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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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An Invitation Best Refused

It wasn’t exactly on my bucket list — unless you’re redefining the term to mean “stuff that makes me want to puke when I think about enduring it” — but I can now say I’ve been through an Opening Day that I was dreading.

Dreading Opening Day? What a bizarre thing for a lifelong fan to say. Yet that’s what I was doing while waiting for Mets/Royals at Kauffman Stadium and the beginning of the 2016 campaign.

It’s not baseball’s fault — the Mets and the Royals were locked into a season kickoff last summer, when nobody knew what the fates had in store, and rejiggering team schedules sounds easy until you actually try it.

Nor was any of the variously excruciating, annoying and exasperating pregame pomp and circumstance the fault of the Royals. They did what they should have done for their loyalists, and I thought they did it well. The Royals are a great team I gladly would have cheered for in October if not for the zero-sum problem involved, I love the goofball pageantry of flag-raising and gold lettering and trophies on display, and their fans had waited 30 years for a chance to coronate their heroes in their home park. I was miserable, but I managed to be happy for them, from the dude with moose horns to the fans pointing gleefully at Salvy Perez‘s gilded shin guards.

It wasn’t ESPN’s fault either, though by the fourth inning I was ready to hurl Dan Shulman, Aaron Boone and Jessica Mendoza off a nearby suburban overpass (of which one can choose many). Relentless narrative, after all, is what ESPN does.

My blog partner may have been elated, but I felt like I’d received an invitation to a party I really didn’t want to attend, knew would be super-awkward and painful, and yet couldn’t get out of. I’d been brooding about it off and on during the Mets’ alternately dopey and sleepy spring training, knowing there was no outcome that would satisfy me. If the Mets blitzed the Royals by a dozen runs, I’d demand to know why that couldn’t have happened a few months ago; if they lost, it would feel like a cruel Game 6 — a mean-spirited addendum to a series already down the toilet.

Either way, I was sure, it was going to suck.

What I didn’t dare guess — because it seemed too cruel — was it would suck pretty much exactly the way the World Series sucked. This was ripping off the Band-Aid to discover not pink and slightly delicate skin, but a wound that was still bloody and festering.

I went a little catatonic after the World Series, retreating into creating Lost Mets baseball cards and the comforting routines of work. I never quite figured out why, but I can grasp the broad outlines of the problem. It starts with the fact that I’ve always dismissed the World Series as a fun but silly exhibition series, seeing the pennant as the real prize. The 2015 Mets 2.0 — who didn’t exist before the end of July and never quite stopped feeling like strange new arrivals to me — won that pennant rather handily, surviving a ridiculously dramatic and harrowing series with the Dodgers before beating the Cubs as badly as one team can beat another.

Which was so, so awesome — all the more so for the long wait and the sheer unlikeliness of it all.

And then those same Mets went and turned in one of the worst weeks of baseball they’d given us all year.

You saw it: alternately incompetent and tragic fielding, inept baserunning, dunderheaded quick pitches, meek hitting, bad managerial decisions, and no shortage of rotten luck. It was dreadful, and as things cratered I tried to tell myself not to fall prey to the narrative. I reminded myself that I laugh at dumb talk-radio fans who confuse a bad few days of baseball with a failure of virtue, a pallid will to win, or any of that other tired Goose Gossage bullshit.

But it’s easy to laugh in May or June. Turns out it’s tougher in October.

It’s a lot tougher in October.

I sulked about it for a while, waited for the feeling to fade, and when it stubbornly persisted … well, I didn’t quite know what to do. And I still don’t.

But I do know this much: the antidote to this particular fan’s illness was not kicking off April with the same two teams and the same two starting pitchers.

Which leads me back to the narrative: If the Mets had drawn any of the other 28 possible opponents for this Opening Day, the in-game chatter would have been all about the team’s giddy success and the parade of stud pitchers and the feel-good returns of Yoenis Cespedes and Bartolo Colon and how Wilmer Flores cried and stayed and how now the promised land was within reach.

Instead, the Mets drew the only opponent that ensured a different narrative: one that was all about the Royals’ triumphs and the Mets’ failures, crystallized by poor Lucas Duda taking aim at a spectator and Travis d’Arnaud spinning vainly to catch the uncatchable.

The best revenge would have been to kick the narrative in the teeth, and leave Shulman and Co. awkwardly trying to cram an increasingly square peg in a round hole. A fine plan, except the Mets turned in a performance eerily reminiscent of the World Series that I can’t manage to get over.

I mean, it was like baseball plagiarism: There was Matt Harvey once again looking out in first-inning amazement at Cespedes and a ball fielded with horrific negligence. There were Royal grounders sneaking through holes and just eluding Met defenders in the bottoms of innings, followed by the aggravatingly familiar sight of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas smothering tough hops in the tops of innings, transforming run-scoring singles into rally-snuffing outs.

Yes, the Mets made things interesting late, but their uprising started as farce and ended as tragedy.

The eighth inning looked like one of those hollow baseball moral victories, with Duda and Michael Conforto grabbing a page from Kansas City’s playbook and dropping little bloops that found grass. The ninth inning, though, turned bleak and wintry: Curtis Granderson and Cespedes sandwiched excellent at-bats around a helpless, dreadful showing by David Wright that marooned the tying run at third. It’s only one game and it would be unfair to make more of it than that, but Wright had an awful day — besides the strikeout, his bat was slow on several pitches he should have crushed and his arm was short on two infield plays.

ESPN’s sledgehammer narrative, if anything, wasn’t delivered relentlessly enough. And what was guaranteed to be a bittersweet evening at best turned out to be one of those soul-curdling losses that leave you shaking your head and waiting for a better game, one that will disperse the little black cloud created by this one.

Unfortunately, the next chance at that will be against these same Royals, and against this same narrative. Didn’t like the party? Then you’re not going to like Tuesday’s shindig either. But once again, our attendance is mandatory.

34 comments to An Invitation Best Refused

  • Z

    It was nothing but a quirky twist of fate that put us back in Kansas City to start the season. But the quirky twists of fate *always* seem to break against the Mets.

  • Mikey

    so excellently put Jason. I have replayed Duda’s throw a thousand times in my mind, and it stings every time. A few pieces have changed, but for the most part that was Game 6 with a 5 month rain delay, pitching match-up aside. As soon as Cespedes booted that liner, I knew giving the Royals four outs would hurt and it did. And not for nothing, but the home plate ump squelched a potential Mets rally in the second inning with two horrendous strike 3 calls. We got one back against Davis in the ninth, but still.

    but you really nailed what a lot of us were feeling whether we knew it or not. That we were dreading this match-up from the start because of the constant replays and their fans being so happy and a flag being raised, and not truly celebrating our start of 2016. But we will have that this weekend, and then we get the Royals at home again in June. By the way, I wish I felt confident about Tuesday, but facing that effing Chris (Cy) Young? UGG.

  • sturock

    Nice catch, Cespedes. Maybe he can pay a little attention next time? This was everything I dreaded about the re-signing wrapped up in one dropped fly ball.

    Matt did look good, though. And we’ve got 161 games to climb out of a very shallow hole. :)

  • Gary A

    While I was very excited about the 2016 Met’s season, I knew we had questionable defense at best in 3 positions. Game 1 might be a prelude to a season where solid pitching and shaky fielding make it tougher to put up Ws against the good teams. 3rd base, any outfield position played by Cespedes and d’ Arnaud behind the plate, all provide the opposition with an advantage. Last night 2 of the 3 positions cost us extra outs and a few runs. Wright’s throw from deep is far from a cannon anymore — while Cespedes turned a sharply hit fly ball that most major league outfileders catch into KC’s first run. Met’s management were no doubt well-aware of these shortcomings. Good teams will no doubt continue to work these weaknesses to their advantage. Cespedes is no major Center Fielder. Lets see how long the Mets brain trust take to figure this one out.

    • Matt in Richmond

      Cespedes is a hot dog type fielder, meaning he cadillacs, showboats, and styles. I am not a particular fan of this m.o. but he gets the job done most of the time. He has an absolute cannon for an arm, and has won a gold glove in left field. The jury might be out on whether or not he can be a consistently good center fielder, but there is no doubt that he is an above average outfielder.

  • greensleeves

    David Wright is loopier than ever. 3rd base will be a black hole
    until this is addressed.

  • Rob E.

    I didn’t think they could find a worse broadcast team than the one they had in the World Series, but two batters into the bottom of the first I was looking for Howie Rose (though the delay on TV made that impossible).

    That DID seem like game 6 with a long rain delay. The Royals are good…NOT as good as the Mets make them look or the announcers would have you believe. But they do seem to have our number, unfortunately. Let’s just get out with no emotional damage and circle June on the calendar.

    • DAK442

      Who was worse – the broadcasters or that home plate ump and his mystery strike zone?

      I switched over to The Walking Dead around 9:30. Nice to see someone who knows how to use a bat.

      • Rob E.

        The ump was bad too, but the overglorification of the Royals was sickening. Hosmer took a risk in game 5 and to his credit, it worked. But they made it sound like that was a designed play because the Mets were so incompetent and the Royals knew it. Duda had a .997 fielding pct. last year…he made 3 errors all year. It was an oddball bang-bang play in a pressure spot, and he made a bad throw. Nine out of 10 times (even with Duda!) Hosmer would be out.

        Secondly, on that play where Escobar nearly got thrown out at third with two outs…what happened to “never get thrown out at third with two outs”?!?!?! NO ONE even mentioned that! It wasn’t sound fundamentals just because he’s on the Royals. It was a BAD play and he got LUCKY. It’s been that way for 150 years! One of those sycophant dopes should have pointed that out! I thought they really went out of their way to make the Mets look bad. It was borderline unprofessional. That was a broadcast team not up to the task of making a ballgame interesting.

    • Dennis

      Funny you mention the broadcast team as I was thinking the same thing. I never liked ESPN Sunday Night baseball (too late of a starting time), but that crew last night made me wish Jon Miller & Joe Morgan were back in the booth.

      • Pete In Iowa

        I have a daughter who plays college softball, so I’ve watched plenty of softball on TV.
        It makes my skin crawl to hear Jessica Mendoza constantly using “softball speak” while calling a Major League Baseball game.
        Sorry Ms. Mendoza but softball and MLB are two COMPLETELY different games!!

  • Matt in Richmond

    The Mets just about always win on Opening Day, and nice as that is, how much did it really matter all those years when we lost 90-100 of the next 161? This should be a really fun year. My only major concern right now is for the Captain. Not going to panic over one game, but he sure looked a bit frail last night.

  • Daniel Hall

    How long before Matt Harvey takes a bat to the windshield of Cespedes’ car du jour? I would yell encouragement.

    The hitting was despairing, the fielding was disgusting, and the commentary was disbowelling. Which is a long way to state that the game sucked. I would have loved to hear Keith Hernandez’ opinion about it.

    Add Cabrera to the list of black holes in the field. There was at least one ball that went past him by perhaps 15 feet on which he didn’t even make an effort. Now, if you would kindly want to remember how the 2015 season started. The Metsies played the Potomac Rats, and those also had a few black days in the field as early prelude to their later implosion.

  • Mikey

    and why is Eric Campbell on the roster? is Matt Reynolds that bad?

    • Daniel Hall

      I suspect Campbell has photos of *something*. There is no other explanation as to why he sees continued usage.

    • Pete In Iowa

      Unfortunately, not only on the roster, but (apparently) our best pinch running option in a key spot. Is he really faster than TDA?
      You gotta have a better option than that for pinch running duties late in a game.

  • Bob

    I keep having flashbacks–have not ingested any substances in 30+ years that would cause flashbacks of Met CF dropping fly balls, kicking balls around or ignoring balls laying 2 feet away while opposing runners run around bases…
    And the worst thing about these flashbacks is the Mets actually pay this clod $$.
    Perhaps the meds I’m on………………..at least I have the sense to not pay any attention to these bad dreams–I shut them off…
    Let’s Go Mets!

    ARGH#$!

  • Lenny65

    That was a little too familiar for my tastes. Let’s not forget that this inter-league idiocy is all thanks to the Houston Astros moving to the AL. Opening Day should take place on a sunny weekday afternoon against a familiar old foe from the Senior Circuit, not on Sunday night in KC.

    • On a Monday afternoon in Cincinnati, specifically. Anything else is wrong.

      • Lenny65

        Very wrong. Last night was just a tad too surreal. Opening Day is all about new beginnings, fresh starts and so on, not a continuation of the season before. And furthermore, Sunday night baseball is a thing that must be stopped, ESPN be damned. And why are some teams still playing exhibition games on Opening Day?

        • Matt in Woodside

          This 100%

          I had been so looking forward to opening day, but it really should be about new beginnings, and it really was just too surreal. I can only imagine what that must have been like for the players watching the Royals’ ceremonies. Even Ned Yost said today that the whole thing seemed weird and “I would have enjoyed it more if we had played another team.”

          • Lenny65

            It was like instantly being transported back to November…that chant…the rest of it…no. I simply wasn’t ready to re-open that wound so soon. That WS was like the alarm clock that ruins a blissful slumber or chipping a molar after eating the best steak of your life. Having to re-live it so soon was like a bad prank of some sort.

            I’m more of a purist and IMO if there has to be inter-league play, it should be confined to a brief period or two during the season, around the All-Star break. Not in April, not in September and certainly not Opening Day. Given how it was totally unplanned it’s pretty incredible how quickly an Opening Day WS re-match happened and of course, it had to involve us somehow. Damn Astros, first Charlie Kerfeld and now this.

  • Paul from Brooklyn

    We are so glad it’s not just us,that broadcast team was annoying as hell! We had to watch most of the game with the sound off just like the Joe Morgan broadcasts. We realize how great Howie,Mex and Darling are every time we are forced to watch anyone but our guys call a game. Inter-league play is a form of torture.
    As always,it was very nice to see Bartolo still fooling them with his placement. Conforto might soon bloom into a clean up hitter.
    Great to have you and Greg back! Thank you for your insights and enthusiasm.It will be another great year.
    Let’s go Mets!!!

  • Dave

    One game into a season as defending NL Champs, lose one game by a run, and people are panicking. The normalcy is reassuring, Mets fans in their warm fuzzy place.

    That said, this defense isn’t built for pitching to contact. If they pull off a big midseason move this year, I hope that they bring in someone who can help the pitchers on those occasions when they don’t strike out the side.

    • Dennis

      Amazing isn’t it? And everyone who would have killed management in the off-season if they didn’t sign Cespedes, are now questioning why they signed him after one bad play in game 1.

  • Mikey

    Panic is in our dna as mets fans….as is my disgust at seeing murph help the nats win today….and against eric o flaherty no less!

    • Eric

      Curse of the Murph. His picking up from the NLDS and NLCS for the sake of the Mets’ top rival while the Mets struggled at bat is ominous.

      Still I’m heartened that Syndergaard, who should have started WS game 7, is up next.

  • Who knew that the opt-out clause kicked in at the top of the first?

    This, too, shall pass. Here’s hoping the humbling was more of an attention-getter than the flag-raising. I appreciated the attempt of the locals to give Duda a razzing….but, man….those Midwesterners don’t know from an earful. Come visit us in Queens. We’ll show you how that’s done.

  • eric1973

    All ESPN games are crashing bores, especially on Sunday night. Add to that, it’s an Interleague game, and you get boring to the third power. No local flavor, no Met tradition, just cookie-cutter crap.

    Jessica Mendoza is easy on the ears, and the eyes, for that matter, and she’s a lot less annoying than McCarver, Zabriskie, and Gary Thorne, whose voice never fails to sound like fingernails on a blackboard.

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