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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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Neither Playing Nor Watching

It’s a great day to be a Red Sox player or fan. It’s a slightly less great day to be a Cardinals player or fan, but, all things considered, it’s not so bad. Both teams have at least one more game scheduled and a world championship remains possible for either. For Mets fans who are paying attention, it’s as good a day as you want it to be in terms of a World Series transpiring without our players. You can root for or against one of these collectives depending on your tastes. Or you can stay neutral but keep an eye on what happens next. There is still a little “next” left to baseball in 2013, praise Selig.

If you choose to, you could be in that plurality of TV viewers who are enjoying a reasonably absorbing if not quite exhilarating Fall Classic. You’re also free to be in that vast majority of Americans who aren’t tuned in and are thus the subjects of the annual spate of articles examining why you don’t tune in. I’ve been reading these stories for more than twenty years. The theories don’t much change, but they do deepen, boiling down to the basic facts that: a) baseball doesn’t maintain the hold on the public imagination it once did; and b) things have changed too much in too many ways to expect that it would.

I suppose I still pine for a mythic world that hangs on every pitch and discusses each of them the next day, but I’ve probably never actually lived in that world (and, to be fair, I’m not quite hanging on every pitch). I came along when the World Series was played in daylight, the television dial was severely limited by modern standards and whatever thing you’re reading this on didn’t exist. It wasn’t necessarily a better world, but baseball was a bigger part of it.

Then again, no matter how overwhelming one assumes the World Series at the height of its powers — in the prime time era, at least — there were always dissenters. The afternoon prior to Game One of the 1986 edition, we had a visit from a couple of relatives on my mother’s side, a cultured, elderly couple who lived practically across the street from Lincoln Center. They were with it. They knew what was going on. Nevertheless when I mentioned my immediate priority was to watch the Mets in the World Series that Saturday night, I got a blank stare on the order of “What’s that?” Maybe that was just New York being New York, I figured. We have too many people interested in too many things to notice every little or big thing.

Subtract the participation of a beloved local team and multiply the blank stares exponentially, and you have the World Series as national non-phenomenon today. It used to bother me quite a bit. It bothers me much less this year. The Series still gets solid if not spectacular ratings, they’ll continue to televise it and it will continue to be covered and talked about. The conversation might not be universal, but it will range far and wide enough. Part of me thinks there’s something terribly wrong with a country that doesn’t drop everything to see how the baseball season concludes — and something incredibly off about baseball fans who seem proud of their lack of interest as October rolls on — but as with any given Mets game, if it’s being shown, I’m watching, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. That will have to do.

What somehow surprises me is that major leaguers not on the Red Sox or Cardinals don’t necessarily watch. I’ve ascertained this dirty little secret quite incidentally, now and again noticing a tweet from a 2013 Met who is off to some concert or on safari or perhaps fixing that loose step he keeps promising the wife he’ll get to. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. It’s none of my business, actually, except I keep learning what they’re up to because I followed them on Twitter while they were playing and they insist on telling me.

I get that it’s their hard-earned vacation time and I admit I don’t know how often they’re checking their devices for scores and highlights as they pursue their various non-baseball adventures. Maybe they’re DVRing every game. They probably have that package that records ten shows at once and thus don’t have to conk one another over the head with a bat as they decide what shows to tape. They’re professional ballplayers. They can afford it.

They’re professional ballplayers is more the point, though. I would think that as a member of this highly exclusive fraternity they would have a proprietary interest in seeing how the World Series turns out. It’s their craft being performed for the highest stakes at (though not every play is flawless) the highest level. Just from an aficionado standpoint, you’d think they’d be into it. And from an aspirational standpoint, too. Isn’t the World Series where these guys want to be? Couldn’t have they flown to South America next week or caught up with the Zak Brown Band at a later stop? Shouldn’t have their schedules been clear through the beginning of November anyway, just in case?

I think I’m only about a quarter-serious in being disappointed to realize players don’t automatically watch other players play the World Series, but it does strike me as a little sad. My sister long ago asked me how it would work if a Met wanted to go to a baseball game that didn’t involve the Mets. After explaining that the Mets are usually playing at the same time as other teams, I guessed it wouldn’t be too hard for, say, Tom Seaver to get a ticket if the Mets were off and a game was being played in some other city. I grew up and learned that players get tickets — probably really good ones — to pretty much whatever they want just because they’re players. It’s known as a perk.

Then I got older and had it confirmed baseball players don’t much care if other baseball players are playing for a championship that long ago evaded their own grasp. You learn something new every year.

9 comments to Neither Playing Nor Watching

  • cowcrusher

    The only two world series that I did not pay any attention to were in ’94 and ’09..one did not exist due to greed and the other should not of due to becoming every Mets fan’s nightmare.

  • joenunz

    “…or perhaps fixing that loose step he keeps promising the wife he’ll get to.”

    Or as The Murph would call it, “The Honeydew List”

  • March'62

    What always bothered me more were baseball players that didn’t grow up as baseball fans. Whether they were fans of other sports and only chose baseball because you could have a longer career and make more money or worse – they weren’t sports fans at all. Before a player is promoted to the Bigs, they should have to admit publicly that it’s always been a lifelong dream to play in the Majors.

  • Kevin From Flushing

    Devil’s Advocate, if I may: if you’ve been baseballing non-stop since February, the last few months of which may or may not have been any fun, perhaps all you can think to yourself on October 1st is, “I don’t want to even look at a baseball for a month.” Maybe you’ll watch the World Series film some night during Spring Training with a few beers and some teammates.

    I agree with you Greg, but I can also understand a desire to simply rest and clear your head. I know I wasn’t barking at Mookie Wilson in 2000, “Whadda ya mean you started driving trucks after the NLCS, you mean you didn’t want to see how the Braves’d square up against the Yankees?”

    • The non-participants get a bye from watching the LDS round but should be seeping back into it as the LCS unfolds. They should be fired up again by WS time. I will give a pass to the players, coaches and fans of the Tigers and Dodgers. It’s hard to imagine they could bring themselves to look at a Series they’re sure they should’ve been playing in. The Mets and their playoffless compatriots, however, have had time to unwind already.

      Watch ball!

  • Mike

    I don’t know, I can kind of understand the players not watching it. During every postseason — sometimes on more than one occasion — the thought hits me while I’m watching a game, “Man, I really wish these were the Mets.” Maybe David Wright tries to watch and says, “Man, I wish it were me,” or Todd Helton does, or RA Dickey does, or….

    I get what you’re saying, but I also wonder if it’s just too tough for folks who aren’t there — especially folks like Wright, who haven’t been anywhere close to there in years.

    And for the record, the only World Series I can recall not watching at least a little of was ’06. It hurt far, far too much. Wouldn’t even watch clips on the news. I believe I learned the Cardinals won on my car radio while in the Wal-Mart parking lot. (Don’t ask me why I remember the store; I just do.)

  • metsfaninparadise

    I would imagine the population of baseball players has roughly the same proportion of baseball fans in it as the general population. To me the more interesting stories are the players who are fans, who love the game so much they stay in it afterwards, broadcasting, coaching, managing. I’ll be they’re watching the WS. I’m always fascinated by the ones who stay in. I remember a GQ cover story on Ron Darling in ’86 in which he considered pitching just his job, and said he’d probably end up a stockbroker (shades of Ed Kranepool!). I also found it fascinating that someone like Roger McDowell, always busy with hotfoots (-feet?) and funny masks, paid enough attention to the game to become a highly regarded pitching coach.

  • open the gates

    I don’t have a problem with ballplayers not wanting to absorb themselves in baseball 24-7-365 – or even those who don’t watch the World Series. There are plenty of folks who believe in “leaving their work at the office” – and many of those folks truly love their jobs. It’s just compartmentalizing, and for some people it helps them do their jobs better when they’re actually in the office. If, for example, David Wright feels that a few weeks of fixing steps will keep him fresh and renewed for next year, then hand that man a hammer. (Just make sure he doesn’t injure himself with it!)