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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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As Baseball Whispers in Our Ear

Let's Go Mets indeed.

Technically, you don’t gotta believe if you can’t find a reason to believe. In September 1973, ground zero for unbridled faith in the face of daunting odds, it didn’t require blind faith to believe. The Mets were close enough to dream and hot enough to make up gobs of ground in a division where none of the other teams seemed to notice all the leapfrogging going on above their heads until the frog had turned into a first-place prince. You had to believe then. You had to believe on all kinds of other Met occasions, even if the belief didn’t necessarily lead where you wanted. The important thing is you truly believed it would.

You can’t believe on command. If you can honestly believe the 2012 season will amount to something worth getting caught up in — the kind of campaign during which you’re cross-referencing Games Behind with Games Remaining and divining a vital short-term future — then you’re onto something. Those seasons are the best seasons of all. The rest have their moments, but not nearly enough of them.

This one, coming to a ballpark near you almost any hour now? It’s probably not going to be one of those bated-breath seasons. But it hasn’t begun yet, so there’s no use writing it off with zero percent of precincts reporting. Gil Hodges, born 88 years ago today (and lost to us 40 years ago this past Monday), would not have allowed any team he managed to think an unplayed season couldn’t be conquered. Might as well follow Gil’s lead to some extent and prepare for the eventuality of winning more than we lose.

The Mets seem lacking in depth and banking on best-case scenarios to compensate for their shortfalls. I totally understand why they are being picked almost universally for fifth place in the five-team National League East. The angel of talent has been more generous to the four other teams, though between you and me, none of them seem like impenetrable worldbeaters. The Phillies are aging en masse. The Braves wouldn’t be human if they weren’t disturbed to the point of distraction by their utter September evaporation (which was fricking awesome in that it happened to them and not us). The Nationals and the Marlins…let’s just say I’ve got to see the Nationals and Marlins do something besides appear impressive on paper before I’m overly impressed by them in live competition.

The Mets really can’t be better than one if not some let alone all of the above? The so-called toughest division in baseball seems just a bit hollow in its allegedly creamy center. The Mets may not have the goods to swoop in and take advantage if the humpty-dumpties take a great fall, but at least the Mets, perceived as they are, figure to have a shorter distance to plunge if things go wrong for them.

You can only tell yourself this so many springs, but this year is probably not about this year. It’s a terrible marketing slogan — and it’s not an impetus to spend a hundred bucks to sit a few feet from Jason Bay and resist the temptation to explain aloud to him how he personifies underachievement — but all but the flightiest among us aren’t going to be let down by this not being the year. We told ourselves last spring that last year wasn’t about last year, and it sure as hell wasn’t, but we knew turning these Mets around was going to be a long-term project.

It still is. It’s not one of those things that’s good to know, but it’s probably helpful to be aware of prevailing likelihoods.

So what can make us believe or, failing that, tolerate a season that doesn’t manage to delightfully surprise us? Oh, I’m sure we’ll find something. My first instinct is to talk up the development of the youngsters who are either the core of our next core or the reincarnation of my dashed hopes, circa 1979.

With Johnny Murphy Award winner Josh Edgin deemed not yet ready for prime time, no pure rookies will be joining us for Opening Day. Nor will anybody who made a major league debut as a Met in 2011. But those who broke in as Mets in 2010 (Davis, Duda, Tejada, Gee), 2009 (Thole) and 2008 (Parnell, Murphy and the recently enriched Niese) all have the chance of a lifetime in 2012. If there are multiple incidences of stepping up — or getting back on track, in Ike’s case — we could enjoy this season some now and a ton in retrospect. We have in our midst a passel of homegrown Mets between 22 and 27 years old. This is the scenario most of us have been crying out for since we turned around one day in the mid-2000s and noticed nobody was taking root in the wake of Reyes in 2003 and Wright in 2004. It’s not immediately stimulating in the contention sense but it sure could be (could be) promising.

If most of these kids don’t step up, well, never mind. But you can’t see a few of them improving? A little progress would go a long way in making this 50th anniversary season genuinely golden.

And if they all crap out, there is at least one start coming from Johan Santana. There but for the grace of the four guys we gave up to get him never amounting to much goes an acquisition that looks almost Baylike in total return on investment. That’s if you forget what Johan was like down the stretch in 2008 and coming out of the gate in 2009 and periodically as late as the summer of 2010. Still, he was a lot of money and there haven’t been a lot of starts. But on Opening Day, there will be one. The odds may have been against it, but I can picture Johan burning a hole through the odds with his glare if not his fastball.

If the kids don’t entice you, and Johan’s potential revival doesn’t give you chills, there’s…well, that’s the thing. We don’t know. We didn’t know from R.A. Dickey at this time in 2010. Now he’s our guy. We love when that happens. We love to be taken aback by unexpected good news. “You never know” won’t sell tickets, but it’s what keeps us interested until we can be kept captivated.

That and the blue walls and Friend of FAFIF Two Boots pizza (for those not exercising grim self-restraint) and David Wright chasing Ed Kranepool and…oh, everything at this juncture of the calendar.

Here I am, not really optimistic about the Mets’ imminent chances, still vaguely dismayed at the mere thought of who owns the team and how it’s run in a dozen little ways along the edges, yet damn, I’m upbeat on the eve of the Opener. Trust me, I’m not one of those fans/bloggers who will tell you “don’t be negative.” Be as “negative” as you like. Let the Mets earn your positivity. You have free will and they have 162 opportunities to influence it. But for all the dark clouds that instinctively hang over my head as if to remind me almost everything has amounted to an uninterrupted kick in the groin since T#m Gl@v!ne and the world’s most infamous third of an inning, I’m enormously stoked that the Mets…my Mets might not be so bad. Not “won’t be so bad,” but “might not be so bad”.

If that’s not love, what is?

12 comments to As Baseball Whispers in Our Ear

  • “Gil Hodges, born 88 years ago today (and lost to us 40 years ago this past Monday), would not have allowed any team he managed to not think an unplayed season couldn’t be conquered.”

    Terry Collins seems like that guy. Maybe he’s actually the perfect manager for this season.

    Maybe the Mets use the Phillies and Braves as toeholds to climb out of the NL East pit. Anything’s possible right now, certainly. Lots of games to be played, many against each other.

    Surely, negative if you’re negative. Not begrudging anyone that..but don’t be negative for negatives sake. You know there’s Mets baseball on the field right? Really if you’re not excited right now, maybe take this summer off and take up needlepoint. It’ll be better for for angst.

  • RoundRockMets

    I agree with you in general about our division. Philly has a stud rotation and Atlanta should be pretty good, but no one scares me.
    Our line up should be fine in general with a couple of potential break outs in Davis and Duda. I feel similarly about our starting rotation. Our fielding will likely be sub par and our bullpen, like most, is a mystery.
    Last year, with no Johan, very little Wright and next to no Davis they won 77. I don’t think 83-85 wins in a division that will likely be topped by a 92 win team is so terrible or unrealistic.
    Hey, it’s Opening Day Eve. Let me enjoy my Kool Aid.

  • Joe D.

    I wanna believe, I really do. This is my 50th year wanting to believe. Every year I want to.

    But there’s something about this front office that makes me sick and it takes a lot of heart and soul searching to put those feelings aside and not think of them but instead of those guys on the field.

    But when I see Beltran and Reyes getting two hits a piece tonight, Jose both breaking up the no hitter and then leading off the ninth, Carlos running fine without pain, hitting the ball solidly and handling a bouncer off the wall and making a perfect throw to the cut off man, it makes me angry, not so much that they are playing somewhere else, but in the manner in which their Met careers had come to an end.

    And it makes me more angry to see the Mets suddenly have enough money to sign Neise to a long-term contract, that Paul DePodesta said the financial situation of the team wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be in the media, that Sandy said he had money he could have spent last season but didn’t. Angry because I’m wondering if the cutbacks, signing of bargain basement rejects, not going after more quality free agents, dismantling a team that still had the talent instead of trying to improve it, not going after Jose, etc. were all smoke screens to claim poverty if the civil suit ever went to jury when at one point, it started out that a billion dollars was as stake.

    I’m angry that the Wilpons might have used the team as a scapegoat and took the fans for a ride. Perhaps down the road the true facts of the situation will come out in the open but for now, I tend to think the Mets were the sacrificial lamb simply because the front office has lost all credibility with it’s public statements.

    So I’m hoping that again this season the kids will take off like they did last year under Terry before the carpet was pulled underneath them. But it’s hard to separate the team one loves from the owners one doesn’t.

    Just my take, Greg. I think the Wilpons have done more to ruin this team than just with the players they’ve put on the field. They took away some of the fun of being a Met fan and for me at least, that is unforgivable.

    So hoping that Terry and the kids can make me forget all about those upstairs.

    Lets Go Mets!

  • Greg – If you feel the need to yell something at Jason Bay as he bats today – how about this:

    “Where’s Tim Tebow?”

    It’s subtle – making fun of impatient Jet fans and impatient Met fans at the same time – lightening the modd – and maybe throwing a little positive karma Jason’s way.

  • Baseball Oogie

    We are 1 game out of last place of the East. Sadly, this may be the last time we get to say that this season.

    Ditto “There are two teams between us and the basement.”

    Let’s go, Mets. I want to witness 2-0 on Saturday.

  • Lenny65

    Well, compared to the atrocities of 2009-2010, last year’s team wasn’t THAT bad, at least until the end when the never-ending string of injuries really caught up with them. I don’t think they’ll be as wretched as people think they’ll be this year. As far as Miami (lol) and Washington are concerned, I agree: I’ll believe it when I see it. I like Collins and his “old-school”, drama-free approach, I think .500 is a semi-reasonable goal for the season. But Opening day always brings out the optimist in me :)

  • 9th string catcher

    It’s baseball, so you just never know. I love rr’s point that last year’s team won 77 games with Pelfrey as it’s ace. PELFREY! I also don’t get some of the decisions being made – what on earth has Niese done to get 5 years? All in all Atlanta doesn’t scare me and Philly cam be vulnerable. Miami is deep but has a crazy man for a manager. Could be an interesting year – at least there’s not much left for a fire sale…

  • Andee

    Right there with ya,Greg…all this “they’ll lose 120 games” nonsense is just flame bait, and ignores the very real vulnerabilities of our division-mates. I mean, we just beat Hanson, and on Saturday we get Mojo Jojo, who I think we beat 3 times last year. In order to lose that many games we’d have to lose almost every series; that’s kinda ridiculous. I’d bet right now that Roy Halladay himself doesn’t look forward to facing a lineup with Ike, Duda, and Murph in it.

    And Miami has 2 losses and 0 runs scored. Hee.hee. That clubhouse has1992 Mets written all over it.

    So is Kirk getting a chance to be Peggy Sawyer now? Good for him.

    (And BTW, love the Lane Pryce post. Another one only you could have done.)

  • CptnSpldng

    Glad to see you again, guys. While I have to reserve my fan support for those bastiges down the Jersey Turnpike, I always know I can find good baseball writing here.

  • Steve D

    I became a Met fan in the early 1970s…you could come pretty close to estimating my age. Like all kids, I took a lot of my direction from the generation before me…my mother, uncles, neighbors, friend’s parents, etc. That generation of National League fans was almost universally negative. I guess they grew up rooting for the Bums mostly and expected to have their hearts broken. Then the Mets were born and were terrible. They saw 1969 as a one off miracle…but they almost always were sarcastic about their Mets and expected the worst. They would boo and call poor performers things like “stiffs.” It was probably a defense mechanism against all those broken hearts…I doubt my experience was unique. To tell many Met fans not to be negative is like telling a fish not to swim.

  • […] repeat an observation I made on the eve of the season opener: Murphy, Niese, Parnell, Thole, Tejada, Davis, Duda, Gee. Eight homegrown players between ages 22 […]

  • […] less horrifying than bringing oneself to see those kids. Nevertheless, having framed this year early and often as the year when we needed to see meaningful steps forward by the eight homegrown players […]