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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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Echoes in the Night

David Wright has been back with the Mets since Monday. The Mets have been back in first place since August 3. The Red Sox are back in Queens to play the Mets for the first time since July of 2001. Charles Prince is back and sort of in the middle of all this for the first time since not long after the first time the Red Sox were in Queens to play the Mets, which was in October of 1986.

Also, Charles Prince — “Dad” to me — is back in the hospital.

You, gentle reader, may recall Dad spent the end of May and all of June recovering from the removal of a brain tumor. After that, he went home; he went for blasts of radiation five days a week for three weeks; he took a chemo pill every night for 21 nights; and he underwent an MRI to see if it did any good. One month ago today he received an excellent report. His oncologist proceeded to map out a treatment plan for the year ahead. In May and June, mind you, nobody was talking about a year from late July.

About eight seconds after I absorbed how good the news was, I texted a friend who’d asked if I wanted to go the Mets game that night. I had told him I couldn’t let him know until early Wednesday afternoon, July 29, at the conclusion of Dad’s appointment. If my father’s bill of health wasn’t relatively clean, I couldn’t just compartmentalize and catch the 5:11 to Woodside. What he has doesn’t exactly go away. The word he got, however, was that his cancer was as close to pushed into foul territory as his cancer could be, all things considered. So, “yes,” was my texted answer. Yes, let’s go to ballgame. I can do that.

I had to do that if for no other reason than symmetry. Ten weeks earlier was the bad news. Bartolo Colon was pitching that Wednesday, May 20, and I was supposed to go. I had to back out. Colon got shelled. Dad was 48 hours from surgery, the surgery that led to the hospitalization and the rehabilitation and the physical therapy and the radiation and the chemotherapy, all of it at age 86.

Ten weeks later it was a Wednesday again and it was Colon pitching again and this time I made it. Colon got shelled again, but that was all right in context. Wilmer Flores did and didn’t get traded that same night. It became the news that dominated my waking thoughts well into Thursday. That sort of concern could now that I didn’t have to dwell on what might be wrong with my dad. Things seemed to be going pretty OK for him.

And that lasted three weeks. On the evening of August 19, yet another Wednesday, I got a call. It was back to the hospital for Dad. It wasn’t precisely tumor-related but it’s hard to say it wasn’t connected in some fashion. The treatments he received to send the cancer into foul ground came with risks. Immunity went down. There was a fever. There was a persistent cough. There was no avoiding a return trip to where he didn’t want to go.

There was pneumonia, it was diagnosed. Breathing issues. Heartbeat issues. Discomfort, to put it mildly. Pain, to put it bluntly. A not particularly patient patient at the center of it, while those who care for him and about him circled and hovered and tried to convince him that if he would just put up with what medical professionals are trying to do for him, he’ll be better off for it soon.

He’s not really buying it, but we’re still selling it. He remains in the hospital. As of this writing, it’s his tenth night-into-morning there. I was with him as that first night steamed relentlessly into morning, his coughing growing frequent, his patience growing short, his theatricality emerging. (I’ve learned, among many other things lately, that when somebody repeatedly announces he is “at death’s doorstep,” he’s actually quite alive and if not well, then at least not going anywhere anytime soon.)

I’ve been with him practically every night since he was admitted, which was in the hours following that horrible loss in Baltimore. At least I assume it was a horrible loss. I was preoccupied with a coughing, consternated octogenarian. I noticed the result from Camden Yards. I divined a home run had been given up by Carlos Torres to create it. It was Carlos Tsuris at his most troubling, but I had my own tsuris to deal with.

The next night, Dad was settled in, however reluctantly. I came to see how he was doing. The visit was fairly short. The Mets were off.

Then, every night but one since then, there’s been him and me and good old televised sports. In deference to his prevailing tastes, we watched entire exhibition football games last Friday and Saturday. He prefers football to baseball. He prefers many things to baseball. That was OK. I like football, too, even if it doesn’t count and there’s actual first-place Mets available on the same TV. The important thing was we had something to watch together and I had brought with me an iPad with the MLB At Bat app. When you’re in a hospital, with its many voices yapping and its many machines whirring in the background, it’s not rude to inject the murmur of Howie Rose and Josh Lewin from Colorado into the cacophony. As we pretended what the Jets on Friday and the Giants on Saturday were doing was somehow significant, just enough of a shout emanated from my iPad to get Dad’s attention.

“Big doings in the Mets game?” he asked.

This was during the second 14-9 game in two nights. Of course there were big doings. I affirmed their existence. Then we went back to watching — or looking in the general direction of — football.

Monday night came an extraordinary offer when I showed up somewhere before 7 PM. If I wanted, he said, we could watch the Mets game after Jeopardy. You don’t screw with the sanctity of Jeopardy, you see. You also don’t see my father reaching out to watch baseball with me. Circa 1986, it was second-nature, but that was an aberration. He was into those Mets. My mother was into those Mets. Who wasn’t into those Mets? The attachment actually lasted through the remainder of the 1980s, but it wore off in 1990. My mother died that season. When she passed, so did my father’s surprising interest in baseball. He had never shown much affinity for it prior to the days of Davey, Darryl & Doc, his scattershot claims of childhood Dodger fandom notwithstanding. I guess I wasn’t shocked when he detached from this thing we briefly shared, but I was quietly sorry he had. I had enjoyed sharing it with him.

Now, a quarter-of-a-century later, it was back. Sort of. Very sort of. But what a time for it to be even very sort of back, with the Mets seeming less ridiculous and far easier to explain than they’d been for an eternity. How apropos that our first game intentionally viewed in tandem arrived on the same night David Wright returned to genuine baseball activities.

This is how you watch a baseball game in the hospital with your father who can’t get out of bed: You turn it on after Jeopardy, the Phillies already ahead of the Mets, but that’s all right, it’s still early. You get excited because you see Wright approaching the plate for the first time in more than four months. You warm to the sight of him doing that little one-two high step of his to get loose. You take in the majesty of No. 5 in the batter’s box.

And then you respond to your father who needs some help with a certain function that he’d much rather attend to for himself, but he can’t get up, so he has to use that thing they give you instead. You pull the curtain around his bed and you take care of certain receptacles he has just partially filled because, game or not, the reason you’re visiting him in the hospital is to be looking out for his well-being. So your attention is drawn from the TV as you take that receptacle to the bathroom and empty it and grab him a few paper towels and then you wash up and you come out and you look up at the TV…

…and you see David Wright circling the bases. It dawns on you that you just missed his first real swing and therefore his first home run because you were disposing of the contents of what you’d otherwise identify as a small, unfortunate lemonade pitcher but you now recognize instantly as a hospital urinal.

Yet you somehow don’t mind, because a) David Wright has just homered; b) they show replays; c) you’ll never, ever forget where you were when it happened even if you didn’t witness it in real time; and d) now that certain functions have been attended to, you’re going to sit back down and watch a whole bunch more innings with your dad.

That’s what the past week has been like for me and the Mets and my father and anybody else who has drifted into our orbit. His home health aide, who has kindly signed on to spend overnights overseeing the nocturnal elements of his recovery, has joined our viewing parties, such as they are. Dad nods off. The aide asks me if it’s eight innings for a full ballgame or nine. Nurses come in with medications and monitors. He wakes up to give blood or get blood. Innings are missed because a CT scan is ordered and executed. Urinals need to be used again, and if somebody else of an official capacity is on duty, I tiptoe out into the hall with my app and let him do what needs to be done in what qualifies as privacy.

Even with all that, it’s been a helluva week. I’m watching the Mets with my dad. My dad is sort of into it. Sort of. Very sort of. He focuses on the graphics. He noticed the number of pitches is posted along with the score. When did they start counting pitches, he wants to know. He doesn’t remember them doing that before. In the last 20 years or so, I tell him, throwing in a quick tutorial on what it’s supposed to accomplish and a quicker editorial that it doesn’t accomplish all that much. He’s regularly confirming the inning, how many outs there are and “the count”. I love hearing him ask, “What’s the count?” It’s a baseball phrase. My dad’s using a baseball phrase in conversation with me.

When the Mets are winning, it’s great. When the Mets are losing, they can still come back, so it’s still good. When he calls my sister or his significant other during a commercial, he tells them, “I’m helping Greg root the Mets on.” When I hear a pause and then him saying something like “Yeah…well…” I smile that I’m the only one who seems to get what’s going on. No, he wouldn’t be watching baseball without me in the room. No, our relationship was never going to be the stuff of a Donald Hall essay. But fathers graciously, maybe grudgingly, watching ball with sons — even sons who keep assuring them “we can watch something else if you want” — is never going to lose its pull, even when the father is 86 and the son is 52.

When it’s getting late and he’s truly out of it, I deliver a peck on the forehead and promise I’ll call to let him know I got home all right. Thursday night, I stayed through eleven innings. When Daniel Murphy drove in Carlos Torres in the thirteenth, I clapped heartily at the first stop light I came to on my mostly deserted roadway of choice. With my window rolled down, I could hear my applause echo back at me in the night…the sound of four hands clapping. It gave me the kind of chills you wouldn’t wish on anybody in a hospital.

At the next stop light, I found my eyes welling up just a little. The Mets were winning by a little more and were clearly going to win again. The Mets were going to lead the Nationals by a lot. Concurrently, Dad’s most obvious pneumonia symptoms were fading. Except for some coughing that he couldn’t shake.

And there was that heartbeat business.

And, oh, the pain he was in on one side of his stomach that turned out to be from the blood thinners they had been giving him to help with the heartbeat.

And there were those intermittent declarations that he wished death would come and take him already (which mysteriously quieted when it was time for Jeopardy and he was answering questions with a question with the flair of a returning champion).

And he keeps taking the oxygen tube out of his nose, which he’s not supposed to do, but it’s so irritating and how is he supposed to sleep with it in?

And his short-term memory definitely doesn’t collate like it once did.

And there’d be another X-ray, another CT scan, another round of poking and prodding from another stranger whose name wasn’t sticking with him, all that activity he couldn’t keep track of and couldn’t stand and who could blame him?

But the Mets were winning. It wasn’t just the Mets winning and me responding positively to it for the usual reasons associated with diehard fandom. It was now enmeshed with something more. Throughout my father’s illnesses this summer, the Mets have been a lifeline for me. Some nice people responded to my revealing his situation in May with the sentiment that at times like these, when family is at stake, you realize what’s really important.

I didn’t contradict their rationale, but the more I became immersed in his battle to get and stay better, the more the Mets came to mean to me, as if they could mean any more to me after 47 consecutive seasons in their company. You need something to think about that isn’t the worst to ponder. You need something to dwell on that takes you away. You need something you find so much meaning in that when it starts to go unfathomably well, you can’t believe how happy it makes you.

And when, after 25 years of shunning it, somebody close to you suddenly decides he wants to resume sharing it, you realize it can’t be wholly unimportant.

Friday afternoon I spoke to Dad on the phone. Are the Mets playing tonight, he asked. Yes, I said, they’re playing Boston at home. “That’s an unusual matchup,” he observed, perhaps recalling when they played in unusual circumstances in 1986, perhaps just showing what he knew about traditional league alignment. I agreed that it was unusual, but declined to elaborate or editorialize.

You can come watch it here tonight, he advised — “if you want.”

Yes, I told him, I want to. So I did. And even though the Mets lost this unusual matchup to Boston in unusually irritating fashion (“remember when you asked me the other night about pitch counts?”) — and even though, when he saw a hand-made sign at Citi Field that said “Welcome Back David,” he had to ask, “Who’s David?” and “what is he being welcomed back from?” — I can’t say I was sorry to have taken it all in where I did.

In a hospital room.

Amid a steady flow of built-in interruptions.

Within earshot of other people’s parents’ respiratory struggles.

From a chair next to my dad.

With enough medicine and any luck, these visits soon won’t be necessary. I’ll be watching the Mets from my living room, he’ll be watching probably something else in his. Until then, our first-place ballclub looks pretty good from this place fate has compelled us to meet on a nightly basis.

29 comments to Echoes in the Night

  • This post was incredibly moving. I’m sure it hit home for anyone who experienced the same with a parent or another loved one. You and your father will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  • GaryG

    Greg, my prayers go out to your dad and you. Thanks for sharing, as it brought back a great memory of watching a Jets Bills game from Dec 2001 I watched with my Dad in the hospital. Let’s go Mets and Let’s go Greg’s dad.

  • Bunker

    Beautiful. As someone whose family is going through a very similar situation, I thank you for this stirring piece. Best wishes for your family.

  • Nick D'Arienzo

    Greg, this was absolutely beautiful and catches you by the throat in a way that shakes us to a deeper understanding of what’s truly important. Godspeed to you and your Dad, may the Mets and you and him put together a string of victories small and big and big in the coming days. Thoughts and prayers heading your way…

  • Mikey

    Greg…thoughts and prayers to you and your dad and family. Let’s hope your dad can get excited about another world series with you in a couple months. you and I are about the same age and I lost my dad last year to cancer at 84…the difference is he was a huge Mets fan (and Giants) and he brought me up that way…it was something we always bonded over.

    no matter what happens with the team this year, you will always remember this summer and those days spent in the hospital with howie and josh…hopefully with the knowledge that your dad recovered nicely. hang in there my friend, and thanks for a really moving post. Let’s Go Charles and Let’s Go Mets!

  • Parth

    Appreciate the emotional words Greg- I’m 51 and lost my Dad at the end of the 2005 season. The medium of choice was radio, but we shared the D’back sweep (just like the recent Rox series) and of course the emergence of Mike Jacobs as perennial All Star. Can identify that any sobering news i’ve received through my life during baseball season, i can recite a Met moment that gave me temporary relief that day. Thanks again.

  • eric1973

    Greg, all thoughts and prayers to you and your dad. It does put into perspective what is really important in life, and, as we see, in all our lives, the Mets are important, too, in their own way, of course.

  • Michael G.

    A very profound and moving piece, Greg. Like many people, I shared a deep baseball connection with my dad, who taught me how to catch high pop ups by getting under the ball, and shared many an evening with me in front of the TV — and many days at the ballpark — watching the Mets. He passed away in January of 2014, but those baseball memories remain strong. Your piece also speaks to the healing power of baseball in trying times. I wish you and your dad all the best.

  • dmg

    greg, as always, you honor us with such sharings. i brought my mom (similar age, some similar conditions — though not as extreme) to the hospital for 4 days and nights of tests in january. happily, she made it out with meds and a regimen that returned her to as solid a shape as she’s likely to have.

    i tell you this to share a positive outcome. meanwhile, you (and steph) and your father are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • eric1973

    My dad (still around at 82) taught me how to bunt, catch with two hands, and always said a walk is as good as a hit.

    Talk about “Fundies!”

  • StefanieB

    wow Greg. Beautiful post. Reminds me of watching games with my mom when she was in the nursing home. We also had to watch jeopardy first. She was very into baseball, as you know, but by that point was out of it enough that she knew she was watching something she loved (she had a big smile on her face) but couldn’t quite follow the action. I really cherish those memories now. Enjoy every game with your Dad that you can convince him to watch, and then watch a lot of football with him in the off season.

  • dykstraw

    best wishes for your dad’s recovery, greg

  • LA Jake

    I have turned to this site most days this season for musings on the Mets and am never disappointed, even if the team was the previous night. Today the topic is different but my appreciation for the author is even greater. Thoughts are with you and your Dad.

  • Dave

    Been in a similar situation with my Mom not too long ago, she’s the same age as your Dad. Health-wise, she rebounded nicely and is doing just fine, mobility is a different story. Maybe September becomes a compelling enough time in Mets history that he’ll figure he can watch Jeopardy some other time.

    Sounds as though he’s in good hands, I hope he feels better and comes out of this with flying colors…and take care of yourself as well, that’s important too.

  • Roy Trakin

    A Faith and Fear Field of Dreams writ large. What a magnificent piece of heartfelt reportage. Sports transcending life. Thoughts and prayers from a F&F true believer. You’ve gotta believe Greg. Let’s go Charles.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Life can be hard sometimes, and baseball can be a fantastic diversion. All the best to you and your family Greg. Wonderful piece. Thank you.

  • eric

    Greg-

    I lost my dad to brain cancer in 2003. He grew up in NY a Giants fan and remained interested in them after they left, but quickly turned to the Mets as his local team of choice. I was born two years after the ’73 team and in ’86 I watched the mets win the series by myself while my parents attended high holiday services at the temple. by 2000 I was living across the country in California. He was diagnosed late in 2002 and was gone within 20 months. It was a rapid decline. Although I’d return to the East Coast a couple of times in between, by 2006 I was again back in LA and he was already gone anyway, so I never got to share in the ultimate experience of celebrating a championship with him. We had little in common when he was alive…except for baseball, of course, and specifically our Mets. Reading your piece this morning has stirred up a lot of emotions – lots of regret. But also a feeling of gratitude because my love of baseball came from dad, and my love of this team came from him, and when they win, and they will…he’ll be the first person I think of. How fortunate that you have this time with your dad and how wonderful that you are making the most of it. He would have loved this blog, I know that for sure.

  • Frank

    Gave me chills to read this. Your blog has become required reading for all Mets fans. Thanks for everything. Best of luck to you and your dad.

  • Jack

    Now that I’m an emotional wreck, I vividly recall the first time I saw the green, green grass of Shea, walking through the portal that bridged black & white with color, hand in hand with Dad, circa ’64. There were too few good moments like that with my Dad who checked out early in ’72.
    There were more thanks to my then future father- in- law, in ’81, whom of course was vetted – along with daughter – as to their NY baseball allegiance prior to any nuptials. Yikes, we watched a lot of bad baseball back then!
    There’s the picture of Andy and I in the backyard after a day at Shea, me in my Mets jersey, him pale, a bit green, from the thief that would take him during – of all times – spring training ’86.
    Warren Zevon famously advised us to enjoy every sandwich. Hospital food included.
    Thank you Greg and may you have many more good days with your Dad.

  • Bob

    Greg-
    It’s tough what you are going thru–been there twice myself & you are doing exactly the right thing in the right way.
    Your article got me all Niagara Falls here in LA–I recall doing red-eyes-LAX/JFK to see my Father who was gone in 7 weeks from his diagnosis of Cancer in Summer 1981–just before Baseball strike.
    So–Hang in there–continue to be with your Father as you are.
    Enjoy & cherish every minute–as you are!

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Greg, best wishes for you and your dad. This article really hits home, as I will be admitted to City of Hope Hospital on September 8 for an autologous stem cell transplant, with a fairly long recovery period. My son, Jordan, lives near the hospital, and will be there much of the time for moral support. As a subscriber to the Direct TV extra innings package, I’ll be able to get the Mets games on my laptop or my phone. Jordan is more of a college football fan, especially his alma mater, San Diego State, but he knows the Mets will be a priority, even on Saturday afternoons. I suppose that if the Mets ever acquire Steven Strasburg, Jordan might become a Mets fan.

    Don’t worry about me. I’m going to come through the procedure with flying colors, and be home in time for the playoffs. Best wishes agian for you and Charles. He sounds like a survivor.

  • argman

    Greg, wishing strength to you, your Dad and your whole family. Your piece brought back a lot of memories and emotions.

  • Dak442

    Greg- we’re just starting that same journey with my father-in-law right now. With all the sadness, anger, fear and pain, it’s such a relief that we also have 3-4 hours every day to stop talking about pills and arguing about treatment options and can just relax and enjoy the Mets. This season has been a Godsend.

    Best of luck to you and your Dad!

  • Lou from Brazil

    Beautiful, Greg. Please say hi to your dad from all of us here in the comment section!

  • […] The floodgates were open. It went from 7-5 Mets to 8-5 to 9-5. Torres the pitcher who ran, then hit, then ran, didn’t have to pitch anymore. Familia entered and closed out a night to remember. […]

  • JerseyJack

    Hi Greg, Sorry I’m late to this post, but I’m going through similar issues w/ my 93 yr old mother. She fell & had hip surgery 2 weeks ago & is now in rehab. The surgery went ok, but the therapy is tuff for her, as u can imagine. At least the Mets winning is a nice diversion ,huh? Hope your dad’s condition improves !

  • […] believed sometime in late August. I must have. It was one of those nights when I was visiting my dad in the hospital. He was being difficult, to put it mildly. This was when he was recovering from pneumonia and […]