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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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It Comes Down to Reality

Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log, a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I have seen there for myself, namely 382 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.

8/29/79 W Atlanta 0-1 Burris 1 4-7 L 5-4

8/7/08 Th San Diego 9-10 Santana 6 208-174 W 5-3

The strangest part is the familiarity. It should be surprising that you look up and find the people who have been physically out of your routine and only tangentially on your radar for years. It should be a jolt to find yourself in the company of those whose only appearances in your life for more than a decade have been virtual or cameo.

The strangest part is it is not. It seems the norm. It seems nothing out of the ordinary to look up and see coming at you your constant companions from three-fifths of a lifetime ago. It should be more of a rush. It should send shockwaves through your system, give you a chill on a hot August morning.

But it doesn’t, not really. You’ve known these people since you were somebody else. No, scratch that — you’ve never been anybody else. You might like to think you were. You might like to think you’ve grown and matured and changed. But you haven’t. You’re the same old you. And so are they. And so is this.

You’ve known these people all along. These people and this place and this thing. You won’t always see them. But you’ll always know them.

***

I wonder how many of the record 3,863,542 tickets sold thus far to Mets home games in 2008 have been purchased as admission to a reunion. Quite a few, I imagine. I’ve been hearing about it all year, even bearing up-close witness to the phenomenon now and then. Classmates reuniting with classmates. Cousins reuniting with cousins. Sons with father and father with sons. Everybody with a ballpark one more time. That record of 3,863,542 tickets sold, or whatever it winds up totaling by September 28, will stand forever. The structure to which those tickets have been sold will not. There is a connection. People want in to Shea Stadium one more time, and they want in with those whom they’ve been in with before. A long time before.

Is 29 years a long time? It probably is. It probably was a long time ago that Joel, Larry and I decided to go to a day game at the end of August in 1979, the Mets versus the Braves. The Mets were terrible. The Braves were, if a professional baseball team could be, worse. Together they had plummeted a combined 51 games under .500 and it was only because they had to play each other one more time that their net deficit wouldn’t enlarge that Wednesday.

I’d been told you could call Shea Stadium and reserve your tickets in advance. That seemed like a swell idea, so I did. But you couldn’t, at least not the morning of an afternoon game. Or maybe you couldn’t do it without a credit card. You’ll have to come and buy them like everybody else, they said.

Two nights before, the Mets and Braves had drawn 5,474. The next night, they attracted 6,586. Shea Stadium seated approximately 55,300. I guess plenty of good seats were still available.

We took our train and got our tickets, Field Level. First base side. The upper part of Field Level, but Field Level nonetheless. Pretty much aligned with first base. Field Level was not uncrowded. Everything else was. Paid attendance was 6,602.

It was Joel, Larry and I who pushed it over 6,600.

The player closest to us was Ed Kranepool. He started at first and went 2-for-4. It would be the last time in what had literally been a lifetime of unlimited opportunity that I would see Ed Kranepool ply his trade. Ed Kranepool had been a Met since 1962, the year I was born, the year the Mets were born. Ed Kranepool would be a Met for another month after that. Then Ed Kranepool, a Met for all seasons, would retire. Ed Kranepool was 34.

John Stearns started in left field that day. I have no recollection of it happening, but with Alex Treviño catching, Stearns’ versatility allowed Joe Torre to insert both catchers’ bats into the lineup, even if each man left his bat at home. The two backstops went 1-for-9 and played three positions; Dude finished the day behind the plate while Alex moved to second base. I don’t remember that either.

Examining the boxscore, I must confess that I don’t remember much about the action. I know Ray Burris started ’cause I wrote it down. Burris was betrayed by his defense, particularly in the second. The supremely reliable Doug Flynn, an actual second baseman, made an error to start the inning; Bob Murphy probably said that Flynn usually looks that ball into his glove. Dougie’s muff of a grounder put Rowland Office on first. He took off for second. Treviño, the catcher who was playing his natural position, threw the ball into center. Office was on third. He scored when ex-Met Joe Nolan singled. Nolan moved up when Stearns, the catcher playing left, mishandled some aspect of the base hit.

That’s two batters, three errors, one run. That’s 1979 for ya.

The fourth error belonged to Richie Hebner. That I remember. With two on and two out in the third, Jeff Burroughs grounded to the general vicinity of third. Hebner didn’t corral it and a run scored. It was surely for lack of trying. Richie Hebner couldn’t be bothered. Richie Hebner was the most reluctant Met there was, 1979 or anytime. Richie Hebner had made it abundantly clear he considered himself above being a Met (and, apparently, above fielding a ground ball). Richie Hebner received what he deserved when the inning ended. He was booed.

Hebner saluted the fans with two arms. Two more than he’d used to go after Burroughs’ grounder.

Yeah, I remember some unpleasantness with Richie Hebner. I remember, too, Dale Murray coming into the game. Murray relieved Ed Glynn who relieved Ray Burris in a quadruple-switch that shifted Treviño from catcher to second, Stearns from left to catcher and Elliot Maddox, nearly as reluctant a Met as Hebner, into left once the Braves had built a 5-1 lead off Burris. I don’t remember all that but I do remember declaring in that summer of Rocky II, “Dale Murray is the Master of Disaster.” That got a big laugh from Joel and Larry. I also got a big laugh out of them when a stray shower pulled in overhead and sprinkled us lightly. “No Mom,” I said, recalling an A.M. conversation, “I don’t need to take a jacket.” It was just a passing shower, actually. I was fine without the jacket. But it got a laugh.

I remember, of course, being disappointed that the Mets rallied to make it 5-4 in the ninth but rallied no further. I remember being let down that Ed Kranepool, in the last Ed Kranepool at-bat I’d ever see outside of an Old Timers game, popped to Jerry Royster at second to seal the deal. I remember my dismay that Bobby Cox outmanaged Joe Torre, bringing in Larry Bradford to replace Rick Matula and then Joey McLaughlin to replace Larry Bradford, all in the bottom of the ninth, and all three of them kept the Mets from tying the score. I remember taking the slightest solace that even after losing 5-4 we didn’t have the worst record in the National League. The Mets were 25 games under .500, but the Braves were 26.

By season’s end, we wouldn’t have even that anymore. The Braves finished 66-94, the Mets 63-99. it took a six-game winning streak in the final week of September for the Mets not to lose 100.

Shea didn’t take long to empty out, not with 6,602 souls. It looked the way it did for the final time in my memory. This was the last year that would finish out with the field level seats made of wood and painted yellow. The next time I’d be there, next July with Larry, they’d be plastic and orange. The first hint that things would change in the future was over the left field wall. There was a new “message board,” a proto-DiamondVision without the video portion. Like a mini-scoreboard. It was adorned with a Marlboro sign and featured dot races in the middle of some unlucky inning. We were urged to cheer for either “top” or “bottom”. Marketing was a ways away from Shea Stadium in August of 1979.

It was my last game of that year, the year I went to a record-setting four games. The Mets had gone 1-3 in my presence. They’d won in late July to break a personal five-game losing streak that dated back to 1976. Now they’d started me on a seven-game losing streak that would extend to late summer 1981.

***

That was the Shea and those were the Mets I went to see with Joel and Larry 29 Augusts ago. Those Mets and that Shea would change here and there in the intervening seasons. We’d change, some, in the time ahead. The three of us friends became four by spring when Fred joined the Tide, our high school paper and all-purpose hangout. Throughout the ’80s and into the early ’90s, Joel, Larry, Fred and I did lots together. First everything, then most things, then a few things. But we were always a phone call from each other and there was usually a Mets game at Shea on the horizon. We never managed to go together, all four of us, at the same time. Every other plausible combination, however did. Me with Joel. Me with Joel and Fred. Me with Joel and Larry. Me with Larry and Fred. Me with Fred. Me with Larry. I guess I was the common Met denominator in our quartet.

Yesterday, the four of us went, at last, to Shea Stadium as one four-man group. Joel flew in from California to visit family and figured he could make a side trip to Shea (or maybe it was the other way around). I was last with Joel at Shea Stadium in 2003. Fred drove up from Baltimore. I was last with Fred at Shea Stadium in 1998. Larry cleared his schedule. I was last with Larry at Shea Stadium in 1993. He bought a hot dog from a vendor then and, taken aback by how expensive everything was for 1993, muttered, “how much is that — six bucks?”

Someone did me a solid and secured me for yesterday four very nice field box seats, orange and plastic, on the Hebner side. We convened around 11:30 by Gate E. First I saw Joel. He was wearing a home Mets jersey and looked like Joel as he could have in 1979 or any other year. We then looked up and saw Fred and Larry. They, like us, were older than we’d been but essentially undated. Greetings commenced, followed by the handing out of fancy Field Level ducats.

“Diamond Club,” Fred, not steeped in Metsiana, observed. “Is that where we go to get the lap dances?”

***

As much as I love Billy Joel, I never took much out of “New York State Of Mind” being played in the background as exit music from Shea Stadium. They Mets started doing it, I think, around 2000, maybe 2001 pre-9/11. I assumed it was because the Yankees had co-opted “New York New York” as their good night music and the Mets, well, they had to have something like that.

But yesterday…

after Joel’s and Larry’s and Fred’s and my first and last game at Shea as a foursome…

after we sat underneath an aggressive sun for three hours…

after we effortlessly eased back into our teenaged, twenty- and thirtysomething selves (as if we’d ever stopped being those people)…

after Larry carefully split three six-dollar footlongs four ways because he’d dropped one on the ground and there is no five-second rule where Shea’s floor is concerned…

after Joel recounted the verbal thrashing he was administered by a seven-year-old Phillies fan down the Jersey Shore earlier this week when he wore his other Mets jersey…

after we clinked commemorative Bud Light bottles over somebody’s piece of potentially good news…

after hardhatted David Wright, as unreluctant a Met third baseman as Richie Hebner was reluctant, endorsed world-class Citi Field on DiamondVision with all 32 of his teeth showing and I posited that, if asked, David Wright would endorse a virus…

after noticing the Citi Field construction crew was, like the 49,352 of us on our side of the blue fence, taking a mighty long lunch break…

after thinking on this Camp Day at Shea Stadium that — given how I instinctively jump to my feet to stretch and responsively dive right into singalongs and know exactly when to applaud and when to boo — I’ve become a much better camper since my very first Mets game at Shea Stadium which was also a Camp Day…

after wondering, with Daniel Murphy at third, Robinson Cancel at first and Nick Evans at the plate, what we were doing three games out of first place…

after Santana more or less mowed down the Padres while going largely unsupported by his offense…

after Larry asked, in so many words, why Jerry Manuel was so frequently bringing in the spiritual heirs of Larry Bradford and Rick Matula and Ed Glynn and Dale Murray…

after a generous first base call allowed us a lead-preserving double play in the top of the eighth…

after Scott Schoeneweis gave it back in the top of the ninth…

after Wright, smiling live and in person, turned on Heath Bell’s last delivery and turned the final result right around to how it had to be for a day like this…

after I realized I wouldn’t have to live with the narrative of “…even though we lost, it was a fun day”

after I shouted over and over “that’s the first walkoff home run of his career!” because I’m a religious reader of Mets Walkoffs…

after we high-fived and high-fived some more…

after we moseyed down the steps of our section to pose for some pictures…

after we gazed about the sunbaked grass one final time…

after Joel told us he was supposed to meet his father and brother outside Gate A, thus reminding me he’d ditched his own family to spend the game with his friends…

after I knew this was almost certainly it for me and midweek day games at Shea and me and Field Level seating at Shea and that this was definitely it for me and every conceivable combination of Joel and Larry and Fred with me at Shea…

after appreciating how unlikely it was that the four of us would converge upon Shea Stadium in 2008 and how I’d quietly hoped it might happen but never expected it would…

after all that, “New York State of Mind” playing in the background as exit music from Shea Stadium was right in tune with how I felt. It sent shockwaves through my system and gave me chills on a hot August afternoon.

1 comment to It Comes Down to Reality

  • Anonymous

    Very well put Greg. I had to fight back a tear as I read it (Ok, not really…but it could have happened) as it was my last Met game at Shea as well and my first since leaving New York in 1988.
    Ah, the memories….the sights, the sounds and best of all the smells.
    Lets go Mets!