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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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The Better Side of Nostalgia

I’m going to deal with the lousy part of the day first, because I don’t want it to be the last thing on the page when you’re done reading.

Frank Francisco got a called strike three, the Mets shook hands and then threw their hats into the crowd, and the video board started replaying the highlights of Mike Piazza’s day, accompanied by Semisonic’s “Closing Time.”

Up where we were sitting in the Pepsi Porch, it was a nice scene, as it had been all game. Fans were taking farewell pictures in the sunshine with the field as a backdrop. Emily and I were looking at the big screen, wondering if there’d be a season-highlights video and good-naturedly debating if there should be. I noticed with a smile that Joshua — whose fandom has become a tenuous thing in these tough recent campaigns — was standing with his program against his chest, saluting the departing Mets and then Citi Field.

Enter the men in maroon, Citi Field security.

“Time to get moving, folks,” they intoned as they moved down the rows. “Time to clear out.”

This was not an hour after the last pitch, mind you. This was halfway through the song the Mets themselves had chosen to end the day’s festivities — a song that is all of four and a half minutes long.

You came to salute a Mets hero returned for his induction into the team Hall of Fame? Time to get moving.

You actually want to stick around for another minute or two with a team that last finished above .500 five seasons ago? Time to clear out.

In recent years I’ve gotten to chat now and then with some of the folks who decide how things work at Citi Field, and while I don’t always agree with their decisions, I respect them as good folks who want fans to have positive experiences and are pained when things go awry. But there’s a chronic disconnect between those folks and the Mets personnel that fans actually encounter in the park — too often, you have tone-deaf, brain-dead encounters like today’s.

I guarantee that the Mets spent a lot of time and a money planning and choreographing today’s tribute to Piazza, and they did a great job. But my last memory of 2013 at Citi Field won’t be the ceremony, or the Mets winning a game in the sunshine. Instead, it will be guys in maroon shooing me and my family away while the A/V guys’ carefully chosen music was still playing.

The Mets’ biggest enemy in providing a great customer experience in the park isn’t the win-loss record, or the payroll — it’s the Mets themselves. They screw up the little things with depressing consistency, which undoes the good work done on the bigger things.

 

* * *

So yeah, that sucked. But I refused to let it define the day, and I’m not going to let it define this post.

The novelist Don DeLillo once wrote that “nostalgia is a product of dissatisfaction and rage,” and I think even a cursory look at the newspaper will demonstrate that he was right.

But sports can be an exception. Not all the time, but in the right circumstances it’s possible to revel in the past without deploring the present and dismissing the future.

I was thinking about that up in the Pepsi Porch, watching Piazza emerge from the dugout and exchange hugs with the likes of Rusty Staub and Al Jackson and Buddy Harrelson and Keith Hernandez and John Franco and Edgardo Alfonzo. Piazza himself still looks young for anyone but a ballplayer — he looks relaxed and at peace, and for all that I loved the ferocious, tightly wound competitor he was, I was happy to see this side of him too.

But note I said “young for anyone but a ballplayer.” It was easy to think Hey, Piazza looks like he could strap on the catcher’s gear and get after it, but the calendar doesn’t lie — Mike’s 45, ancient for a ballplayer and positively cruel for a catcher. Alfonzo, now finally truly retired, is grayer and thicker, while Franco’s pugnacity has mellowed into a kind of grizzled gravitas. Keith looks dapper and rakish in his vest, as if headed off to swap stories over Dos Equises with other most interesting men in the world. As for the players who came before his time, they’re now old men — old men with a grace and glamour, to be sure, as witnessed by Ed Charles’s gleeful twirl of his cane, but very far from turning two and taking the extra base.

That’s not meant to be insulting or upsetting — it’s the way of things. When David Wright crouched behind the plate to catch the ceremonial toss from his old teammate, my mind flashed forward to Wright’s own ceremony at Citi Field, when Piazza will be the gray elder statesman, Keith white-haired but still regal and faintly amused, and so on up the chain. But the thought made me happy, not sad — because all those old warriors will be Mets, however big the gap between the men on the field and their younger selves preserved on video. Wright will head to the mound, faintly awkward in street clothes, toe the rubber and then think better of it and set up camp a bit down the slope of the mound. Then he’ll fire the ball to someone in a Mets uniform whose name I don’t know yet but who is on the way nonetheless, to be heralded and awaited and fretted over and dissected and dismissed and accepted and embraced and finally just loved, as Buddy and Keith and Dwight and Mike are loved.

And that sense of double vision stuck with me through the game. Almost immediately we saw Eric Young Jr. racing around the field like an overcaffeinated greyhound, stealing bases and scrambling for home and throwing runners out and claiming a stolen-base crown that’s 83% ours. I’m always faintly embarrassed that I get Young confused with his father, but today that struck me as a cheerful tangle — just like I was cheered by the sight of Juan Centeno. Centeno’s all of four games into his big-league career, and a Shetland pony to Piazza’s warhorse. But he’s awfully quick, coming down with a Young throw to smack Jeff Bianchi in the back before he could score and then flying across the plate to connect with Sean Halton’s neck before he took possession of the plate.

One day, perhaps, I’ll get Eric Young Jr. confused with Eric Young III. Years from now, maybe, some Mets backstop will make an acrobatic tag and I’ll remember Juan Centeno. If so, I hope I’ll remember that Young and Centeno played with David Wright, who played with Mike Piazza, and they were together for one sunny day, at the end of a September and a now long-ago season.

16 comments to The Better Side of Nostalgia

  • 2013, put it in the books.

  • Fart

    The Happy Recap.

  • Marty

    Once again a beautifully articulated piece …. I was think about the connections too as I watched Piazza shake hands with his fellow HofFamers – that connection into the history is such an important thing. Knowing that Wright will connect with the next star is an incredible positive for the future.

    As for you’re ballpark story – my son and I ventured to the US from Australia a month or so ago to watch our Mets hit the west coast. We caught all four games at Petco Park, and our experience with all the personnel there was exceptional – sad to think that in NY, you’d walk away with an experience less than that ….

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Well put about the Citi ballpark staff. Just came back from Camden Yards where, to a person everyone on staff seemed to be actually having FUN, as opposed to Citi, where I’m happy if they are at least civil instead of put-upon.

    Wasn’t really into Piazza Day. It seemed like a made-up holiday. If I was Piazza I’d be thinking this is really 2nd rate after not getting into the Real Hall of Fame. And why all of a sudden this year instead of last year or the year before? Is there a waiting period for the Mets Hall of Fame too?

    Hate to say it, but it all came across as pretty lame compared to what was going on in the Bronx last week.

  • vin

    Great comments on the fan experience at Citi..I agree and it is even worse in the Bronx where a hostility exists as compared both older stadiums where I often knew the names of ushers etc…the Yankee people are clueless,although after Marianos last game Thursday most people lingered for several minutes and were not pushed out…I have spoken with Craig Marino at the Mets about this he is VP of guest relations and he was indifferent/dismissive…at YS I spoke to a VP as well and he took some action but I saw other execs cursing up a storm and telling tales while the fans and attendants wre acting poorly. In Philadelphia and Baltimore and other places the fan experience is great..it has turned off many in NY along with the arrogant prices! Mets attendance is down from over 4 million at Shea in 08 to just over 2 million at mediocrce CitiField..You call it a disconnect but I think the front office is indifferent or not baseball fan savvy enough to notice let alone care and act on this issues.

  • open the gates

    I was on a long car trip with my ten-year-old son while the Piazza festivities were going on. It was a truly great experience, not the least of which was the chance to talk to my kid about the legends of Flushing – not just Mike Piazza, but other guys who were introduced – Fonzie, Mookie, Doc, etc. And of course, Howie Rose did it just right. Time to put Piazza in the books – in Cooperstown.

    Two things depressed me about Piazza’s speech. One, where he thanks the late Nelson Doubleday for being instrumental in his acquisition from the Marlins. Just another reminder of how important Mr. Doubleday was to the team, and how badly the Mets need at least partial ownership who are not related to the Wilpons and are not afraid to battle them. I’m convinced that, were it not for Mr. Doubleday, we would still be looking at ’73 as our last WS appearance.

    The other bittersweet moment was when he thanked his agent. He said that if his agent hadn’t been so tough with the Dodgers, he may have finished his career with them and never made it to the Mets. Bitersweet, because I see Jose Reyes making a similar speech in Toronto in 20 years or so.

    Other than that, good time all around. Except, I guess, when it was time to leave. Hint: that’s why I tend to follow my Mets on the air rather than in person. Maybe someday the clueless front office will take the hint.

  • open the gates

    Oh, and one other thing. I’m thrilled for Eric Young, Jr. Here’s a guy that got no respect at all, despite performing beyond anyone’s wildest expectations this year. (Anyone hear from Collin McHugh lately?) Now, he can take his stolen-base title – which he won despite barely playing before he got to Flushing – and stick it in all his detractors’ faces. And the Mets should seriously consider holding on to him. LaTroy Hawkins, too.

  • dmg

    jace,

    thanks for a truly splendid account. i don’t know what to say about the citi field personnel — we had decent enough interactions, but the whole “must make it past security” mentality that was imported from shea has always been a chore.

    over all, my son and i enjoyed piazza day: lovely day for a last game, with the pre-game events giving good weight. i appreciated the other mets legends on the field — al jackson and ed charles, ed kranepool and bud harrelson, rusty staub and keith hernandez, fonzie and franco among them. and piazza was very touching, including his note that maybe his best memory of his time in new york came after he left the mets and returned for that first game as a padre, when the fans (me among them) applauded him loud and long.

    yesterday was very much a day to savor memories.

    the mets, as is their custom, flubbed the fan appreciation extras: we’d come early because we’d heard that mets players would be at the rotunda to sign autographs and pose for photos. we waited for our big chance with dave aardsma and tim byrdak(!), but they left at 11:30 a.m., surrounded by security. (why? was the secret service too busy?) to be fair, before festivities officially began, several pitchers made themselves available along the first-base side, and terry collins made his way all the way around the field, shaking hands with many of the fans.

    I started this year absolutely livid — i will never approve of the dickey trade — but came around eventually because of the effort the players gave. still, ash and i went to only three games all season. they have six months to get us there more often next year.

  • Tom

    The impersonality at Citi Field is really off-putting. And should the team actually ever put up a winning record again, and the Wilpons really start seeing dollar signs, it’s going to get so much worse.

  • I’m just tired of feeling more welcome in every other ballpark (with the exception of the House of Evil) than I am my own. It remains such a blotch on the fan experience, and the organization refuses to acknowledge it. Those who write about it get smacked on the wrist and get told that we’re wrong. The thing is, if you come once or twice a year, you don’t think much of it, and that is exactly the kind of customer the Mets want to cater to. They don’t want people here repeatedly. They want season ticket holders to buy a block and then do the business of reselling. We’re messy and inconvenient.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    Hope you had a good time out on the west coast.

    That is a shame what happened at the end of the game. Is that something that is routine? Have you experienced that at other times?

    • Hey Joe, no, it doesn’t happen all the time. And to be fair, it’s much better than it was at Shea. But it happens often enough to leave a bad taste, and it shouldn’t happen at all.

  • Dave

    I too have often felt as though personnel at both Shea and Citi received their customer service training at the DMV, and at 15 minutes before closing time at that. My aplogies to any readers who work for the DMV.

    And yeah, I thought the rumors of Nelson Doubleday’s death were greatly exaggerated. Cringe.

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