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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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Hall Star Selection

Mike Piazza is a New York Mets Hall of Famer. We didn’t necessarily require official confirmation. After completing three of his eventual eight seasons wearing the orange, black and blue, his eternal status was pretty well nailed down in our eyes as well as our hearts. One can only speculate why it took the Mets six years beyond the end of his playing career to announce they would induct him, but that they will finally do on September 29, our last baseball day of 2013.

I’m ridiculously thrilled by this. I’m more thrilled by Piazza’s pending enshrinement than I am by the presence of the All-Star Game and its auxiliary activities, even as I continue to relish all that. I’m more thrilled than I am by the Mets’ perfectly satisfying Sunday afternoon victory in Pittsburgh that closed out a “first half” (technically 56.17%) that has been tentatively encouraging of late, if generally a far cry from the peak of the Age of Piazza.

Mike played on two undeniably profound Mets teams, three promising if fatally flawed Mets teams and three ultimately abominable Mets teams. Yet the Age of Piazza morphed into an exalted epoch every time Mike picked up a bat. He transcended the letdowns inherent in 1998, 2001 and 2005. He soared above the dregs of 2002, 2003 and 2004. Most enduringly, he was the signature across the bottom of the Declaration of Contention the Mets issued in 1999 and 2000. He was John Hancock in those revolutionary days when we sought to turn the world upside down. He was always out front and you couldn’t miss him.

Piazza’s Mets, when assembled directly on either side of the millennium, were way more than Mike, yet their story always radiated out from behind his chest protector. They weren’t quite the sad stray puppies Metropolitan myth has framed them as pre-Piazza — Bobby Valentine banded together a scintillating 88-74 squad in 1997 and they continued to dance above .500 as 1998 commenced — but yeah, it was dark turning to bright when word got out late on Friday afternoon, May 22, 1998, that the Mets had made a trade with the Florida Marlins. Nobody is in the habit of quoting Jeff Wilpon without preparing to stick a pin in his comic balloon, but the COO is correct in asserting that when Mike Piazza became a Met (more by the hand of Nelson Doubleday than anybody else’s), he “reinvigorated the franchise”. Rooting for the Mets had been our sacred calling regardless of who was catching or batting cleanup. Getting to root for the Mets when it was Piazza who was catching and batting cleanup? That was a seat upgrade of the most elevated order.

The pearly playoff gates raised for a wretch like us in the autumns of 1999 and 2000, lifted as high as they could possibly go by the Amazin’ grace of Mike Piazza and his disciples. They could only go so high and we could only stay Up There so long, but what a time it was. Every game mattered. Every inning was crucial. Every time Mike did something, we craned our necks to see what he wrought. You watched closely in the Age of Piazza. You celebrated at unannounced intervals, but you knew something was coming. You didn’t keep your hands in your pockets if you didn’t absolutely have to. There was too much to applaud. There was too much to high-five.

I was thrilled then. I’m thrilled now. I’ll be thrilled on September 29. Learning that Mike Piazza is on his way to a Mets game near you tends to have that kind of impact on me.

22 comments to Hall Star Selection

  • I usually never look forward to Closing Day since we won’t have our Mets to cheer for for another six months. But this time, Closing Day will be a celebration – a celebration of a time when it was fun to come to the ballpark (except when Battlin’ Art Howe was our skipper).

    I can’t wait to see Piazza’s plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame. Let’s hope his #31 also goes up on the wall, preferably in a place that isn’t obscured by the Party City Deck.

  • 5w30

    The Mets might get a tiny attendance spike that Sunday. I’ll be surprised if they even meet last year’s numbers. Next time they should have a #8 retirement ceremony. Yogi meant a lot to the young Mets from 1965 onward as part of two NL pennants and two World Series. And getting Gary Carter to mold the Mets’ young pitchers in 1985 and 1986 was a watershed moment in Mets history. Larry Berra’s not getting any younger, you know. It would be a perfect ceremony for NEW YORK baseball as a whole. Not for just an ex-Dodger like Piazza.

    • Lenny65

      I’m all for retiring #8 as a tribute to both Berra and Kid. While I’m not as certain about retiring #31, there’s no questioning what Piazza meant to the Mets. The guy’s hitting heroics were second to no one, when he was on he was electric. That rocket he launched during the 10-run inning vs. Atlanta in 2000 was possibly the most awe-inspiring HR I’ve ever seen. I always put Piazza behind Carter when I do an all-time team, but it’s really close. The gap between those two and every other Mets catcher ever is a canyon.

    • Steve D

      This opens up a can of worms. Tying Yogi in with Carter seems to promote retiring #8, but is purely emotional. Yogi can’t be retired as a Met player, so it is as a coach/manager. Don’t think he qualifies on coaching and as a manager, he did win a pennant. If that qualifies his number to be retired, you must retire #5 for Davey winning a championship and I won’t even mention #2 for Bobby Valentine. Of course, Wright is wearing #5 and should have that retired just for himself one day. Remember also, Yogi has had almost nothing to do with the Mets for 38 years.

      As for Carter, he may warrant retirement for some, but I think you would then have to retire #17 also. I would vote not to retire #8, but if you do, retire it for Carter only, invite Yogi as a tribute, then do #17 for Keith.

      • open the gates

        I’ve always felt that retiring numbers is overrated, and less is very much more. I would have had no problem if Seaver’s was the only number the Mets ever retired.

        • Steve D

          That would be terrible…having only one great player in the history of the franchise, LOL. I would hope Wright can get the honor, including one championship by the time he’s done.

  • Barry F.

    No love for Junior Ortiz, Lenny? Lol

  • Kevin from Flushing

    SO happy about this! I went to Citi Field this afternoon to by my service-charge-free tickets! No Met ever made me happier!

  • open the gates

    To me, there will be always and forever two Turning Points of the Franchise. The points when, in retrospect, the team jumped from “just OK” to “serious contenders”. One was the trade for Keith Hernandez. The other was the trade for Mike Piazza. (The arrival of Seaver would obviously be another one, but that was before my time.)

    Piazza’s induction was long overdue (hey, we’re talking about the Mets PR machine here), but welcome nonetheless.

    • Steve D

      I have a slightly different take on that…Seaver made the team relevant and the Clendenon trade made them serious contenders. Hernandez just made them relevant, remember they still finished last with him in 1983, and Gooden and/or Carter made them serious.

  • dmg

    this announcement means my purchase of two tix for sept. 29. my son’s e-dress, after all, is metsfan4ever31.

  • dak442

    I am very happy for Mike, and will be there. As someone who was around for their entire Met careers, I place Mike atop the (substantial) pantheon of Met catchers, but that’s not meant as a slight to Kid.

    Mets Hall of Fame is a nice segue for me as I relate, per Greg’s request, my experience at Fan Fest yesterday, specifically meeting Dave Kingman. Who absolutely belongs in the Met HoF as much as many of the guys already in.

    Fan Fest was neat, but a lot of it is geared toward little kids – hitting cages, sliding drills, toss games, “instruction”. It was well worth the $10 discounted ticket I bought, but don’t know how psyched I’d be to spend $35 a head. But I was really there for one reason.

    The Missus and I got in around noon. We went straight to Felix Millan’s signing. We bought his book, and he signed two Topps 1976 cards and made a nice inscription on the book as well. The lines for Cliff Floyd and Kevin Mitchell were onerous so we wandered about before stopping in to catch the end of Joe Pignatano’s Q&A. A little shopping and viewing the exhibits and then we caught Rusty Staub’s Q&A. He was interesting, particularly telling about how he reconciled with M. Donald Grant (after having been furious about being traded) and they became good friends. (Grant in Rusty’s bar: “Why the hell did I ever trade you?”).

    Then, the Big Event – joint Q&A with Kingman and Cleon Jones. We stuck around after Rusty’s and got seats in front. They were both great. Cleon talked about ’69 (duh), that he knew Agee was gonna make that catch and that in general if a ball was hit anywhere near them he knew one of them would catch it. He was asked about ’73, specifically Yogi’s decision to start Seaver on short rest instead of Stone. Cleon said he wasn’t going to bury Yogi, and then pretty much did; he said the team leaders (Cleon, Mays, Seaver, couple others) met with Yogi, imploring him to use Stone who was their hottest pitcher down the stretch. Yogi refused, saying “The writers will kill me!”. Both were asked about nicknames (Dave didn’t much care for any of his but didn’t mind them, Cleon said his favorite was “Beep-Beep” as in the Roadrunner, from his HS and college RB days).

    I wasn’t sure what to expect from Kingman. He doesn’t enjoy a good reputation from a lot of people stemming from feuds with writers. The fact that most of them were assholes who mocked him is conveniently forgotten. A guy I met online through Greg who is friends with Kingman says he is a delightful, personable, generous man. And that was completely the case.

    Dave simply couldn’t have been more pleasant, friendly, engaging and humble. When asked about his best experience in baseball, he said it was making so many good friends and staying in touch with them. When asked twice about the abrupt end to his playing career (he hit 35 HRs in ’86) he very matter-of-factly talked about collusion, said he would have liked to play two or three more years (and certainly could have), but that it’s all water under the bridge and he’s very happy with his career and his place in the game. I won’t relate the entire Q&A – it should be available on Youtube as three different guys were taping it on cameras/phones), but two things stood out. A guy asked Dave if he remembered visiting a kid who had had brain surgery in Montreal years ago, Dave said yes, the guy said it was him. Dave got up, walked over, gave him a big hug and they talked for a minute. And one guy said how he cried the night of the midnight massacre, and Dave said “I’m not ashamed to admit – I did too. I loved it in NY”. It’s fantastic to hear that our love isn’t always one-sided.

    At the end of the session, the two of them got up and stood there signing stuff for everyone. We each had baseball cards signed, and then ran to the line for the official autograph session. I’m not a big autograph guy – I’ve always found the soliciting and purchasing of them insipid, but I really just wanted to meet Dave and get a picture with him. The Fest volunteers gave specific marching orders: no pictures from the stage, only one item signed, be quick. Dave disregarded them all, graciously stood for pics with everyone, chatted with people.

    The missus went first; she just said hi and I got a nice pic of them. Then it was my turn. We shook hands, I said I was a huge fan since childhood and thanked him for changing his mind and attending the last day of Shea (I decided not to ask him if my email made him change his mind). He said it was a great day, he had a nice time and was glad he did. He signed a picture for me, posed for a couple of pictures, and I thanked him and began moving away. The MLB authenticator guy who was affixing little hologram stickers to all auto’ed items said “Hey, you want your (Kingman) jersey signed?”. I hadn’t asked because they said only 1 item, I didn’t want to be a bother, and frankly I was a little overwhelmed. I said “Really, you would?” and Dave said “Sure! I have to sign a #26!” I whipped it off and said “Wow, thanks! I wear this to almost every game and always get a positive reaction”. Dave seemed surprised and pleased by that, so I said “Absolutely! Everyone loves you!”. The MLB guy said “You know, you can’t wash it anymore” and I said “That’s OK, I hardly ever wash it anyway” and Dave laughed and said “Ha, we can tell”. It’s got Shake Shack residue, ketchup marks and other food stains on it from a year or two worth of ballgames. We all had a good laugh and I walked away on Cloud 9. Without any of my stuff other than the jersey in my hand. The guy had to call me back first for my bag, and then for my picture.

    I am generally a fairly cool customer, unfazed by anything. Except this. I was completely agog. When I came off the stage my wife laughed at me for babbling up there and forgetting all my stuff, and when I showed her the autograph she said “Oh my God, your hands are shaking! What’s with you?!” For a couple of minutes I was a starstruck ten-year-old kid again. It’s wonderful that love of a baseball team (and player) can reduce a blase’ New Yorker to a gibbering fool. I’ve been smiling for a day straight. I can’t convey enough how happy I am to have met a childhood hero who turns out to be a great guy. You hear about athletes being jerks, or just brusque (like some of the other signers), but this was just such a fabulous experience.

    Now, I need to step up the campaign to get Kingman into the Mets Hall of Fame. Who’s with me?!

    • Steve D

      I realize now DAK442 is for David Arthur Kingman 442 HR. Thanks for the stories…Kingman was my favorite player as a kid…I guess I took Seaver for granted. Glad to hear how nice and generous he was to you.

    • open the gates

      Mr. Kingman definitely belongs in the Mets Hall of Fame. He was very important to the franchise, and his homers were awe-inspiring. No Met but Straw hit them out with such terrifying power. His strikeouts were pretty terrifying, too, but that only makes him a quintessential Met. Quite human, unlike the cyborgs of the Bronx. Anyone who doesn’t get that isn’t truly a Met fan.

      My one knock against him was that he was always portrayed as a very negative person. I’m glad you cleared that up.

      While I was at it, I checked the Wikipedia post on the Mets HoF. They had a list of players being considered for future induction. Other than Kingman, the really glaring omission on that list is Jesse Orosco. OTOH, Tom Glavine, uh, not so much.

  • 9th string catcher

    #41, #37 and #14 were all retired for for people who did not spend their entire careers as Mets and who had many of their greatest moments with other teams. What they did was show a higher sense of leadership that transformed their teams to another level. They all helped build the greatest moments in franchise history which would not exist without them. Carter wasn’t here long, neither was Hodges. Seaver is in the hall of fame, so is Carter. The Mets had a great team in 86, but Carter was the anchor. He was the key to one of the greatest Mets moments ever, more than Gooden, Strawberry, Hernandez or anyone of that team.And like 14,37 and 41, he should be remembered as someone who played the game the way it was meant to be played.

  • Stan

    Thanks for the great story! I feel for you on the ‘babbling fool’ thing. My wife still likes to bring it up to torture me, sixteen years after I had a celebrity encounter with someone who turned out to be a really nice guy.

  • Great Kingman story! I met Dave at a card show years ago after he had been retired a few years and he was the nicest guy and signed my cards for me (a 76 SSPC card). He was my favorite Met of the mid 70’s because of the power, trading him and Seaver killed me. My first ever ballgame (Sept 13th, 1971, not Sept. 7th I mentioned the other day) rookie Kingman went 3 for 4 with a double and triple.

  • Rob D.

    I can hear the great Bob Murphy..”David Arthur Kingman”….great story!!

  • […] gets mentioned at Citi Field these nights. It will be Closing Day and all that implies. It will be Mike Piazza Hall of Fame Day, rightly honoring the signature star of the last certifiably sensational epoch of Mets baseball. […]