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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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Breaking In & Going Out

Someday Spring Training will end, and when it does…what’s that? It’s over? More or less?

Didn’t see that coming.

Hallelujah, the Mets are done with grapefruits and slot machines at last, saving a couple of days here near March’s conclusion for un petit peu de poutine up Montreal way. Nice to pretend the Expos exist again for a weekend, unless somebody gets hurt on that mashugana Olympic Stadium carpet, in which case, what a terrible idea this was.

Canadian detour notwithstanding, Opening Day finally awaits, though there’s still a bit of roster business to be settled around the uninspiring margins. It doesn’t get much more marginal than choosing a backup for Ruben Tejada, himself a dubious Met starter unless/until he makes me eat those words smothered in cheese curds and gravy. The role could be awarded once more to Omar Quintanilla, who has familiarity going for him if nothing else (which there doesn’t appear to be after Q’s batted .158 thus far this spring), or Anthony Seratelli, a personable local boy who would be a great story, save for his having done close to nothing to take a job from Omar Quintanilla.

Seratelli is 31, a lifelong baseball underdog and totally untested at the major league level. Plus he’s local, which we already mentioned. One is tempted to guess the Mets are considering him instead of Quintanilla because then they’d have the chance to sell a few more tickets in the otherwise untapped Edison, N.J., market. If he rockets a few balls off the ol’ Big O concrete, hikes his exhibition average well above its current .213 and handles grounders competently, maybe he’ll overtake valuably experienced Omar and line up for introductions at Citi Field on Monday.

If that happens, then for a few moments before Anthony Seratelli inevitably wears out his utilityman welcome (or makes me ingest my cynicism like it’s smoked meat smuggled through customs), it would loom as the heartwarmingest of chilly March 31 moments. A pristine rookie tipping his cap on Opening Day — whether or not the stands include family and friends — would and should move everybody who realizes what’s going on to heartily applaud. When Scott Rice emerged from utter obscurity last Opening Day to hear Alex Anthony announce his name, you could feel the part of the crowd that was cognizant of the significance of his hard-earned beam with onlookers’ pride.

You don’t always get a major league debut on Opening Day (especially if you’re nurturing Super Two concerns more than you are hopes of contending) and you don’t necessarily get the major league debut you want on Opening Day, but what better setting could you conjure for a first day as a big leaguer than the first day of a new season? There’s no bad day to make the majors for the first time, of course, but making it on Day One is the stuff of cotton candy dreams and puffy cumulus reality.

Then there’s the opposite. There’s the day you stop being a major leaguer. There’s no good day for that.

Thing is you probably don’t know that it’s happening even as it happens. Certainly if you’re Chipper Jones in 2012 or Mariano Rivera in 2013 or Derek Jeter in 2014, you can lavishly choreograph your farewell (if it were up to me, all three would have taken their final bows in early 1996 and, by their subsequent collective absence, made the turn of the millennium a Metsian paradise), but most players aren’t those players. Most players don’t or can’t announce in advance that this is it for them. It’s not necessarily their call.

As much of a premium as we put on who’s gonna make a team coming out of Spring Training, we lose sight that this also tends to be the time of year when not only do guys not make the cut, they sometimes hang it up with no warning and minimal fanfare. Among the stream of longtime major leaguers who have quietly nodded over the past couple of months that, yup, that’s it, I’m done, are old friends or at least acquaintances Dan Wheeler, Liván Hernandez, Rick Ankiel, Rod Barajas, Valentino Pascucci, Jason Bay and the ever popular Guillermo Mota. No goodbye tours, no hauling parting gifts back to the mansion. Just the need to find something else to do.

Some of the above had been hanging on in what we used to call the bushes or had been reserving final self-judgment just to make certain they were really and truly done. They didn’t have to be officially released to know they weren’t going to be major leaguers anymore. If somebody had wanted them to play, they’d probably be playing. This weekend, Tim Byrdak, Met lefty specialist from 2011 through 2013, will be Josh Lewin’s radio partner for the games against the Blue Jays in Montreal. It’s not because Byrdak would rather be broadcasting than pitching. Tim’s let it be known he’s available to face lefties for a major league team. Thirty major league teams didn’t take him up on his generous offer.

The game goes on without any one player, which has to be the most humbling realization for an athlete to face. There are no more chances to make an enormous paycheck and, just as unfortunately for them, there are no more chances to compete on the highest plane in the world. They were major league baseball players. They might not have always succeeded (and fans like us might have taken strenuous note of their shortcomings), but they were at the top of their profession. The profession proceeds and the individuals move on.

When they’re gone, the retired players also miss out on the chance to create the best memories possible, both for them and for us. They don’t get to win anymore. They don’t get to try to win anymore. It’s quite possible the last thing they did on a big league field was lose. Their final act might not define their careers, but talk about going out on a low note.

Here are some more names you’ll probably recognize: Brian Lawrence, Dave Williams, Aaron Sele, Shawn Green, Willie Collazo, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, Jeff Conine and Sandy Alomar, Jr. All of them are attached to a rather dismaying thread. Each man played his final major league game as a Met. As a 2007 Met. As a 2007 Met in the second half of that September.

Every one of these guys was a component of the Worst Collapse in Baseball History and never got to redeem himself. Their respective last acts as active major leaguers, aside from tipping the clubhouse staff, was to help blow a lead of seven games with seventeen to play and keep from the Mets from returning to the playoffs…where the Mets still haven’t been since.

The Collapse of 2007 — to differentiate it from the deflation of 2008 — was every bit the team effort 1969 and 1986 were, except in reverse. It was the fault of no given Met; it was the fault of every given Met. Some of the 2007 Mets continued being Mets in the year or years following and were able to leave better impressions. They had the opportunity, at any rate. The aforementioned octet didn’t. They retired. Or they tried to hook on elsewhere but were left to sink at sea. They didn’t play another major league game for anybody after they didn’t boost the 2007 Mets to the postseason. They weren’t able to turn the page or put it all behind them or activate whichever cliché they leaned on to get them through a slump.

Not only didn’t they get to go out on their own terms, they didn’t get to go out on our own terms.

If you’re a ballplayer, you’ve looked forward since you became a ballplayer to the moment that might await Anthony Seratelli on Monday, the same moment that likely awaits Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero within the next few months. You’re gonna be breaking in. But someday, hopefully after many seasons and many successes, you’ll be going out. And when you do, a word of advice from someone who’s never played the game, but watched it a whole lot:

Try not to leave the Worst Collapse in Baseball History in your wake. Your fans will appreciate it. Thank you and best of luck in your careers.

I had the pleasure of joining Taryn “Coop” Cooper in the Mets Lounge for a little season preview talk. Listen here to all of it, find me a little after the 35-minute mark.

13 comments to Breaking In & Going Out

  • Scott M.

    Oy vey, Greg. Only a Met fan can equate the ‘Anything is possible’ optimism of Opening Day with the Worst Collapse in Baseball History of 2007 but, well, great preview, I guess?

  • Dave

    As a former resident of the thriving suburban sprawl of Edison, NJ, I can confirm that it is not necessarily an untapped market. There are Mets fans there, just that like Mets fans anywhere, they’ve grown somewhat tired of rooting for a team that, come March 28, would have the Anthony Seratellis of the world still with a good chance of making the team.

    But in the meantime, let’s hear those bilingual player intros again and hope that Coco Laboy gets a turn at bat. Or that the Mets bring Bruce Boisclair back so we can be reminded of how Lindsey Nelson would always point out the PA pronunciation was “Bwa-clair.”

    • Thus the town slogan:

      Edison: Home of Discerning Mets Fans

      If they’re not gonna play these games in still-extant Parc Jarry, what’s the point?

      • open the gates

        I’m a resident of a town adjacent to Edison, NJ. Yes, we have our share of Mets fans (myself included). It would be pretty awesome to have a local kid make the Flushing Squad. I grew up in Sheepshead Bay, and it was a point of pride that Lee Mazzilli attended HS a few blocks from where I lived. I’m guessing this kid is no Maz, but hey – he’s from Edison! GO SERATELLI!

  • 9/30/07…yeah…

    That afternoon, my wife & I were checking out the nursing facility that would take in my rapidly-fading father when THAT. GAME. was starting. As we walked down the halls to a typical room, I was able to peek into rooms that had THAT. GAME. on the TV. When I noticed that Jorge Sosa was on the mound, I checked my watch. It read 1:25. I knew right there and then that the news wouldn’t be good.

  • metsfaninparadise

    Hey, be nice to Edison. it’s my old stomping ground too. regarding Seratelli, Day One in your hometown park, no less. Regarding ’07; it may be the fault of every Met, but Tom G%*%&^*( is the poster boy.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    You made an interesting point about opening day and super two status. Remember when we used to have the anticipation waiting to see a heralded rookie who was deemed major league ready in the opening day lineup? Seeing him take his place along the first base line with his other teammates? Anyone who is worth something is held back those first 20 games so if a rookie makes the team heading north, it means he is held in somewhat less regard than the ones who are supposed to lead us into better times the year ahead.

    Now why in this, going on his fourth season as Mets GM, are we not seeing more than some glimmers of hope and nothing more at this point? We know about the money issue but still I think those who believed Sandy came into the job with a plan and a vision did not recognize the difference between a plan and an goal. It is because Sandy did not have a set plan or vision other than cutting costs with the strategy beginning and ending with what veterans he could trade for top prospects. Building up a farm system and starting over is NOT A PLAN but rather a GOAL to determine a course of future action based on what develops.

    It takes ingenuity to put together a plan that calls for the use of various options to rebuild – i.e., the combination of retaining certain veteran players, building up from the farm systems while also trading prospects FOR established players and the careful pursuit of free-agents to fill certain voids even if it means costing a draft pick – than to simply have a goal of hoping to be able to put something together in a few years down the road based on the raw talent one drafts and the prospects acquired in trades. That does not take inventive skill, imagination or cleverness. That is simply expecting something to happen based on hope.

    Sandy is a business person. He had the ingenuity to keep Sterling Mets afloat despite tremendous fiscal problems that still exist today. That was his vision when hired in October of 2010. Yes, he of course wanted the team to become championship caliber but that was not his main priority and instead of letting his baseball people recommend to him a budget based on the needs of the team, he has been giving them a budget to work with based on the needs of Sterling Mets instead.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    <<Brian Lawrence, Dave Williams, Aaron Sele, Shawn Green, Willie Collazo, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, Jeff Conine and Sandy Alomar, Jr.

    <<Worst Collapse in Baseball History

    With those players all on the roster in September 2007, in hindsight it appears that The Worst Collapse in Baseball History was a Worst Collapse in Baseball History just waiting to happen.

  • Edison’s out of luck: Quintanilla beat out Seratelli.