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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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This Team's Got the Disappearing First Place Blues

“This is the train to…LONG BEACH. The next stop is…LONG BEACH.”

Ever since the Long Island Rail Road began employing automated voice systems, I'd never heard that kind of redundancy on an eastbound train. I'd never ridden to the final stop.

But there I was last night, on the 11:54 to Long Beach, my old hometown. Well, I thought as we pulled out of Island Park and I heard that computerized announcement, this figures.

We're coming to the end of the line.

And so it goes in these waning days of a baseball season and these desperate hours of this unwanted pennant race. The end of the line is nigh. Four games left. Almost no lead remaining.

Now don't it feel like you're a rider on a downbound train?

My car was parked in LB because I had made a southern excursion in the afternoon to meet Dana Brand, author of Mets Fan, a book for which I reiterate my previous recommendation. He was giving a little talk at the Long Beach Public Library and from there, he and I were going to Gino's for the world's best pizza and Shea for the world's worst baseball.

The company and the pizza were outstanding. The Mets were not.

This was the first of my four planned trips to the future home of the Citi Field parking lot this week. I wasn't banking on being there for the clinching. I thought the clinching would be taken care of already. Mostly I'd looked forward to the socializing. The social aspect of my Mets season has far outdistanced my Mets. I thought the last week of the year would be cause for the world's largest outdoor Diet Pepsi party. We'd drink, we'd nosh, we'd chat…Oh look! The Mets are tuning up for the playoffs!

Ta-ta to that notion.

Dana, like so many of those with whom I've shared a soft drink this season, was a better reason to go to a Mets game than the featured attraction. Shea itself is a better reason to go to Shea than the featured attraction. Even Future Shock Park Propaganda Plaza was pleasant in comparison to the Mets.

Curiosity drove us to the Citi Field Preview Center (which shouldn't be open this week, dammit) early enough to beat the crowds for the virtual tour of the luxury suites we'll likely never really sit in. It hardly matters when your season is crumpling up and blowing away, but boy was that thing scary. I used to work for a corporation that introduced initiatives in town hall meetings the way the Mets are previewing Citi Field. “You'll like it a lot. You don't have any questions. Now get back to your desks.” Seriously, I thought I'd have to file paperwork with the Mets to take the night off so I could go to the game.

• We voluntarily stood in a line reminiscent of the way happy earthlings voluntarily stood in a line for the spaceship that would take them to the home planet of their veritable saviors, the Kanamits, a race that had eliminated war and famine among humans. As every Twilight Zone aficionado knows, the Citi Field literature that is titled “To Serve Mets Fans” is actually a cookbook.

• We saw a meeting in progress in the conference room where a PowerPoint was up that trumpeted the improvement in the Mets' “on-field product” across 2006 and 2007. Must have been an old slide. I imagine a new deck will be in use by tonight, one that exclaims that the Mets scored 12 runs in the 5 innings that spanned the end of Tuesday and the beginning of Wednesday.

• We visited a replica of the Excelsior Club, which I think is where all the upstanding civic leaders in Stepford convened to plan their next move.

• We sat in all the different seats Citi Field has to offer. Some were more luxurious than others. It was no coincidence. The more you pay, the more padded the seat you will get. The least you pay, you get no padding. Every fan decidedly not a king.

• We were told that no inquiries about the “relocation process” for current season ticket holders could be answered at this time. I can think of a few European countries in the last century that trafficked in that kind of euphemism. I suppose it couldn't be addressed since the Mets are expending all their energy against the relocation process that is shifting them from the penthouse to the outhouse.

• We were not shown the time machine that would make it possible for us to adjust our career choices in order to earn what it will take to afford a seat at the Excelsior Club conference table.

I wouldn't make any presumptions about those Mets fans who joined us on the virtual tour, but I didn't sense a lot of Fortune 500 types were along for the ride. I have to wonder why the Mets sales department didn't tweak this dog-and-pony show for the common folk…something to whet our appetites beyond “your seat will not be padded.”

One thing that will be a vast upgrade over Shea Stadium when Citi Field opens in 2009 is it will not include the 2007 New York Mets.

My wife works with a woman whose first question and comment to her yesterday was, “How is your husband doing? He must be so upset with the way the Mets are playing.” Great — it's back: the autumnal rite of sending along Greg must be taking this very hard precautionary condolences; I received them with leaf-peeping regularity in my mid-to-late thirties. Thanks for asking, but I'm with Jason as regards the current Zeitgeist. Go ahead, dare me to be upset in the 1998 sense that this club has six-sevenths of its erstwhile margin stuck in its windpipe. 1998's five-loss choke job was brutal because we hadn't been to the playoffs in a decade. It hurt because we were being deprived of what we could only imagine.

Amid's 2007's disquieting gaggery, the saving grace is the relatively recent 2006 memory that lingers lovelier as this year's days grow short. Never mind that it's a lot of the same guys. Never mind that '06 ended as it did. You never believed for half a second that those Mets were “complacent”. If their immediate successors are satisfied that winning a division once and a division series once confirms their talent and permits their complacence, then maybe it's fine for us, the fans, to dismiss this 2007 edition as a fraud and rest on laurels constructed of 2006 National League East Champions pennants and t-shirts. (If there are any left over, we can weave our own Citi seat padding.)

We're not entitled to a postseason per se, but I don't think we deserve to party like it's the year before 1999. We're not trotting Brian McRae and Tony Phillips out there. But how can you look at this relentlessly helpless outfit and see anything but a choke in progress? Philip Humber justified my conditional faith by appearing to know what he was doing for a couple of innings, as if he'd been pitching all his life. Then it became apparent he wasn't ready or he was too rusty or the Beltway Behemoths were just too massive a challenge at this tender stage of his development. I hope to see him again some day.

The same I cannot say for Joe Smith, at least not until he spends some quality time at Binghamton or somewhere. Imagine that your defending N.L. East champs' potential to repeat came down on the final Wednesday of 2007 to Philip Humber and Joe Smith, an untested rookie and a failed rookie. All that payroll, all that padding and no experience to rely on.

When we're paying whatever we're paying for whatever seating's available at Citi Field (suddenly the Mets don't loom as such a long-term hot ticket), I will be endorsing a new philosophy for management: Don't skimp on pitching. When Chad Bradford got the three-year deal from Baltimore, I thought of course you should let him go. How do you give a non-closer three years? They're all interchangeable and you can't commit that long to such an uncertain quantity.

Forget that. Give the next Bradford three years. Give the next Darren Oliver two years. It's chump change when you consider the stakes. If it doesn't work, then eat it. It's better than hoping a Joe Smith will be up to the task of retiring Major League batters (after everybody's taken his measure) at crucial junctures in his second professional season.

This is not a license to re-sign Guillermo Mota or give Scott Schoeneweis (who has improved enough of late to rate his own PowerPoint page) three years. But I'm done worrying about the Mets' budget. I've seen the future. I've seen the Excelsior Club. They can pay worthy* relievers any premium they demand.

While Dana and I chatted the early innings away, pausing just long enough to standing-ovate for Beltran and Alou, it was all good. This had sure-thinginess written all over it…Sodaman! Diet Pepsi all around! Then I happened to notice it was 6-2 and there were Nationals on base. Then 6-4 and more runners on base. Hey, we could lose this game. It was the strangest realization. Even after this endless, shapeless, nightmarish stretch of endless, shapeless, nightmarish ball when you're praying the hinges on the bullpen gate aren't oiled — it's real “The Lady, or the Tiger?” stuff behind that door right now — I thought a 5-0 lead was safe for a team that has so much talent that it sometimes gets bored with the work involved in preserving its leads. Then I thought a 6-2 lead was reasonably golden. Then I thought this is pretty much the worst I've ever seen my team perform when you factor in context.

Tipping point, set and match. Phillies cruised. Nationals crushed. Mets crumbled. The pen eventually resembled competent, just in time for the offense to take a batnap (until Wagner). And the lead is suffering from the kind of shrinkage normally associated with a frightened turtle.

Are the Mets “blowing” this or are they merely losing a lot of games while their closest opponent is winning many? If you don't have enough wins at the end of the year, did you “blow” it or did it just not add up for you? I don't want to dissect that line of thinking just yet. I don't want to come to the end of the line just yet. I don't want to have confront real life without baseball just yet.

*word added upon further consideration of subject matter

38 comments to This Team's Got the Disappearing First Place Blues

  • Anonymous

    The same I cannot say for Joe Smith, at least not until he spends some quality time at Binghamton or somewhere.

    Remember the good ol' days (April) when Joe Smith was the ultimate awesomeness?
    This is the longest week of my life, for a myriad of reasons…

  • Anonymous

    The best thing about last night was the free Kozy Shack rice pudding outside. I snorfed two cups in the 50 yards from where they handed it out to Gate C.
    I felt more confident at 6-2 than I did 5-0. I stupidly thought those two runs would be Washington's outburst for the night, that Humber would settle in for two more innings, that surely the bullpen couldn't blow another 4-run lead. Also thought we were good for another 3 or 4 runs, ourselves. I am not smart.

  • Anonymous

    That Citi Field tour stuff is absolute gold. You are brilliant.

  • Anonymous

    I don't want to dissect that line of thinking just yet. I don't want to come to the end of the line just yet. I don't want to have confront real life without baseball just yet.

  • Anonymous

    Spoken like a true Mets fan.

  • Anonymous

    “he and I were going to Gino's for the world's best pizza and Shea for the world's worst baseball. ”
    Hi Greg,
    At the home opener didn't you say that Shea also served the world's worst Pizza?

  • Anonymous

    Are the Mets “blowing” this or are they merely losing a lot of games while their closest opponent is winning many? If you don't have enough wins at the end of the year, did you “blow” it or did it just not add up for you?
    i don't think there's any question that they're blowing it. all of these public humiliations follow the same script of building up leads, only to let yet another, less talented, squad overtake them and shut them down should the mets deign to make a bid at a comeback. it is the mark of a champion to come from behind, and in this run the only impressive ability the mets have shown is their ability to make the other team look good.
    you mention 2006 — i still have newspapers saved from last season, with wright and reyes filling tabloid back pages drenched in champagne under BELIEVE headlines.
    believe? why should i if the team doesn't seem to, and is apparently not all that troubled as they lurch toward a historic collapse? i've dumped the whole stack in the recycling box.
    i hope to regret that move, even as i hope that the mets spin around and make me blush rereading these notes, tapped out in a hasty disgust. but they have managed to sour this entire season in a handful of days, and mocked their fan base in the process.

  • Anonymous

    The 2007 Mets: You Season Has Succumbed

  • Anonymous

    Careful, Greg. It is, in fact, a worse feeling to be that team that gave a reliever a big contract and he turns out to be Guillermo Mota. Look at the Yankees: they pay tons of money for crap relievers all the time. The guys who come through? They're making the minimum or they were when they first started coming through for them years ago.
    I'd still rather have Joe Smith than Bradford, longterm. I have trouble mustering up too much venom for a struggling kid who vastly exceeded all expectations earlier this year and at this time last year…wasn't playing at all because his short stint in Binghamton had already ended. Bazooka Joe is not what's wrong with this team. He is a tiny facet of why we seem allergic to winning.

  • Anonymous

    And 'I've still got these 300 mile-per-hour, finger breaking, no answers makin', battered dirty hands, bee stung and busted up, empty cup torrential outpour blues….'

  • Anonymous

    Smith may develop over time. He wasn't given it at the beginning of the season and once his sidearming mystery wore off, he was no longer effective. He may be eventually. In retrospect, it was a pennywise move to off Bradford knowing they had Smith waiting. This is not an indictment of the kid nor is it a call to sign every stiff in sight. It's just that they don't have to be as scrimpy as possible in the sport's current financial climate.
    I have seen the future and it is selectively padded.

  • Anonymous

    I've found better pizza and a worse team. I liked it the other way.

  • Anonymous

    I don't blame them for letting Bradford and Oliver go — middle relief is an insane crapshoot. What makes me unhappy is that they've kept Mota and Schoeneweis around, when literally Any Crappy Pitcher could deliver much the same results.
    Having a big payroll is nice when it comes to free-agent season, but it seems like it should be most useful, year to year, in eating the cost of mistakes such as Mota and Schoeneweis.

  • Anonymous

    If Omar let go Bradford and Oliver in the belief that middle relievers cannot be counted on having back to back successful, why then sign Mota and Schoenweiss (or any middle reliever) to a mult-year contract? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?
    Guess he felt Chad and Darren were one-shot wonders more than having doubts about middle reliever durability.

  • Anonymous

    Yesterday I said to my son Hank, “I'm going out tonight so I'm recording the game. Don't text me any details. I want to take in the whole thing.”
    “OK.”
    “Except…if it's all bad news–if the magic number stays at four because the Mets lose and the Phillies win–then let me know so I don't get home and have to suffer three hours of torment.”
    “OK.”
    “But don't just text that. Text me something positive like 'Pedro's going tomorrow' and I'll know what that means.”
    “If that happens, I'll text you: 'The magic number is 4.'”
    “No, that's not positive. Or just text me something innocuous like, 'Have a good night' or 'Get to bed early'.”
    “No. 'The magic number is 4' is good. If I told you in April that the Mets would have a magic number of four on September 26, wouldn't you have been happy?”
    So I'm out having a couple of drinks, having positioned myself so that the bar TV is obscured by a pillar, looking forward to going home and watching the Mets begin to take care of business, never ever imagining that they would indeed lose while the Phils bested Tim Hudson. Then my phone vibrates and there's the message: “Magic number is 4.”
    On my way home, I called the boy. “Thanks for the message. That's bad news, but…give me some details.”
    “I don't know, Dad. Beltran homered twice and they had a lead, but they blew it. I gotta go–I'm playing Halo 3.”
    It's nice that at least someone has a balance in his life.
    Pedro goes tonight.

  • Anonymous

    Burkehardt just said it…”it's almost like being at a wake…”

  • Anonymous

    Fuckin' Castillo.
    Fuckin' Ankiel.
    Fuckin' Pujols.
    Fuck this shit: I'm watchin' Friends…

  • Anonymous

    And oh, yeah…
    Fuckin' Piniero.

  • Anonymous

    The Phillies Magic Number is 4.
    The Mets will miss the playoffs this year. They deserve it.
    They need to do some serious regrouping. And if Willie is managing them next year, I don't think I watch them. He is one of the worst managers in baseball. I would rather have Howe or Valentine back.

  • Anonymous

    Let's make David Wright the manager.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Greg? Jason? Please write something. Fast. Now. We need it. Hurry. It's an emergency. Doesn't matter what. Something. Anything. Please. Thanks. Lives hand in the balance.
    Your Friend,
    Josh

  • Anonymous

    I've been going to Shea since 1972, and one of the things I ALWAYS used to say was “I just want a contending team every year. I want Sept to matter” Not anymore. This is plain bullshit and I'm sure we all got texts and phone calls and emails (I hardly did any work today) from a bunch of friends..die hard Met fans, that are just so done with this team and its manager.
    After tonight, I can honestly say I have no desire to go to Shea for game 2 of the NLDS, and yes I took the Citi Field tour before it was open to the public, and yes they took my $2400 for 1/4 playoff tickets and they can shove it up their ass as far as I'm concerned.
    But you know (I cant believe Im typing this), the whole “lovable losers” thing, which is so 1960's, is also bullshit. There is something to the team I loathe up in the Bronx. Their goal every year is to win it all. They dont get there every year, but that's the goal. I want my team to win the World Series!! Is that so terrible? Does that make me a bad person??

  • Anonymous

    Might I add:
    Dear Mets Fan:
    Thank you for participating in the online random drawing for
    the opportunity to purchase tickets for potential 2007 Mets
    postseason games scheduled to be played at Shea Stadium.
    While your entry was not selected to purchase tickets for
    potential National League Championship Series games, you do
    remain registered for random drawings for opportunities to
    purchase tickets for potential 2007 World Series games scheduled
    to be played at Shea, should the Mets participate, and for any
    additional Championship Series drawings.
    Thank you again for your participation.
    The New York Mets

  • Anonymous

    I found this oldie but goodie all too appropriate:
    “…The summer wind, came blowin in – from across the sea
    It lingered there, so warm and fair – to walk with me
    All summer long, we sang a song – and strolled on golden sand
    Two sweethearts, and the summer wind
    Like painted kites, those days and nights – went flyin by
    The world was new, beneath a blue – umbrella sky
    Then softer than, a piper man – one day it called to you
    And I lost you, to the summer wind
    The autumn wind, and the winter wind – have come and gone
    And still the days, those lonely days – go on and on
    And guess who sighs his lullabies – through nights that never end
    My fickle friend, the summer wind…”

  • Anonymous

    Or we could go back to the Boss… “Now our luck may have died and love maybe cold, but here forever I'll stay … Everything dies baby, that's a fact… but maybe everything that dies someday comes back.” *sad harmonica*
    Though Downbound Train might be even better.
    All I know is Mets '07 = Six Feet Under Season 5. Which might mean we all die this weekend.

  • Anonymous

    Or from The River: “Memories come back to haunt me… they haunt me like a curse. Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?”
    Can't stop posting. Someone help.

  • Anonymous

    Everything ends.

  • Anonymous

    …Can I interest anybody in trading in their Mets resignation for some fresh 2007 New York Rangers misguided enthusiasm?
    It comes with a new hockey jersey…

  • Anonymous

    Three games left, buddy. Let's hold on to what little bit of summer there is before heading indoors.
    And Let's Go Islanders.

  • Anonymous

    Word.
    The Rangers cap comes down from the shelf this weekend. come what may.

  • Anonymous

    Under the circumstances, I'm not convinced this isn't worse:

    Congratulations! You have been selected for the opportunity to purchase tickets to a potential 2007 Mets National League Championship Series (“NLCS”) game scheduled to be played at Shea Stadium.

  • Anonymous

    And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment
    And try to make an honest stand but they wind up wounded, and not even dead…

  • Anonymous

    “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”
    -A. Bartlett Giamatti
    “It gets late early out there.”
    -Yogi Berra

  • Anonymous

    Always nice to hear an opposing viewpoint.

  • Anonymous

    These lyrics are all far too schmaltzy. Forget Springsteen. The Bespectacled One, the Avenging Nerd, best and most concisely summed up the present state of the relationship between this team and its fans:
    No don't ask me to apologize
    And I won't ask you to forgive me
    If I'm gonna go down
    You're gonna come with me
    “Hand in Hand,” 1978

  • Anonymous

    My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
    Here darlin' in Youngstown