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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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Too Soon for a June Swoon

“What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”
—Don Draper

The rockheads were at it again Wednesday night, and again it was the Mets who pulled more rocks than the Nationals, losing once more in frustrating fashion and falling a little further away from first place in the National League East, a perch nobody…nobody…envisioned them approaching as the season passed the one-third mark.

Of course it’s irritating to stick close on a night when a rockhead play by the hustling, well-meaning second baseman sets up a three-run homer and the pitcher who gave up the homer (your temporary No. 6 starter, mind you) hangs in there and offers six solid innings thereafter. Of course when you lose 5-3 you can find all kinds of opportunities that went awry. But as Terry Collins said, sometimes the other guy beats you, and Edwin Jackson held the Mets to three hits (if four walks) in seven innings, so on neither side of the ball were the Mets really finding a way in.

That’s one game. And this is one series that never…never…shaped up as looming mutually large in the scheme of things when the pocket schedules were finally printed. But it did. A battle for the top of the division between the Mets and the Nationals was just one of the items I didn’t expect to materialize in 2012. But then the Mets went and changed our expectations.

• A win in Toronto when you would have expected them to get swept by blowing a slender ninth-inning lead.

• Two wins in Pittsburgh after their requisite charitable donation of a PNC game they had in hand.

• Three wins over the Padres following an opener in which they sloshed around helplessly in the muck.

• An invigorating win on the backs of Jeremy Hefner and Omar Quintanilla, of all people, versus the Phillies.

• Then, just as if it seemed we were buried under a pile of Chris Schwinden, three magnificent pummelings of the world champion Cardinals, followed by two shots at moving into sole possession of first place.

The first shot went awry, but you said, OK, that’s the way it goes, it was a fun and historic homestand. The second shot was aimed at our head and it was tougher to be nearly so philosophical. Last night demanded we refind our footing on the carousel, yet we failed to grab even the diminished brass ring.

We’ve lost three in a row by a total of four runs, and the sense of fun fades and the sense that maybe…maybe…we’re in a position to make a charge at some more history is in peril. That really takes the wind out of one’s sails when one was just beginning to believe that this season could be one of those seasons.

I’m tempted to say this is what the Mets do to you when they make you care about them.

Except for this:

1) There are still 105 games left to play and anything can happen. That includes anything bad, but also the other kind of anything, so stay tuned, it’s not like there’s anything more pressing for a Mets fan to do.

2) More specifically, the Mets weren’t supposed to be anywhere near where they are, which is 2½ out of first and a piddling half-game from the second Wild Card, even after what feels like mathematical elimination based on the discouraging display to which we’ve borne witness at Nationals Park for two nights.

This is not to suggest they are still in great shape to make a pennant run. They’re probably not, for reasons myriad and obvious to anybody monitoring how they’ve been forced to burrow through their already shallow depth thus far, gutsy, never-say-die (unless a ball is hit to short) determination notwithstanding. But back in the land of “supposed to,” this year was never about contending. If it continues to be about contending, then fantastic. If it’s not, it can’t be considered a disappointment in those terms.

The disappointment would be a failure to progress for the young core of this team, the players who first came up between 2008 and 2010, none of whom is older than 27: Murphy, Niese, Parnell, Thole, Tejada, Davis, Duda, Gee — and throw in Nieuwenhuis as he gets a longer look than planned this year (and maybe Valdespin, if you can resist the temptation to throw him in the Potomac). I’ve mentioned these names before in this context, and I’ll mention them again. These are the guys you’re attempting to grow this year, just as described on one of those runner-up banners from Banner Day.

Sweep aside the journeymen relievers, look past the soon-to-lapse free agent megacontracts and put on hold for a moment the question of David Wright’s ultimate destination, and you’re left with figuring out what kind of team you’re going to build around at the major league level. Do you have a second baseman? A catcher? A shortstop? A first baseman? A right fielder? A center fielder? A solid lefty starter? A dependable righty starter? A potential eighth- or even ninth-inning man? Because if you do, my gosh, you’re that much closer to being in business for the long haul than previously imagined.

And if you don’t, square one’s going to be a pretty annoying place to start over.

The Mets have already committed to Niese, so he’s in the rotation for the next couple of years as long as he’s healthy. I doubt Gee ever factored into their plans at the same level their budding crop of minor league hurlers does, but he hasn’t pitched himself out of anything. Parnell’s an enigma, but the potential remains, and kudos to anybody who emerged from Monday night’s miscue-laden tenth inning as he did. Thole and Murphy give you reasons to feel cautiously optimistic if not necessarily secure about their positions. Tejada’s turned himself into a question mark by not being around. Duda keeps coming along, albeit in sporadic bursts. Davis keeps struggling, despite his weekly encouraging at-bat. Nieuwenhuis is having Davis’s 2010, so it’s too early to honestly determine what he is. And Valdespin, in brief glimpses, has been the best and worst of all worlds.

I keep coming back to this bunch because they loom as the future. They are the team David Wright will lead or depart after next year. I think each side in that negotiation has to be keeping an eye on their collective development. Mets management has to decide whether the financial commitment to Wright will be about keeping together a potential contender or just a bow to popular sentiment (though it’s not like people are coming out to Citi Field just to see David…check the attendance figures this year). And David, who can get paid anywhere, will have to decide whether, for all the appeal of being a Lifetime Met and a permanent almost Seaveresque icon for the franchise with which he grew up, it’s worth committing his early thirties to a team that isn’t materially any closer to potential postseason participation in 2013 and beyond than it was from 2009 to 2011.

If a majority of the young, homegrown Mets succeed in 2012, the record and the standings will take care of themselves, and that will be a bonus. This division has talent, but we’ve seen the first-place team in action for two nights and they’re not world-beaters even if they’ve been Met-beaters. We’ve seen the Braves and the Phillies and the Marlins, and they’re all, at best, pretty good in their present state. At best, we’re pretty good if maybe not deep enough to withstand a turnstile at short, zero production at first and the perpetual training-wheels placement of the second baseman in shallow right. We still have Santana (a well-rested Santana, at that), we still have Dickey, we still have Wright and, for whatever reason, we still have Bay. No need to throw in the towel or wave as much as a beige flag after three hair-tearing losses in June.

But keep an eye on the kids and keep reminding yourself that what they do is what counts most for where we are next June and the June after that.

8 comments to Too Soon for a June Swoon

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    You are right – keep an eye on the kids. And fans should not look at last season’s 77-85 record feel it was a disappointment. I do, but not because of where we eventually finished. Don’t forget that most of these kids along with Reyes, KRod and Beltran but without Wright, Davis – the Ike of 2010/11 – and Santana) were also responsible for the team going on a 50-38 stretch after that horrible start and their poor finish, going 22-34 the rest of the way, was due to the loss of their top hitter, closer, injuries to Murphy and Neise and just pressing too hard trying to individually compensate for all those roster loses.

    We get back Tejada and Bay, Kirk is given the shot as the regular center fielder, Torres is then added to our bench strength along in a month’s time with Turner and Baxter and maybe – just maybe – Davis finds himself and we’ve got a summer to really look foward to.

    So I think the team is ready to make a move even now (just like R.A. said last July about how the team believed in itself but the front office didn’t) But can we count on the injury prone Young or inexperenced Heffner to fill that fifth spot in the rotation and Beato to return to the form we saw early last year? If not, there are other ways to patch up those problems – without prematurally rushing up others from the minors – however, we were already told not to expect any major acquisitions come July because the money is very limited. Might still be better than last season when thick in the wildcard race we were’t simply told the money wasn’t very limited to help the club but that we had to cut our financial losses and hurt it instead. I think the loss of KRod did us in more than the loss of Carlos which came afterwards.

  • March'62

    I think just like in 1969 (Donn Clendenon) and 1985 (Gary Carter), the Mets are gonna need that professional bat added to the middle of the lineup from outside the organization. Also, why does going to AAA ruin one’s confidence but batting a buck and change and hurting the big club’s pennant chances not hurt one’s confidence? Just wondering.

    • Joe D.

      And unlike 1969 and 1985, we’re not gonna.

      Sending Ike down and facing a bit less experienced pitching and getting his hits off them might very well restore his confidence quicker than staying up here. If he had a few years of major league ball under his belt, talk of going back to the minors would be non-existant, however, because he has really had only the equivalent of full year in the majors we don’t know if it’s a case of pitchers catching up to him and figuring out his weaknesses and how to avoid pitching to his strengths.

      Or maybe the pressure one feels as a rookie having to prove he belongs in the majors is different from the pressure a sophomore feels knowing that he no longer has to prove anything but rather that it is expected of him instead.

      • March'62

        How about this? Send Ike Davis and Pedro Beato to St. Louis for Carlos Beltran. Move Duda to first, Beltran to right. Problem solved. It’s what I do.

        • Joe D.


          Remember Sandy Alderson isn’t the GM at St. Louis but here in New York and few others in his position have the reputation of being the patron saint of injured players.

          • March'62

            Ike aint injured. Maybe in the head and with that jungle fever thing. But he hasn’t pulled anything. And that includes the inside fastballs.

  • Joe D.

    One might think more in terms of Beato regarding physical injury but with the Valley Fever sticking in the back of my mind I am still not so sure that Valley Fever might not be playing a big part in his sudden and unexpected demise.

    I know the Mets said the doctors have tested him over and over and have said he does not have the fever – but fatigue is one of those signs and doctors will be the first to admit there are times a patient has something that they can’t yet detect.

    And according to the Mayo Clinic, the best cure for Valley Fever is lots of rest and plenty of fluids. Obviously, a professional athlete does not get a lot of rest. But even more significant to note is that Valley Fever can last for many years and that includes fatigue since that is one of symptoms.

    Attached are notes from some who have VF in various degree and confirm it is something that did not go away in just a few weeks. Now, if Ike is suffering from even minor fatigue which we would find nothing more than an annoyance, but for a professional athlete, that is much more than a minor issue.

    Again, I know it hasn’t been mentioned by most writers and the Mets organization, but I still can’t dismiss completely the possibility that Valley Fever might be the culprit in all this. Anybody notice a lack of bat speed in his swings?