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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 $140 Million Underdogs

It's long been my contention (though not my co-blogger's) that Mets fans have never been comfortable with hegemony. Our history is one of miracles and belief; our flirtations with dynasty have generally ended with the amassed firepower aimed at our own feet. Even the '86 team needed a miracle a whole lot bigger than 1969's to become the bad guys who won. And this, I maintain (again, amid Greg's dissent) is why we don't entirely mind sharing our city with that baseball colossus up in the Bronx, the one that soaks up sportswriter attention and back pages and free-agent dollars and the loyalties of the soulless and the misguided. Compared with the Yankees, we look like what we truly were in the days of our founding myths and haven't been for some time: underdogs. St. Anthony's team. The little guys who'd win a World Series once men walked on the moon, whose names Frank Robinson couldn't bother to remember, who'd rise up from the cellar behind a goofy reliever and take a punch from Pete Rose and fight off final strike after final strike until finding salvation in a little roller … trickling …

Tonight franchise myth finally became rude reality. Carlos Beltran is off to the DL with a “bone bruise,” which my copy of Rosetta Stone for Met Front-Office Spin translates as “compound fracture with sepsis, possible gangrene.” He joins Jose Reyes (hamstring tendon), Carlos Delgado (hip surgery), J.J. Putz (bum elbow), John Maine (bad shoulder) and Oliver Perez (absence of cerebellum) on an awfully expensive shelf. Left behind are David Wright, who can look like Hank Aaron or Tommie Aaron depending what kind of streak he's on; Johan Santana, who only materializes in the world of mortals every fifth day; and Frankie Rodriguez, whose presence must be prefaced by having a lead in the ninth inning. Surrounding them are Cora's Irregulars — raw rookies and possibly overcooked veterans, fourth outfielders and apprentice first basemen, fifth starters and spaghetti-thrown-at-the-wall middle relievers. Underdogs, in other words. (And underdogs just 1.5 out of first place, thanks to our membership in the Axis of Feeble, a.k.a. the National League East.)

And that's just fine.

We've waited forever for the Mets to somehow recover from the hangover of Yadier Molina's blast off Aaron Heilman. Tonight it felt like they had, even if it was only by excising important player after important player from the active roster, with Beltran's removal somehow feeling like the death knell for our latest wanna-be dynasty. Not exactly the hangover cure any of would have chosen, but damn if tonight didn't feel free and easy and downright fun. What chance did we have against El Hombre and Tony La Russa's relentless button-pushing, after all? You really thought we could beat the Cardinals with Fernando Tatis as our cleanup hitter and Jeremy Reed in center and Tim Redding — he of the lumberjack beard and the zero wins — on the hill?

Well, who says we can't?

Sure, this one had the look of recent Met exercises in futility: surprisingly competent early pitching, a lead in the early innings, then the teeth-gnashing spectacle of the Mets getting sleepy as the other team crept back into it and waited to pounce. Except this time the Mets kept scoring, with Cora lashing line drives and corralling balls like a stuntman and Omir Santos continuing to spit in the eye of statistical expectations and Daniel Murphy looking relaxed at the plate and first base. When Brian Stokes leapt to snag Albert Pujols's bouncer up the middle and convert it into a double play, the Mets fairly streaked off the field with joy and relief. Whether we were out at Citi Field (merely misty for once) or snug on our couches, we all did the same.

I'm not saying losing Jose and the Carloses and our setup guy and the third and fourth starters is addition by subtraction or anything ridiculous like that — should the wounded troop back into the clubhouse tomorrow night magically cured and accompanied for lagniappe by a repaired Billy Wagner, I will whoop like a fool and high-five everyone in sight. But I am saying that ever since Carlos Beltran trudged away from home plate in disbelief, there's been something slightly sour about the Mets, a sense of curdled expectations that's frequently made contemplating them frustrating and rooting for them aggravating. And somehow it feels like that's lifted. Watching the Jon Switzers and Omir Santoses of the world out there for the foreseeable future means not rationally expecting anything at all. And maybe that will work where higher expectations have not.

***

None of this will matter a century from now — but some things still will. Here's a Brooklyn tale that's taken 310 years to tell, and that includes everything from the American Revolution to Casey Stengel and the 78th Precinct Little League.

Don't wait a century to have Mets history beamed into your brain in its wired-up vat jar — it's much more comfortable to read Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.

8 comments to The $140 Million Underdogs

  • Anonymous

    Well said regarding the true character of the Mets franchise. Our traditional role has been lost in the past few years. I would argue it dates back to the 2000 World Series. That's when many Mets fans, myself included, went from happy-go-lucky to sourpusses.

  • Anonymous

    I think it actually goes back to Soscia…

  • Anonymous

    I don't know where/when it started, but I hate it. I hate the sourpusses (which is why I write an Optimistic Mets Fan blog..) I hate the expectation that we're going to lose and the odd success is just to keep us from being completely Cubiserable.
    To me, we're the 'favorite' franchise. the Yankees are second. the Mets outdrew them in '62 even! a soon to be World Series champ!
    I think some fans just don't know what they want.
    I also contend that we're not underdogs now. We're still better than they are. It's a fine distinction. It's not that we want to root for the underdog, it's that after years of expecting disaster and getting success occasionally, some fans don't understand how to root for super stars. (And in the back of our heads, some probably are probably just bracing for the letdown when David Wright gets traded or becomes a coke-head) We don't know how to root for a batting leader. We don't know how to root for a guy that could very well throw the first Mets no-hitter. (although I think we're making progress with him) We don't know how to go out there and know our guys are better than the opposition, and cheer. It seems half of us are pumping up the Phillies because we just don't believe the Mets can be that good.
    “Look! Howard! He's a monster! Utley has that 'grit' stuff! They're awesome! That means the Mets are the underdog!”
    bah humbug. Beltran says he expects the Mets to be in first when he returns. Good. Let's get it done. Stop with the naysaying. Some tout Wright's Ks as why he's going to fall off his pace. I say he's going to fall off the K pace and continue to bash the ball. (Also, with Beltran out he'll start approaching a ridiculous OBP.)

  • Anonymous

    This is a great post, Jason, and I agree with you 100%. If it wasn't for the underdogs and miracle myth, which I admit is sometimes obscenely outdated and irrelevant, I would walk away from all of this. Somehow the complete decimation of the team by injury has brought us back in time. And I'm loving it. Perversely. I am so excited about the possibility that this season could mean something of its own. This doesn't just have to be the season when the team that fell flat on its face finally finally gets it done. It could and should be the season when the irregulars held the fort against the odds and against the naysayers, so that the expensive guys who couldn't get it done before can come through and do it in August and September, inspired by the way the secondary players have redefined the franchise, returning it to its roots.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    Of course, who says the Mets are dead? When announced Beltran also going to DL my first thought was “Ya Gotta Believe”.
    And I still do. While it might lack power, there is still a core of players in that lineup that can hit – Cora, Murphy, Wright, Sheffield/Tatis, Church, Schneider/Santos, Martinez, Castillo – and hold down the fort somewhat (if our pitching and defense come through) until we regroup.
    Except for Beltran, I thought the most devasating injury was Putz. Our bullpen is suffering, not from inability, but from over-use. If Santana, Pelfrey (who is strugling), Hernandez and Maine (who should be back soon) can go a little longer, the pen will be less taxed until J.J. (and maybe Wanger?) are back in August. Maine and Beltran should be back sooner. Reyes, another month?
    Yes, lots of “ifs” but the Phillies stumbling has kept us within shouting distance of first and nobody else seems to be running away with the wild card. Who knows, those replacements are obviously super-psyched at the opportunity to play everyday and with the adreneline going might make significant contributions at least in the short term.

  • Anonymous

    Good point, Dana.
    And don't forget, when the “Big Boys” do come back in August/September, they'll be fresher mentally, not having gone through the mid-summer grind.
    I hope…

  • Anonymous

    Do the Phillies' struggles this June remind anyone else of the Mets' version in 2007?

  • Anonymous

    This current lineup for the Mets reminds me of the late 70s/early 80s lineups – basically a lineup with no power, not much speed, and just average batting averages. Can this team stay close in the race for the division? Or are we more likely (like those aforementioned Met teams) to lose 10 in a row?