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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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The Magic is Elusive

And we never failed to fail
It was the easiest thing to do
—Crosby Still & Nash

No doubt there are San Francisco Giants fans this morning (many of whom squealed with irritating delight at Citi Field) who took Tuesday’s night’s extra-inning win over the unformidable New York Mets as a sign of some sort. Their team was experiencing The Hangover, not winning much, hardly scoring at all, falling dangerously off the pace in their division. After 28 games, the 2011 Giants simply weren’t the 2010 Giants, at least not the Giants who finished 2010 as champions of the baseball world (Japan not included).

The Hangover, whatever its merits as a cinematic franchise, brings its own special burdens to fans of a defending titleholder. The first thing you learn is you’re not really defending anything. The game that ends a World Series ends everything about your championship season. Your next official game is about five months later and at that point, you’re tied for first, last and everything.

The Giants of 2011 may be in store for a better, more fortunate fate, but I recognize a certain underlying similarity between their present tires-in-the-mud status and that which afflicted the 1987 Mets through roughly a sixth of their Season After. You watch your team that you remember being so indefatigable, so clutch, so obviously bound for glory, and you just wait for that reality to reset. Thus, when you pull a win out of a mess as the Giants did against the failure-prone Mets, you might be moved to decide your magic is back.

But it doesn’t arrive so easily. It certainly doesn’t stick like glue. That was last year’s magic, and it’s rarely transferable. Sometimes you just win a game because the other team insisted on losing it, the way the Mets did Tuesday night. Yet you look for signs of what you still perceive as normality. We won! Aubrey Huff homered in the tenth and the Beard came on and got the save! Just like last year!

Nothing’s ever like last year. 1987 wasn’t like 1986, no matter how much I wanted it to be. My first Mets game that season was right around this juncture of the schedule and it happened to be a Mets-Giants game of surpassing importance where my personal life was concerned even if it told me little about my baseball team (although the two are usually interchangeable). That game, on May 15, 1987, was my first date with the woman who would eventually marry me. “Neat — my first baseball game!” was Stephanie’s reaction to the Shea tableau, and I didn’t have to hear much more.

As for the Mets that 1987 night, they sure looked like 1986. It was as lovely as my new girlfriend: El Sid holding San Fran hitless for five innings; Strawberry, Dykstra and HoJo homering; the Mets winning easily, 8-3. They’d looked mostly dismal up until that Friday night, losing nine of eleven dating back to May 2 (the day Tim Raines returned to the Expos from Collusion and treated Jesse Orosco like he was Manny Acosta). It was “still early” and all that, but the Mets of 1987 were clearly off their game. It didn’t make sense to me or to any Mets fan who had grown accustomed to a perfect blend of invincibility and destiny. Now the Mets were just another team…just another lousy team. But then they got this big win against the Giants, they looked like their “old” selves, and maybe this was going to be the turning point.

Even if you weren’t around in 1987, you’ve probably noticed it’s not represented on the upper left field wall at Citi Field. The Mets emerged from their mid-May morass eventually, but never again (and I mean never again) reached the heights of 1986. The Giants, for all I know, will pivot from raking R.A. Dickey, befuddling Josh Thole and tattering Taylor Buchholz and make a serious move on the Colorado Rockies, return to the postseason and not stop believin’ clear to the only result that can possibly satisfy their incredibly annoying fans after 2010. My well-documented fondness for the legacy of the New York Giants notwithstanding, I don’t really care what San Francisco does when they’re not playing us (or reportedly investigating trades with us). But I definitely recognize what’s going on with them.

And that they can’t play the Mets every night.

***

On the subject of magic that resists transfer, there was only one “First Baseball Game in the City of New York After,” and it was the one that took place following the horrifying events of September 11, 2001. Yet I got the distinct impression that Mets management thought hosting the first baseball game in the city of New York after May 1, 2011, would be automatically as momentous and memorable — that it would be an Upper Case affair waiting to happen.

It didn’t work out that way, and not just because the Mets lost to the Giants instead of beating the Braves.

The Mets organization showed genuine appreciation to members of the U.S. Military Tuesday night, they wore this year’s (dubious) model of the MLB-sanctioned red, white and blue caps ahead of schedule, and they even put on sale a sackful of special patriotic pins — Mets logo with American flag; Mets logo with Statue of Liberty — in one of the team stores I visited. But despite the flourishes, it was just another Tuesday night at Citi Field. We weren’t coming together. We weren’t making our stand against fear. We weren’t doing anything more special than watching the Mets play the Giants. That’s special enough.

As much as it feels sometimes like ten years haven’t added up to a decade’s remove in these parts, we are by no means embedded in the same precise municipal mental space as we were on September 21, 2001 — and praise be for that, of course. Nobody wants to wonder if it’s safe to go to a baseball game or if it’s appropriate to go to a baseball game. In 2011, we go to a baseball game or just about anywhere we want. It’s different than it used to be, pre-9/11, but it’s not the same as it was that one singular moment in time.

I was at Shea on September 21, 2001. Even though I honestly didn’t have the same reaction many did to Mike Piazza’s home run (how does a home run “heal a city” so emotionally overwhelmed, never mind physically altered?), I completely appreciated why it meant so much to so many. It meant plenty to me to be in that stadium that night. Opening the ballpark and playing the game…I thought that was the big victory.

What happened at Citizens Bank Park Sunday night in response to word organically spreading that Global Public Enemy No. 1 had been eliminated was beautiful. It made for a serendipitous bookend that the New York Mets were playing on ESPN ten years after the New York Mets kick-started baseball — and maybe our hearts — after the tragedy our military was finally able to avenge this past weekend. But that was Sunday, and it was spontaneous. This was Tuesday, and it seemed of questionable value to try to recreate those emotions, let alone play off whatever lingers from ten years before. Giving active military personnel free tickets? Fantastic. First ball honors for a representative of each branch? Classy. Adding an extra round of “God Bless America” on a weeknight? Fine, I guess.

Suggesting, however subtly (particularly via CitiVision), that the Mets are implicitly linked to a great national victory just because they as opposed to, say, the Texas Rangers happened to be playing baseball in prime time on this particular Sunday night? I don’t know.

But I did learn it’s impossible to instantly conjure an unforgettable evening just because it seemed like a neat thing to try.

6 comments to The Magic is Elusive

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    Watching the Mets makes for a “Highly Forgetable” evening!We are the worat team in the NL or at least tied to it! (Thank you Houston!)

    All the singing, chanting and ‘Koom Baya” does’t change the product on the field!

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    On SNY, the pre-game show opened with a montage of Philly fans shouting “U.S.A., U.S.A.”, news reports, Philly fans suddenly looking down at their smart phones, President Obama addressing the nation and the celebrations that followed. Chris Carlin and Bob Ojeda focused less on the game in Philly and that which was about to start against the Giants and instead reflected on their feelings about such a historic event. There was Ken Rosenthal making comparisions about the two nights and then asking Mookie Wilson (first base coach for both events) what his thoughts were as well. The entire evening was being likened to that of when the Mets first returned home to play at Shea after 9/11.

    Then perhaps reality settled in, best expressed in Mookie’s answer to Rosenthal. The Mook said, in essence, that the game to begin had little or none of the emmotional build up that existed prior to the one played 9/21/01.

    To me, it seemed the Met organization was attemtping to form a link between last night’s game and that of September 21, 2001. I don’t know if this was more euphoria sustained from two nights ago, the organization trying to sustain the publicity angle, or a combination of both, but I have my suspicions.

    With hundreds of thousands more watching on SNY, trying so much to tie-in the night of September 21, 2001 with what was going to happen that coming evening seemed over-kill (pun not intentional). Had SNY (aka Sterling Enterprises) focused mostly on the game in Philly, the confusion followed by the emmotion on the bench, being able to concentrate on the game after such news, thoughts about the entire scene a day or so later, etc., I would have no suspicions of any ulterior motives whatsoever. However, trying to tie-in the Mets so much with the events of the past 48 areas, I began to sense an ulterior motive to capitalize on good publicity for the home team as well.

    My question to myself, however, was “what would there be to be gained by all this?”. My immediate response was “nothing – but in the Wilpon’s mind, yes, something”. This is not taking away from the generous appreciation showed by ownership – free admission to the service men, the armed forces singing of the National Anthem and God BLess America, video messages from overseas on the scoreboards, the wearing of the patriotic hats, the special pins, etc. – that was all wonderful – however, Mookie put it in the right perspective and by his negativity probably quite unintentionally revealed something more about Met management.

    The focus was too much on the Mets and September 21, 2001 than it was the Mets and May 1, 2011 or the upcoming game against the World Series Champions to cause me not to be suspicions, not after the lack of integrity too long to list that the Wilpons have showed in the past.

  • Andee

    And for gods’ sake, if the media insists on JAQing off on potential Reyes trades, they could come up with some that don’t involve taking another team’s B to B-minus prospects.

    What possible reason in the world is there for the Mets to do that? Reyes is a box-office draw, they’ll pony up for a big deal for him if he stays healthy and productive; of course they will, this is not frigging Oakland, and the JAQ-offs didn’t think they’d be able to re-up Piazza either, so poo on them. (I mean, come on, at least 36 big ones coming off the books not counting Blank Frank, and they can’t afford him? Really??)

    And if they don’t, they’re a kazillion times better off with their own first-rounder plus a sammich than taking another team’s fair-to-middlins. The ONLY thing I trade Reyes for at this point is a REALLY good arm, or maybe a genuine slugger at a premium position. But I’m sure Sandy talks to everybody and has the “what would it take to pry player X away from you” conversation every day. They all do. Usually comes to nothing.

    Beltran’s another story. For him, because he makes so much money and is such an injury risk and the Mets get bubkes when he walks, they can settle for something considerably less gaudy if someone wants him and is willing to pay him, and he’ll have to change leagues anyway, so that eliminates half the potential suitors for him. But Reyes? Why would Sandy accept a bag of beans for him?

  • Matt

    I wholeheartedly agree with the post (haven’t read the comments) – but it is kind of coincidental that Bobby Valentine was announcing the game. I’m taking that on hearsay. I’ve only watched replays and read (blogs).

    But one reason I come back to this blog is for its common-sense value, so appreciate this.

  • Matt

    p.s. don’t trade Reyes.

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