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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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Which Way the Wind Blows

I missed being in the house for Weather Education Day Thursday afternoon, but I recognized its sound over the air after inadvertently attending several since the Mets inaugurated them in 2007. Weather Education Day means a noisier, shriller, noticeably younger crowd, albeit one that reacts without much relation to what’s going on in the game. That’s what you get when you haul in 8,000 schoolkids who are just happy to not be in class and  willing to volubly respond to whatever the scoreboard demands for at least the first few innings.

Not that there wasn’t plenty to squeal and/or shriek over at Citi Field if you were a Mets fan…

• You had Chris Young formally introduce himself to the Left Field Landing with a mighty first Met home run.

• You had a Daniel Murphy fly ball drop in front of Jon Jay to break a 1-1 tie, making up for the ball that got behind Young earlier in the game to put St. Louis on the board first.

• You had a graspable Curtis Granderson grounder gather just enough spin to flummox Mark Ellis and drive in another run; it was ruled a hit, presumably out of pity for Granderson’s batting average, which, at .137, is still low enough to be mistaken for a section of Field Level.

• You had seven innings of Bartolo Colon demonstrating great movement — and if you take a look at Bartolo Colon doing anything but pitching, the last thing that would spring to mind would be great movement.

• You had Bobby Abreu on hand to start in right, double for his first Met hit and potentially regale kids with pre-global warming tales of what it was like to play for Houston Astros manager Terry Collins in Andre Dawson’s final game as a big leaguer. (With Colon and Abreu on the roster, is it any wonder the Mets have Dinosaur Education Day planned for May 28?)

• You had Daisuke Matsuzaka emerge as the Mets’ fourth closer of the 22-game season and do a splendid job of it, completing a most satisfying 4-1 win over the thoroughly addled defending National League champion Cardinals, the third win in four games over St. Louis, or three of three when I stay the hell away from Citi Field.

• You had the Mets ending Weather Education Day two games above .500 and, along with San Francisco, tentatively claiming a Wild Card spot in the National League if you’re unhinged enough to check on such matters after 22 games.

You also had 8,000 Tri-State Area students born well after Andre Dawson retired engaged in an interactive program about weather patterns by Channel 11 stalwarts Mr. G and Linda Church. Whatever these kids learned about climate change may or may not stick with them.

Whatever most of them got out of seeing the Mets up close likely won’t. Not if we are to judge by the long-term patterns that have hovered over New York since Bobby Abreu was first called up to the majors in 1996.

Ah, 1996. The selective memory recalls the highlights: Lance Johnson’s 227 hits…Bernard Gilkey’s 117 RBIs…Todd Hundley’s 41 home runs…Rey Ordoñez throwing from his knees…

And the Mets down on theirs.

What a terrible year to be a Mets fan by objective as opposed to aficionado standards. The Mets posted a record of 71-91 and they finished nowhere. Technically they finished fourth, but they disappeared from the local sports consciousness altogether before the last of those losses was filed away on September 29, the day Florida Marlin Andre Dawson called it a career at the Astrodome (also the last day Terry Collins managed the Astros). As Bobby Abreu was breaking into the National League that month, the Mets were falling deeper into the abyss they drifted into a few seasons earlier and now they were completely obscured by something insidious that was about to win the impending World Series, not to mention four of the next five and a berth in all but two of the next umpteen playoff tournaments.

Kids in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and everywhere else saw what the Mets weren’t doing in the 1990s and saw what their nearby other-league counterparts were doing. Strangely enough, if they decided they liked baseball, most of them decided to like the other-league counterparts. Later, the Mets improved. Then diminished. Then improved. Then diminished. Then talked about improving without actually tangibly improving. Then, twenty years into this cycle, they treated 8,000 schoolkids to a nice Thursday at the ballpark and a 4-1 win over the Cardinals but probably didn’t immediately convert too many of them to their cause.

As mentioned, this was the eighth of these Weather Education Days. The Mets reach out to the Youth of America pretty consistently with promotions like these. They’ve long been sending Mets into city schools to remind them reading is fundamental. They’ve been busing children to the Acela Club every December, dressing select players as Santas and elves, handing out presents and attempting to brighten the holidays of all concerned. The Mets revved up kid-friendly Mr. Met in 1994 (he’s got quite a story to tell) and remembered he was married to Mrs. Met in 2013. They telecast Kids Clubhouse on SNY, built a Kiddie Field somewhere near McFadden’s and inevitably tell parents they can bring their sons and daughters to sit in otherwise unoccupied seats for free when August rolls around.

Does any of it matter? Does anybody except the oddball and the iconoclast grow up to be a Mets fan anymore? Or is all the Mets get for their trouble a bunch of jaded teenagers wearing Yankees caps as they make informed small talk about barometric pressure?

I’ve watched these kids’ groups file in and file out of Citi Field and before it Shea Stadium over the past decade. Hardly any of the kids is wearing a Mets cap or a Mets shirt or a Mets jacket. Inevitably one junior wise guy is dressed for a day in the Bronx and ignores his teacher’s (or, in summertime, his counselor’s) on-message directive to chant “Let’s Go Mets” by booing or chanting something entirely inappropriate to the environs. Mostly the kids gets distracted. Kids will do that, I suppose, particularly in this odd century when baseball is far from the national let alone Metropolitan pastime.

Then the kids get old enough to join Facebook and click a “Like” button for a baseball team and they don’t pick the Mets. Though to be fair, few kids of any ages — including us crusty adults — pick the Mets.

After the team I chose as my own in prehistoric times defeated the Cardinals Thursday, I celebrated by visiting the New York Times’s Baseball Nation map, an interactive feature that allowed me to see which teams are most popular in which ZIP Codes in the United States, based on preferences expressed by Facebook users. It may not be definitive, but it is vast and it’s as good a reflection as any available of allegiances sliced and diced to micro levels.

By these parameters, do you know in which ZIP Codes the Mets are the favorite baseball team of a majority or plurality of the population? Neither do I, because according to Baseball Nation, we are fans without a country.

The Mets are No. 1 nowhere. Nowhere in these United States is there a ZIP Code where the Mets are the most popular team in town. They’re not No. 1 where I live, they’re not No. 1 where you live, they’re not No. 1 where they live. Anybody old enough to remember Ralph, Bob or Lindsey telling you where to send away for the Revised Edition of the New York Mets yearbook (a beautiful addition to your baseball library) should remember Shea Stadium’s and now Citi Field’s ZIP Code is 11368. In ZIP Code 11368, the Mets are the choice of 25% of the baseball fans.

The Yankees are slightly ahead, at 53%

This goes on all across the Weather Education Day radar. Scroll and roll all you like. You won’t find a municipality where the gap is close. The highest Met proportion I could suss out was a few towns over from me here in ancestral Mets Country. Bellmore, Long Island, checks in at 33% Mets — 19 points behind the Yankees. It doesn’t narrow appreciably anywhere in Nassau or Suffolk or Queens or Brooklyn or anywhere. And that’s the heart of what we used to think of as hardcore Met territory.

There are all kinds of little kicks to the ol’ Matsuzakas if you look closely enough. In ZIP Code 11309, for example, the Mets are not only hopelessly outstripped by the Yankees, they fall behind the Red Sox. What’s so special about 11309? It’s the ZIP Code of the Polo Grounds, first home of the Mets, old home of the Giants. National League legacies don’t help, either, in 11225 —the site of Ebbets Field. And as you head into the northern and western suburbs…well, it’s like Mr. G would tell you in winter: watch out for heavier amounts of what you don’t want to shovel.

The Times map gives the top three finishers in each ZIP Code. The Mets are consistent distant second-place finishers in commuting proximity to Citi Field but plunge to third in too many places too soon. Somewhere in Jersey, they fall behind the Phillies. The Red Sox overtake them before you get too deep into Connecticut. They do hang on here and there as a minuscule No. 3 upstate behind the Yankees and Bosox, and do manage to register kernels of support in isolated pockets of Delaware, Pennsylvania and Vermont, but there’s no sign that the Mets have a sizable regional following à la the tradition-nurturing Cardinals or any kind of national profile.

They don’t place or show, never mind win, in spots where you’d think there might be some faint orange and blue undertones. For example, you find no evident love for the Mets in Fresno or Virginia Beach, in case you imagined the implied endorsement of Tom Seaver or David Wright — not to mention 37 years of Tides affiliation — meant anything. Nothing in or right around Port St. Lucie (though a Mets-liking blip appears to the northwest in Palm Bay, Fla.). Nobody bets on them in Las Vegas despite the presence of the 51s. There’s a little low single-digit action around Buffalo, but that’s probably as much about being a New York State team as it Bison-born loyalty.

Our Mets are joined by the A’s and the Jays as teams that don’t show up as a first choice on the map at all. The Blue Jays are no ZIP Code’s favorite team, which is kind of understandable given that they’re a Canadian enterprise. The Athletics are suffocated by the Giants, even in the East Bay. The Giants have won two of the past four World Series and the A’s would prefer to leave Oakland for San Jose (which is overwhelmingly pro-Giants).

The Mets are the Mets, but there is no default Met geography that the Times and Facebook were able to chart, not like there is for 27 other major league franchises. Though the data didn’t exist as such, I can assure you there was in 1969, when I came along, and there sure as hell was in 1986. It’s hard to believe every bit of it evaporated in the ensuing 28 years, but it doesn’t exist in 2014, apparently.

Those of us who are among the no more than 33% who choose them first in any given postal district cope by being our own ZIP Codes. It works fine in virtual spaces like these. It usually works inside the only facility most of us frequent within 11368 — unless it’s September and the Giants are in town…or it’s 2010 and the Phillies are visiting…or the Subway Series takes place. But it’s no way to cultivate the next New Breed. Peer pressure isn’t gonna bring on board the kids of today, considering how few of their peers are Mets fans. Fun days when they don’t have to go to school don’t seem to have lured too many youths, either.

What’s it gonna take? It’s gonna take a lot of 4-1 wins; a lot of threes of fours; a lot more than a pleasantly surprising 12-10 start; a lot less worrying about the few players who have personalities expressing them. It’s gonna take new owners, probably, but good luck with that.

It’s gonna take a while. We who are Mets fans, including those who have successfully raised Mets fans or who are trying to, may not fully recognize how little reason there’s been to become a Mets fan since Bobby Abreu was a kid in Venezuela. I mean, sure, we know there’s nothing better to be, but try telling that to young people with their social media today.

31 comments to Which Way the Wind Blows

  • Lenny65

    It’s all about winning, when I was 10-11 years old my little NJ neighborhood was suddenly a hotbed of young Reds fans, until the Yankees started winning that is. How many people outside of the Boston area were “big” Patriots fans prior to 2001? The Mets have been the toast of the town before, unfortunately those times were so long ago that entire generations of fans don’t remember them. The Mets are perceived as losers within our “modern media culture” and until they shed that image they won’t breed a lot of new fans. I guess until they start winning they’ll have to settle for those of us who were born into it, the die-hards.

  • Dan

    Not sure we want ‘new’ fans if we start winning, the old ones are fine.

    • Ken

      We need new young Mets fans, and they can be hooked by winning. I’ve had a hard time convincing my son to be a Mets fan, as we live in NJ between Yankees and Phillies territory. Some winning could put him over the edge. Otherwise, I fear losing him to my wife’s Red Sox.

    • Lenny65

      As long as those new fans keep their distance and defer to seniority, I’m OK with it.

  • Scott M.

    Totally agree with Dan. Also, I’m a Met fan because my older brother is a Met fan. He lives in Florida now but his sons – somehow – are Met fans. The die-hards will keep the flame alive for the next generation when they’re ready for it. Until then social media can have the Giants, Sox and Yankees – all teams that have had recent success. When we eventually start winning on a more consistent basis – our bandwagon will fill up and other bandwagon’s will lighten but the die hards will recognize one another…

  • Andee

    Know what else it will take? Derek Jeter retiring. He’s the last of the Core Four, the group that captured all those Yankees fans in the first place other than the diehards. Once he’s gone, who else are the fans going to pour their love on to? A-Rod? And where is their next Core Four coming from? Not from their farm system, that’s for sure; they don’t even have the pieces to trade for a Cliff Lee.

    Over the next five years, I see things shifting dramatically. We are the ones with the exciting young players coming up from the farm system (even if several of them were poached from other farm systems, we still developed them at least partially). The Yankees are moving into new territory, one where you can’t buy exciting young talent anymore (other than the odd IFA like Tanaka) and will have to sink more and more money and huge time commitments into older players, whose deals will look almost as ugly on the back end as A-Rod’s. The Mets really only have two contracts that could look bad on the back end, Granderson’s and Wright’s. Two of those is not that bad; when you start getting up to 10 or 12 of those, look out. Too much dead money can eat you, just ask the Phillies.

    • Saving my Jeter stuff for when we play them but yeah, he’s a carrier. Thank goodness they’ll have A-Rod back next year to take his place in the hearts of millions.

  • Lou from Georgia

    Strangely enough, I became a Mets fan in 1993 after moving to NY as a high school kid. I grew up a Giants fan (born and raised in the Bay Area) but in those pre-sattelite days, I took what I could get. What I witnessed was one of the worst teams in their history take the field, but have been a loyal glutton for punishment ever since. Now I live in Georgia (just minutes from the Braves AAA affiliate’s field) and am the only one I know around here that sports orange and blue without a gator on it. Diehards will keep the flame burning, bandwagon be damned.

    • You are imbued with the spirit of a young Jeromy Burnitz in the best way possible.

      • Lou from Georgia

        Ha, thanks. I think I just like the blue collar, salt of the earth attitude of our fanbase. I have never been a part of a fanbase, past or present that love a team more. As for the future, the Mets have plenty of potential to win fans even if just some of these young guys pan out. I’ll leave you with this- there are probably at least as many Yankee haters as there are Yankee fans. Even here in ‘Braves country’ I get along with my many Braves’ fan friends on the common ground of Yankee hatred.

  • Andrea

    Sounding a little bleak, Greg! I’m part of the 90s generation that had no use for the skyrocketing Yankees and the Core Four, all that nonsense. Born a Mets fan, so is my niece, and so will my children be. We’re rebuilding, right?

  • Of course we want new fans. Good attendance means more money, higher payroll, and crowds that actually react to games. A packed house is fun.

    I’m pretty judgmental and not terribly apologetic about it, but I try not to be that way when it comes to baseball fans. Everybody has their first game, first stirring of fandom, first summer of checking box scores and schedules and catching the fever. It can happen when you’re six, or when you’re 60. For some it comes in lean years, for most in comes in fat years. Either way, it’s fine — you don’t have to answer five questions about Mike Vail or Mike Jacobs to pass.

    When the worm turns, will a big chunk of those fans be front-runners and lookie-loos? Of course they will — and some of them will be older versions of the New Yorkers who started wearing orange and blue when Doc arrived and changed to navy and white when Jeter showed up. That’s fine too. The Mets can take their money, and I’ll take the energy they add to Citi Field.

    And sure, I hope we turn a few ZIP codes blue in the process.

  • 5w30

    Remember the Mets bandwagon under the Wilpon regime is always under the threat of re-posession.

  • Dan

    Lapsed mets fans welcome when the worm turns, but not fans that support other teams changing to the mets……. Does that happen! In England if u did that u would be exiled!….. And probably executed(depending on the team).

  • Manchester Met

    I’m in Manchester, England, and as a school principal I have a whole clutch of mini-Mets fans in waiting. We have assemblies about Game 6, about Mike Piazza and his Hall of Fame credentials – we had a great time last year when we swept the Yankees, especially as those older children rebelling against authority tend to gravitate that way. They know all about RA, about The ’62 Mets and of course, The Miracle. There is a patch of England that is blue and orange, Greg – don’t despair. As I tell me children on a fairly regular basis – you gotta believe.

    • Maybe Facebook is tracking the wrong country. In any event, I salute your principaling!

    • nestornajwa

      Manchester City has to be the EPL spiritual equivalent of the Mets, with a history of sporadic and surprising greatness (including a 1969 title), lots of frustration, and largely overshadowed by another local franchise with international popularity among people who care more about fashion than the sport.

      I don’t understand Americans’ irrational hatred of all things soccer… I mean football. Sure the MLS stinks, but that’s because the MLS is like watching high-A baseball. A few years ago, I had the chance to attend a Champions League game (Arsenal v. Dortmund), and it was incredibly intense. Go Man City! Superbia in Proelio!

  • dak442

    People thought I was petty when I rooted against the Yankees. “C’mon, they’re a New York team!”. But this is exactly why I did so.* It’s a zero-sum game: if the Yankees are winning and we are losing, that generation of fan goes to the Dark Side. And most of them ain’t coming back. Less attendance and lower TV ratings beget less money to spend on salaries, and the cycle spirals. Eventually we’re unceremoniously booted off the local sports radio station, stores are bereft of blue-and-orange merchandise, and our stadium is an echo chamber of sadness. I just thank God my daughter is a natural contrarian; I think she pulls for the Mets primarily to be different.

    *Of course, my anti-Yankeeism cranked way up with their deployment of the execrable Roger Clemens. I still wish a public bout of explosive diarrhea on him.

    • I think some of those fans will come back if our fortunes improve and those of the Yankees crater. (And see Andee’s good point about Jeter above.) New York has a sizable block of front-runner fans who follow the buzz that builds around a good W-L record. Those fans have belonged to the Bronx for much of the Yanks’ 20-year run, but I don’t think that’s eternal.

      Granted, such people are far from my favorites, but this attitude is part of life in NYC. And their butts in the seats means money in the coffers and buzz in the stands.

      • dak442

        We need to recapture some of that frontrunner market (and their dollars) soon.

        What sucks is that after Jeter joins Rivera in retirement, they’ll just pay for more superstars. In a few years, is there any doubt that some portion of the Strasburg/Trout/Harper-esque level of young talent will end up in pinstripes? Hey, Harvey grew up rooting for them. (Eeyyaaahhh! It hurts to consider.)

    • Lenny65

      I remember the (gak) 2000 WS, when people would say to me (in all seriousness) “well, no matter who wins it’ll be swell for NYC!!!”. My worst ever Mets nightmare was unfolding before my eyes and these idiots thought I’d be happy for NYC? Not hardly.

  • Dave

    I don’t want to rip off Roger Angell too badly, because I think he once said something similar, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the Mets. There’s just no joy in rooting for a team like the Yankees where success is taken for granted. In life, things don’t work like that. Lots of our little successes are pretty miraculous, the more time you have to examine them. Nobody ever talks about the Miracle Yankees. I can relate to the Mets more in that respect. I think that’s an older man’s perspective, though, and people like me aren’t on Facebook much.

  • Dan London Met

    All blue and orange over here! Forcing the kids into our misery too! Nothing an 86 DVD won’t fix!

  • Dave

    Nestornajwa, that’s so funny that you’d make the Mets/Man City comparison, I was going to write the exact same thing when I read the comment from our Manchester friend. And I’m encouraged by the fact that Man U is now becoming the 2nd team there and hope that tells us that a similar paradigm shift can happen here in our sport soon.

  • As previously commented, the posts suggest that the exercise would be more fruitful for the Mets if conducted in the UK. Ironically, I’m British and a relatively new Mets fan but live on long island. Makes me laugh that some are anti glory hunting even when any glory to hunt seems far away. Having been to Shea once but when there was a buzzing atmosphere (albeit during 2007 collapse) I can’t wait to experience a big crowd and some “glory hunting” at citi if that means success. The expanses are great for walking around and keeping my 5 year old amused but I’m hoping when he’s soon able to sit and take in the game and its nuances that it is worth doing so as a Mets fan.

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