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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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Big Wheel Keeps On Turnin’

I saw mention of the sports fan pejorative “bandwagon” last night in the wake of the New York Rangers skating their way into the Stanley Cup Finals. Those who are not inclined to root for the Rangers scoffed at the onslaught of their opposite numbers who weren’t necessarily so bold and brassy when shots on goal weren’t being stopped so regularly regally. Simultaneously, those who long ago made the suddenly successful Broadway Blueshirts their lifelong cause are instinctively repelled by apathetics and onlookers they sense are pledging only the most fleeting of fealty now that Ranger rally towels are de facto fashion accessories..

To both camps I would suggest pull for whomever you want; enjoy or disdain the result as much as comes naturally to you; and react as you will to the unusual phenomenon of hockey in June in the borough of Manhattan…but don’t get overly worked up over the emergence of so-called bandwagon fans.

Are there such creatures? Of course there are. Winning at its highest level attracts attention, spikes enthusiasm and draws in the less than normally loyalty-oathed. Getting caught up in something exciting of a local nature is fine, fun and — to put it in seasonal terms appropriate to ice hockey — sure as hell beats an early trip to the golf course.

I hopped on board the Mets bandwagon in the late summer of 1969 and have remained stubbornly moored to it for four-and-a-half decades, a period encompassing some long, lonely (and recent) stretches when the bandwagon’s been up on blocks in some shady Iron Triangle garage. When, at some unforeseen future juncture, the parts it’s been missing finally come in, I will, in whatever capacity I am empowered, invite any and all who desire admission to hop on up and soak in the sensation of cheering on a team bound for or at least approaching glory. There may be pride in private pain, but there is ecstasy to be had in broadly shared adulation.

It’s all rather pie-in-the-sky at the 25-28 (though 3 GB) moment, but should our dormant vehicle ever pass inspection, that ol’ Mets bandwagon will commence to roll in earnest probably because it is fueled by starting pitching like that delivered by Zack Wheeler Thursday night, won’t veer off course as long as it receives relief pitching on the order of what its formerly maligned bullpen provided and shouldn’t stall as long as it converts slightly more than enough of its scoring opportunities into actual scoring.

The theoretical Mets bandwagon will whoosh! ever so delightfully down Legitimate Contention Lane should the offense truly kick it into high gear. Thursday in Philadelphia, its output merely sufficed, producing four runs in support of a starter who gave up only one and three relievers who gave up none. Two bases-loaded Met innings manufactured but two runs (one of them brought in by Wheeler himself via Zack’s Excellent Adventure of surprise single, advancement to second on an error, third on a fielder’s choice and home on a sacks-juiced walk), or as many as Chris Young himself generated by that sporadically effective weapon known as one swing of Chris Young’s bat.

The offense is a work in progress. So is the pitching. So is everything about this franchise, but the pitching is further ahead of the offense and everything else about this franchise. Pitching is why the Mets have won three in a row, edged to within three games of first place and a fan can allow himself to puzzle out the components to a potentially reliable winning formula.

Wheeler pitching into the seventh with command, control and nine strikeouts is the main ingredient. Everybody plays the fool when they’ve decided a pitcher who is today celebrating his 24th birthday and still stands three weeks from completing a full major league season is a cause for concern when his nights are less stellar than last night. Zack hasn’t exactly lit up 2014, in part because he’s barely 24 and he hasn’t yet completed a full major league season. Wheeler vs. the Phillies yielded a Met victory, but the real struggle for a while is going to be Wheeler’s talent vs. the learning curve. The former figures to outlast the latter.

We haven’t seen too many lines as sparkling as Zack’s 6.1 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 9 K & 1 lousy solo cheapo Citizens Bank Park HR surrendered to old buddy Marlon Byrd, but we have seen comparable pitching performances undermined by inadequate hitting and/or arsonistic reliving. Offensive sputter notwithstanding, four were enough Mets runs last night. I think back to the halcyon days of good pitch, no hit consortiums that called Flushing home and all the times Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, McAndrew and later Matlack would make a single mistake and leave the mound screwed. In that context, four runs is a bounty. Should the Mets score four runs a night in service to starting like Wheeler’s, we’ll stop noticing the propensity they have for not properly unloading bases.

That’s assuming we continue to get Scott Rice, Vic Black, Jenrry Mejia and their bullpen brethren to maintain the pace they set Thursday, which was simply perfect. Three wins in a row, three outstanding games from the pen. What makes this current streak so encouraging is none of the pitchers are squeezing a few last miles from not so gently used arms. You get a couple of good outings from a Farnsworth or a Valverde and you’re just waiting for the bottom to fall out or, more likely, fly over a distant fence. You watch the likes of Black, Mejia and Jeurys Familia develop, and suddenly your team having a lead in a late inning doesn’t seem like an automatic disadvantage.

Add all this uncharacteristic optimism up and you probably still don’t have the makings of a full-steam Mets bandwagon just yet, but you also don’t feel as if it will be folly to continue to keep up spiritual payments on your personal seat license.

5 comments to Big Wheel Keeps On Turnin’

  • The Jestaplero!

    What a satisfying sports evening! I feel like the picture is slowly coming into focus with this team. The pitching (both starting and bullpen) is coming along as planned. We need to acquire a couple of boppers.

    This road trip – taking us to two small ballparks – will be an interesting test of my Mets Theory of Yankee Stadium, which posits that the conventional wisdom of Citi Field, that an expansive park favors the team that emphasizes pitching over hitting, has it exactly backwards, to wit, that such a team should actually play in a bandbox, the idea being that our superior pitching should be able to keep balls in the yard while our weaker hitters are rewarded by the friendly confines. I dunno, maybe I’m full of it, the thought came to me after those two games in the Bronx.

  • mikeL

    ^^ good point there. when citi (mets ballpark)was being presented
    to the public i recall the talk of the big gaps being a triples machine for the likes of reyes (though the scoreboard always had wright’s face on it)
    the original high fences, moe zone etc seemed a gesture of insecurity about pitching.

    might be time to consider a deeper party patio in left…

    as for the pen i can’t recall a recent period of mets history where the setup/closer role holders didn’t make every outing more eventful and nail biting than desired.

    mejia and familia are cool customers. small sample size not withstanding, they go out there and make it look easy – the way i only saw a fortunate few other team’s pens do it.

    i like it.

    a lot.

  • The Jestaplero!

    Right, Mike, the reason I think it doesn’t “all evens out in the end” as people say is because our weaker hitting in the big park often yields no runs or 1 or 2 runs, and no matter how good the pitching they just can’t be asked to consistently win with that kind of support. But in the bandboxes our “warning-track power” becomes HR power. Yes, the other team gets that advantage, too, but the idea is that good pitching beats good hitting.

    In addition to expanding the Party City deck, they’ve gotta do something about right-center before poor David has a nervous breakdown. Would really help Grandy, too.

  • open the gates

    I remember the bandwagoneers. They were all over Shea in the ’80′s, moaning every time the Mets merely defeated their opponents rather than clobbering them. They all hated Davey Johnson (“My grandma could manage that team better” was the cry), and they were all over Strawberry for “being too lazy” – never mind that we would take the 1980′s Straw, “lazy” and all, over anyone who played for us the last 5 years.

    By the mid-’90′s the bandwagoneers were all gone – presumably to the Bronx to complain about Derek Jeter and Paul O’Neill and whoever not winning them 162 games a season.

    They’re an unpleasant bunch, the front-runners. But I miss them, because they’re a sign that the team is actually winning.

  • Dave

    I’m with open the gates…how great it would be to see a bandwagon for those who currently wear the other team’s apparel to jump on. Unfortunately, the bandwagon was stripped for parts at a 126th Street chop shop a few years ago.

    And while I have been rather dormant since 94 (anything would have been anticlimactic) but have been a fan long enough to remember Terry Sawchuck as the backup goalie, Go Rangers!