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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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New Year's Day

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are comin’ so you better run

I spent yesterday getting reacquainted with baseball — not the mesh-topped, guys-wearing-90 variety, but the real thing, with big crowds and bunting and flyovers and introductions and bats swung in anger.

My first stop was watching the Tigers fall to the Yankees before thousands of Yankee fans who looked like they were alternating between feeling giddy that it hadn’t rained and wishing it had so they could be home and warm. Seeing how it was the first 2011 game on my ledger, I struggled to hate the Yankees properly — when the recent memory is of nothing, even Yankee baseball’s pretty good. Plus the Bronx Bombers have added Luis Ayala, which we could tell them may not work out the way they hope.

Later, I checked in on the Cardinals and Padres, both of whom had somehow been recolonized by random players I thought of as from other teams. Cameron Maybin clubbed a two-out, ninth-inning homer to keep San Diego alive, and I wondered if that signaled he was ready to fulfill his enormous potential, or just offering a flicker of hope that would keep him employed even as he remained Ryan Thompson. Speaking of Ryans, Ryan Theriot made a hideous error that sealed the Cardinals’ doom — which would be a tough way to make your St. Louis debut even if you weren’t already weighted down by having the faithful still think of you as a Cub.

Finished the evening watching Tim Lincecum toil valiantly against Clayton Kershaw, Clayton Kershaw’s frightful imitation of a beard, and the Giants’ own defense, which was fitful and porous. I listened to the last couple of innings on Gameday Audio, with Vin Scully, and thought (not for the first or last time) that he is a part of baseball we take entirely too much for granted. At one point Pat Burrell followed Buster Posey to the plate. Posey, being remarkably poised and intelligent about his profession, had turned in a rather fine at-bat, working to foul off pitches from Kershaw until he got one he was able to wait on and drive up the middle. Burrell, being Pat Burrell, swung at the first pitch and popped out meekly. Burrell, still being Burrell, then hit a lipstick-on-a-pig homer in the ninth just before the Giants finished losing. The older I get, the more I’m infuriated by such players, who bring not a whit of brains or grace to this beautiful game that’s such an ideal showcase for both.

Still, it wasn’t a bad Opening Day by any means. Not that there’s such a thing anyway, but I didn’t mind having to wait a day for our own Opening Day. It was a nice toe in the water, a chance to think “Hey, the Padres are playing the Cardinals” and mean it, a few hours lived by the amiable rhythms of half-innings and pitching changes and the happy knowledge that the nights will be ruled by those rhythms for the foreseeable future. Baseball was back, like it seems it will never be in January and February.

Happiness hit her like a train on a track
Coming towards her stuck still no turning back
She hid around corners and she hid under beds
She killed it with kisses and from it she fled
With every bubble she sank with a drink
And washed it away down the kitchen sink.

We’re opening on April Fool’s Day, and to a lot of pundits and poohbahs that’s appropriate. Because — maybe you’ve heard — we’re a joke of a franchise. Our owners are portrayed as either criminals or dopes, we’re mocked for big contracts to departed players and big contracts to injured players who are still here, we’re compared to the Yankees because of geography and because it sells papers and attracts eyeballs, and we’re doomed to spend another year under the little black cloud of Metdom. Heck, even the injuries are back. Jason Bay won’t be in left field because he hurt himself swinging a bat, doing something bad to a muscle I’d never heard of but instantly understood could be one of those baseball injuries that can quietly wreck months.

Of course something like this would happen to Jason Bay.

Oh, and Ronnie Paulino is anemic. Literally.

When you’re a Mets fan the jokes don’t just write themselves, they shove their way onstage and tell themselves, too. And everybody laughs but you.

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are comin’ so you better run

Run fast for your mother; run fast for your father
Run for your children all your sisters and brothers
Leave all your love and your longing behind.
You can’t carry it with you if you want to survive

But here’s the thing: I think the assembled experts are wrong. I think they have bought into a lazy storyline and easy riffs, and I want to be able to remind them of it and watch them hem and haw and stare at their own feet. Last year’s team was assembled and run by fools, and still somehow won 79 games. This year’s team has been assembled and is being run by men who seem to subject their hypotheses to actual intellectual rigor. Top to bottom it has more talent, and that talent should be arrayed and deployed more sensibly.

Though we don’t like to admit it, there’s a certain amount of randomness and luck in baseball. Watching the Giants last night, I wondered what would happen if you could rewind to Oct. 1, 2010 and do the postseason over. Would the old, relatively punchless Giants win 1 in 10 such do-overs? 1 in 25? Doesn’t matter: Their 1-in-whatever shot came in, and they’re the world champions, no asterisk or apology necessary. Sure, the 2011 Mets could be undone by injuries, or players’ indifference, or just roll snake eyes too often. They could finish last and skulk offstage at the beginning of October having earned every punch line from the end of March.

But baseball isn’t all randomness and luck. And I don’t think it’s all that likely that a 79-win team rebuilt by smart men according to an actual plan will be much worse than 79 wins. If anything, that team ought to be a little better to moderately better. And if a couple of players develop to their potential upside and the Mets roll some 7s and 11s for a change, that team could win 86 or 87 games. Or a couple more, perhaps enough more that we’ll roll our eyes while we stop reading lazy storylines and easy riffs about their character in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Not to give away a sportswriting secret, but character is an ineffable substance suddenly detectable after a team wins more games than sports columnists expected it to.

I’m not alone in these thoughts, either. Over the last two or three weeks, I’ve had lots of Mets conversations, and after smiling through the preliminaries I’ve invariably said, “I think we’re going to be better than a lot of people think.” At this point the non-Mets fans have laughed or looked pitying, which I’d expected. But the other Mets fans have done something that’s a little strange, if you think about it: They’ve looked around and stepped closer, like we were engaged in some illicit business, and agreed. Sometimes with quiet hope, sometimes with simmering anger, but almost always furtively.

It’s profoundly weird. But you know what? I’m kind of enjoying it.

When I came of age as a Mets fan the Yankees were in the midst of their first dysfunctional yet maddeningly successful Steinbrenner dynasty, and the Mets were the National League’s North Korea, waiting for someone to show up and repeal free agency. Those years really were hopeless — the equivalent of being a young fan of the Pirates or the Royals today — and my defiance was doomed, at least according to any time scale kids lived by. This isn’t anything like that, no matter what sportswriters predict.

And even if it’s all true? Even if they’re right and I’m wrong? We still get baseball again. One hundred and sixty-two three-hour dramas to enjoy, to make us yell in triumph and groan in despair and edge farther and farther forward in our seats until we know whether the outcome will be the former or the latter. It’s a new year, destined for glory or futility or most likely a middle course to be pondered and argued about until we get another new year. It’s baseball, my favorite thing to spring from the mind of man, and in a few hours we’ll have it back.

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
Can you hear the horses
Cause here they come

Let’s play some ball.

1 comment to New Year’s Day

  • Dave

    I’m with you. Nothing to lose, hopefully some fire in their bellies and something to prove…86-87 wins and a spot on the Wild Card bubble is not out of the question.

    But I’ve seen this movie lots of times…could just as easily be 74 wins and sellers in July. It’s beyond our control.