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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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When Kingmen Meet

Among our regular and recurring commenters over the years, we’ve had readers who’ve identified themselves in their screen names with an array of Mets from 1962’s Ray Daviault to 2005’s Mike Jacobs. But no one has been more steadfast in his support of a particular Met than a Faith and Fear commenter you’ve seen grace our pages since the early days of FAFIF as the gentleman who’s been known as KingmanFan or, more recently, dak442.

That’s not his real name. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet John Colella and discover there’s more to him than a KINGMAN 26 jersey. But for our purposes, we’re going to be superficial and take advantage of his affinity for the player we knew as Sky King or Kong or just Dave from 1975 to 1977 and again from 1981 to 1983. See, John went to FanFest with one overarching goal in mind. He let us know how that went in our comments section the other day, but since it was such a great story, I thought I’d share it here as a guest column.

***

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 high school and college running 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.

David Arthur Kingman, who hit 442 home runs, and dak442, who has smiled at least that many times this week.

David Arthur Kingman, who hit 442 home runs, and dak442, who has smiled at least that many times this week.

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 New York.” 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 e-mail 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 autographed items asked, “Hey, you want your jersey signed?” I hadn’t asked because they said only one 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 No. 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 blasé 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?!

***

Mariano Rivera won’t be going into the Mets Hall of Fame, though it felt like he was being inducted Tuesday night. Jason gives his thoughts on the subject in the Wall Street Journal here.

Tom Seaver wore a Dodgers batting helmet a year before he was traded to the Reds. I break it gently to Uni Watch’s Paul Lukas here.

28 comments to When Kingmen Meet

  • Come bak to the Crane Pool, dak!

  • I’m with you. Kingman for Mets Hall of Fame.

  • “…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 blasé New Yorker to a gibbering fool. I’ve been smiling for a day straight.”

    I’m a blubbering fool just reading that.

  • If you watch those Mets Yearbooks for 1975 and 1976, Kingman comes across as genuinely warm and gracious. I believe there’s a scene with him doing a kids’ clinic in one of them. Maybe being passed along from team to team to team in 1977 turned him a bit sour. Maybe M. Donald Grant thought he was doing Dave favor, knowing how much the Mets would suck with Seaver gone. I’m glad he was part of the fan fest and I’m sorry I missed it.

  • I think there’s a great paper to be written about the psychology of the giant man in sports, or in baseball, or on the Mets.

    Folks want to feel morally and intellectually superior to a giant, because he makes them feel inferior. Rather than celebrating what he is, in the face of the daily realities and disappointments of the game, he gets demonized for what he isn’t. He tries to iron out the rough patches in his game — the subtler skills — but it only draws attention to them and gets him mocked more. So he retreats into what he does best — crude, malicious power. His defense becomes more hopeless as it declines from something he’s not good at to something he doesn’t care about. Self-sacrificing hustle is missing from his game. Why destroy himself when the pressman seemingly want to see him destroyed? His personality becomes more abrasive or even hostile, as he’s living with his guard up and fists ready after taking numerous low blows from aging un-athletic men bent on turning the fans against him no matter what he does. And if you’re doomed to be chided no matter what you do, you are unmotivated to change. Your only remaining source of defiance and self-image is to keep producing what none of them can — jaw-dropping power — at the expense of all else.

    And, justifiably or ironically, you become the demon they’ve made you out to be. After your career, reporters — either the same ones who ripped you back in the back or the next generation who grew up believing the characterizations of you to be gospel — mention that they ran into you, and you’re a much warmer guy than they recalled. Of course you are. They don’t need you to be their demon any more and you don’t need to fight back against it.

    God bless dak and all young fans who maintain their warm connection to the player’s struggles and efforts even as cold water comes from all directions. And God bless surly giants everywhere.

  • March'62

    Hi DAK, first time, long time. As always, nice column. I hate when the media put their own slant to their stories and make players out to be selfish jerks because they won’t talk to them.

    • Will in Central NJ

      I fully concur with March’62. Dave Kingman was the first ballplayer I ever met, at a promotional event in summer 1975. It was in the Newark, NJ Bamberger’s store (the chain is now part of Macy’s). I clearly remember the cast he wore on his left hand, which he had sprained diving for a Phil Niekro double at Shea, weeks earlier.

      Kingman was promoting a newfangled video game thingy called “Pong”, which you could hook up and play on your TV. (Fancy that!) Anyway, Kingman was so gracious to this then-12 y.o. starstruck kid and his 14-y.o. brother. Now, over the years, some reporters definitely had an axe to grind with him; fortunately, that animosity between Sky King and them did not extend to us fans.

        • Will in Central NJ

          Steve D, you’re absolutely correct. What’s more, your link shows us that today, 7/19, is the 37th anniversary of Sky King’s fateful thumb injury. What started out so promising that year, gave no indication of the dark days ahead.

          David Arthur Kingman in the NYM Hall of Fame is certainly warranted. I approve!

  • Dave

    Kong in the Mets HOF…have to admit it hadn’t occurred to me, but now that you mention it, yeah, I am definitely with you. There were times when aside from Seaver or other starters having great years, Kingman was the reason to watch. His flaws as a player were obvious, but nothing quite matches the thrill of watching a ball hit halfway to the Throggs Neck Bridge, and few could do it like him.

    And with apologies for going half off-topic, also for the Mets Hall: Darling, Hojo, and Orosco together, then Gary Cohen and Howie Rose.

    But great article, sounds like you had a blast.

  • Jim

    When I was a young Mets fan for me it was Seaver number 1 and Kingman was 1A in my book. When I learned he was going to be at Fan Fest I had to be there!!!!. I had planned to wait in line for his autograph and then head to Citi Field but when I saw he was not going to be signing until 5 and had a Q an A at 4 with Cleon Jones. I was not going anywhere. Earler I had seen Bert Campeneris and told him that my Dad had always said That if George Stone had pitched Game 6 the Mets would have one. He did not say much but was nice. It was awesome to be able to ask Dave about the midnight massacre and I though it was cool that when I told him I cried someone else said me too and when I first asked Cleon about George Stone I thought at first I had upset him because he said he was not going to and something about Yogi which u said above in the article and then he went into deep detail, All in all an awesome day!!!!!!

  • dak442

    Thanks for all the positive comments, and to Greg and Jason for the honor of appearing under my own byline on FAFIF! It was certainly an exciting week.

  • Cleon Jones

    Kingman absolutely belongs in the Mets HOF. He was their most exciting player during his tenure and one of the most exciting players they’ve ever had, period.

  • Lenny65

    Re: Kong in the MHOF…no brainer. Shocked that he isn’t already in.

  • joelsyoungblood

    Great article about Kingman. I was also a child of the 70’s and Kingman was a hero to me, next to Seaver of course. Great to know he wasn’t the nasty guy the press made him out to be.

  • O My My

    Mets HOF? Sure, but only if he opens an ice-cream shoppe at Shea Deux like he did in Chitown…

  • Shoes

    This is an awesome story. Seriously, can’t help but smile because of it. I’m a little younger, but my guy as a kid was Gregg Jefferies (I know, I know)and genuinely hope that if I ever got a similar opportunity to meet him that I’d have a replica experience.

  • Patrick O'Hern

    Seaver and Kong – 1and 1a for me too! followed them closer than I did some Mets teams during their exhale from NYM. Remember the home run he hit in Chicago when it banged off a ladies door down the street and she opened the door thinking someone knocked? I think it was a Satuday game of the week NBC. Loved the post thanks for representing all us Kong admirers Greg!

  • schmong

    Kingman once gave a reporter a rat in a box. He also batted .230. Hitting wise, he was Ike before Ike.

    • kjs

      Ding! Ding! Ding! Yup. Kingman sucked. Don’ t get the nostalgia, but I am glad this fellow fan got to meet his hero. Hey! I thought Agee was the greatest thing in the multiverse once. Then we grow up, old and baseball-crotchety.

    • Steve D

      I bet if Dave shortened his swing, he could have been a .280 hitter. He hit .288 one year with 48 HR, without steroids. Ike, with his current swing, will never hit more than .220.

  • Those three digits at the end of DAK’s handle represent the number of homeruns Dave Kingman hit. We should all suck so much.

    Kong had his flaws. Tell that to the brain surgery kid. We only the heroes we get. We sit around waiting for the perfect one to come along, we go under.

    • enos

      Kingman 22 WAR in 16 MLB seasons. That’s brutal. Yup, blast one or two a week. Do nothing else. Should have been a dh for a stinky AL team.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    Great piece! For the record, I caught some of Kranepool’s Q&A and he absolutely killed Yogi.

  • “We only (can work with) the heroes we get.”

  • Jim

    For many of us young Mets fans at the time myself included Seaver and Koosman were so close as our favorite Mets that as posted by others Seaver was number 1 and Koosman was 1 a and to have one of your heroes shipped away was bad enough but to have both gone on the same night. Makes June 15,1977 the worst day in Mets histroy, Yes more painful than when Beltran was caught looking or even when the Yankees won the Series on our field as incerdible as that sounds it is true and maybe because we were all robbed that night we mot only remember the great moments before that night but sometimes we think of what could have been and remember them fondly. I always wanted Kingman and Seaver to do well when they left the Mets and when they played the Mets as long as the Mets one because their is only one thing more important than rooting for heroes like Tom and Dave or whoever you root for and that is the NEW YORK METS THEMSELVES!! (Nno matter how much they drive us crazy sometimes!!)

  • Dave Kingman was fun to watch and cheer for on a team that didn’t have much power. I’m glad that he’s learned to bypass the press and connect with his fans now that his career is a distant memory. I wonder if he would have been a big Twitter user if it was available back in the day?