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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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Broad Shoulders, Deep Appreciation

I’m not the most observant person in any room when it comes to physical attributes, but I was always taken aback by Johan Santana’s shoulders. Speaking strictly as a Mets fan, I could’ve spent a lifetime on those shoulders. They seemed capable of defying latitude and going on forever — which wouldn’t be worth observing except for the cliché about that very special ballplayer who can put a team on his shoulders and carry it by himself. It’s a phrase usually applied to home run hitters. Yet approximately every fifth day when things functioned as they were supposed to, Johan Santana elevated us like nobody else in our midst could.

We rode atop those shoulders intermittently across five years. Why just intermittently? Because things function as they’re supposed to only that often around the New York Mets. One look at Johan Santana at his best or simply as his standard-issue self would tell you he wasn’t a natural fit for their uniform. They probably had to special-order him a jersey. The Mets aren’t accustomed to having someone with shoulders quite so broad on their side. Everybody’s usually too slender or slumps too much.

And I’m not talking physique here.

Johan carried us when he could, which became an increasingly infrequent circumstance until it reached a point where his carrying a baseball and firing it to a catcher posed a clear and present danger to himself. But on those occasions when he really picked us up and transported us to places Mets fans rarely got to visit, he made sure we’d never forget it. I can’t actually confirm “never,” because we haven’t had the chance to test our memories against eternity — plus most memories don’t measure up to the task of remembering everything that doesn’t deserve forgetting — but I feel pretty confident in declaring Johan gave us at least a couple of ironclad forget-him-nots in the half-decade he spent now and then towering over our otherwise low-rise landscape.

There was an afternoon in September. There was a night in June. The fact that I need not elaborate one iota says what needs to be said about the width and breadth of Johan Santana’s shoulders, his skills, his stamina, his stuff. Toss in heart and guts and whatnot. There were some other sparkling performances, too, but before you could spend much time lingering on those nights and days, there was always a meniscus or an anterior capsule or some other less well-known body part lurking to ruin the view. You become a Mets fan, you learn about all kinds of anatomy you hadn’t heard of before. You join the Mets, something’s bound to go wrong with parts of you that seemed just fine in Minnesota or wherever. You subject yourself to repair, you rehabilitate as hard as you can, you make your way back and eventually something else doesn’t work to factory specifications. The people who pay you — and pay you very well — estimate you’ll return again any day or week or month now…or perhaps your career is over.

The Mets can never get their story straight when that happens. “You’ll see him when you see him” would be as good a status report as any to issue. “We don’t know — do we look like we know?” would be reasonably accurate, too. And if you’re contemplating the time frame the Mets suggest regarding any given player’s availability after injury, just multiply it by infinity so it will be a nice surprise should he return at all.

Somewhere in the current Spring Training, Johan Santana was the Mets’ Opening Day pitcher in waiting. Then he was out or in or being backdated or guilty of not being in shape or pushing himself unwisely to prove…well, whatever he was trying to prove, he needn’t have bothered. This was February and March. This didn’t mean a whole lot. He proved himself on an afternoon in September, a night in June.

Two games on those shoulders unlike any we’d ever seen. Two games that transcended everything about his team and the era it limped through on those fifth days when neither he nor anybody could carry us quite so surely, serenely and stratospherically. Is it any wonder one of those shoulders finds itself unable to carry on any longer?

Need a boost? The Happiest Recap: First Base (1962-1973) will lift you up, Amazin’ win after Amazin’ win. Check it out here.

9 comments to Broad Shoulders, Deep Appreciation

  • Dave

    Had a few things to do last night, wasn’t keeping abreast of Mets news, then this morning as I took the Star Ledger out of the plastic bag it’s delivered in I saw the banner across the front page…”Santana’s Career May Be Over.”

    Half expected it, but it’s just starting to sink in. My initial thoughts are how lucky we were to see him in a Mets uniform, even before last June 1. The man is a king on a team that too often surrounded him with peasants. I look forward to that day in a couple of years when he’s inducted into the Mets HOF.

  • Maggie

    A worthy tribute to one of the greatest pitchers ever to play for the Mets, or any team for that matter. I consider myself lucky to have had the chance to cheer him on in orange and blue.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    I’ve been to hundreds of Met games, and with a generous portion of luck, I count the 2 aforementioned games among them. They, along with Game 162 in 99, fill out my Top 3 all-time by a long shot. No other pitcher has ever had my knees shaking in the 9th or brought tears to my eyes.

    His frequent visits to the DL were frustrating, but many thanks to Johan for all the time in between.

    I have a tradition of watching Game 5 of the 99 NLCS every October 17. I’m pretty confident in saying I’ll always have a June 1st tradition as well.

  • Steve D

    I can’t add Johan to the litany of stars who came to the Mets and flopped…nor can I put him on the miniscule list of stars who came to the Mets and were everything we hoped for (Keith, Kid, Rusty and Piazza). He fits somewhere in the middle, due to injuries of course. He will never be forgotten for that June night…a night which held the same tense drama for me as the bottom of the 16th, Game 6 in Houston.

  • I posted this on my Facebook wall last night:
    Dear Johan,
    I will never forget not only did you gave me the first Mets no-hitter, but also the final win at Shea Stadium. The date was September 28, 2008–it was a “must win” game for the Mets to still have a chance to stay in post-season contention. You were coming off three days rest and everyone said you would not go more than 4-5 innings at the most. What did you do? Before the game you wrote on the chalkboard in the Mets clubhouse, “IT’S TIME TO BE A MAN.” Then you walked to the mound and calmly threw a complete game, two-hit shutout. When the game was over you kissed the baseball and gently tossed it into the stands while the crowd screamed “JOHAN! JOHAN!!!” Nobody wanted to leave. It was not until the next day we learned you had pitched the entire game with a knee injury and waited until the Mets were officially eliminated from competition (the very next day, haha) to schedule your surgery. Not to mention on top of all this you are SMOKING HOT! I will always love you. xo, LisaMetsFan

  • metsfaninparadise

    The fact that you “need not elaborate one iota” also attests to the infrequency of those occasions, unfortunately.

  • metsfaninparadise

    Sitting here in Fla, isolated physically (but not in spirit) from most Mets fans, I took to YouTube yesterday, even before this latest news, to watch fan video of the end of the no-hitter and share the moment and the joy with the fans in the stands. The only similar moment I’ve experienced was when they clinched the East in 1986 (I still have the dirt from the field-the grass died long ago). Thank you, Johan.

  • Joe D.

    Thank you Johann, for everything.

    Hold you head up with pride and dignity. Don’t ever let anyone say anything to the contrary.