Today is the sixth anniversary of Faith and Fear in Flushing, and I’m touched that the Mets thought to get us Jason Isringhausen to mark the occasion. A 1995 Met is the perfect touch.
From the standpoint of FAFIF mythology, only Bill Pulsipher would have been more appropriate. Your co-bloggers’ first game together was June 17, 1995, Astros at Mets, major league debut of the first third of Generation K, Pulsipher. Pulse basically whiffed that day and didn’t have too many great days after that, but he was a huge part of the 1995 Mets. So was Isringhausen, whose July callup was a cause célèbre and whose second-half surge (9-2, 2.81 ERA) earned him a late look by Rookie of the Year voters. Izzy finished fourth, behind Met-to-be Hideo Nomo, Met-killer with training wheels Chipper Jones and 1998 Halloween Hindsight Haunter Quilvio Veras. It would have been swell had our guy garnered more support, but Izzy, like Pulse (5-7, 3.98), was laying down a marker for the future. Just wait until 1996, when they’d be starting the year with the big club — them and even more über prospect Paul Wilson would be leading the Mets to big things, I tell you what.
We’re still waiting. The next spin of the rotation that includes the early Internet acronym IPP (Izzy, Pulse and Paul) will be the first. Injuries slowed Pulse in the spring of ’96, Izzy and Paul were shaky almost all of the annum that followed and none was on hand to commence 1997. Wilson never pitched for the Mets after 1996. Pulsipher fought his way back — twice — but couldn’t make it stick. His starting stock irreversibly dropped, Isringhausen wasn’t getting anywhere as a Met reliever, either, by 1999, so he was packed off to Oakland for bullpen depth as personified by Billy Taylor.
At which point Jason Isringhausen emerged as a star.
That’s usually the kicker in every “Mets trade young player” anecdote, but except that Billy Taylor was totally miscast as a noncloser and revealed himself a total nonstarter as a Met reliever, the Isringhausen trade wasn’t that much of a Metropolitan calamity in context. It was 1999. Everything worked out about as fine as it could have. Further, when Izzy was making his first All-Star team as an Athletic in 2000, we were headed for a second consecutive playoff date, and the ’pen (ninth-inning home runs to J.T. Snow and 48-pitch walks to Paul O’Neill notwithstanding) was one of our stronger suits. Like Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott, Isringhausen had a reasonable shot to achieve stardom in New York, yet turned in ample evidence that Shea probably was not the stadium for him.
So Izzy went on to pile up saves as an A and then as a Card. One night in 2006, he failed to close out the Mets when he had a 7-6 lead and it resulted in one of the best nights of one our best years. That signature swing of Carlos Beltran off Jason Isringhausen (in the same game in which Albert Pujols and Carlos Delgado each homered twice and we rallied from down 7-1 to win 8-7) unleashed much Joy in a summer stuffed with it.
I’d trade Billy Taylor for Carlos Beltran every time.
I don’t know that Jason Isringhausen has anything left to give the 2011 Mets. Even as Terry Collins opened camp by declaring he and his coaches need to “recreate” the bullpen, it’s hard to imagine good old (38) Izzy, after three surgeries and a no major league appearances since 2009, as a legitimate piece of its bedrock foundation. But this is February 16, FAFIF Day, when all is worth mulling, all is worth imagining, all is worth remembering — selectively and otherwise.
That’s FAFIF right there, I think. That, too, is the mindset of the Mets fan, for which we’ve been accused of serving as surrogates on a recurring basis since February 16, 2005. We began this adventure relying mostly on our Met memories, supplemented by maybe a wisp of confidence that the upcoming season would be better than the ones that came directly before it. Carlos Beltran, come to think of it, was the primary reason we had to be enthusiastic as we attempted to put the wreckage of 2004 (and 2003 and 2002) behind us. Carlos showed up in St. Lucie at almost precisely the same instant we landed in this space. Beltran was the future that day. Izzy, meanwhile, was an unspoken tile within the enormous mosaic we brought to bear at Faith and Fear. Neither Jason nor I rushed to blog about him, but he resided firmly in our shared subconscious as one of hundreds of Met Kilroys.
Izzy was here. Pulse was here. Hundreds of names we casually drop not because we can, but because we can’t help ourselves were here — Al Schmelz; Mike Vail; Steve Springer; Mike Phillips; Steve Henderson; Rico Brogna; Melvin Mora; and so on, Aase to Zimmer alphabetically, Ashburn to Gee chronologically. This is what being a Mets fan does to a fellow or gal. Eight-hundred ninety-five names all hang around in your brain, some more actively than others, some decidedly less welcome than the rest. It’s not just Jason and it’s not just me who are like this. It’s you, too. Allow me to illustrate as I “recreate” one of many of the conversations I’ve had with other Mets fans I’ve met through Faith and Fear these past six years.
From there, it’s usually about three sentence fragments to Dan Norman, and we’re off to the races.
That’s the beauty of the Met mindset, that we hold on to these guys. We hold on to their moments, their games and whatever significance we long ago attached to their identities. We don’t let loose of anything. We are a zillion-celled institutional memory that refuses to forget anything. Some things remain more accessible than others depending on your personal inclination, but it’s all there for the dwelling.
For example, I’ll bet roughly 80% of you who saw that bit about Carlos Beltran’s “signature swing” from 2006 against the Cardinals mentioned above immediately fast-forwarded two months to when Izzy was on the shelf, Adam Wainwright was filling in as the St. Louis closer and Carlos Beltran crafted his signature take.
Me, too. I just figured I’d skip mentioning it for a couple of paragraphs to give you the opportunity to come up with it yourself.
But it’s OK. We’re Mets fans. We wallow. It’s an intrinsic core competency in our skill set. We can’t have an all-encompassing, overarching beautiful memory without affixing the next unavoidable chapter to its trailer hitch. It’s like we’re too fair to avoid telling the whole story.
1969 was great, but Tom Seaver was eventually traded.
1986 was stupendous, but they should have won again and again after that.
1999 was brilliant, but Kenny Rogers ruined it.
Nobody was better than Doc Gooden, but he let us down.
Carlos Beltran may have been the best all-around player the Mets ever had, but he took strike three from Adam Wainwright.
Mike Vail hit in 23 consecutive games, but he did something terrible to his foot while playing basketball after we’d already traded Rusty Staub to clear a position for him — and we traded Rusty Staub!
For Mickey Lolich!
And Ken Singleton, Tim Foli and Mike Jorgensen were too much to give up in the first place to get Rusty!
And we shouldn’t have traded Tim Foli for Frank Taveras!
And (ten- or twelve-dozen Met misgivings later) Generation K generated so much hope but mass-produced mostly disappointment.
And we’re only just now able to use disappointment in a sentence without automatically invoking devastation.
Still and all, it must be kind of fun to be a Mets fan because we keep doing it. It was fun when Izzy was in his Met prime, which was a short, short span, to be sure, but a worthwhile one. The Isringhausen-Pulsipher stitch is an important element in my Met tapestry. They’re all important, I suppose, but I really loved that 1995 team, particularly in the second half. I loved how I cared so much that they went 34-18 down the stretch, even if a team that’s way out of it probably can’t accurately be said to have a stretch.
Make no mistake: The 1995 Mets were way out of it, but I slathered myself in whatever there was for them to stretch toward. In their case, it was a tie for second place on the last day of the season. Isringhausen started that Closing Day, offering us eight shutout innings whose only blemish was a total lack of run support. The Mets would win 1-0 in eleven on a bases-loaded walk to Tim Bogar. When I returned home, soaked in my private jubilation, I tuned through the crackle of my living room stereo to pick up the Phillies broadcast at 1210 on its AM dial. They were in Miami. Their game was still going on. I heard them lose.
And I went nuts!
The Mets, two seasons removed from when they finished 38 games behind the Phillies — and one year after a players strike finished everybody prematurely — ended this campaign tied for second with them. Never mind that half of second place was still 21 games south of Atlanta; never mind that 1996 marked a tepid return to fourth place; never mind the rest of Jason Isringhausen’s (first) Met tenure encompassed a 9-19 record punctuated by injuries and incidents that made him seem less Met bedrock than Barney Rubble. Never mind what we would come to know. What I knew on October 1, 1995, was the Mets had raised their status from distressing 35-57 losers to striving 69-75 mediocrities and it was good for 50% of second place, or what they used to refer to as the first division.
No wonder I went nuts.
I went nuts in a good way every five years from my first full season in 1970 onward. Every half-decade on the half-decade I’d feel something in my Mets fandom elevate me to a new plateau of loving and caring about this team and loving and caring that I loved and cared about them as much as I did. 1970 established me. 1975 immersed me. 1980 surprised me. 1985 mesmerized me. 1990 assured me.
It had been quite a streak, yet it was teetering on the edge of extinction five years later. It would have expired without Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher and Butch Huskey and Jeff Kent and Rico Brogna and Edgardo Alfonzo and Alex Ochoa and Dave Mlicki and Paul Byrd and Robert Person and Jose Vizcaino and Todd Hundley and Carl Everett and Tim Bogar all pulling together and making me very nuts very late in a very good way. Thus, 1995 reminded me. 2000 vindicated me. 2005, with the founding of Faith and Fear, channeled me into writing about this thing of ours, these Mets of ours. 2005 changed the nature of my fandom forever and, I believe, for the better, just like those 0/5 years that preceded it.
2010, I regret to report, didn’t do anything like that, and I consider the 0/5 streak over. Last season had some fine moments — including an intensely personal winning streak of its own — but I didn’t feel a change in me the way I did every five years from 1970 to 2005. Maybe I’ve perfected my Mets fandom to a state that’s as good as it’s gonna get. Maybe I’ve peaked as a Mets fan, halted from climbing any higher by the disappointing, devastating episode of September 30, 2007, a moment from which my psyche has yet to fully and completely recover. Or maybe my next step up the Mets fan ladder is just running late. (It’s February; it could have visa problems.) I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, because it’s not like I’m going anywhere. I’m still here.
When I go to my third Mets game of 2011, it will be my 500th official Mets game attended — that’s Shea, Citi and road, postseason inclusive. When Jason or I recap the Mets’ 18th game of 2011, it will be Faith and Fear’s thousandth consecutive Mets game blogged, starting with our first Looper-induced primal scream on April 4, 2005, winding through our only two playoff rounds since, and taking us to next game after No. 1,000 (scheduled for April 20, 2011, when the Mets play Houston, unless rain plays havoc beforehand). As if habit and affection aren’t enough to keep me going, I’ve got Met milestones on the table. So even if 2010 didn’t lift me to new heights as a fan, it didn’t shoo me away.
Like I said, I’m still here. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.
A couple of days ago, I was added to a Facebook group whose members are all from my high school graduating class. I took a look at its page. There was talk of another reunion. I blanched. I went to my 20th, and it was lovely. I went to my 25th, and it was plenty. I maintain a handful of close friendships from high school, but everybody else, the ones with whom I never bothered to stay in touch once graduation was done, are from the past. No offense to any of them, but, for the most part, they can stay there where my present is concerned. I won’t be insulted if they leave me out of their present, either.
I never feel that way about the Mets. I love the Mets’ past. I embrace how it stays with me. I’ve lived through 42 discrete seasons since discovering the Mets in the latter stages of 1969 (43 if you categorize the two halves of 1981 as singular elements, which is what the official standings did once that year’s strike concluded) and all 42 (or 43) are perpetually counted in my daily official attendance. I’m never completely out of 1970 or 1995 or 2010 or whichever year you choose to cite. They’re all living, breathing organisms in my head. Why, right now, somewhere in some brain crease, I’m wildly pissed off that Bill Spiers just grounded out to kill another rally.
But the Met past is truly prologue for me, too. I don’t live there, I just check in on it by instinct. It contributes to my present rather than blot it out. It contributes to this season, to this moment, to this unpaid vocation (you might call it a calling) in which I get to write about the Mets and being a Mets fan and engaging in wonderful conversations with the likes of you, whether they’re here on this blog or in actual physical proximity.
In case you actually don’t, insert the futility infielder of your choice on the off chance that Real Time With Bill Spiers escaped your attention when it aired first run in 1995.
First run? Hell, Bill Spiers scored all of five runs in 63 games as a Met. That’s only five more runs than I’ve scored for them in no games. And five more runs than turns through the rotation for Izzy, Pulse and Paul in 1996.
Whoops — there I go wallowing again.
Anyway, thanks to the Mets for bringing back a relic of a time gone by and a time that never completely disappears. And thank you, our fellow Mets fans who like to read, for these last six years and whatever the seventh we spend together brings.