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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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The Unfamiliar Confines

How strange is it that it’s been 13 months since the Mets visited Wrigley? We say this every year, but it’s strange. Fuck interleague. More games against real rivals, harumph, harumph.

That’s from the email exchange Greg and I had discussing who was recapping what in the Cubs series — a conversation I kept thinking about while watching Wrigley Field turn from Unfriendly Confines on the first two nights to Delightful Ones today.

I grew up loving hating the Cubs. As a child, I relived the glory I’d missed by reading and re-reading tales of black cats and heels being clicked and catchers leaping high in indignation and “Goodnight Leo” and fastballs to forearms. I drifted away from baseball a bit between the ’81 strike and my teenage years, but returned when the Mets did, with Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden and Keith Hernandez and Hubie Brooks as heralds of the resurrection. During the dizzy summer of ’84 Mets were pretty amazin’ too, with a Cubs team of their own to take down — except this time the Cubs refused to follow the script. The Mets finished second, but they were back — and I hated Gary Matthews and Keith Moreland and Rick Sutcliffe as avidly as I’d hated Ron Santo and Bill Hands and Leo Durocher retrospectively.

And Harry Caray. My God, how I hated Harry Caray — and still kind of do. Harry Caray has been dead for 14 years, and the mere memory of him sputtering in phlegmy triumph after a big moment for the Cubs is making me clench my jaw so hard that my teeth hurt.

It was the kind of sports hatred that eventually becomes weirdly like love, blotting out everything else and making normal emotions feel washed out. It’s the kind of sports hatred that eventually breeds an odd appreciation. In the Cubs’ case that appreciation wasn’t for opposing players, as sometimes happens with these things. It couldn’t be, because the Cubs were an ever-changing cast of characters, and a team that never seemed to have an organizational philosophy; rather, they’d flail around until they had a lucky season in which they’d lay waste to their division, like baseball locusts, before losing pathetically or tragically and almost instantly becoming bad again.

No, in the Cubs’ case what I came to appreciate was Wrigley Field.

No duh, you’re saying. But it’s not that I was converted by the ivy and the lack of a third deck and the neighborhood pressed around it and the flags showing the standings — I do like all those things, but if you’re sentient and like baseball, of course you like all those things. What I came to appreciate about Wrigley was the sheer variety of different yet inimitably Wrigleyesque games you could get. There were early-season games where the wind was blowing straight in and everybody dressed like they were preparing for Soldier Field, knowing that one frozen-fingered misplay was lurking out there somewhere and would mean defeat. There were late-summer games where the wind was howling out and the starters eyed the mound like they were being sent to Omaha Beach. There were five-hour games played in intermittently horrible weather that were destined to end with crazy bounces off brick, balls or gloves or players getting lost in the ivy, flukey grounders bounding into the bullpen or a long drive landing in the basket while some hapless outfielder looked up and got showered with beer. The Mets have had their share of pinch-me triumphs at Wrigley, as well as some of their most soul-killing losses — and while you can say that about most every park, something about Wrigley and its howling Cub fans and the emotions I brought to those games make them loom larger in the memory.

The sad thing is that now we see Wrigley so rarely. It can be years before you get all the variations on a Wrigley game, and since the Cubs were banished to the NL Central (which still seems like a made-up thing) the juice has gone out of the rivalry. When we play the Cubs at Citi Field they’re just another team, one whose roster and rotation I lose track of. It’s only when we play them at Wrigley that they still feel a little like the Cubs.

Given the Mets’ history, that’s a shame. Harumph, harumph indeed.

Which isn’t to say I can’t enjoy every single minute of an old-fashioned battering of the Cubs at Wrigley. Because that’s the Mets needed very badly and that’s what they delivered today — a 17-1 all-points smackdown that could have gone for a week and I wouldn’t have been tired of it. After playing enragingly listless semi-baseball for two nights, the Mets shook off their lethargy and gave you good signs all around: Ike Davis chinned up above the .200 bar, Daniel Murphy hit not one but home runs, David Wright had a stellar day, Jon Niese paid attention, Ruben Tejada looked good afield, Lucas Duda ran the bases goofily but wasn’t punished for it, and so on. This was the Mets hitting two grand slams in one inning, the Mets dropping a 23-spot on Harry Caray, the Mets scoring 19 runs in ’64 and having an already-fully formed rooter ask if they’d won. And it was even more fun because while the Mets were lofting balls and watching Cub outfielders backpedal glumly as the summer jet stream took them away, Niese was getting Cubs to beat balls into the ground for Met infielders to send where they belonged. 17-8 is fun; 17-1 is a controlled substance.

My goodness was today fun. My goodness did the last two nights hurt. My goodness is it a shame that we’re done with both of them until 2013.

13 comments to The Unfamiliar Confines

  • BlackCountryMet

    Well, that was FUN. I love day baseball anyway, about 18 00 starts here in UK so I get to watch live. In the last few seasons, we seem to have lost most of them though which diminishes the pleasure. This season, and yesterday in particular, all change. It was apparent early doors Samarzja(sic) was struggling and it was a matter of whether we could take advantage. Oh how we did. Fair play to Niese as well, don’t think he had his best stuff but managed with the help of some comedic Cubs running, to minimise their offense. A great time for the bats to start firing ahead of the Dodgers series, big opportunity to win this series I reckon. LGM

  • john

    69 and 84 indeed. ‘Goodbye leo’ lol thanks for that I had forgotten all about that. Shame about the rare matchups. Cubs cards pirates Philly expos (ok nats). Realignment yet another reason for some of to care less for

    • john

      Edit. Hit the go button too quick..meant ‘..yet another reason for some of us to care less for mlb’

  • ..up goes the roller-coaster again?..we hope!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    (This was the Mets hitting two grand slams in one inning, the Mets dropping a 23-spot on Harry Caray, the Mets scoring 19 runs in ’64 and having an already-fully formed rooter ask if they’d won. )

    All of which were duly noted by Gary Cohen, and Ron Darling actually laughed at the 19-1 story like he’d never heard it before. It was that kind of giddy day.

    As a footnote I was surprised by Gary Cohen’s cluelessness at the Trivia Question: Which Cub and Met tied for Most Valuable Player at the 1975 All Star Game?. Gary meekly guess maybe Seaver and some Cub or other. The answer was Bill Madlock and Jon Matlack.

    I knew that one because I distinctly remember Bowie Kuhn (buffoon that he was) presenting them with the trophy after the game and making lame jokes about the similarity of thier names and coming dangerously close to also joking that they looked alike too… I wish there was footage but I’ll bet Kuhn ordered it destroyed minutes after it happened.

  • Dave

    If the league does an investigation and finds out that the real Mets were kidnapped and those 17 runs were scored by avatars, do the game and stats still count?

    Happy to say that I’ll be at Wrigley in July, have a conference to go to in Chicago and am leaving about half a day earlier than I need to so I could catch the day game against that team with the guy Reyes at SS, so I get to root along with the locals. It’ll be my 2nd game there, like you say, the place looms large, even for neutral games. I do wish the Mets visited more often.

  • NostraDennis

    “The Mets scored 17 runs today.”
    “Did they win?” Classic…

  • March'62

    I think the obvious question for long-time Met fans is:
    If they lose 1-0 tonight, are we allowed to throw our TV sets/radios across the room in disgust?

    • Dave

      If I had to guess what the Mets’ all-time record was in first games of west coast trips, I’d say about 6-528, so just accept that it’s going to happen and save yourself a TV or radio. And to make matters worse, their flight out of Chicago was apparently delayed 3 hours, causing them to arrive in LA in the wee hours, so right back to what their somnabulism in the first game of the Cubs series was partially attributed to.

    • Made in the Shea-de

      As the runs were piling up, I could think of only one thing, sadly:

      This can’t be followed by anything other then three losses in LA, all either by shutout or by X-1 finals.

      Well, that, and this line from one of the classics: “Augustus, sveethart, save some room for later!”

  • Dak442

    There are too many teams, interleague is an abomination, and the unbalanced schedule stinks. I wish we played the Cubs more. (And the Dodgers, and the Cards…)

    I always had kind of an affinity for the Cubs… the whole day game, great stadium thing and in some way I felt we and they would be kindred spirits what with the lack of success and fervent fan bases. I used to travel there quite a bit and was surprised at the enmity the fans there still have for us because we “stole” the title in ’69. One guy in particular was ranting about it and I was like “dude, you weren’t born yet, and I wasn’t quite three.” Didn’t matter; I guess you kind of have to respect that. And what of the titles they “stole” from us in ’84 and ’98? At least we DID something with ours!

    I was at Wrigley for Jon Lieber’s near no-hitter in 2000 and it was the most fun I ever had at a non-Met game. With the 3 hours or so of rain delays it was also probably the most inebriated I’ve been at a ballpark. In civilian clothes and rooting for the Cubbies I was accepted as one of theirs for the day and had a great time. Wrigleyville is awesome; I’d love for the planned Shea-ville to be an approximation, but it’ll all be corporate, Sterling-controlled, pricey blah-ness.

  • stan

    This was also Mets/Cubs @ Wrigley on 7/16/06, when at the beginning of the sixth inning I was getting some drunken ribbing from a Cubs fan over my left shoulder somewhere on the third base side of home in the stands at Wrigley. For some reason, half an inning and eleven Mets runs later, he was gone :)