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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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That Old Time Religion

“Is this heaven?”
“It’s Iowa.”
“I could have sworn this was heaven.”
—The Kinsellas, father and son, Field of Dreams

The Saturday game was a matinee. Planes could be heard rumbling overhead on TV. Rusty Staub was in evidence. High and deep fly balls hit by the home team left the home park for home runs. So-called scrubs excelled. A masterful pitching performance was completed by the ace who started it. A romp became a rout. The whole thing took 2:18. And Banner Day was at hand.

Was this Shea, circa 1973?

It was close enough.

I got a very good feeling watching the Mets overwhelm the Padres this afternoon. Not just a 9-0 feeling, but a feeling that this was a throwback game, the kind of game I could’ve watched on Channel 9…the kind of game when Rusty Staub wasn’t a bobblehead, but a 3-for-5 right fielder robbing Johnny Grubb of a double. Alas, the real Rusty was confined to the SNY booth, but we were OK on the field anyway.

After all, we had Vinny Rottino.

Vinny from Racine (by way of Buffalo) was filling in as we might have had George “The Stork” Theodore do once, and Rottino inked himself in the Met annals with his very first home run. The Stork’s very first home run, walloped off Balor Moore of the Expos on Independence Day 1973, was half of his career output, which is as many as have been hit by modernity’s yeoman catching answer to Duffy Dyer, Mike Nickeas. Nickeas’s second career home run, which put a lovely bow on things in the eighth, was a grand slam.

Of course it was. On a day like this, it would have to be.

Scott Hairston, a little more credentialed but not materially different from your Dave Schneck type, started the Met power trip with a three-run shot in the first, a blast good enough to go out of Shea in 1973 or Citi Field in 2012, if not the old Citi. Same for Vinny, same for Mike. That absurdly dimensioned Citi, however, is so 2011. Today was a hot day, so the ball jumped. When the ball jumps, it should have a chance to clear the outfield walls. Three of ours did.

Nothing the Padres hit was a threat to scale any wall (other than Kiddie Field’s), but to be fair to San Diego, they didn’t hit much of anything. They were facing this Met generation’s version of Tom Seaver, Johan Santana. Righty-lefty stuff notwithstanding, Seaver is the clearest antecedent for Santana in Mets history, especially on a day when Johan is so Terrific. Bob Murphy would have said Santana was wearing the Padres hitters on his watch chain, and indeed our robust ace dealt as if he had early supper reservations in the Diamond Club and was in no way planning on dining late.

The Johan line: 96 pitches, 74 strikes, zero walks, seven punchouts, four hits, no runs obviously, no relievers obviously, nobody like him when he’s this much in command obviously.

I’ve often thought if something’s obvious, there’s no need to say “obviously,” but why not be sure to call attention to how obviously untouchable Johan Santana was during as much of the afternoon as he needed to go the distance (which wasn’t a big chunk of it)? His performance was strongly reminiscent of the way Seaver used to handle the Padres. From 1969 through 1975, encompassing 21 starts, Tom’s record against San Diego ran to 18-1, his ERA was an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow, polka-dot 1.57, and in 183 innings, he struck out 189 Padres while walking only 42 of them. In one game, he fanned 19 Friars, including the last ten in a row; in another, he prevented them from collecting a base hit until the ninth inning.

In an era when complete games by ace pitchers were the rule, Tom Seaver threw 14 in those 21 starts. Johan being 1-for-1 versus the Pads since returning to apparently full health will do for now.

All that’s left to make the nostalgic element of this weekend resonate that much more sweetly would be for thousands to have their bedsheets festooned Sunday morning and for tens of thousands to turn out well before gametime to watch them as Banner Day rises from the ashes. I will be there, not judging the results (I’ll leave that to the likes of Rusty, Doc and Howie) but appreciating that the most Metsian promotion ever is on the march again.

My friend Shannon at Mets Police will be happy to cajole you into showing up tomorrow. And I’ll throw in another link to my Banner Day retrospective that ran in Saturday’s Times to provide a little context as to what this is all about on the off chance that not everybody reading here was a kid at Shea in 1973.

But if you watched the game today, you might as well have been.

10 comments to That Old Time Religion

  • Jacobs27

    Great post, but are the Mets’ 9 hits really part of the Johan line?

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    Just don’t know how many are going to be at that old time religion revival tomorrow. Just went to Mets.com and saw seats very close to home plate in the promenade infield reserved and behind first in outfield reserved (neither than seven rows back) still available.

    Today might have been a sign of things to come tomorrow when only 3,000 fans were not able to get a La Grande Orange bobble head doll after the allocated supply ran out.

    • 28,000+ today, Joe, though for a change it felt like more. Compared to the 1979 Banner Day I referenced in the Times piece (17,000+), this was pretty good.

  • dmg

    a great day at the ballpark! took daughter, home from college, and son; first game of the year for us. front row in right field meant we could yell encouragement duda’s way; johan was spectacularly johan; the game ending the way it did (murphy’s 4-3 dp, followed by johan’s unassisted putout). also, son snags a launched t-shirt; and of course the bobblehead. goes directly to the front of the shelf, ahead of wagner and well ahead of mo vaughn (still on the d.l. in his box). endy remains tied for first, though. lgm!

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    Same attendance as yesterday and Gary Cohen kept on mentioning the hundreds of banners there was today made it a big success.

    Really? What happened to the thousands of banners we used to see year after year? Perhaps banner day didn’t capture the imagination of more fans today is the saddest part of it all. Baseball is now such big business that the unbridled love and enthusiasm so many of us had is just a thing of the past, as is the price of a ticket that everyone was once able to afford.

    There is something missing today, not with the orange and blue but with the ownership whose only concern is how much the fan base is willing to spend for a day at the ball park. That’s why more than one of us saw the revival of this once sacred event as nothing more than a gimmick.

    Another reason for this cynicism is that banner day was once an event shared by all – the participants, the fans in the stands and the hundreds of thousands of fans watching it on television. Ownership felt so passionate about reviving this Met tradition that the only ones allowed to enjoy it were the slightly more than 28,000 who paid to get in. If nothing more, SNY could have aired it before the game instead of repeats of “Sports Night”.

    • It should have been televised, absolutely.

      If we’re gonna criticize the owners for not holding a Banner Day for sixteen years (which we have), we can’t slam them for not reinventing it to our exact ideal specifications when they finally brought it back. The banners were terrific, the mood was vibrant and it was something to grow on.

      • Joe D.

        Hi Greg,

        Don’t doubt the mood was vibrant but that the experience was unfortunately shared by very little. From the on-line pictures snapped during the parade of banners it seems most of the 28,000 in attendance weren’t much interested judging from the mostly all empty seats.

        The ownership has done so much in turning off the fan base it’s no wonder that even us New Breeders couldn’t get the feeling back again. Don’t forget, these were the same people whose love of the team was so strong that they built a new ball park as homage to another club that abandoned the city a long time ago instead.

        Had the Citi Field of 2009 been like the Citi Field of 2011 – with the passion for Met history originating by the ownership and not in response to fan backlash, perhaps there would be less cynicism as to the motive behind bringing back banner day – that of celebrating with the fans the 50th anniversary of the team in lieu of trying to hype ticket sales.

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