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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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There's a Feel in the Air

In Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend by James Hirsch (which I’m about 130 pages from finishing, which is too bad, because I don’t want it to end), Willie tells a pack of reporters inquiring about the Giants’ pennant chances during Spring Training of 1961, “There’s a feel in the air.” One of his confidantes in the press corps asked Willie why he trotted out a line he used every spring.

“Well, there is a feel in the air.”
“That’s what you said last year.”
“Was a feel in the air last year.”
“And the year before.”
“Feel in the air then, too.”
“Matter of fact, you think this way every year around this time.”
“I know it,” Mays said.

Mays’ confidante, Charlie Einstein, then suggested he might have done the unwitting reporter who took “feel in the air” as gospel a favor and explained that he always said it.

Willie told Charlie, “He only asked about this year.”

The Giants did not win the pennant in 1961. The Mets aren’t exactly a favorite to win much in 2010, but I have to tell you I feel a feel in the air, and I wouldn’t have said so last year or the year before.

This doesn’t have to do with finishing in what they used to call the first division. This doesn’t have to do with finishing anywhere at all. This is about a fresh start. I realize there may be a few too many stale slices of bread in the bag to necessarily avoid becoming toast once the season begins, but I sort of don’t care.

Just as I didn’t care that we were nominal favorites the last two Marches when I felt mostly dread about what lay ahead.

Perhaps the first sustained taste of spring in the Long Island atmosphere is doing it. Perhaps it’s that every time I turn my figurative antenna toward Port St. Lucie it’s pulling in images of Mejia and Davis and Martinez and a flock of kids. I don’t generally have a lot of faith in Met youth or those who tend to it, but the time has come to reach out and touch faith. The can’t-misses in our midst haven’t missed yet. There’s always 2012 or some future date to recall what disappointments those highly hoped upon rookies of 2010 became. I’m not there yet. I’m loving Jenrry and Ike and, to a certain extent (though he didn’t seem altogether sound during our exposure to him in toxic 2009) Fernando. Even if none of them is on the Opening Day roster, I’m loving that they’re around.

Should they be on the Opening Day roster, any of them? My default response is set on “don’t rush them,” whoever “them” happen to be, but this March, I am so ready to move on from how the Mets usually put together a team that I wouldn’t mind if each brought a note from his parents and joined on us on this six-month field trip. Of course I worry about Jerry Manuel overusing Mejia (there’s nothing more dangerous than a desperate manager with a new toy) or Davis hitting .189 in April or F-Mart falling down in center and throwing to the wrong base once he gets up, but I also worry that if they are sent out of our sight, worse things will happen. Nobody seems to have risen to the majors from our minors in the past five years without being scathed somewhere along the way. I don’t know what my babysitting would do for them, but I’d feel better, somehow, if I could keep an eye on them.

Whether they’ll be here when the season starts is almost immaterial to me. They’re here now. They’ve made it the first spring in ages in which I don’t feel we’re going through the motions. These kids make me watch these games. That whole bit about “we’ll be sick of watching exhibitions”? It hasn’t happened yet. I welcome extended glances at the likes Jenrry Mejia and Ike Davis and Fernando Martinez.

I also welcome those stories about how Jeff Francoeur and Jason Bay are Solid Clubhouse Presences who are Taking The Pressure Off David Wright. Those attributes won’t matter if they’re not hitting, but for now, those are fine qualities to find in teammates. Who exactly was taking the pressure off anybody, particularly David, on this team before?

Francoeur and Bay are reminding me a bit of Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile being the answer men to the beat guys while Mike Piazza quietly went about the business of being fabulous one decade ago. We’ve had veterans around David, but not guys who seemed to enjoy being spokesmen (or who could manage to smile while doing it). I’m well aware of the perceived and actual shortcomings of Francoeur and Bay as players — performance speaks loudest of all — but as of March 18, they’ve not failed at anything they’ve done as Mets. They, like the kids, have made this a sunnier spring.

No, I don’t know who’s going to pitch effectively behind Santana. I really liked what I saw out of Hisanori Takahashi the other day. Perhaps it’s the novelty, but I’d welcome him into the rotation ahead of guys whose upsides we know or those whose upsides don’t strike me as too terribly tall. That, again, could be the spring talking, but in Takahashi, we may have actually stumbled upon the Japanese starting pitcher who doesn’t disappoint us. Meanwhile, Pelfrey pitched well yesterday and talked even better: “I think one day I’d like to become an actual pitcher.” I like the self-awareness. I like location more. Maybe he’s hinting at an upside that will finally measure up to his height.

These are scattered impressions and selective ones at that. The starting shortstop is still in two-to-eight week purgatory. The five-tool center fielder is blocks away from Home Depot. Ollie Perez remains an international man of mystery. A DP combo of Alex Cora and Luis Castillo conjures visions of white balls skittering onto green grass. The same people who run the organization haven’t surrendered the keys, which means the ride will certainly have its share of bumps again and the brakes may not work properly and the floor mats might get stuck underneath the gas pedal. But it’s not March 2008 when I couldn’t get past September 2007. And it’s not March 2009 when I couldn’t get past September 2008.

It’s March 2010. There’s a feel in the air, and this time it doesn’t feel like acid rain.

Come one, come all to the first AMAZIN’ TUESDAY of 2010, March 23, 7 PM, at Two Boots Tavern on the Lower East Side, as we read aloud, rally around and try to raise a few bucks for the Tug McGraw Foundation. Details here.

11 comments to There’s a Feel in the Air

  • dmg

    i’m with ya. i will watch the games, or at least have them on background, even eventually come to the ballpark, just to see baseball played and, if it’s not too much to dream, played well.
    (really, how great would it be if the mets used the spring to hard-wire the fundamentals into the players, so that the season had fewer games lost to brain-lock moments?)

    but i sure won’t be checking the standings.

    i’m not opposed to giving the prospects some time up in the bigs, but i’m not convinced any of them are going to prove out. remember how excited we were when nick evans and daniel murphy first appeared? (we’re still waiting for murphy, and he’s in the starting lineup.)

    the ncaas will provide some distraction, and when they’re over, it’ll be opening day. about time.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    Seeing the potential of new and future stars has me also feeling guarded but hopefully optimistic. But its also because I have come to accept that Citi Field was not built around our biggest strength, power, and that all the whining in the world won’t do a thing to change it. Therefore, I’ve concluded that the team is better off being built around the park.

    With our pitching (beyond Santana and KRod) being so “iffy” I shudder to think what would happen if we were still playing at Shea so, in essence, our biggest weakness (which is weaker than our strength in power is stronger) will be aided by those longer distances. And with four starters and many arms in the bullpen, we do have the potential to be quite good instead of 12th in the league. The staff doesn’t have to pitch as well as the Dodgers and Giants but more like it did the season before (when we finished sixth in the league) with Citi Field compensating for the rest of it’s deficincies.

    Citi Field protecting the staff will cause us to be blown out less often. Even with our lineup not in full tact we still have enough bats to score runs albeit, not as many as we could if our power wasn’t offset, but still enough to win those close games. This also means David Wright must forget about what he’s doing in spring training and hit hard liners to right that will fall into the gap rather than deep flies that outfielders can track down and turn into 415 foot outs.

    So, other than resenting the fact that everyone can see more of the stores and restaurants than they can of the playing field, I’m accepting and embracing Citi Field for what it is.

    Hallelujah

  • I’m excited. Like every year, I can see the steps the Mets need to take to win it all, and those steps are definitely reachable. Who knows if Manuel will push them off before they get up the first half-dozen steps, or if one of them crumbles underneath them, but it’s still March. the standings are still tied, and the ultimate upside of the World Series is there.

    What else can we really ask for than a team that if they play well and stay healthy, can win the World Series? After all, even the most stacked or favored teams are not any better off than that.

  • CharlieH

    Amen, brutha.

    My take on the kids is this: it’s a long season.

    Brilliant, no?

    Wait until late-June, when Francoeur is swinging at everything in sight and is on pace for 350 strikeouts: then bring on Fernando.

    Wait until August, when Feliciano’s on the DL, Sean Green has gone mega-Doug Sisk and Takahashi looks more like Morita: then bring up Jenrry.

    Wait until July, when Murphy shows himself the bench monster he is: then bring up iLike.

    (Spring Training is also the time to try out new nicknames and get on a first-name basis with the future, apparently.)

    Let’s see what kind of start we have.

    Let’s enjoy the Spring.

    And above all else, Let’s Go Mets!

  • I agree that the feeling of not wanting a book to end is the sign of an author having achieved his purpose. I felt the same way reading the book version of this blog — even though I’m not a Met fan.

    Which brings up a major point: Every so often, a fan of a team not expected to win says, “I’ve got a feeling.” Usually, it turns out to be their lunch acting up.

  • Dr. Remulak

    Mets history runs in seven season cycles. 2010 is the last season of the current “down” cycle, which began in 2004. If history is any indication, 2010 will be very much like ’68, ’82 & ’96 – decent, some hope for the future, but no cigar just yet. Keep your calendar open for October 2013 & 2014 though, those promise to be very eventful seasons.

  • mikeinbrooklyn

    I agree, man. These kids are making me real hopeful. The only thing is, I’m stickin’ to my guns: do not rush them, no matter how tempting it is. I can deal with a bad season (which isn’t even definite) knowing these rays of sunshine are just over the horizon. Think of a team of Thole, Ike, someone (Murphy?), Reyes, Wright, Bay, Beltran, Martinez. And a staff of Santana, Pelfrey, Niese, 2 big free agents, and Mejia closing. What a team this could be!

  • Dak442

    In March 2008 I was positive we’d use the collapse as a rallying point, destroy the opposition and roll. In March 2009 I was certain that with the new and improved bullpen, we’d be a force – definitely making the playoffs, maybe overtaking Philly for the division. In March 2010 I am vaguely happy that baseball season is starting soon.

  • Andee

    I’m all for not rushing the kids.

    But with all the pixels that have been expended on the Mejia situation, I think people are forgetting who actually gets to make that decision.

    Jerry sure doesn’t. Field managers don’t get to overrule GMs on personnel decisions. Maybe if they’re wildly popular managers with a long track record, like Joe Torre or Bobby Cox, they get almost everyone they ask for, because their resignation would be a PR disaster for the team.

    But Jerry. has. no. leverage. At all. It’s hard for me to think of an MLB manager at the moment with less leverage than he has, in fact; he’s surrounded by people with managerial experience who can take over his job at the escape of a fart. Jerry can beg and plead here, but he cannot threaten. He will be laughed at.

    And then there’s the uniquely Mets-oriented twist to this situation, which is that, by all appearances, Omar has long since had his teeth pulled and now functions more or less as a sock puppet for the owner. If Jerry’s unlikely to overrule Omar, it’s completely inconceivable that he overrules Jeff freaking Wilpon.

    And while Jeffco might not be the driest matchstick in the box, there’s probably one thing he does know: People don’t buy tickets to watch the eighth-inning setup guy even if he has “electric stuff.” So all the people piling on for a decision that hasn’t even been made yet, and probably won’t be made in favor of taking Mejia to New York now, is kind of bewildering to me.

    In any case, Jenrry doesn’t go over 130 innings this year, which means that they will need to limit his starts in some way anyway, regardless of where he’s pitching. And as for Ike and Fmart, I’d sure as heck rather see them come north than Mike Jacobs and Frank Catalanotto, but after all the freaking injuries last year I’ll be shocked if pretty much everyone who still has options isn’t sent down.

  • [...] Greg Prince quotes Willie Mays about Mets camp – “there’s a feel in the air” – and credits the pair of corner outfielders, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur, with forming a new power core around David Wright. He also likes the kids, and wants to see them around Citi Field very soon. [...]

  • [...] a team that just reached .500 for the first time in ten games, but I’m going with the feel, and there’s a feel in the air that it’s fun to be a Mets fan until it isn’t. That moment could come any second, so let’s [...]