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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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Niese Out

Second base, like the beverage-branded seating section that overlooks it at Citi Field, has a new occupant. Neil Walker, unlike Ben Zobrist, turns out to be the real thing.

The former Pirate did not get a tour of our leafy suburbs. The Mets don’t care where he lives as long as he shows up for work somewhere between short and first. Walker’s a sound second baseman, a solid hitter and not owed more than one year’s arbitration-eligible salary. Zobrist can enjoy his proximity to Joe Maddon and Nashville all he wants from now through 2019. We have indeed moved on, not just from the free agent we didn’t get, but from the pitcher we had forever.

Jon Niese was the price that had to be paid to Pittsburgh to obtain Walker. Niese was signed to a team-friendly contract in 2012. The team it’s friendly to now is the Pirates.

It’s a little strange to consider Niese without the Mets and the Mets without Niese. For so long they went together like C&C Cola and Bachman Cheese Jax — not the most glamorous of brands, but presumably they’d get the job done if that’s what your mom stuck in your sixth-grade lunch bag (when I was 12, I had a friend who brought those items to school every single day and he made it to 13 just fine).

Of course the Mets very recently earned eye-level shelf placement and Niese was a part of that. He had to take on a new role to make himself extraordinarily useful, and he did. Niese was a reliable lefty specialist in the postseason and a valuable contributor to the first pennant-winner here since the turn of the century. I would have loved to have kept tapping that newfound equity, considering the one out you get in the seventh or eighth is often the tipping point of a given ballgame, but his contract wasn’t friendly enough to justify ongoing specialization.

Before Niese’s brief rebirth out of the bullpen, he made 177 starts for the Mets between 2008 and 2015. Several of them were stellar, many of them were adequate, enough of them grew frustrating enough in the middle so that you could resist growing attached to the most accomplished homegrown lefty starter the Mets had produced since Jon Matlack. The Mets didn’t produce many homegrown lefty starters of tenure after Matlack, so Niese is sort of a default victor of that title.

Jon plugged away, as best as we could tell. He wasn’t the most fascinating postgame deconstructor of his outings and his in-dugout tantrums seemed to speak volumes. A fan could be forgiven for losing patience with Niese. Niese could be forgiven for not blossoming in an uninterrupted fashion. He did throw a lot of innings for a lot of clubs that weren’t going a lot of places. By the time they were stepping up, it was primarily via pitching younger and stronger. Niese, who quietly turned the same age as the Mets’ most recent world championship during the last World Series, became that browser the URL you sought no longer supported.

Niese was promoted to the Mets amid the last pennant race of their Shea lives. He and current free agents Daniel Murphy and Bobby Parnell — all of whom played at the stadium that no longer exists — stuck it out longer than anybody who wasn’t David Wright. Now Jon’s gone, Murph’s clearly not coming back and, unless there’s a minor league Spring Training deal issued, Parnell is going to be a former Met, too. Behind Wright in the longevity pecking order now are Jenrry Mejia (tendered a contract but still PED-suspended) and Ruben Tejada, each of whom debuted as Mets on April 7, 2010. They were each 20 years old. They’ll enter 2016 at 26 apiece. They are veterans.

Time marches on, but it leaves a plethora of images in our rearview mirror. The one of Niese I’ll keep won’t be from the field or those moments when he couldn’t entertainingly explain what went wrong (or right) to reporters. I’ll think of him in Long Beach, my hometown, doing his best to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy. I realize Niese was there because the Mets were dedicating their community relations to the towns, villages and cities hit hard in the fall of 2012 and it was probably just Niese’s turn to be the player in the middle of it. But Niese seemed to make the most of it, handing out badly needed supplies, cordially greeting those who recognized him, lending unyielding support to those who didn’t. He wasn’t Jon Niese of the Mets that day. He was Jon Niese, human being. What he did for a living didn’t matter.

When he went back to his craft the following spring, he was good sometimes, he was less good other times and people like us judged him accordingly. In a realm without uniforms, I’d like to think I saw him at the top of his game.

21 comments to Niese Out

  • Eric

    Murphy and Niese’s Mets careers coincided with a stigmatized era. I’m glad we got to see them, though unfortunately not Parnell, play deep into the post-season, expiated, before leaving us as the team turns the page. They’ll join their new clubs as league champions with World Series experience rather than LOLMets.

    Tangentially related, as I was looking up Pirates fans’ views on Walker, I came across some comments in disbelief that the Cubs, whom the Pirates competed neck-and-neck with in the season and then fell to in the WC game, were swept by the Mets, especially the loss by the untouchable Arrieta. The Pirates fans were convinced the Central division trio of the Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates were far and away the class of the NL and surprised that the Mets won convincingly over the trio member that bested the Cardinals and the Pirates in the play-offs. Their comments reminded me that while the DS was the tougher series and the WS was the bigger series, the impressiveness of the LCS win over the Cubs should not be underrated.

    • Lenny65

      Agree 100%, the NLCS was the single most impressive series I’ve ever seen out of the Mets. Nearly everyone assumed that the Mets more or less “snuck in” when the LOLNats collapsed and that they’d be handily dispatched in the playoffs. Then they snuffed the Flubs and never even gave them a chance to breathe. It seems fashionable to dismiss the Mets and that’s fine by me, by the time 2016 ends they’ll have all the respect they need and then some.

      The NLCS happened so fast and they were so thoroughly dominant it was almost hard to appreciate at the time. I still wonder what would have happened if the NLCS went six or seven games, would it have made a difference during the WS? I mean probably not, plus it would have worn the pitching staff down to a frazzle, but still.

      Crads, Cubs, Pirates, Dodgers, Giants, Gnats…all good clubs, no question. But every one of them would kill for our SP staff, it’s the ace(s) in the hole. I think 2015 was just the first taste of what they have in store for us.

  • mikeL

    yea i was intrigues by the possibility of neise’s next chapter being a surprisingly effective lefty specialist – but i like this trade.
    no granderson-sized investment in a guy who could block the possible ascension of a very young and very cost-effective dilson herrera. i liked that he provided a strong safety net for david wright’s back but i like the sudden freeing-up of funds for other, more pressing needs now and later. and we will see a 2B that has played on some really good teams as well…now neise gets to start for a contender so wish him well.

    agreed eric. i’d feared the mets having to play either the pirates or the cubs. the LCS is definitely something the mets can be very proud of. had that series been a little more of a contest the mets might have been able to go to KC w/o having lost all that incredible momentum.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    What a way with words, as usual. Thanks.

    I like the Walker deal much better than I would’ve liked 4 years of Diminishing WAR Zobrist.

    So, what are they going to call it now, The Coke Deck? Doesn’t sound very appealing, like something bad goes on there. And what happens with SNY and The Pepsi Porch game? It will either have to be heavily edited, or we’ve seen the last of it.

  • Lenny65

    It feels a little like when Pelfrey finally went away. There’s definitely some gratitude there for many jobs well done for some pretty crappy teams in a lot of meaningless games, but there’s no overwhelming (or underwhelming) sense of loss either. Niese was always so exasperating, I can’t think of a better way to describe him. You all know exactly what I mean, too. It was always so cool how he was born on Oct. 27, 1986 though and it was good to see him (mostly) contribute during the playoffs too, as he certainly earned his shot the hard way. Maybe it’ll be good for him and he’ll finally flourish there, who knows?

    So they’re getting a solid starting 2nd baseman with a pretty fair bat with the idea being he’ll fill the spot until the prospect is MLB-ready in exchange for Niese? I can see that. Dare I say that perhaps the Pirates overpaid? I mean they’re a very serious contender and they’re IMPROVING their pitching staff by adding Jon Niese? He was the weak link in ours. Bodes well for us IMO, friends.

    I hope they find a way to bring Bartolo back. I think he’s a great complimentary piece and the “anti-Niese” in a way, when you really need your fifth or spot starter to go out and give you seven or eight solid innings, Bartolo is the guy. Plus he proved he has huge brass ones when the spotlight is shining and IMO that’s what you want if your goal is to win it all.

    • Daniel Hall

      As fun as Colon was for two years, I really hope they don’t bring him back. On the other side of 40, a guy can hit that certain cliff of no return to decency any day. We have enough money put into the charred remains of ravaged used-to-be’s (read: Cuddyer, likely Wright).

      Not that Walker excites me greatly. I’m still sad and numb about Murph being gone.

      • Lenny65

        Fair and valid points, however IMO he’s worth the risk. If Bart falls apart, no big loss. If he performs like he did in 2015, you have a pretty versatile 5th starter who can work long out of the pen.

  • Gary in Suffolk

    … and with the latest free agent signing, we can scratch one more name off the list of “Never Mets.” I have dreaded the coming of this day since it was first foretold in the Hot Stove Winter of 2014-15 but we now have a middle infielder with the name of “Ass-dribble.” Come on, Mrs Cabrera! Couldn’t you wait for the anesthesia to wear off before picking your baby’s name? Meconium would have been a classier choice!

  • Dave

    That Niese would be traded this winter seemed a very safe bet. But I figured that, given his almost uninterrupted record of mediocrity, the Mets would get maybe a halfway decent Double-A prospect who had a chance to be the next Kirk Niewenhuis. That they will get an established everyday ballplayer who cam definitely contribute to this team is a far better haul than I expected. Cabrera I’m still scratching my head about a little.

    Greg, your ability to look at Niese as a man instead of a .500 pitcher who made faces and wriggled about like a man covered in poison ivy every time one of the other 8 guys on the field proved not to be Keith Hernandez or Ozzie Smith is admirable. In light of Niese’s “at least the Pirates can play defense” parting shots, I look forward to Jason’s counterpoint.

  • sturock

    What’s up with the Asdrubal Cabrera signing? He’s no Wizard with the glove, that’s for sure. Don’t we need better defense up the middle? The acquisitions of Walker and Cabrera would indicate that there’ll be no Dilson Herrera sighting in 2016, which is too bad. Maybe someone among Flores, Tejada, and Herrera will be traded? Maybe this just means no one in the front office believes in David Wright for more than 100 games next season?

    • argman

      I think it’s the latter. They want to be prepared for injuries. They could put Walker or Flores or Cabrera at 3rd Base if David goes down. And they can now afford to give him regular rest. One would think he should get at least one day a week off.

  • Dennis

    Great trade. Walker is 4 years younger than Zobrist and Niese is a 4th or 5th starter with no spot in the rotation if Colon is re-signed and when Wheeler returns.

    And also some get well wishes for Sandy Alderson.

  • APV

    Well I guess I got my wish. Am I happy about it? Sure, and the comments about the defense only confirm what I always believed about Niese as a starting pitcher and teammate. The Mets committed 88 errors this year versus the Pirates’ 122, so I can’t wait until he chides McCutchen for a rare misplay in the outfield. Enjoy becoming as popular in Pittsburgh as pre-Super Bowl Bradshaw buddy.

    That being said, Niese took the ball in relief during the postseason and mostly pitched well (the 8th inning of WS Game 2 being the lone exception and that game was lost long before he took the mound in the 7th) while never raising a stink about it in public. Also did not realize Niese was in Long Beach after the storm. Good on him to help represent the team at the time and do so affably.

    Guess this is all a long way of saying goodbye and, kinda sorta but not don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out-style, good riddance.

  • Dennis

    The entire quote:

    “I didn’t enjoy facing the Pirates; they have a great lineup,” Niese said. “But, I’m sure what I’ll appreciate more than anything is the way they play defense. I’m looking forward to that.”

    It wasn’t anything specific about the Mets at all. And not so horrible as the everyone is trying to make it sound. But I guess if you didn’t like Niese in the 1st place you can put any spin on it you want. I saw him interviewed last year on the MLB network and seemed like a good guy….funny as well. I hope he does OK with the Pirates, but not against us.

  • Lenny65

    I have no gripe with Niese. It was just his time to go, that’s all. He was an adequate arm for what the Mets were, now they’re not that anymore and his services aren’t needed any longer. They flipped him for something they DO need, so props to the FO for turning him into another piece.

  • rapple

    If I’m Yoenis Cespedes, I’m thinkin’; I’m living the dream. I left Cuba and now have the opportunity to live in the greatest city in the world. There’s nothing I can’t do for my minions. How much do I need? Who all do I have to support in my entourage? 4 years 8O million sounds like a crazy mitzvah,
    (or the spanish equivalent) but my gluttonous agent keeps whisperin’, ‘Hang on, Yo, you can get so much more!’… once more I’m thinkin–how much does a man need? Nobody really knows the extent of the finger/hand injury I sustained or why I tanked in the WS. I’m stoic like that. Stayin’ here feels like the right thing.

    Alas, I’m not him. Or his agent. Just a poor Met fan talkin’ common sense in a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

  • JerseyJack

    What happens to the Pepsi Cola sign ? Will it be on Ebay one day soon? If so, how much $$ for it ?