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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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Keep It .500

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 delineate our two primary states of being.

The Monday before the Mets opened their 2015 season would have to go down in pencil as a good day. One, they won another exhibition game. Two, they acquired a lefty reliever. Three, they acquired another lefty reliever. Sandy Alderson did say that if the Mets started selling tickets like hotcakes he’d start trading for players with salaries.

We’ll use pencil for the preliminary marking of what this Monday meant because one, though the frequency of these Grapefruit League victories is growing mildly exhilarating, they still don’t count; and two and three, we don’t know whether we’ll ultimately be thrilled by Alex Torres, acquired with his hat from San Diego for Cory Mazzoni, and Jerry Blevins, who arrives from Washington in exchange for the affable but outnumbered Matt den Dekker. The Spring Training win over the Marlins will be of zero consequence in the short let alone long run, while the two southpaws will have to prove their mettle once they’re playing in games that do count.

Still, kind of a good day for late March.

When you hear the phrase, “Oh, you now, he has good days and bad days,” generally your heart breaks. It’s the kind of answer you get when you ask a well-meaning question of someone taking care of someone else. If you have to ask, there’s probably already trouble. If there’s “good days and bad days,” it means the bad days are so bad that the good days provide little more than respite from their counterparts. Better, one supposes, to have some good days than none at all.

A baseball team has good days and bad days, too, though in a different context from your friend’s loved one. It’s part of the territory when there are two potential outcomes to your day: winning and losing (unless there’s a doubleheader, in which case, there’s splitting). One-hundred sixty-two times a year it’s fairly open and shut.

The Mets won? Hey, that’s good!

The Mets lost? Ooh, that’s bad.

From a fan perspective, I prefer to not know from bad days. Good on top of good would be great. Only Rocky Valentine (the Twilight Zone thug on whom Sebastian Cabot as Pip has the last laugh when Rocky discovers this IS the other place) might argue there’d be something wrong with always winning and never losing. From a blogging perspective, I think it’s fair to say we would not reject a greater imbalance between good days and bad days.

Say, it’s gotta be tough on us, right? I mean, ten years of blogging and the Mets always losing. Just look at their horrible record since we’ve been doing this.

Or don’t, not if you want to pursue the woe-is-FAFIF model. Don’t cry for us, Argenis Reyes. We have no imbalance whatsoever. We are in perfect equilibrium in statistical terms of what the Mets have given us this past decade.

The Mets have played 1,620 regular-season games since we started. We’ve blogged something about every single every one of them.

They’ve won 810.

They’ve lost 810.

Talk about keeping it .500.

I think our die was cast at the very beginning of our adventure, or technically the beginning of our adventure that counted. Our first five regular-season games in 2005 were all losses. Our next five regular-season games were all wins. We were at .500 for the very first time. Then we won again to go over .500. Then we lost and were pulled back to .500.

We were 6-6. And we’ve repeated that 135 times. Thus, 810-810, the equivalent of ten consecutive .500 seasons.

Of course you know it hasn’t played out quite so smoothly (though 2005 was the notorious footsie-with-.500 campaign, when the Mets’ record hit break-even 27 separate times). The Mets frontloaded most of their wins into the first four-plus years of the period in question. On May 31, 2009, after a 3-2 win over the Marlins, the club rose to 73 games above .500 in the FAFIF Era: 385-312.

It’s been pretty much all downhill from there. The detached observer would place the finger on the injuries that destroyed 2009, the onerous contracts that weighed down 2010 and the full effect of the Madoff mess that precluded an uncomplicated climb out from under as the 2010s proceeded. Me, I blame the Citi Field scoreboard quiz of 5/31/09 that asked fans to text in their answers to this seemingly simple trivia question: Where did the Mets originally play their home games?

The choices were Shea Stadium, Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. A majority answered Ebbets Field, the only answer that was absurdly wrong, even if you weren’t fully aware Ebbets was torn down two years before the Mets existed Thus, the gods were moved to punish us for our collective ignorance across the next half-decade.

How do we not have an “all-time” winning record when you consider the 73-game head start? When you consider that we rose above .500 “to stay” on September 25, 2005 (78-77) and remained there until May 20, 2014, when a 9-4 loss to the Dodgers lowered the all-time FAFIF record to 751-751. A loss the next night knocked us under .500 for the first time since September 23, 2005 (76-77). There’d be some brief rallying to get back to and slightly above, but from June 6 on in 2014, the Mets’ record spanning the entirety of our blogging tenure to date would never creep over .500 again.

After Bartolo Colon didn’t quite mesmerize the Texas Rangers last July 5 as we are compelled to hope he will mesmerize the Washington Nationals this April 6, the FAFIF Mets fell to 38-49 in-season and an “all-time worst” seven under, or 384-464 since the game that followed 52% of those responding to a dopey trivia quiz responding dopily. It took Lucas Duda’s monster final weekend against Houston — walkoff home run on the final Saturday night, then his 30th on Closing Sunday — to bring us to where we stand now, to .500 on the nose.

A record that hasn’t been good. A record that hasn’t been bad. A record that just is.

The game is the thing, naturally. We care about going 1-0 or 0-1 on a given day or night, all in service to the season, when 162-0 would be preferable if unprecedented. A decade’s worth of seasons is interesting only if you decide it is, though for where we’re coming from, it leaves me wondering of the effect so much not going anywhere has on a fan who sets out to chronicle the process of standing in place.

I can tell you I remember how delighted I was to write up the first win in FAFIF history, April 10, 2005, Pedro Martinez defeating John Smoltz (I seem to reference that game a lot) as well as the win that put us over .500 for the first time (Pedro’s maiden voyage at Shea, versus Al Leiter, of all people). Some of that emotion was a function of pre-blog experience. The Mets had just spent three seasons losing a whole lot more than winning. For 2002, 2003 and 2004, they finished a cumulative 60 games under .500. With those years as direct backstory, getting over .500 and ultimately staying over .500 in 2005 was a particularly big deal.

Then came 2006, when we left those modest standards in the dust. That was a dream season from this seat. Writing from a first-place perch was initially a little scary, then absolutely delightful. Kind of like the way we rooted. Maybe a bit of smugness on behalf of the Mets crept in, but what’s the point of dominating your division if you’re not going to soak it up for all it’s worth?

I explored 2007 here the other day. As noted, it felt like a jaunty continuation of 2006 until the road wound in mostly unforeseen directions, followed by one final turn off a cliff.

This is where the narrative changed for me, or the crafting of the narrative, to be specific. I hate to admit it, but as much as I was disgusted by the Mets losing as they did in 2007 and as much as I found them frustrating as they struggled to find their footing in 2008…as a writer I didn’t totally hate it. (There. I just kept it 100.) This was a plot twist that fell in my proverbial lap. I had to write about a team that was supposed to go one way and didn’t. This was a challenge. This, unlike the Mets in the last days of Randolph, bordered on fun for me.

You know that quote (Dorothy Parker said it, but I first heard it from Oscar Madison) about writers loving having written but hating writing? Not me. I love writing once I get going. I love writing about the Mets. I love writing about the Mets winning. But, I’ve discovered when the results haven’t provided me with a menu of choices, I don’t completely mind writing about the Mets losing, provided it’s not the same story over and over and over. Circa 2008, it wasn’t yet.

I’ve always told myself the main reason I never pursued traditional sportswriting is I never wanted to check my fandom at the press box door. I never wanted to “root for stories” over my team. To this day, when I am granted admittance into the literal press box at Citi Field (where there the “no cheering” rule is understood and enforced under presumed penalty of death), I have to suppress my instinct to “YEAH!” or “FUCK!” when something happens for or to the Mets down on the field. But by myself, in my office, at my computer, I discovered I retain divided loyalties. As much I’ve been rooting for Mets from September 2007 through September 2014 to next week, I’m pretty sure I’ve been rooting for stories as well.

I just didn’t have any of their pennants on my office wall.

Maybe that unintended reordering of priorities, more than the blown Polo Grounds trivia answer, brought me the bad karma that led me to so many shall we say interesting stories since the Mets started tumbling toward and then beneath .500. They’ve lost enough since then that I’d question the identification of covering the losing as anything close to “fun”. A blogger can only craft so many Jason Bay song parodies after a while.

I can’t necessarily say I appreciate the wins more now than I did in the late years of Shea. But boy do I love when my lap is the recipient of an unlikely come-from-behind story treatment. I’ve been in a fairly cynical Mets mood since the Worst Collapse Ever came crumblin’ down, yet when offensively challenged Mike Nickeas doubles and heretofore unknown Jordany Valdespin homers and the allegedly unbeatable Jonathan Papelbon gets his ass handed to him as it was on a blue and orange platter one glorious Citizens Bank Park night in May of 2012, I forget how my team has been making me grumble for the previous few years and can’t conceive they will continue to make me grumble for the next few years. Tonight they made me smile and tonight I want to grin all over these pages.

The flip side of the slide from 73 games over .500 to seven below is how rare those instances have been. While the intermittent individual performances of merit are great boosts to the morale — Beltran channeling his inner Cobb; Reyes running on an elevated track; a surfeit of Dickeys dancing on the head of a pin; all the Harvey that heaven will allow; a 134-pitch wonder whose glow will never dim for me — man, can it get barren in August and September. Sometimes in May and June, too. When I know a season has gone to hell, the mundane wins almost mock me. They get in the way of the narrative more than they hold any genuine possibility of changing it for the happier.

Tonight the Mets, who normally suck, beat somebody. Tonight the Mets, who normally suck, didn’t suck. Tune in tomorrow and see if the Mets won’t suck for two nights in a row. They probably will, but that’s why they play the games.

I don’t want to think like that or write like that, even though since 2009 I’ve definitely thought like that and sometimes written like that. When the Mets actually pull themselves together and win more than they lose for a couple of weeks, it’s such a welcome glint of light. If it’s 2013, for example, I want to celebrate not just the promotion of Zack Wheeler but the acquisition of Eric Young and the emergence of Carlos Torres and Josh Satin and Gonzalez Germen. There may be more cubic zirconia than actual gems in that lot, but if they sparkle enough to airlift the Mets to a 22-14 oasis in the midst of the usual 74-88 desert of dross, then shine on you crazy, non-diamonds. (And screw you still, Bob Costas.)

Well, we’re 500 after ten years, not to mention 0-0 on the precipice of Year Eleven. The next year, like the next game, is always the one that counts heaviest. There hasn’t been a season that’s ended over .500 since 2008. That’s a real sticking point with me. We all have our ideas of what a good Met season will look like. On the Tuesday before the Mets open their 2015 season, I just ask to be delivered to October 4 with an 82nd win in tow. Pending the currently unknowable, I might ask for more in the intervening months, but from here, rising above and staying over .500 shimmers like the gold Keith Hernandez once urged me to bring to Coin Galleries of Oyster Bay.

Yes, I could definitely see trading a winning season in on something even more valuable in the years ahead.

8 comments to Keep It .500

  • Jason Fry

    If you count the 2006 postseason we’re 816-814. SUCCESS!

  • Dave

    Keeping it 500 is five times better than the mark of excellence on Larry Wilmore’s show, so good job. No weak tea for FAFIF.

    You enjoy writing…it shows. Wouldn’t ever want you to check your fandom at the door. Blogging is part of modern day sports journalism, and rooting interests on display is part of what we all come back for.

  • Daniel Hall

    So, I am from Germany. There is no baseball here. None. It does not exist. American Sports do not exist safe for the Super Bowl and Dirk Nowitzki. I didn’t get to following baseball until late 2010 or so. It started really innocently, with the English Wikipedia having some random World Series in their articles of the day. Casually read it during lunch, didn’t understand a lick. Few days later, checked to see who won the World Series the year I was born. Which is 1986, and now just as this paragraph goes to extra innings, we’re circling back to something like a point. Got entangled with the game, a certain game 6, and the Mets in general the next weeks or so, and was finally sucked in for good. Since then I’ve had an estimated 2,000 hours of my life absorbed by OOTP Baseball, managing a mostly permanently futile team (no, not the Mets). That team, coincidentally, is mired in the doldrums of its sixth consecutive losing season. Doesn’t matter. It’s still baseball. Can’t stop.

    Oh yeah, there was a point. The point is: I’ve only known the Mets since the 2011 season. I have never known a Mets team that was not anemic. Outrageous. Terrible. There were a few bright spots, mainly in 2012. By chance, f.e., I couldn’t sleep the night of June 1, 2012 and watched a certain Santana start from the third inning onwards.

    But mostly the Mets have been somewhere between mediocre, irrelevant, and terrible. They are 304-344 on my watch. For what it is worth, the first Mets game I ever saw live, a free game on MLB.TV one weekday night in 2011, an R.A. Dickey start in Atlanta, they lost on an extra-inning walkoff balk, a concept I wasn’t quite grasping at that time and was left confused by everybody just casually leaving the field in what I assumed was still the middle of an inning.

    The faint outlook that this team could turn a winning record in 2015 is surreal. They have won almost every meaningless spring game I watched, and I fear it won’t last into April, although they made the right moves this week to address the most glaring roster issue. Show me, guys, show me that the Metsies can win with me around …!

    And as far as Jason Bay tunes go, this one remains my favorite:
    http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2010/07/22/mets-go-bay-for-arizona/

  • Kevin from Flushing

    One might say FAFIF is the Stan Musial of blogs.