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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 Pride of the Neighborhood

Between one of Tuesday night’s half-innings when nobody was touching either starting pitcher, Citi Field’s bounty of video screens posted a trivia question answered by a random face in the crowd. Engrossed in conversation, I didn’t catch the question, but when I heard the answer, I knew what would happen next: the answer would walk on camera, in the flesh, and present the winner with a prize.

Dave Kingman — the answer — appeared and received a warm ovation from history-minded Mets fans appreciative of his contributions to their team…as he should have.

Yet during both of Kingman’s Met tenures, from 1975 to 1977 and 1981 to 1983, fan relations with the slugger turned sour enough to make Sky King a go-to target for relentless ire, particularly as the Mets struggled for respectability. When he returned in other uniforms, he wasn’t welcomed back to Shea heartily, unless you count the hearty booing. But nobody remembers that now. He’s Dave Kingman, old Met hero. Give him another nice round of applause.

Hence, I believe there’s hope yet for an unalloyed happy return down the line for Jose Reyes. Waaay down the line, perhaps, but if he hangs in there another 30 or so years, he’ll be golden.

I wouldn’t have thought Jose would be on the clock in this regard. I wouldn’t have thought a lot of things where Jose Reyes, all-time New York Met great, was concerned. I wouldn’t have thought Jose Reyes would ever be anything but a New York Met. I wouldn’t have thought Jose Reyes could attract sustained boos from a New York Mets gathering. I wouldn’t have thought nine zesty years between a catalyst and those he fired up could be so casually written off in the name of intradivision competition.

Maybe I just think differently from the vocal plurality of the 20,000 or so who shared Citi Field with me Tuesday but don’t come close to sharing my sensibilities as a Mets fan. They booed their heads (or whatever they use to balance their caps) off when they saw Jose Reyes of the Miami Marlins. I cheered him. I cheered the brief, classy video montage of Jose’s Met years. I cheered his name when it was read to lead off the lineups. I cheered when he came to bat to lead off the game. I cheered him a little less on each of his subsequent trips to the plate, but I never booed him. And I never will.

I don’t root for Marlins, whether they be stamped Florida or Miami, but I sure as hell cheer great Mets. Jose Reyes was a great Met, which means he is a Great Met for good. His greatness in the context of his Met years is established. If it’s not present-tense in a practical sense at this time, its truth nevertheless marches on…or races from home to third on a ball in the gap, unless Kirk Nieuwenhuis tracks it down first.

The owners of the New York Mets, to paraphrase from former Texas Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower, were born on third base and think they hit a triple vis-à-vis what the Mets mean to Mets fans. Except for opening the gates, they have nothing to do with why our passion spreads out so far and wide when it comes to the Mets. We fall in love with a baseball team, not a baseball organization. Just the word “Mets” contains such power and goodwill based on deep and abiding passion that when confronted by the sight of somebody who embodied “Mets” as much as any individual has in the past decade, yet recently ceased doing so when compelled by a clash of long-term economic agendas, those who love “Mets” pivoted breezily to change that individual’s status from friend to enemy.

Not opponent, but enemy.

That’s “Mets” pride at work, I suppose, letting our old raw flame and live wire know he’s no longer welcome in the neighborhood. Jose Reyes (who sleeps on a bed made of money, so don’t cry for him, Flushing Meadows) opted for Marlinhood, which is distasteful, to be sure, but also, I’ve decided, the way it goes sometimes. There’s a gray area between the childlike innocence that absorbs us in picking a side for fun and games and the adult realization that it’s a livelihood for the players providing us the fun and a business for the barons who host the games. Somewhere in there, we make tradeoffs that might not pass a cognitive dissonance test between the emotion in which we choose to immerse ourselves and the reality that engulfs us.

• Jose Reyes was the perfect Met to match my emotional needs for nine years — a rechargeable battery that jolted me from my seat night after night. You just don’t get that kind of jump or feel quite that kind of emotion in the parts of life that aren’t sports.

• Jose Reyes made a decision bathed in reality, the place where he wasn’t childlike and electric, but a cool, calm professional seeking a financial windfall in exchange for his services on the open market.

What do I do with that dissonance once I am reminded that no athlete who is compensated for his abilities is explicitly plying them for me? He represents “Mets” as long as his contract says he has to. Then he’s without a contract and it’s another component of the major league monopoly that offers him a package to his liking. Then he no longer represents “Mets,” no matter that my emotional gratification in the realm of the sport I prefer above all others (all other sports and almost all other things) was so strongly linked to the intangible bond I felt with the way he played for me.

Jose Reyes played for me for nine years. Yet he plays for himself always. Same as Johan Santana. Same as Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Same as Lucas Duda and all of the Mets responsible for winning Tuesday night’s edgy 2-1 affair. Jose Reyes’s new teammates play for themselves as well. I know that. I’ve always known that. The brusque tap on the shoulder that free agency provides every winter should be enough to make that a matter of constant awareness not recurring surprise.

But if we walked around fully aware that baseball players are just people looking to make the best living possible and baseball teams are just businesses looking to make the most profit possible, we’d want nothing to do with either faction. So we forget, and we revel in the word “Mets” and we revel in those who represent the word “Mets” and, in my case, I deal with the dissonance by grudgingly accepting it. I accept that Jose Reyes eventually did what Jose Reyes perceived as ideal for Jose Reyes, even if it meant fitting himself into an identity every Mets fan finds anathematic to our values.

It may ultimately be “just a business” to players like Jose Reyes, yet it’s anything but to fans like me. Thus, when I cheer Jose Reyes as he materializes in a Miami Marlins uniform, I don’t offer my approval of the business decisions (the Mets’ as well as his) that led him into that unfortunate set of garments. What I’m doing is acknowledging all that happened before, back when I could convince myself Jose — like Tom Seaver, like Dwight Gooden, like Edgardo Alfonzo, like so many — was playing for me.

In my judgment, those whose actions embroider the actual meaning into “Mets” deserve that strata of acknowledgement, no matter that in a strict reading of the respective situations of the players who preceded Reyes as “my favorite Met,” Seaver demanded a trade while under contract to the Mets; Gooden’s repeated substance abuse violation earned him a suspension that ended his active Mets association; Alfonzo sought a better contract as a free agent than the Mets were prepared to tender him; and few who aren’t Ed Kranepool or Ron Hodges didn’t find a way to be at practical odds with the best interests of we the Mets fans. Almost everybody has left us, benignly or bitterly, whether of free will or not, and if they played against us as opponents, they sure as hell weren’t playing for us.

Still, there are enough enemies in this world without weaving together specious reasons (bunt! pinch-runner! injuries! no rings!) to create more of them. What were mostly good times don’t suddenly go bad because the individual responsible for them won’t be generating any more of them in our name, and now it’s his job to help prevent them.

Meanwhile, there are precious few continua whose relentless flow over the course of our lifetimes completely captivate us. My continuum of choice is the New York Mets, historically since 1962, personally since 1969. When somebody rises above that continuum and grabs my attention and ignites my passion, that guy is irreversibly golden to me.

Whether he signed with the stupid Marlins or not.

19 comments to The Pride of the Neighborhood

  • 9th string catcher

    I’m sorry, but I’ll never have any passion for Jose Reyes. Jose represented promise never fulfilled. His considerable statistical success were never balanced by enough big time victories. Jose already had more money than he could ever spend before he signed with the Marlin’s, so fineego grab your fortune,but don’t expect me to cheer you on. I will always think of Reyes as part of a leaderless mets culture who had talent but an inability to win when it counted and who played for themselves. I much prefer the bad news mets team we have now – at least they understand the team concept.

  • open the gates

    I think the Met fans booing Jose Reyes are really, deep down, booing the Wilpons.

    • Z

      Yeah, similarly I’d say they were more booing the fact that Reyes is gone than they were booing Reyes as persona non grata.

  • March'62

    Awwww Greg, you’re taking all of the fun out of it. Reyes was fun to watch as a Met, but he decided to take his talents to South Beach and we as Met fans should choose to cheer on his replacement, Tejada, and boo lustily at his decision. His naiveté (gee, I didn’t think the other teams would get upset if our celebrations were over-the-top and in-their-faces or gee, the owner of the Marlins seems to be my biggest fan since he’s wearing my name on the back of a Marlin jersey) grew stale as he was supposed to be aging and maturing. His lack of any baseball knowledge was maddening at times and his fragility (a thyroid trip to the DL?) made any long term deal foolhardy. Sandy made the right choice in Tejada and let’s move on. Reyes, nice guy, wish him well off the field, but if he puts up .200/.275/.325 numbers this year, nothing would make me happier.

  • Dak442

    I couldn’t make it last night. (And now that I know I missed Dave I’m all the more vexed about it.) I don’t know how I would have greeted Jose. That’s not entirely true – I know I wouldn’t have booed. He was fun and exciting for us, he gave his all for 9 years (last game notwithstanding). So no booing for me. He left for more money. So probably no cheering, either. Maybe a subdued clap.

    This notion that Mets who didn’t win the World Series for us are somehow lesser and not as deserving adulation is preposterous. I’d say it’s absolutely Yankee-fan-like, but even they have the sense to revere a guy like Mattingly. What, I should think less of Piazza, and Cone, and Staub, and Fonzie, and Stearns, and Kingman, because they didn’t earn any jewelry?

    On another note: How on earth is Dave Kingman not in the Mets Hall of Fame?

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    The Marlins did everything they could to hand the game to the Mets and the Mets, in turn, did everything they could not to accept the favor….

    Except for Captain Kirk who literally won the game for us on the very first play of the contest with that extraordinary catch robbing Jose Reyes of an extra base hit (even a possible inside the park home run) for don’t forget, the next batter singled which would have driven Jose in and who knows how that extra run would have changed the entire complexity of the game. So when Kirk made that great catch, who would have thought it was literally the game saving play of the day.

    Regarding Reyes, it seemed almost as if most Met fans were not interested one way or the other. I was surprised by the rather small crowd which meant many felt even Jose’s return was not worth the high cost of going to the ballpark. I was also caught off guard by the boos drowning out the cheers when he came to the plate and that reaction seemed half-hearted one way or the other. Notice how many were neither booing or cheering but just staying in their seats?

    Is there so much apathy and have fans become so disinterested that even the once highly anticipated return of Jose suddenly seemed to be no big deal? Last night’s attendance figure. considering all the hype about Jose’s first appearance in a Marlin uniform ,was very disappointing. The Mets even drew better crowds last April with over 27,000 for night games on Tuesday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 20 against Houston. The next evening (Thursday, April 21) against the Astros they drew nearly 33,000. Since the Mets were just 5-12 when that series began, this series could not at all have been perceived as a battle between titans. Even the game time temperatures for each of those three was 51, 54 and 51 degrees respectively – so it being just 55 degrees meant weather conditions were no factor for such small attendance.

    Therefore, just 20,192 coming to see the return of Jose Reyes could very well mean that fans are fed up with the direction the team is headed and/or do not believe that the Mets can’t build for the future and remain competitive at the same time as the front office tells us.

  • Guy Kipp

    I was around for both of Kingman’s tours of duty at Shea, and I don’t remember the fans turning on him–not nearly to the degree that the media, with whom Kingman shared a hate-hate relationship with, turned on him.
    And I think the media wanted to promote the “fans hate Kingman” narrative much more than what was actually the case.
    In 1982-83, the fans loathed George Foster far more than they did Dave Kingman.

    • From the Times, April 1977:

      At that most perfect home opener, he saw the Mets quasi-official cheerleader, a man named Karl Ehrhardt who waves signs from his box seat on the third base line, wave one calling Kingman “Just Another Greedy Bum.” The next day Kingman read headlines that said “Kingman Guessed Right…Boos Rocked Shea” and “Shea Fans Call Him King Phooey.”

      From Red Smith, same month, “And judging from the voice of the crowd, about half of the 23,907 present were to boo Dave Kingman, the club’s muscular holdout.”

      Foster was indeed a bigger target during the second go-round, but I clearly remember a loss of patience from strikeouts and general brooding by 1983. Of course he barely played after Keith Hernandez arrived.

    • dak442

      Guy – I’m with you. The local reporters hated Kingman, I don’t know any fans who did.

    • New York Times, July 30, 1977: “The Padres got only one more hit, a double by Kingman off Skip Lockwood, which provoked a chorus of boos from the crowd of 14,341 loyalists.”

      Not the welcome back he deserved either.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    BOO!…I was just happy that Jose “Took an 0-4 collar”! …..If he had gotten a hit on his first at bat he might have taken himself out of the game!

    20,192 at the game?…really?….Well if thats the case the centerfield party area must have been holding about 10,000 people all night or the fans painted themselves green and disguised themselves as empty seats!

    How the heck do the four Marlin pitchers each walk a batter and hand us a run? What does Johan have to do, hit a home run himself to get any run support?

    An ugly win is better than a good loss!….LETS GO METS!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Seems to me the boos for Reyes were because of one at bat he didn’t make. That being the 2nd at bat of the last game of last season. He sticks around for that one more at bat, he gets cheered last night.

  • RoundRockMets

    You describe perfectly our love for the Mets. Given that, my reaction to Reyes is different because he was injury prone and just not that good. I would never boo Jose, but in the end he signed what I believe will be a horrendous deal for Miami, much the same way Fonzie did with the Giants. Fare thee well, Jose. And good riddance at the same time.