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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Welcome, THB Class of 2010

Yoo-hoo? Anybody miss me?

After a month of insanity (finishing a Star Wars book, grueling new freelance gig), I can finally think once again about my beloved New York Mets. (Nod to the beyond-awesome Citi ad set in Istanbul.) So let me sally forth by looking back — and giving a slightly overdue welcome to the THB Class of 2010. (Previous annals here, here, here, here and here.)

Here’s a recap for newcomers: I have a pair of binders, dubbed The Holy Books (THB) by Greg, that contain a baseball card for every Met on the all-time roster. (News flash: Binder #2 is now full. The Alderson Era will be a fresh start in more ways than you thought.) The binders are ordered by year, with a card for each player who made his Met debut that year: Tom Seaver is Class of ’67, Mike Piazza is Class of ’98, Jose Reyes is Class of ’03, etc. There are extra pages for the rosters of the two World Series winners, including managers, and one for the 1961 Expansion Draft. That includes the infamous Lee Walls, the only THB resident who neither played for nor managed the Mets.

THB Class of 2010 Mets

Welcome, new boys!

If a player gets a Topps card as a Met, I use that unless it’s truly horrible — Topps was here a decade before there were Mets, so they get to be the card of record. No Met Topps card? Then I look for a Bisons card, a non-Topps Met card, a Topps non-Met card, or anything else. Topps had a baseball-card monopoly until 1981, and minor-league cards only really began in the mid-1970s, so cup-of-coffee guys from before ’75 or so are a problem. Companies like TCMA and Renata Galasso made odd sets with players from the 1960s — the likes of Jim Bethke, Bob Moorhead and Dave Eilers are immortalized through their efforts. And a card dealer named Larry Fritsch put out sets of “One Year Winners” spotlighting blink-and-you-missed-them guys such as Ted Schreiber and Joe Moock. (A new wrinkle: Topps has recently been selling off its stock of old photos, including ones of guys who never got proper cards. I was outbid for the Ted Schreiber, to my moderate but slowly escalating annoyance.)

Then there are the legendary Lost Nine — guys who never got a regulation-sized, acceptable card from anybody. Brian Ostrosser got a 1975 minor-league card that looks like a bad Xerox. Leon Brown has a terrible 1975 minor-league card and an oversized Omaha Royals card put out as a promotional set by the police department. Tommy Moore got a 1990 Senior League card as a 42-year-old with the Bradenton Explorers. Then there are Al Schmelz, Francisco Estrada, Lute Barnes, Bob Rauch, Greg Harts and Rich Puig, who have no cards whatsoever — the oddball 1991 Nobody Beats the Wiz set is too undersized to work. Best I can tell, Al Schmelz never even had a decent color photograph taken while wearing his Met uniform. (Here’s a crappy black-and-white photo I felt compelled to buy.) The Lost Nine are represented in THB by DIY cards I Photoshopped and had printed on cardstock, because I am insane.

During the season I scrutinize new card sets in hopes of finding a) better cards of established Mets; b) cards to stockpile for prospects who might make the Show; and most importantly c) a card for each new big-league Met. At season’s end, the new guys get added to the binders, to be studied now and then until February. When it’s time to pull old Topps cards of the spring-training invitees and start the cycle again.

Anyway, here they are, the final class of the already unbeloved Minaya regime:

Manny Acosta: Lanky reliever threw hard, but had problems hitting the plate and with dinger-related neck strain. This description suffices for approximately 73,541 relievers in baseball history. If not for having surrendered a couple of huge hits in big spots, I’d probably think of him more fondly. But he did and so I don’t.  Manny gets a mock Topps ’52 card from a few years ago, on which he’s depicted as a Brave.

Joaquin Arias: Stats-minded Mets fans appreciated Arias for not being Jeff Francoeur, but I thought the Mets deserved praise for a different reason: It looked as if the Rangers organization had denied Arias food in Oklahoma City, which is mean. Seriously, the guy made post-Marines Buddy Harrelson look like an offensive lineman. Has since been waived, and possibly is being hand-fed gruel by Sally Struthers as you read this.  Topps ’52 card as a Ranger.

Rod Barajas: Seemed like a fine acquisition when he was slugging clutch home runs, not so much when it became obvious that nobody had told him that Ball 4 = First Base. Still, a decent sort who was an interesting interview and kept the catcher’s seat warm for Josh Thole, whom the Mets didn’t hold back because someone with Veteran Leadership TM was on the roster. So no particular harm, no particular foul. Barajas got a Topps Update card as a Met, despite spending the last six weeks of the season employed by the Los Angeles Dodgers. While we’re on the subject, Alex Cora got a Mets Topps Update card despite being released two weeks before Barajas left town. I’m sure it’s completely unrelated that 2010 was the first year in three decades in which Topps was given a monopoly on major-league baseball cards. Competition, kids! It makes products better!

Jason Bay: Sitting in the stands at Citi, I noticed Jason Bay’s at-bat music — an odd, off-kilter riff leading into a metalesque singer who sounded a bit like David Lee Roth. To my surprise, the song was by Pearl Jam, which has always been a band I admire rather than like. Anyway, “The Fixer” became a favorite of mine, and I rehearsed a blog post in which I’d talk about the song and weave in its lyrics — which are about redemption and taking a problem on your shoulders and making things better — with an account of a big Jason Bay hit. All I needed was the big Jason Bay hit. Topps Update card.

Henry Blanco: Tattooed, imposing catcher did about all you could ask from a back-up catcher. Really good back-up catchers are like pleasant laundry rooms — they’re a nice thing to find in a house, but nobody’s ever stalked away from a showing because the laundry room was lacking. I’d call Henry Blanco a stacked washer-dryer with a sufficient supply of off-brand dryer sheets and maybe a plastic laundry basket that’s a no-longer-fashionable color but still serviceable. Blanco got a Topps Update card, which must make back-up catchers in Pittsburgh or Houston mad.

Chris Carter: The Animal was amusingly intense, got some big hits, and was also a welcome antidote to the assumption that baseball players’ mental activity away from the stadium pretty much consists of thinking about hitting baseballs. Carter went to Stanford, where he got a degree in human biology — in three years. He’s interested in things such as the dedifferentation of blood cells, stem-cell research and cloning. What does Carter get for this doubly impressive resume? A lousy Buffalo Bisons card — and it’s a dreaded horizontal to boot.

Frank Catalanotto: Catalanotto was given the heave-ho after showing very little as a pinch-hitter early in the year, which wasn’t particularly fair but is how things work: Pinch-hitters, like middle relievers, wind up unemployed if one of their bad stretches happens to come at the start of their tenure. Topps showed they were paying at least fitful attention by not giving him a Mets card seven months later, leaving THB to content itself with last year’s update card, on which he is a  Brewer.

Ike Davis: Oh, Ike. Tall, outwardly amiable, and looked like an overgrown Nadia Comaneci with a dugout railing at hand. Ike swiftly displaced Mike Jacobs — part of the ample evidence in the case of Fans v. Omar Minaya — in the lineup and gained a spot in our hearts. He hit tape-measure home runs, he had some idea of the strike zone, and he was wonderfully sure-handed at first base. (He should’ve won a Gold Glove except for the award being a stupid popularity contest.) Best of all, he suffered through a rough early summer and then had a pretty fine September, which bodes well for future years. Topps snuck in a short-printed Series 2 of Ike after he’d been crowned with a shaving-cream pie, which I refused to buy because a) it was expensive and b) that kind of card is a Yankee thing. His Topps Update card will do just fine.

R.A. Dickey: Exhibit A in the half-hearted case made by the defense in Fans v. Omar Minaya. Dickey was one of the finest stories to come around these parts in years: a fireballer who got jobbed out of most of his signing bonus for the sin of being born without an ulnar collateral ligament, had to reinvent himself as a knuckleballer and somehow made it work. The Mets had never had a knuckleballer of any merit, but Dickey proved he was no novelty act: He was a student of pitching, a terrific fielder and a pretty fair hitter to boot. Plus he spoke like a character from a W.P. Kinsella story. Baseball players like this typically only exist in novels and overheated blog posts, but every time we pinched ourselves, Dickey was still there. His lone card is a Buffalo horizontal, a Topps oversight that upset me to an unhealthy degree.

Lucas Duda: With his huge frame, vaguely smash-faced visage and lumbering strides in left field, Duda looked like an 1990s Milwaukee Brewer or the understudy for Lennie in “Of Mice and Men.” And during September his brand-new career took a decidedly tragic turn — he collected his first hit in Chicago and then went so cold that you wondered if he’d ever get another one. He was 1 for 34, and you wanted to time your bathroom trips for his at-bats, not because you were mad at him but because his struggles were so pitiful that it felt cruel to watch. But Duda then broke out of it with a monstrous home run and went on an honest-to-goodness tear, hitting tracers out of Citi Field. Far too much baseball writing attributes getting a hit to character (or not getting one to a lack of it), but being 1 for 34 in the big leagues and staying even-keeled really does seems indicative of some measure of it. I don’t know if we’ll ever hear from Lucas Duda again, but I’ll remember the story of his September for some time. He gets a horrible 2008 Bowman Chrome card for now; here’s hoping for an upgrade down the line.

Jesus Feliciano: Feliciano toiled in the minor leagues for 13 seasons before finally getting his chance at the age of 31. That’s a lot of time staring at the ceiling of cheap motels and riding around on crappy buses in pursuit of a dream that must have come to seem like it wasn’t going to come true. It’s great that it did. All that makes me feel shrivel-hearted and small-souled for now pointing out that Jesus Feliciano wasn’t really very good. Topps Update card.

Dillon Gee: If you circled Dillon Gee’s big-league debut in Washington in red pen, you probably have the same last name as him. (And this is coming from a guy who drove from D.C. to Philly to see the Mets take the wraps off Bobby Jones.) But Gee took a no-hitter into the sixth in his debut and didn’t even get accused of not caring about injured veterans later. He pitched pretty well, all told, for the rest of the year — certainly well enough to merit a 2011 look. Gee is one of those guys who has to have very good location and command all his pitches to succeed, and guys like that generally sit at the back end of rotations and get hit. But sometimes they don’t: It’s overly optimistic assuming every change speeds/hit spots guy can be Greg Maddux or even Rick Reed, but it’s overly pessimistic to dismiss the idea that a guy like that has no chance. Got a 2010 Bowman card.

Luis Hernandez: Hit a home run with a broken toe, which is pretty impressive. Beyond that, I have trouble remembering much of anything he did beyond Not Being Luis Castillo. We can do better than that from now on, right Mr. Alderson? Depressing Factoid: Luis’s homer was the only one hit by a Mets second baseman in 2010. Yipes. His card is a Topps ’52 style Oriole. There were a bunch of those this year for some reason.

Mike Hessman: Late in 2010 I was trying to explain the concept of “Quadruple-A player” to my son. Once I used Hessman as an example he got it instantly. Represented by a Topps Pro Debut card.

Ryota Igarashi: Nicknamed Rocket Boy. Rockets that miss with the depressing frequency shown by Igarashi are generally destroyed remotely from the control room. Got a two-year deal, while Hisanori Takahashi got a chance to walk after one campaign. Good job, Omar! Represented by a 2008 Baseball Magazine Japanese card on which he is a Yakult Swallow.

Jenrry Mejia: There was Gary Matthews Jr. in center, Mike Jacobs at first, the stubborn insistence that John Maine and Oliver Perez would be just fine, and the continuing presence of Luis Castillo. But what really got the torch-bearing mob advancing on Castle Omar was sacrificing a year of the fireballing Mejia’s development while wasting him as a middle reliever. I’m annoyed all over again just thinking about it. Here’s hoping young Jenrry has a career good enough that I eventually think of him without automatically also thinking of Met front-office stupidity. Got a Topps Series 2 card that I’d be happier never to have seen, given why it existed.

Mike Nickeas: Minor-league journeyman makes average. His father sort of played for Liverpool. Got a 2005 Bowman Draft Picks card in which he was a Ranger. Curious amount of Mets-Rangers traffic this season.

Hisanori Takahashi: Wily, brave Japanese veteran who pitched capably as a middle reliever, starter and emergency closer. Headed elsewhere in 2011 after seeking what I’ll admit seemed like a lot of years to commit to a pretty old pitcher. We’ll miss him whenever Igarashi gives up a double in the gap or K-Rod punches a relative. Didn’t get a Topps Update card, but did get a  Topps Chrome card. Damn it, Topps.

Ruben Tejada: Slick-fielding second baseman clearly wasn’t ready with the bat, but survived a grueling season and the existence of Jerry Manuel to put up encouraging numbers in September. His soft hands and precocious baseball instincts were a joy to watch, but one has to be realistic about that bat. Got a Topps Series 2 card.

Justin Turner: Showed flashes in a brief midsummer callup, but didn’t return in September. Given the collective wattage of the Mets braintrust in 2010, it’s possible they forgot he existed. (Reading this, Nick Evans squeezes the mouse too hard and breaks it.) Can we take another moment to sing hallelujahs that people with functioning cerebellums now run our club? Has a card as a 2009 Tide, which continues to startle me even though I know perfectly well the Tides were an Orioles farm team by then.

Raul Valdes: The definition of warm body. Has a 2006 Bowman card on which he’s a Cub and his name is spelled “Valdez.” This undoubtedly strikes him as more of an injustice than it does me.

8 comments to Welcome, THB Class of 2010