade Freddy Sanchez's spot to right this wrong? No way. Because I have no doubt that a generation ago there were players who deserved an All-Star berth more than Stearns or Zachry or Youngblood or Mazzilli, and that the Sporting News or Baseball Digest or Dick Young said so. Not getting to see John Stearns tip his cap might have derailed me from the tough business of fandom, and I know there's a kid in Pittsburgh who feels the same way today. He reads about the We Are Family Pirates and wonders how the heck Sid Bream could have been safe and mourns how Barry Bonds got away. He daydreams about Jason Bay hitting the home run that secures the win for Ian Snell in Game 7 of some future World Series. And he's waiting — far too excited for his own good — for the Giants' PA announcer to introduce Freddy Sanchez, to see him in the Pirates' colors, to revel in the fact that for a few seconds he'll be standing by his lonesome at the center of the baseball world. Take that little ritual away, and you just might steal that moment that keeps him faithful amid all the middle-of-the-night fears that the game is rigged and his hopes are for nothing.

I needed that moment, and I got it. He deserves no less.

12 comments to All Hail Freddy Sanchez

  • Anonymous

    So well said. Your Stearns, Zachary, and Mazilli were my Cone, Bonilla, and… well, who the hell was in the game in 1994? (I checked — didn't find any Mets. By the way, check out who were “All-stars” that year: Wil Cordero, Roberto Kelly, and the immortal Dave Hollins.) The high point of my baseball season (other than the occasional visit to Flushing) was the ASG intros, and seeing a representative in orange and blue. Nobody should be deprived of that. Even Pirates fans.
    Keep Sanchez; boot Webb, or Oswalt, or (if only) Hamels.

  • Anonymous

    Got my years mixed up. '93 had Kelly and Hollins, '94 had Cordero, as well as Carlos Garcia and John Hudek. I know, looking back 13 years and laughing at who was an All-Star back then is easy, especially when you consider that all it takes is one good first half and you're in the Books forever. Still, you can't deny it's fun.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with all that, except I'm not arguing John Maine should've had Freddy Sanchez's spot. He should've had Cole Hamels. I won't even argue about Webb, because he's the reigning Cy Young winner and I think history does count for something.

  • Anonymous

    I always felt a personal responsibility for Mazzilli being in the game at all.
    Me & my couple of Met fan friends in grade 8 of Epiphany School glommed a couple of hundred punch-out ballots & wrote in Mazzilli — he wasn't evevn listed among the starter candidates, f'r chrissakes!
    The writers' cramp was well worth it…
    PS — Mazz got jobbed out of that MVP vote. My argument was always this: if Dave Parker had homered to tie the game & knocked in the winning run, and Mazzilli had made 2 great throws from the outfield to nail runners, don't you think Parker still would have won the MVP? Everybody and everything was against the Mets back then…

  • Anonymous

    Bret Saberhagen was the Mets' rep in '94 and (as always seemed to be the case) the guy Jim Fregosi was holding out in case extra innings came around.

  • Anonymous

    I'm inclined to agree with you. Those Stearns moments, and the Harrelson and Grote appearances from earlier on, helped me keep the faith in pretty faithless times.
    But with the It Counts (ha-ha-ha!) business, a balance should be struck, and if we can't get rid of that nonsense (why will nobody listen to me and make the use of the DH in the WS the prize for winning the ASG?), I'd offer this as the next best thing:
    Fill the rosters without regard to team affiliation. Count (ha ha ha!) the unrepresented teams in each league. The larger number of the two would be added on an “emergency quarterback” basis, to prevent cluster-inning shows like we had two years ago; these extras would be added, equally to each roster, after nine innings or whenever players started running out.
    They'd still be there. We'd still get our tips of the Stearn-like caps. (Yes, Fehr, they'd get their bonuses.) But we'd solve two problems at once.

  • Anonymous

    It's so true. We'd be in last place and there'd be all this “the Mets suck, you suck” abuse. Every moron kid wore a Yankees cap and laughed at me, practically driving me to tears. All I had to cling to in those terrible days was our sole representative Armando Benitez being introduced at U.S. Cellular Field alongside Pujols and Helton and Renteria and all those real superstars. Man that made me feel so much better.
    (Yeah, this was happening in 2003 when I was 40. What's your point?)

  • Anonymous

    What were the '79 Mets doing with two All-Stars when they could barely field nine men in any given game? Mazz was the legit pick. Stearns was called very late when both Johnny Bench and Ted Simmons went down/begged off with injuries. It was karma we paid back in 1997 when Charles Johnson, otherwise sitting home, went in place of aching Todd Hundley. Hundley's pullout was approved by dad Randy who said (paraphrasing), “good, I didn't want to have to all the way to Cleveland just to see you sit behind bleeping Mike Piazza.” YEAH! I thought (as long as Bobby Jones was going to be there).
    There was a time when I was well beyond 10 or 12 when I argued on behalf of Todd Hundley and against Mike Piazza. Oh fandom…

  • Anonymous

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Every team needs to be represented at the ASG. I swear Mazzilli's home run was the only thing that kept me away from sharp objects during all of 1979, when I was 15 and mired in serious depression. (That, and the second Talking Heads and Warren Zevon albums.)
    Maine deserved to go. But he's a kid. If his arm doesn't fall off he'll get another chance. Wagner did.

  • Anonymous

    SO true, on all counts. I'll always remember the thrill of seeing Stearns or Mets of his ilk rubbing shoulders with the Pete Roses. The wretched fans of MLBs also-rans are owed this, at the very least.
    And wow, did Mazz get boned that year. There are few extents to which sanctioned voters won't go to deprive Met fans of what is rightfully ours, be it MVPs or Cy Youngs or Hall of Famers.

  • Anonymous

    In our town, it was “Meet the Mets, beat the Mets, step right up and defeat the Mets…”
    Actually we had our own song, sung to the tune of the theme of then-popular horror show, “Dance Fever.”

    Mets Fever!
    We've got John Stearrrrrrns…
    Mets Fever!
    And Steady Eddie too…

    I can't remember the rest, but it wasn't a particularly impressive roll call.
    There was a time when I was well beyond 10 or 12 when I argued on behalf of Todd Hundley and against Mike Piazza. Oh fandom…
    Lord above… not to me, you didn't, thank GOD. The comparison was always laughable. Laughable and more than a little sad.

  • Anonymous

    I'm sure it was an internal conversation.
    Go Team.