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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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'My Beloved Shea'

With apologies to Steve Phillips (the last time I’ll ever say that), the Phillies are a 24 + 1 team this weekend. There are the 24 Phillies the ground beneath Citi Field can open up and swallow — opening up and swallowing Shane Victorino 24 times and spitting him back 23 times before reluctantly sucking him down would also suffice — and then there is Pedro Martinez.

Pedro shouldn’t be wearing a jersey that says Phillies across his chest. It should just say Pedro. Now that he is back in the game, he is once more baseball’s most singular personality. He transcends the team from whom he is collecting a paycheck. That’s not to say he’s not a good teammate. It’s just that I’d prefer he be on a more innocuous roster, and that I’m not going to let his unfortunate temporary condition detract from the bottomless reservoir of goodwill I’ve kept stashed away since last September for the next time I would see him.

Don’t take that to mean I wish his uniform top still said Mets on it. I wouldn’t go quite that far. It said Mets about as long as it could, and I really appreciated that it did. I appreciated the man inside it for four years, even the last couple when we didn’t see all that much of the pitcher we thought would fill it. Pedro Martinez made a nice living as a Met and I believe he did his best to earn it. His Met trajectory would suggest his contract should have been front-loaded, that he didn’t do much to merit getting paid as much as he did after the middle of 2006. He was either injured, rehabbing from injury or pitching at less than optimal levels because of injuries for the longest time. The Pedro who signed for four years and $53 million would have been awfully handy to have had around in October 2006 and the balance of 2007 and 2008. That Pedro wasn’t generally available.

The Pedro of 2005 and the first two months of 2006 was the Pedro we signed, and he was a sight to behold. Yet it’s not the pitching from more than three years ago that stays with me. It’s the presence — on the mound, off the mound, wherever he went.

I loved listening to him, whatever it was he was talking about. Too often it was a conversation about why he couldn’t quite throw the way he wanted or how his velocity or location wasn’t where it needed to be. But it was always substantive and it was always soulful. Pedro Martinez may have been the deepest-thinking, most genuine voice to ever grace the Mets clubhouse, at least as it was transmitted back our way. He had a sense of occasion second to none. He understood who we the fans were and he cared that we cared. He may have been kidding himself on occasion, such as when he decided the only way he’d come back to the Mets in ’09 would be if they offered him a deal befitting his past more than his present (forgetting, apparently, that much of what he was paid between ’05 and ’08 was for the reputation he forged circa ’99), but Pedro, as ever, was being Pedro.

Friday, before the Mets beat the Phillies, Pedro met the New York media at Citi Field. As ever, he was graceful, he was thoughtful, he was Pedro. He evinced no hard feelings toward Met management for foregoing his services while implying sharply that he believes they made the wrong decision. He looked forward to “mutual respect and fun” when he takes the mound Sunday (though given his current uniform and the surfeit of criminally short memories in our ranks, I wouldn’t necessarily count on either). He kept his pronouns in order when he regretted that “we” lost in bad way last year. And he entered my personal Hall of Fame when he referred to “this place,” realized it wasn’t where he pitched previously and, sporting the warmest of smiles, corrected himself with “not this one — Shea…Shea Stadium…my beloved Shea.”

“My beloved Shea…” Somebody put that on a commemorative coin or something.

Last September 28, in quintessential Met fashion, the Mets managed to get themselves eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the season for the second year in a row to the same team, one that was ostensibly not as good as them. And they did it on the final day their stadium would ever host baseball, casting a most sour pall over the closing ceremonies, which took on an air of funereality. I don’t know what the plan was had the Mets won and perhaps clinched a playoff spot. I would assume some if not all of the 2008 Mets would have joined in the Shea Goodbye festivities. Instead, none appeared, except in highlight form on DiamondVision. Each time the image of a frontline Met flickered by, even from 2006, it was booed.

It was a small regret in a day crammed full of them that no then-current Met took part in the official farewell. As with so many aspects of our dyspeptic existence, it was understandable, but it was still regrettable. To watch the 43 Mets take their places around the Shea infield was to think Mets history ended in 2005 with the departure of Mike Piazza. Even if you convinced a couple of them to emerge from what must have been a very morose clubhouse, the atmosphere in the stadium was way too toxic to send a Wright or a Reyes or a Beltran out to represent the last years of Shea. Too many Mets fans hated the Mets too much at that instant to take a step back and appreciate all that made them so passionate about their team from ’06 on.

Three Mets could have done it, I thought.

• Johan Santana could have stepped outside and he would have been cheered. Johan hadn’t blown a second straight postseason berth. Johan very nearly made us collapse-proof just just one day before.

• Endy Chavez could have stepped outside and he would have been cheered. Endy had immunity from October 19, 2006 into eternity, I’m pretty sure.

• And Pedro Martinez could have stepped outside and he would have been…well, he wouldn’t have been booed, even by this crowd. Pedro threw a gutty game three nights earlier and, though he left it with go-ahead runs on first and second, he exited to a standing ovation. The shortfalls of September 2007 and 2008 were never deposited at Pedro’s doorstep. He transcended the Mets’ failures even if, in the end, he couldn’t do all that much to halt them from transpiring.

We said goodbye to Pedro’s beloved Shea without Pedro. We now find ourselves unexpectedly saying hello again to Pedro at “this place”. Ex-Met homecomings can be funny things. Sometimes, as with Piazza the Padre, they can be magical. Usually, however, erstwhile Mets lose their flavor on the bedpost overnight. I’ve stood and cheered truly amazing Mets of yore long after they changed colors and wound up sticking out like the inevitable French fry in an order of onion rings. They don’t have to be John Olerud or Edgardo Alfonzo to receive some variation on the returning hero treatment from me. For example, I gave a sitting but hearty round of applause to Xavier Nady (whom I never much cared about) in his first post-Met appearance. My companion that evening was mystified as to why I’d want to do that. He’s a Pirate now — screw him.

Pedro Martinez is a Phillie now. Screw them, I’ll say, but Pedro…not so fast there. In his press conference Friday, he said of us, “I think it’s going to be great to see them and exchange with them.” That’s one of those Pedroisms he used when he was here: exchange, as in exchange with the fans. When he takes to the mound Sunday, I’ll be exchanging my usual greeting for Phillie starting pitchers for one more suitable toward someone so singular. I’ll look past that unfortunate red writing on the gray uniform and I will stand and cheer for Pedro Martinez.

After that, he’s the enemy and the Mets are advised to hit him at will. But for a moment before, he will be the Pedro with whom I exchanged so much mutual respect and fun at our beloved Shea.

AMAZIN’ TUESDAY returns to Two Boots Tavern August 25 at 7:00 PM. Join Jason Fry, Dana Brand, Caryn Rose and me for a fun night of reading, eating, drinking and all things Mets baseball (Mets baseball optional). Full details here.

Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.

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9 comments to 'My Beloved Shea'

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for getting it about Pedro. I've seen a lot of shots at Pedro in the past couple of days. Perhaps some people just don't understand something like Pedro when they see it– and I'm usually a relentless debunker. I know someone's mere presence won't win any ballgames, but Pedro's is a presence I will miss.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, to bring back the days of Pedro waltzing around the clubhouse in Jimmy Burnitz' mustard-colored suit…

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    Pedro is charismatic that's for sure and his enthusiasm is 100% genuine. And pitching in Fenway was as big an event as it was for us at Shea.
    There is also so much to admire him as a person off the field. A deeply caring, socially conscious individual, he has never forgotten his roots and has donated so much of his time, leadership and millions of dollars to help those still living in poverty in his native Dominican Republic.
    So much to admire.
    But we must also set aside much of the sentimentality we have because I feel some of that is not mutual in return. Unfortunately, Pedro has proved not to be immune to the spoiled traits and ego trips of today's super-rich athlete.
    Always treated very well by Boston he left on bitter terms, saying he was shown disrespect when offered just a three-year contract (with an additional option year). He also wanted nothing to do with the 2005 opening day festivities in Fenway celebrating the breaking of the curse of the bambino (although Met ownership gave permission to leave upon conclusion of our own pre-game ceremonies). While Pedro proclaimed his place was with his new team mates he also refused to video-tape remarks for the Fenway faithful who were so loyal to him.
    So, as a fan, I can question if his “beloved” Shea was genuine only up to the point of his contract since sentimentality is a two-way street.

  • Anonymous

    I would have excused Pedro had he flown to Fenway that day in 2005, but I appreciated him far more for not doing so. He was the centerpiece of that offseason's buildup and he knew his tipping his cap at Shea was what he needed to do at that moment. I also would have excused Pedro had he come to Citi Field Friday and said, in plain terms, I'm a Phillie now and that's what matters. It's what baseball players do. They move on. Pedro was always a little more human than that. I don't doubt he's not unmotivated by personal gain and all, but he's still Pedro.
    That huckster can charm me anytime.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    I appreciate Pedro and his work ethics but there is a difference between appreciation and sentimentality.
    Pedro wasn't unhappy in Boston, was treated well by both owners and fans and didn't long to play closer to home. The Sox made genuine efforts to re-sign him. His sentiment went as far as his contract and his leaving Boston and signing with the Mets was purely a business transaction.
    I will always appreciate his efforts to make us a winning ballclub but will emotionally apply the same standard of feelings toward Pedro as he did to us and those in Boston.
    Sentiment is reserved to the Tony Gwynns, Cal Ripkins, Derek Jeters and other superstars (yes, even ARod who didn't abide by his agent and wanted to stay a Yankee) who consider where they play to be more than just a cold business decision.

  • Anonymous

    I love Pedro, and I also think he takes himself a bit too seriously. But you've got to look at decisions he makes from the perspective of a Caribbean Latin. For Pedro, money is a measure of respect, and he will go home if he doesn't feel the respect is there. If you know the history of Latin Americans moving into the US game, and I have no doubt that Pedro knows it well and thoroughly, it's a shameful story of pervasive disrespect and worse. And Pedro himself – a Boston columnist famously argued that it was fair to offer him less money than an American pitcher would make, because it takes less money to be a rich man in the Dominican.
    He said he wouldn't take a “Glavine” contract this year. He's making a relatively paltry sum with Philly, but the deal was a major league contract, not – you'll get this incentive payment if you make the major league roster, which was Glavine's deal. He felt that his history warranted a major league position, and that's what he meant by having no interest in a Glavine contract. He's a rich guy, I really don't think a few million here or there matters to him much. What matters is what he thinks the message behind the money is.
    He was wounded by what he thought was Boston's disrespect after he helped them reach a historic achievement, and was overly sensitive about it all, took it too personally. But – it brought him to us, so yay!

  • Anonymous

    If Pedro equates money with respect, then he has nothing to feel insulted about. He is the highest paid pitcher in baseball history, having earned an annual salary of $8.6 million through 2008. Maddox averaged $7.95 million and Randy Johnson $8 million.
    These figures pale in comparision to what C.C. Sabathia now gets but were huge when they were in their prime.
    But it is wrong to allude Pedro's contract demands to that of a social stand for respect and the end of social injustice and suffering for he is not the first to use that word so indiscriminatly. Disrespect applies to those who are losing their jobs, homes and pensions while Wall Street executives continue to cash in -not today's spoiled athlete.

  • Anonymous

    It's part of baseball (and generally American capitalist) culture now to overvalue yourself. The expectation is that other people are doing the same and undervaluing you.
    It's hard to blame individual players for letting monetary concerns override their other faculties of judgment without indicting the whole system. Salary and “respect” is a complicated relation for everyone, but particularly for athletes and the way their contracts are structured in the public eye.
    Pedro's a charged mix of pride and generosity. Being irrationally confident has helped him compete against a lot of doubts, but he's always done so with a genuine warmth and appreciation of others teammates, fans etc. that casts his hubris in a different light. Maybe he engages in sentimentality as it suits him, but he's all the more human for that, just as his injuries and decline dramatize the ubiquity of our mortality.
    And doing right be Shea is fine by me.

  • Anonymous

    I'm not blaming players for trying to get as much money as they could for we would do the same in their place. But I'm sorry, their use of the word respect is pure BS.
    You see, I was raised on the literal definition of the word which has long been lost by them as they are are now being praised for just running out routine pop ups and grounders.