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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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Embroidered Into Our Fabric

You can identify my black Mike Piazza t-shirt by sight if you see me wearing it; it says Mets 31 on the front, PIAZZA 31 on the back. I can identify it by feel. It was always longer than all the player-number shirts I acquired in the late 1990s, thicker without being confining. I’m a t-shirt connoisseur, I suppose, or at least a connoisseur of my t-shirts.

I know my PIAZZA 31 well enough so that when I make the purposely infrequent decision to wear it, I know no other shirt could be covering my torso. It, like he to whom it pays tribute, is one of a kind.

Absorbs perspiration, provides inspiration.

Absorbs perspiration, provides inspiration.

PIAZZA 31 came out of retirement for the third time in a decade just as Piazza’s 31 was going into retirement for keeps. The last time my black shirt with the particularly dark blue and definitely cracked numbers was in rotation was October 2, 2005, Mike’s last game as a New York Met. It moved from drawer to shelf after the next laundry, re-emerging on August 8, 2006, Mike’s first visit back to Shea Stadium as a San Diego Padre. Seven years later, on September 29, 2013, while others wore the PIAZZA 31 they were handed upon entering Citi Field (I’m always impressed that people don giveaway shirts as soon as they get them), I opted for Old Glory to come out of the closet. The occasion was the induction of Mike Piazza into the Mets Hall of Fame.

One more time, I said at the end of that day. They will retire his number and I will unretire this shirt one final time when they do.

They did. And so did I. PIAZZA 31 didn’t just fit fine. It felt right. How many summer nights from 1999 to 2005 did I sweat in this shirt? How much Flushing humidity has it absorbed? (What haunting climate change story could it tell?) By the middle of Saturday night, July 30, 2016, the upper half of my body was dead certain of what it was wearing. There could be no other shirt for me on this date, just as there could be no other Met at the center of the ceremonies that demanded I dress appropriately.

A confession: I both love and hate talking about retired numbers. I love it because it’s such a carefully woven topic, consisting of so many fascinating threads. I hate it because it unravels so quickly. There is no right answer. There is no wrong answer. Usually, there are no answers, just more opinions, no two ever quite meshing. You probably could have injected the subject into the pair of political conventions just completed and had each party snipe at the other for its totally unreasonable stance.

Changing minds is a tough go in any realm these days. A person’s criteria for retiring a number seems to stay as stuck as any summer evening’s moisture to my PIAZZA 31. We should retire ‘A’ because…but wait, what about ‘B’?…never mind ‘B’…‘C’ is totally overlooked…what, you want to be like the Y’s and retire every number in sight?…besides ‘A’ wasn’t here as long as ‘B’…you guys are completely dismissing the historical significance of ‘D’…yes, but ‘E’ was already retired and ‘C’ actually had better stats…‘B’ wasn’t that great for us, not really…‘A’ had issues off the field that I can’t forgive…did ‘C’ ever actually win anything?…look at this list of numbers retired by some team we never give any thought to and how it’s ridiculously expansive…but not as expansive as the Y’s…y’know, the Y’s had a lot of really great players…‘F’ them, what about ‘D’?

I find it simultaneously the most stimulating and irritating topic in all of fandom, never mind blogdom. I value consensus and clarity almost as much I prize a t-shirt that’s as familiar as it is reliable. Arguments that circle round and round are anathema to me.

Perhaps that’s why 31’s official placement in an orange circle backed by blue pinstripes was so striking. At the moment it was unveiled, it was perfectly clear what it was doing keeping company with its handsomely relocated numerical brethren high above the left field corner at Citi Field. Exposure to Mike Piazza in all those at-bats way back when — and as he swung away at his makeshift podium Saturday — provided clarity that no number could have been more worthy of the honor the Mets were wisely bestowing on him after withholding it from everybody else for 28 years. As for consensus, if there was anybody in the house who wasn’t touched, moved and/or chilled by 31’s reveal, I couldn’t detect a nay vote.

This weekend and last remind us that Mike Piazza ruled. He was an era unto himself, and it was as invigorating an era as any that Mets baseball has offered. In a way, every Mets era fits me like my PIAZZA 31. Give me 31 seconds to think about a given season, and I’m mentally back in that season. Drop me off anywhere between 1998 and 2001 and I’m at home in the heart of Piazza Country. Nothing matters like Mike and the Mets, and nothing ever will. That’s when he and his teams pre-empted all regularly scheduled programming in our consciousness. When Piazza himself did something special — which was often — the Met Emergency Alert System went into effect. He might as well have been batting on every channel.

As with Cooperstown a week ago and the Mets’ underexposed Hall of Fame three years ago, the retirement of 31 was always, on some level, a technicality. Why would you have halls of fame and other accoutrement of what we refer to as immortality if you’re not going to ensure Mike Piazza is embroidered into their fabric? Within a franchise where importing elite talent has produced a decidedly mixed bag (may contain up to 95% letdown), Piazza was routinely great most of the time from the start. He grounded into a few more double plays than preferred his first couple of months. After that, he excelled on the regular and came through in extraordinary fashion at moments so iconic that they still bear his name. There was never any serious doubt he’d attain every honor available to a baseball player done playing.

Yet when the kudos he had coming have come along, his acceptance of them has been exhilarating. Mike has made these DVD extras to his career true bonus features. With the sudden addition of Justin Ruggiano, there have been 1,019 New York Mets. I’m willing to say that nobody among them has ever “gotten it” or “gets it” more than Mike Piazza, the “it” being this thing of ours.

Mike Piazza worked to make himself a longshot major leaguer, then a dazzling superstar. He had both of those down cold long before he arrived dazed at LaGuardia on May 23, 1998. Once he found his bearings, he worked to make himself a Met. I don’t know that anybody else ever has. He took time between cuts in the cage to notice who we were, what we wanted, how badly we wanted it. I can’t swear that our desires are tangibly different from those who adore the Dodgers or the Marlins or the Padres or the A’s, but Mike discerned during his sixteen seasons and after that it was different playing for the Mets than it was any of his other teams. It wasn’t a PR effort on his part. He understood our familial instinct, our yearning to make him one of ours, and he embraced it. He got it.

Not having come up as a Met only enhances Piazza’s legacy. After four months, he could have walked away. He could have been lavishly compensated anywhere he chose to go in the fall of 1998, places where 6-4-3 DPs and throws that sailed into center would presumably be tolerated a little longer or ignored altogether. Instead, he was determined to make it here, which studies have shown indicates you can make it anywhere. But why bother with anywhere else when you can be the rare imported superstar who doesn’t disappoint Mets fans? I really think Mike loves the Mets in that large-hearted mythic way an immigrant loves America.

That he loves the Mets like we do and loves Mets fans like we love him is not in question after the way he spoke when 31 was retired. It was right in line with what he said when the Mets installed him in their own Hall of Fame and Cooperstown’s voters finally generated a clue and did the same. He roots with us. He prays with us. He wants our current players, when they’re in need of a boost (and they sure as hell are lately), to look up at his number and derive all the inspiration they can from “Ol’ Mikey”.

We applauded everything he said and everything that was said on his behalf. We are in this together with him for as much eternity as a lifetime will allow. We will always look to 31 and appreciate how much better we were thanks to him having become one of us.


If you didn’t see the ceremony, by all means watch it here.


My deep appreciation to my wonderful sister of a non-biological nature Jodie who came up from Florida for the ceremony and made sure I got the opportunity to wear an old t-shirt for a new reason. We took in the game from the Honda Clubhouse, which is the Avenue of the Americas identity of what you probably more immediately recognize as the Mo’s Zone. It used to be fair territory. Now it’s an interesting perspective. If you position yourself properly, you’re within unique heckling distance of Carlos Gonzalez. It’s hard to resist the temptation. It’s also hard to leave at the end of nine innings, because they don’t let you out to dash to your train until the occupants of the Mets bullpen pass in front of you en route to their clubhouse.

The Ruggiano-enhanced Mets didn’t look any better versus the Rockies from ground level than they did any other angle. They’re pulseless, lifeless and teetering on the edge of 2016-hopeless. They’re also going to be sans pending Cleveland Indians catcher Jonathan Lucroy, which negates whatever was decided in recurring trade deadline conversations throughout Citi Field Saturday night (or not). I participated in one of those for a couple of innings as I slipped out of the Honda cocoon midgame and met up with two other long-distance travelers who determined they absolutely had to be on-site to witness 31’s overdue consecration. A tip of my damp black Mets cap with the 2000 World Series patch (when I go for a theme, I go all in) to my friends Mark from England and Dave from California for coming so far — not just their respective non-Honda sections — and standing with me in the drizzle between Papa Rosso and Beers of the World just so we could mull over a deal that was probably never going to happen.

I could think of worse things to get wet doing.

You can stay dry inside Little City Books in Hoboken and relive with me that golden year of 2015 on Monday night, August 8, 7 PM. It was a year ago today that the Mets made a trade and became Amazin’ Again. The contents of that book will probably come up at Little City, but feel free to talk about any year — or number — when you see me there.

14 comments to Embroidered Into Our Fabric

  • Greg Mitchell

    Lucroy has apparently vetoed trade to the Indians, for what it’s worth.

    I love the comment yesterday by someone that “the Mets don’t need Lucroy.” Yeah, D’arnaud can’t field or throw, or maybe even hit anymore (his numbers among worst in majors for starting catcher), but hey–no need for upgrade. And as for still liking him longterm? See: always hurt and can’t throw.

    I love the Yanks have done with their two bullpen trades now. They have done it without throwing in the towel on this year, really, as they picked up Adam Warren again, and now Tyler Clippard cheap, while bringing back Severino (who looks very good again), and Bryan Mitchell ready to return. They could make the same argument some Mets fans make–their current hitters are good enough, they just need to do it. As with Mets–not likely. But until they trade Beltran and McCann, at least they still have a shot. If Mets could trade a couple guys to pick up one prospect and one viable fill-in for this year, it might allow them to hope lightning strikes and they, too, can stay in race.

    • Steve D

      Agree…d’Arnaud has to go.

      • Greg Mitchell

        Yes, to be as weak as D’Arnaud is defensively you really have to hit–witness Mike Piazza. Brian McCann was another weak thrower/great hitter (until recently). And so on. And Mets young pitchers desperately need good throwing catcher, as Rene Rivera’s expanded playing time has proven…

  • Mikey

    I didnt get to watch the game thankfully. I was at the madison mallards game (indie league)..its a blast when the pa announcer shouts “wiener” for every foul ball because you can trade the ball in for a free hot dog; and the between innings entertainment includes human hungry hungry hippos. I kept checking my phone as bart had an early no hitter and then apparently shit the bed.

  • dak442

    As Mike was wrapping up his remarks, I said to my wife “Forget the game, I wish we could get 3 more hours of Mike”. Not exactly a bold prediction, but I was right in that it would have been more entertaining.

    Between the onset of a summer cold or whatever has me coughing and hacking incessantly, the rain, and the terrible baseball, we made the uncharacteristic decision to bail in the 7th. I justified this by saying “Hey, let’s go to the Museum and get a picture of Mike’s Hall of Fame plaque”. Denied; they put it away after the 4th. Sigh.

    • Plaque’s deployment Saturday was mysterious and erratic. Wasn’t there when I went to look for it around 5:30. Then I overheard it was there, and it was. When I left the museum (and conveniently located store), a disappointed woman was telling those on line to not bother, plaque’s not there. I delivered my update. She didn’t quite believe me. I hope they didn’t take it away in the intervening minutes so she didn’t think I was making it up.

      As perfect as the ceremony was, the Citi staff infrastructure left something to be desired throughout Sat night. A lot of sideways glances and snarls, not to mention three separate episodes of slipping though not quite falling. It was a damp night, but when you have 40,000 people in the house, you do your best to keep the floors dry.

  • sturock

    This is an awful team right now without a single watchable hitter except Cespedes (when healthy). What happened to Conforto? I’ll be asking that question every day. Are there any reinforcements in the minors? What has Alderson been putting together all this time?

    The current Mets remind me of the early-mid 70’s team. Old, slow, boring, no offense at all, the club’s ineptitude masked only by the amazing Seaver-Koosman-Matlack big three and a quality bullpen. They were a cinch to win 83-86 games and finish an unconvincing third every season (except, of course, for that one hot month in 1973). After Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz, and Familia, what exactly do we have here?

    Come on, we deserve better than this. And we’ve come to expect better than this.

    To make matters worse, look how the Yankees flipped their two most valuable assets and turned them into young players with the potential to be exciting.

    I’d take a little potential right now over what we’ve been seeing the past couple of weeks.

    PS Great piece on Piazza, Greg! So right…

    • Steve D

      Conforto is what happens to 99% of Met hitting prospects. If you think about it, the only star hitter this team has produced from within that was a Met for life is David Wright. That’s one in 55 seasons folks.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Travis is super young and the reality is we still don’t fully know what we have in him. We DO know that when he came back last year he was one of our best hitters and most clutch hitters down the stretch. His injury history is somewhat troubling, but for the most part they are all different types of injuries which more likely suggest just fluky bad luck rather than truly injury prone. Of course a catcher is always going to be at more risk than a regular position player.

    Bottom line: with his youth and pedigree, I would hate to see him traded unless the return was eye popping. Have seen too many guys with his background take off after a few years of getting acclimated to MLB. I DO not want to see that happen with another team. You guys forget..there were some that thought he was a bigger prize than Thor in the Dickey trade.

  • Greg Mitchell

    Note: Travis is not “super young.” In fact he is 27 1/2 and that’s beyond up-and-coming young star status. Not to mention injury history. He has 2 HRs in 143 ABs this year, along with the .239 average and no walks. Did I mention that the .239 is exactly 5 points below his lifetime average? And worse: can’t throw. A bit of an issue for a catcher.

  • Matt in Richmond

    History is replete with players with pedigrees similar to Travis that scuffle with injuries and other issues before blossoming as they enter their prime years. If he’d had 2-3 healthy years and not shown signs of the talent we’d always heard about I’d agree with you. But that’s not been the case. Catcher is a position that’s extremely difficult to find difference makers at. It’s too soon to throw in the towel.

  • dmg

    my son, a counselor at a camp in the berkshires, managed the feat of getting saturday off — “mike’s my favorite met, after all.”

    i picked him up saturday morning, we drove down to citi field, and we both loved everything about the number retiring ceremony, from howie’s intro to the video of mike’s mets career to his remarks to the sea of 31s (son wore his mets hall of fame shirt, i wore the fafif shirt with a 31 added). extremely glad we were both there. say what you will about the rest of the mets operation — and there’s a lot to say, much of it profane — but the arm that handles special events has a touch of the poet to it.

  • […] Saturday, before I slipped into my beloved PIAZZA 31 in order to pay tribute to our beloved Piazza’s 31, I dressed as a mild-mannered reporter at Citi […]