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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Year of the Stewed Goat

Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that have defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this installment, we attempt to give our era’s most notorious season a Web redemption of sorts.

It’s not that nothing went wrong
Some angry moments, of course
But just a few
And only moments, no more
Because we knew
We had this good thing going

Oh, expectation: pity the year that wears your yoke like a fashion accessory.

Say, a choker.

The 2015 Mets speak here and there of expectation. The 2015 Mets speak out of their callow hats. They won 79 games last year and it is thought that if things go particularly well this year they can win 89…though once that number was bandied about over the winter, it was quickly disavowed by he who publicly suggested it possible. And this was before Spring Training, when everybody’s supposedly an optimist.

The 2015 Mets do not know from expectation. Expectation forms atop achievement. The 2015 Mets are striving to succeed a series of seasons in which nothing has been achieved. The 2015 Mets, should they break the mold, will bequeath the yoke of expectation to 2016.

This is not a year after, not in New York. That’s the deal where better days happened in 2014. That’s the deal in San Francisco, though they probably have a mulligan, given the alternating championship calendar they’ve implemented by the bay. That’s the deal probably a little more in Kansas City, where they got so close to ultimate satisfaction that they can probably slather it in Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque Sauce and taste it.

In late November, when the exhilaration of getting to Game Seven and the disappointment of losing it by one run was all so fresh, reposted a video of the Kansas City Symphony making good on its bet with its San Francisco counterparts. Music director Michael Stern conducted a Sousa march while wearing a Giants jersey. The moment was milked for all it was worth, with a “Giant” and a “Royal” bounding downstage with bats in hand, a cheering section appearing upstage wielding appropriate HUNTER PENCE IS TONE DEAF placards and Stern tearing off his black top at the end to reveal a white jersey to honor the home team.

It was lighthearted and sporting as all of it was meant to be, but I also found it a touch sad. Everything in Kansas City had been geared to making the playoffs, advancing to the pennant and then winning the World Series. The first two-thirds of their mission was accomplished. The rest of that symphony is unfinished. The conductor made brave, bold allusions to getting the Giants “next year,” as if the two teams had already signed for a rematch, as if pointing out Pence’s personal shortcoming was still going to be on the municipal agenda. The fact that the Royals shirt Stern dramatically presented himself in said BUTLER 16 indicated how fleeting October heroics can be. Days before the symphony paid off its bet, Billy Butler left KC as a free agent and signed with Oakland.

Maybe there’ll be another Royals-Giants World Series this year. Probably not, though. Consecutive World Series appearances by the same two teams haven’t happened since 1977 and ’78. But maybe the Royals will top what they did last year against some other opponent. Their chances to win another pennant, according to a bookmaker who regularly sends me updated odds, list at 14:1. You can wager they’ll win it all at 28:1. Those are the same odds as the Mets have of winning a respective league and world championship, according to the gambling community.

I’d like to believe the Mets can go all the way in 2015. I’m not sure I’d bet on it. And I know enough not to count on it.

And if I wanted too much
Was that such a mistake
At the time?
You never wanted enough —
All right, tough
I don’t make that a crime

My first full season as a Mets fan wore the yoke of expectation. It was the only way a season ever started in my brief experience, so it didn’t seem unusual. The year was 1970, the year after 1969. I knew what happened in 1969. I lived its final movement, its spectacular culmination (the temptation is to call it a crescendo, but that would be wrong). I knew, as Stephen Sondheim penned it for George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along, we had a good thing going.

We were defending world champions. That meant something in defining the atmosphere surrounding the 1970 Mets, even as I learned that there is no such practical thing as a defending world champion in baseball. There is nothing to defend. Being the most recent champion means you were the champion of last year. This year trumps last year in the present tense. Slip on your rings, raise your flag, thrill a seven-year-old over and over by showing highlights of your triumph during rain delays. It matters for all time and it matters not at all in real time. I loved, in 1970, being a fan of the team that had won the most recent world championship. So did the great many New Yorkers who set a Shea Stadium attendance record that would stand fifteen years. The Mets still had that aura about them.

They just didn’t have quite enough pitching, let alone nearly enough hitting, and aura can only get you so far in the absence of adequate amounts of both. The 1970 Mets finished the year after six games out of first place.

The next year after, 1974, retained a modicum of goodwill from the You Gotta Believe pennant drive of 1973 but none of its competitive juice. Attendance at Shea dropped. Patience wore thin as a muddling summer refused to transform into an electric September. The 1974 Mets thrilled few of their fans, regardless of age.

1987 was the long-awaited sequel to 1970, which is to say 1986 produced a companion to 1969. Once again, Shea Stadium was the place to be in the wake of ultimate victory. Once again, Mets wore rings and a flag flew in honor of what they had previously achieved. 1986 informed 1987’s sense of expectation; some would say entitlement. The attendance record that was set when 1986’s gate bettered 1985’s (which bettered 1970’s) fell in 1987. It was the first season in which more than 3 million fans attended games at Shea, and this was before “tickets sold” was the official measurement. I was 24 that post-championship season. I expected a lot. We all did. The Mets didn’t deliver. I was annoyed. We all were.

I don’t remember 1989 having quite that same “year after” sense to it despite 1988 depositing a divisional championship in our collection. Everything that followed 1986 until, really, 1993 was wrapped up in the same blanket of general letdown. We didn’t much stop to think, at least through 1990 when the equation remained viable, that winning more than losing was a pretty good way to spend 162 games.

The next time the Mets had a year after, it was 2000, which was the only year after that bettered the year before, if only on paper. The 2000 Mets traveled further than their 1999 predecessors, but to those of us who tingled throughout 1999, it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t magical. It wasn’t Melvin Mora coming out of nowhere. It was Melvin Mora going to Baltimore for Mike Bordick. It wasn’t the Best Infield Ever. It was Zeile in for Olerud at first, never mind Bordick taking over for Mora who was no Ordoñez at short, though even Ordoñez at short was no longer precisely Ordoñez at short. The whole vibe just wasn’t as wonderful. But it was, at last, logical. The 1999 Mets almost won the pennant. The 2000 Mets won the pennant. You could complain with how they failed to win their next four of seven games, and you could find stylistic fault with the tenor of the production, but you couldn’t dispute that there was progress.

In 2001, there was regression, dismay, disgust, whatever. Shea was festooned with reminders that the 2000 N.L. CHAMPS played here, but their status cut little ice across a long, dull summer. Whereas attendance climbed from 1999 to 2000, it dropped in 2001. Whereas the Mets chased the Braves’ tail in 1999 and 2000, the 2001 Mets stepped on their own as they went round in circles for most of five months. Then there was a spirited surge as August became September — and a bittersweet lunge at a baseball miracle after September in New York became unthinkable — but the victories wrought by the Mets of ’01 remained spiritual and symbolic. In the weeks they were accomplished, they seemed valuable enough. Years later, though, it’s an 82-80 club that finished six out.

You might say at that juncture the Mets were 1-5 in years after playoff years. If you were to set odds based on such information, they would appear a long shot to make you exceedingly happy in consecutive seasons.

Yet in 2007, we accepted those odds.

And while it’s going along
You take for granted some love
Will wear away
We took for granted a lot

How much time must pass before a person can mine nostalgia from a moment that doesn’t exactly resonate with positive associations? Depends, I suppose, on how long the moment in question lasted.

Nostalgia, according to Don Draper’s Greek mentor Teddy, is “delicate but potent,” literally “‘the pain from an old wound,’ a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” The Mad Men episode in which Don laces that nostalgic definition into his pitch for the angels (a.k.a. the slide-projector men from Kodak), aired on AMC on Thursday, October 18, 2007. It was called “The Wheel,” the finale of the first season of what was swiftly becoming my favorite show ever. Though I might have been distracted in the moment by college football, Mad Men enjoyed a mostly clear field in my viewing priorities that October.

The season finale for what I thought I’d be immersed in for the next month aired on WPIX on Sunday, September 30, 2007. The Mets’ wheel came to a dead halt that afternoon. They were delicate, while the Marlins (and, somewhere to the south, the Phillies) proved potent. We didn’t go forward and it’s not a place where I ache to go again.

We know the climactic scene from 2007. We know the carousel crumbled. We carry with us the numerical particulars — 7 up with 17 to play — and we are saddled with the inability to utter the word “devastated” without reflexively adding a little dig about disappointment. It still stings enough that I subconsciously divide most things in my Mets fan life as B.C. (Before Collapse) and A.D. (After Devastation).

I am not nostalgic for September 30, 2007. I am not nostalgic for seven runs surrendered over one-third of an inning from T#m Gl@v!ne. I am not nostalgic for 8-1, Marlins. I am not nostalgic for the tipping point between the days I rooted for the Mets with abandon without reservation and the nights to come when I found unabashedly rooting for the Mets often impossible. I am not nostalgic for the signal event that separated me from the heart of my passion. I continued to be passionate about my team, but my heart is still waiting to shift fully back into it.

What can I tell ya? After September 30, 2007, I was a mad man. I stayed mad at the Mets into 2008, 2009, 2010…what year is it now? The active anger long ago dissipated, but the faint echo hangs in there. It’s why I remain stubbornly slow to buy into the Mets’ incremental steps upward. It’s why it will take more than a vague hint of 89 wins to stir my soul as it stirred mostly without interruption from 1969 on.

But I can tell ya this: a little while back, I learned that the amount of time that has to pass before a person can mine nostalgia from a moment that doesn’t exactly resonate with positive associations is approximately seven years, three months and one day — and that’s if the moment in question is understood to last long enough to encompass the portion of time directly preceding everything going totally to hell.

It started out like a song
We started quiet and slow
With no surprise
And then one morning I woke
To realize
We had a good thing going

My brother-in-law hates baseball like I love Mad Men, but that doesn’t stop him from embracing the fact that I love baseball like I love Mad Men. As he visits tag sales and such, he’s always keeping an eye open for baseball tchotchkes to make part of my annual Chanukah/birthday booty (the two events arrive close together). He usually prefaces the presentation by telling me that “this isn’t the big gift” and that “it’s nothing much” and “you probably already have it.”

On December 31, 2014, he undersold to me perfectly the sale item he wrapped up and handed me as if it was an afterthought. He couldn’t have dreamed that it was the big gift; that it was something much; and that I definitely did not have it.

I didn’t even know I wanted it until I opened it and saw what it was.

It was GourMets. I went nuts with delight.

Do you remember GourMets? You remember The Greatest Collapse Ever and Gl@v!ne and all the indigestion from the fashion in which September 2007 was cleared from Shea’s table. But what about the courses before it all went down the wrong way?

Do you remember the Mets being good enough and aspirational enough that of course you’d want to know what they liked to eat and how they made it?

Do you remember wanting the recipe for Alou’s Chivo Guisado? That’s Spanish for stewed goat. This recipe, “furnished by Moises’ wife, Austria,” is the first player-specific entry to come up in GourMets, an alphabetically ordered designation. But Moises’ goat isn’t the first thing to be got in GourMets because everybody’s contributing something to the “New York Mets Family Cookbook,” produced in conjunction with the good folks at Stop & Shop and released for sale in late June. Just by buying a copy for $12, you were contributing to Food Bank for New York City and Island Harvest.

When we say everybody contributed, we mean everybody.

Page 6: Fred Wilpon’s Lentil Soup.
Page 7: Saul Katz’s Pizza.
Page 8: Jeff Wilpon’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

No, really. The Mets offer you the chance to eat what their owners like to eat. And then their GM (Minaya’s Roast Pork with Garlic Mashed Potatoes), their manager (Randolph’s Linguine with White Clam Sauce) and their coaches (beginning with Sandy Alomar’s Savory Salmon, one of his “favorite recipes,” as opposed to coming from a spouse or, in Katz’s case, a prized pizzeria in Brooklyn).

You could smell what the Mets were cooking.

You could smell what the Mets were cooking.

Off GourMets goes, through every coach, then every player who was on the roster radar in the earliest going of 2007, all the way to Mr. Met and his affection for a Homemade Hamburger. The nomenclature was as exotic as the cuisine. Peterson’s Stuffed Artichokes are “Rick’s favorite pre-game snack”; Castro’s Short Ribs compose “Ramon’s favorite post-game meal”; Chavez’s Venezuelan Carne Mechada is made from “one of Endy’s favorite clubhouse recipes”; Easley’s Roasted Chicken? “Damion is a big fan of this dish.” Though Passover had long passed by the time the cookbook was published, the reader learned Green’s Matzo Ball Soup was “Shawn’s clubhouse favorite!”

Still trying to imagine a steaming shissel of the stuff waiting by Shawn’s locker after he clobbered the Cardinals with a walkoff homer. Still can’t.

Whatever the merits of the recipes, who provided them or what they meant to a given Met (Carlos Delgado “prepares” his signature Grilled Snapper with Avocado Salsa “all the time in the off-season”), the real spice in GourMets was the graphic treatment. Almost everybody donned a chef’s hat. Almost everybody slipped into oven mitts. Almost everybody threw on an apron. Almost everybody played with his food. Green held a rolling pin like he would have a bat. Easley was caught mid-mix (albeit with an empty mixing bowl). Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez worked a two-seamer grip on a red pepper. Billy Wagner messed with a knife.

Guillermo Mota was the only player who didn’t goof around with utensils and ingredients, presumably because Mota was PED-suspended while they shot all the photos during Spring Training. Makes a person wonder what his Dominican Pork Chops might test positive for.

I was vaguely aware that GourMets existed in its heyday (and shared a hearty laugh with my friend Sharon over Shawn sipping matzo ball soup in the Met clubhouse) but encountering it on the eve of 2015 was a revelation. I instantly fell in love with my second-hand copy of GourMets and, on some surprising level, I fell for the 2007 Mets all over again…maybe for the first time.

No, I don’t love how the 2007 Mets allowed their season’s soufflé to take a mighty fall, and even while they were maintaining first place most of the year I found them less than wholly tasteful dinner companions. I was always nagged by the sense that they should be winning by more, leading by more, building on 2006 some more. Yet diving into this seven- going on eight-year-old cookbook made them a delectable bunch to me. It transcended records and games. It was better, somehow, than a warmed-over Mets Classic. Here were the 2007 Mets positioned as winners on and off the field. Look at how willingly they pose in kitchen gear! Look at how they smile and make nice with their props! Look at how they give of themselves for charity while they cruise to another division title!

Within the laminated, spiral bound pages of GourMets, the 2007 Mets are better sports than the Kansas City Symphony conductor.

And still I say
It could have kept on growing
Instead of just kept on

After 2007 spoiled somewhere between the stove and the serving, the Mets and Stop & Shop presented a check for $60,000 to the Food Bank for New York and Island Harvest. All 5,000 copies of GourMets had sold out despite all money from playoff ticket sales having to be refunded or otherwise reallocated. The Mets announced their donation on January 28, 2008, and promised another edition of the cookbook for the coming year. Four days later, they went to the market and picked up Johan Santana, but I don’t recall Mets fans ever being explicitly invited to whip up Johan’s favorite clubhouse dish, which a non-Mets source identifies as Reina Pepiada Arepes, a “zesty mixture of avocado and pulled chicken salad”.

Perhaps charitable- and cooking-minded Mets fans would have gobbled up a sequel to GourMets, but none seems to have been published in 2008 or since. Whether anybody would have wanted a taste of what Luis Castillo was cooking is a question that can never truly be answered.

The 2007 Mets weren’t much of a brand name by season’s end. At the year’s beginning, though, when they loomed as the satisfaction-packed sequel to the 2006 Mets, they could’ve sold anything. This was the team that was going to plow through the previous October’s Game Seven defeat and just keep going. This was the team that had stirred in Alou where there had been Floyd, and substituted a Schoeneweis when they ran out of Bradford, but it was the same basic recipe for success. Stars in the center, role players around the edges, enough pitching to bring to a boil.

Movable feast, one year into the next, or so we thought. Either way, they served 3,853,955, or the most who had ever come to Shea to fill up on baseball to that time.

They broke the 2006 Mets’ attendance mark (which itself smashed the record set in 1988). They took first place for good on May 16. The week GourMets came out, the team was in the midst of asserting itself after a June slump. Swept Oakland; took two of three from St. Louis; grabbed three of four at Philly. They led the division by four games as July dawned. They sent four players — Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Wagner — to the All-Star Game. Merrily they rolled along, expanding their lead to five games on August 3, six games on August 24, seven games on August 25. After a disturbing stumble, they pulled themselves together and rose to 21 games above .500 on September 12.

They could be frustrating, but mostly the 2007 Mets were fun until they weren’t. When you went to Shea Stadium for the first five-and-a-half months, you were surrounded by the excitement of expectation. The grumbling that they should’ve been further ahead of the Braves and Phillies or sitting more games above .500 was drowned out by the cheers. These were the Mets we were rooting for. We knew they were good. They may not have been quite as convincing as they had been in 2006, but they were still in the same ballpark. Nobody thought of merely 89 wins as any kind of a goal.

Which was good, because the Mets finished 88-74, or one game behind the Phillies for the division championship, one game behind the Rockies and Padres for a chance to play for the league’s lone Wild Card.

We had a good thing going…

In the end, 2007 wasn’t the sequel to 2006. It was a reboot of 1987 and 1970 but with less recent cushion to fall back on. The September 1970 Mets were bested by the Pirates, but at least there was still 1969. The September 1987 Mets were fended off by the Cardinals, but at least there was still 1986. The September 2007 Mets had their doors blown off by the Phillies and thus would always have Called Strike Three from October 19, 2006, hanging over their heads — unless they could put both nightmarish episodes definitively behind them in 2008.

Which they couldn’t. But that’s another season’s story.

The 2007 Mets are remembered for surrendering an impenetrable lead. I remember them that way mostly. But before they did that, I remember them providing a brilliant tableau. I remember Shea full of us. I remember me between April and September sitting next to a series of fellow Mets fans who were every bit as taken as me by the scene a pennant favorite produces at the height of its perceived powers. All of us reveled in the sense of expectation that came with being Mets fans in that moment. All of us expected October. None of us could have foreseen what was coming. There was nothing in GourMets, nothing anywhere, that could have prepared us for the final course of 2007.

Some of those folks are still my close friends. Some of them I drifted from but check in occasionally with on matters of baseball. Some I have little idea what they’re up to these days. It’s been eight years. Eight years is a long time, I guess. It’s long enough to make some things look better than you ever thought they could.

But we did want the Mets to repeat. They didn’t. Schoeneweis’ Garbonzo Beans, however, probably would if you ate too many.

I’ll repeat one more time: Join Jason and me and your fellow FAFIF readers at Foley’s NY, Saturday, March 28, between 1 and 4 PM to commemorate your favorite blog’s tenth anniversary — or at least the tenth anniversary of the blog you happen to be reading right now.

13 comments to Year of the Stewed Goat

  • Inside Pitcher

    The photos in the cookbook are worth the purchase price – so hysterically campy!

    • Upon reflection they would’ve been more effective had they not had some version of the exact same picture on every page.

      It’s bad enough that I replay games from eight years ago. Now I’m editing a cookbook in my mind.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Three mentions of the date, September 30, 2007. My 60th birthday. Obviously, one I’d like to forget. Was there a recipe in that cookbook for a hard, bitter birthday cake, that leaves a sour taste in your mouth for 7 1/2 years?

  • Jon

    I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I bought a copy of GourMets in ’07, and summarily shoved it in a file folder with my ’07 Mets yearbook and ’07 unused Phantom playoff tickets shoved inside. In a recent move I unearthed them and decided it best to slap the cookbook on eBay. I believe someone bought it for about $15, so in the end this folly earned me all of $3. You take the moral victories, I suppose.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    Winning Ugly looked good on the 2014 Giants, probably because they went all the way. If they didn’t, they might have looked a lot like the 2007 Mets.

    I’m sure we’d all sign up for an 88 win season right now, regardless of how pretty our wins turn out to be. I guess that goes to show how much winning can spoil even a humble fanbase such as ours.

  • Dave

    Book should have been filled with recipes for water fowl, because ultimately that team’s goose was cooked.

  • SkillSetsMets

    If you have a picture of Fred, Saul or Fredo in a chef’s hat, please post for the general and fair-use comedic nature of the photos requested.

  • […] explored 2007 here the other day. As noted, it felt like a jaunty continuation of 2006 until the road wound in mostly unforeseen […]