Happy birthday to us!
Happy birthday to us!
Happy birthday dear FAFIF!
Happy birthday to us!
How old are we now? February 16, 2005 is our blue and orange-letter day, having begun this thing of ours precisely a half-decade ago today. Thus, as we blow out the candles, I’d like to share five reflections on five years of blogging the Mets in this space.
1) In one of my favorite books about television (or anything else), Saturday Night by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad, published in 1985, the authors brought readers up to date on what members of the original cast had been doing since leaving SNL. “Gilda Radner,” they wrote, “has said that whenever she watches” reruns of her episodes, “she reverts to the mood she was in the week of that particular show, whether she was in love, or having her period, whatever she was going through at the time.”
I’m with Gilda, at least when it comes to the Mets’ cycles. When I find myself, for whatever reason, looking up one of the nearly 3,000 pieces Jason and I have posted in these past five years, I am shocked at how quickly I shoot right back to where I was when it was written — where I was and where the Mets were. It’s either a gift or a curse that for me no season is ever really completely in the past.
For example, a few weeks ago, on the night the Jets lost the AFC Championship game, MLB Network — a.k.a. The Proustian Channel — was running what appeared at first glance to be a fairly random game from the 1995 season, the Mets at Cincinnati on a sunny Saturday in May. The Mets broke the game open in the middle innings, up 9-2 in the middle of the sixth, 11-4 in the middle of the eighth. The viewer eventually learns that this game wasn’t random. It was being shown because of a gargantuan comeback staged by the Reds. They scored six in the eighth and three in the ninth to win 13-11.
This game took place fifteen years ago, but for me, it didn’t. It was happening in real time as it aired. All at once, the 1995 Mets were the Mets, the only Mets I had. Dallas Green was our manager. Brett Butler was leading off. Bobby Bonilla was hitting cleanup. Edgardo Alfonzo was our promising rookie whose first home run was an inside-the-park job in the fifth. Did Alfonzo go on to hit more homers? Did we ever dig out of the debris the bullpen of Jerry DiPoto and Doug Henry left behind? I know the answers, but that night I couldn’t have. That night, it was that day in Cincinnati. When I watched that rebroadcast, I was in 1995, counting on Butler and Bonilla to lead us into Wild Card contention.
It went beyond reflexively cheering a Mets hit or instinctively cringing at a Mets misplay in a replay of a game you know was put in the books a generation ago. Instinctively, it was May 6, 1995. I could feel it.
That’s what rereading what we’ve written on FAFIF is like for me. I find myself confident for stretches of August and September 2007 all over again, even though I know better about the end of 2007, because I really was confident for stretches of August and September 2007, and it’s reflected in my writing of the time. I find myself desperately warding off uncertainty in May 2006, just before the Mets elevate themselves completely above the pack and take a death grip on the National League East. Hindsight proves my worrying was for nothing in divisional terms, but in those posts, while starting pitching is short and second base is a muddle, I’m not sure about anything.
If it’s not quite the same as watching an old game on TV for the first time since it aired, it’s pretty intense. It’s not a matter of wanting or not wanting to relive a certain game or homestand in recent Mets history. It just happens. And it’s not reliving. It’s living it. I read Faith and Fear from whatever the date, and it is that date.
When I inaugurated the original Flashback Friday series in 2005, I used a phrase on a couple of occasions my underlying rationale for digging into the past: We are the sums of all the seasons that came before the one we’re in now. Five years of FAFIF have only deepened that sense.
And I can still feel what I was feeling when I first wrote that phrase.
2) One minute you’re sitting here excitedly hailing the appearance of Carlos Beltran in a Mets uniform; the next minute, you’re sitting here wondering when, exactly, Carlos Beltran will be appearing in a Mets uniform.
There’s more to that observation than a wisecrack at the expense of the Mets’ most recent public relations debacle. Carlos Beltran was at the center of our thoughts as Mets fans five years ago. Signing Beltran for $119 million was stunning. It wasn’t just the money or the idea of the Mets committing to someone through the far-off 2011 season. Carlos Beltran was acknowledged as the prize of that winter’s free agent class. The Mets had only netted one of those before: Bobby Bonilla. By all indications, Beltran wasn’t Bonilla. The best indication was what had gone on in the last two series Beltran played, the ’04 NLDS against Atlanta and the ’04 NLCS against the Cardinals. Carlos may not have singlehandedly beaten the Braves and nearly done the same to St. Louis, but it was close.
Once again, it was MLB Network that conjured it all up recently when it devoted an hour to remembering 2004. There was Beltran the Astro, owning October. There was Pedro Martinez of Boston, pitching — in tandem with Curt Schilling — the Red Sox to their elusive World Series title. Naturally Boston was all over that show. It started with them losing to the Yankees in the ’03 ALCS and crested with their remarkable comeback against them one postseason later.
The effect of all this was to send a not insignificant chill through me. Proust again. That confluence from October 2004 brought me right back there, specifically to a team whose name wasn’t mentioned at all in this MLBN documentary: the Mets. As thrilled as I was to watch the Red Sox scale that hump, I was saddened all over again thinking about how little the Mets existed as a competitive entity at that moment in time. It led me to remember what it was like to sit at this very desk and absorb the news that the Mets had signed Pedro Martinez in December and Carlos Beltran in January, and how much that thing that had been missing for several seasons was appearing over the Met horizon:
That was the mindset in the first weeks of February 2005, informed by the presence of one pitcher who was great but had probably peaked and one player who was great and seemed to be peaking. The player, Beltran, would reach his high point in a Mets uniform. And, on the Wednesday afternoon when my friend of ten years called and said that idea we had, for the blog, well I put it up, try posting something (which was no mean feat, as I was tethered to a very old computer that apparently wasn’t built for blogging), my immediate Met thinking focused squarely on the man…the Met who loomed as the best player in baseball.
The first thing I wrote about was Carlos Beltran arriving in Port St. Lucie. I had no idea how the Mets would do in 2005. I wasn’t necessarily confident that the organization’s facelift — new general manager, new manager and that pair of high-profile acquisitions — would translate into a contender right away, but I could feel the hope. Carlos Beltran gave me that more than anybody else five years ago…gave me more of it than probably any single New Met ever has in any February.
Which is why I felt sad watching the MLBN show. The Beltran who became a Met has been a splendid player, arguably as good over his three best seasons, ’06 to ’08, as any Met position player has ever been. Yet watching highlights of him defeating the Braves and taking the Cardinals to the limit, I wondered how come we never quite got that Carlos Beltran. That’s some bar to set. Clearly those were two series almost nobody in baseball history has ever come close to matching: 8 home runs; 14 runs batted in; 20 hit; 21 runs scored; 6 stolen bases; 1.557 OPS in a dozen games.
Those were superstar levels. Superhuman levels. Not quite the Beltran we’ve seen as a Met, and it’s unfair to think you could get 162 games worth of that every year, year after year. I’ve always been fine with the Beltran we’ve seen as a Met. Yet I found myself wondering how come that October 2004 Beltran never quite made it to the Mets. I rarely think of Carlos in those terms, but this February, five years later, it crossed my mind.
I’m still glad we’ve had him for five years. I’m happy he’s supposed to be here for two more years. I admire his grace and composure as much as his talent. I look forward to his return. Still, I guess I miss the Beltran I imagined on February 16, 2005.
3) For a very long time, my career involved writing for and editing magazines that were usually in some sort of circulation and ad revenue battle with a direct competitor. The mindset was always, “We’re good, they’re bad.” It was how we did business.
I have to confess that attitude carried over into my first brush with blogging. There was no direct competition with anybody, yet I wondered when we were going to prevail in the marketplace. When, I’d ask Jason at least a little seriously, will everybody who reads blogs stop reading those others and start reading ours and our alone? When would everybody else who blogs about the Mets find another topic? I mean, we’re here — they can move on now.
Blogging didn’t and doesn’t work that way, and I couldn’t be happier about it. There are as many Mets blogs as there are grains of sand, and the ocean keeps making more. Yay, to that. Yay to everybody who finds his or her own angle, yay to everybody who churns out a dozen posts a day, yay to everybody who crafts one post every dozen days. Yay to all the perspectives the Mets inspire, and yay to all the new ways of looking at the Mets our blogging community has created.
It’s amused me quite a bit these past few weeks whenever I’ve read one of our blolleagues lament that it’s a “slow news day” where the Mets are concerned. Because of blogdom, we’ve gotten the impression something should always be happening with the Mets. It wasn’t that long ago that winter was winter, and we accepted as a matter of course that nothing happening with the Mets was the norm. That’s what winter was good for: nothing. The blogging community changed that and made being a Mets fan a whole lot more interesting.
I sit here alone and type, but I know I’m part of a community, not just half of a two-man operation. I was reminded of this last week when I sought to increase awareness of something worthwhile one of our readers is up to. I asked a bunch of other bloggers if they’d mind posting a link to the interview with our friend Sharon who’s running the New York City Marathon to raise funds to battle brain cancer. You know how many of them responded affirmatively? Every damn one of them. More than every damn one of them, actually. Some blogs linked to our Tug McGraw Foundation story without my having asked them. This isn’t atypical of Mets bloggers, but it is a reminder how beautiful it is to write in the very real virtual company of these people.
I’ve come to know, to varying degrees, a lot of Mets bloggers through this adventure. They’re not competitors. We’re all in this together. We’re all bound by wanting our team to do well and by wanting to tell the rich and textured story of what it’s like to root for this team. It’s a pleasure and honor being on the same team with them.
For those with whom we blog, I salute you.
4) On my first trip to Citi Field in April, as I groped to come to grips with the existence what was going to be my ballpark for the rest of my life, I was instantly impressed by a couple of things — the food was good and the setting was sociable. One of our readers commented that this didn’t impress him:
Call me an out of touch dinosaur, but I’ve got a million and one places to be social. If I wanted to relax, talk to friends and have some nice food, I’d stay home.
I certainly appreciate the sentiment behind that, but these years of writing Faith and Fear have changed one fundamental thing about going to the ballpark, whichever ballpark it is. There is a more social element to it. I run into people at Mets games in a way I never did before 2005. I meet up with people in the middle of Mets games. This was almost never the case for the first 25 or so years I’d go to Shea, and it wasn’t all that common thereafter. Now, thanks to FAFIF, I see friends at the game. I’m lucky to have friends like these.
I go to the game to see the game first and foremost, of course, but this is another dimension, and I truly value it. Likewise, I write about the Mets here because I like writing about the Mets, but knowing so many of the people on the other end of this series of tubes aren’t just readers but friends — including the proverbial friends I’ve yet to meet — is what makes this blog a passion for me. I thank all of you for your friendship, your readership and your passion.
5) Before the most recent storm of the century, I went to weather.com to check my local forecast. In the box where you’re asked to enter your ZIP Code, I automatically typed in 11368.
I stared at it a moment. It didn’t look right. Then I realized that 11368 isn’t my ZIP Code. It’s Shea Stadium’s ZIP Code.
Geographically speaking, according to MapQuest, I live about 20 miles south and east from the parking lot formerly known as Shea Stadium, but let’s not quibble. The Mets are my psychic home. If you’ve taken the time to visit here on any kind of regular basis, I’m guessing they’re yours, too. Perhaps, then, it’s most accurate to consider Faith and Fear in Flushing an extension onto that home, an extra room for all our Mets stuff: all our anxieties, all our exultations, all our memories, all our analysis, all our flights of fancy, all of our id when it comes to baseball.
I find all Mets seasons unforgettable. That’s my blessing and my curse. But these five seasons…it’s been good to spend them here at home with all of you. I’m gonna go clear some space to make room for whatever the next one brings.