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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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The Man Who Loved the Game

I knew Monday night’s game against the Marlins would be emotionally wrenching. I think we all did.

But I wasn’t prepared for just how tough it would be, and how tough it kept being.

There was the sight of every Marlin wearing Jose Fernandez‘s No. 16, and the knowledge that it would never be worn again.

There was the sound of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as a grieving farewell, something I know my mind will come back to again and again on carefree summer days.

There were the red eyes and stricken faces of Martin Prado and Giancarlo Stanton, just minutes before game time.

There was tracking Yoenis Cespedes as the Mets and Marlins came together to exchange pregame hugs and back pats, and seeing how hard he was holding on to each opponent.

And there was the sight of the Marlins surrounding the mound where Fernandez had done so many amazing things, and the reminder that all of that was done, irrevocably ended in an unlucky second in the night.

Last week I called the Cespedes our-walkoff-turned-their-walkoff as cruel as baseball gets, and that was correct as far as sports go. But what a monster of a qualifying statement. That was a game and a pennant race. This was a young man killed at 24, a son and grandson gone in a blink, a father-to-be who’ll never see his child. There’s no comparison between the two, none at all. Watching the Marlins during the remembrances of their teammate and friend, I wondered how they could possibly play — how anyone could. Throwing ourselves into sports is grand fun — and sometimes its opposite — but what happened off Miami Beach in the early hours of Sunday morning was cruelty and tragedy in the true senses of those words, and it was devastating to see them transposed to the baseball diamond, where we get to obsess over the pretend versions.

If you’ve read us for a while you know that I’m not a fan of the Marlins’ ownership or their off-the-field personnel, to understate the case considerably. But they handled the unimaginable with grace, to use that word in the nearly-forgotten sense for which it was intended. So too did the Mets and the SNY crew. The open grief on the faces and in the voices of Gary, Keith and Ron was almost too intimate, and it was a relief — for us and I suspect for them as well — that they let the first minutes of the game speak for themselves. These weren’t things to talk over; for long TV stretches they simply let them be.

But unwelcome though it was, there was another aspect to Monday night’s game: within the parameters of baseball, however silly and ephemeral they might be, this was a game the Mets desperately needed. At first I felt queasy about this double vision, then I simply accepted that I wouldn’t be free of it and did the best I could.

It was astonishing seeing Dee Gordon, a baseball whippet with zero home runs on his 2016 resume, lash a Bartolo Colon fastball into the second deck, as if he’d become a quadruple-sized Stanton. As a Mets fan I winced — 1-0 Them. A moment later I was applauding, as a baseball fan and as a person, and wished I could help carry a crying Gordon around the bases and back to the embrace of his teammates.

And then I went back to wincing — with plenty to wince about. Colon didn’t have it at all, as sometimes happens to him — he was throwing in the mid-80s and everything was getting walloped. Terry Collins has had a quick hook in recent weeks, hauling starters off the mound without consideration of wins or their psyches or anything else. But he left Colon in. He let him hit in the third despite the Mets being in a 5-0 hole, an inning that ended with Cespedes looking at a borderline called third strike and leaving two runners on base. Colon faced three batters after that, surrendering a hit, surviving a rocket liner from Stanton and then yielding Justin Bour‘s triple. Only then did he come out.

Down 7-0, the Mets did little against a succession of Marlins relievers. Cespedes popped up with a chance to make it a game again; Lucas Duda got caught looking. The game, understandably, became an exhausted trudge for both teams, and wound up a 7-3 loss. The Mets are now half a game up on the idle Giants, and had to find solace in the Reds trouncing the Cardinals. Some folks noted that they didn’t mind the Mets losing this one, and I appreciate the sentiment. Applaud it, even. But I couldn’t second it: there’s no such thing as a game you don’t mind losing with six left and a postseason berth in the balance.

But accepting that you feel that way isn’t the same as letting it blind you to bigger things. As the Marlins gathered at the mound again, this time to leave their caps behind, my mind went back to the last batter Colon had faced — and then further back, to a game 15 years gone. I was in the stands with Greg and Emily on Sept. 21, 2001, when Mike Piazza‘s drive into the night transformed a shocked, tentative crowd into a bunch of cheering loons — the first moment in which we felt allowed to celebrate a little thing like it was a big thing.

Colon’s final pitch on Monday night was a flat fastball that Bour hammered into right-center, just under the glove of a tumbling Jay Bruce. Bour is a massive hulk of a man — perfectly named, really — and he careened around the bases and did a belly flop in the dirt in the vicinity of third, bouncing hard into the base. Then, finding himself safely in possession of his first career triple, he popped up and flexed at his teammates, who grinned and yelled and flexed back.

I realized that on the Monday night we all thought was coming, Jose Fernandez would have seen the ball get past Bruce, sprung to the top of the dugout railing, and hung over it so he had the best seat in the house. He would have been not just cheering Bour but also bouncing up and down, practically levitating with delight, with that million-watt smile attracting every eye in the park. I knew I would have hated that Justin Bour of all people had tripled, but wound up smiling at how much Fernandez loved it — like he seemed to love every moment in which he was part of the game he played with such irrepressible, contagious joy.

For that moment, on this shocked and sorrowful Monday night, the game had helped. It hadn’t fixed anything — nothing like that can ever be fixed — but it had allowed Bour and his teammates and their fans to let go, giving them permission to lose themselves in something small and silly. Small and silly — it’s just baseball, after all — but joyous and real for all that.

31 comments to The Man Who Loved the Game

  • Matt in Richmond

    Agreed Jason. Marlins ownership has been a joke for as long as I remember, but respect to the players for handling such a horrible situation with as much dignity and grace as is imaginable. What an incredibly awkward position the Mets are in…..hopefully the next 2 games can get back to a semblance of “normal”. I don’t mean that in any insulting way towards the Marlins but just in the sense of competition.

  • Fred, not of Flushing

    Okay, now let’s take 2.

  • Joel Hernandez

    Maybe if that pos owner loria would’ve paid the kid or at the very least traded the kid to a real franchise he never would’ve been on a small boat at 3am.

    But I digress, the mets had no chance last night. After the bartolo grooved fastball to dee Gordon the game was over. The Bohr moment was my favorite of the night as the after getting the hit that was Josie’s signature movement after he got a hit flexing his muscles to his teammates. Also liked Dee giving him some water after the triple

  • mookie4ever

    Once again, Jason, a masterful job to translate raw feelings into words. That was so tough to watch and unfathomable to me how the teams were even able to play, especially the Marlins. Really proud of how our boys once again showed their character by supporting a rival in their darkest moments. I imagined that they were putting themselves in the Marlins’ places, what if it was one of their teammates and how would they feel, what would they need. And so the simple hugs, the little gestures like Asdrubal’s shoulder rub when he got to first, the extra chats and pats on the bases, Bart’s glove claps, Travis’ tears behind the plate. The usually cool-as-a-cucumber Yo surprised me with the obvious intensity of his emotions.

    It was unfortunate, if understandable, that the emotions of the night seemed to get to the Mets even as they were lifting up the Marlins. They couldn’t afford to give up the loss, but they did. I too, could not be accepting of losing as the appropriate outcome, even remembering how the Braves apparently were on that long ago September night at Shea. But I came to agree that this night was bigger than baseball, bigger than the score and the WC race. So I’m not exactly okay with it, but I already had figured it for a loss before the tragic news of Sunday morning. Fernandez is – was – unbeatable at home.

    I just hope they can shrug this one off and win at least 3 of these last 5. I just hope that will be good enough. I just hope this doesn’t propel the Marlins to some otherworldly feats of momentum.

    I just hope – the constant of being a Mets fan. LGM

  • LeClerc

    Now let’s focus on winning – Tuesday through Sunday – Winning the Wild Card game – getting into the play-offs.

  • Mikey

    yeah, I fully expected a loss last night, and I was okay with it, knowing there are still five more games and knowing the Cards and Giants don’t seem to want to put any distance between any of us either.

    but seeing the players on both teams embracing and crying together was one of the more real moments we’ll ever see on a baseball field. hearing Gary, Keith and Ron choking up too. it’s just so so horrible for this to happen to one of the game’s brightest stars, and the pain and sadness will hang over the rest of the baseball season and postseason like a dark cloud. RIP Jose

  • 9th string catcher

    If one #16 is tough to beat, how do you defeat 25 of them? Or 26,000 of them? They didn’t stand a chance last night – it was like the 911 game at Shea or the Munson game at Yankee stadium. And in the long run, probably for the best. They’ll take care of business with the next two games and finish strong in philly. Last night wasn’t about the mets. But today can be.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Interesting that 2 of Colon’s worst starts of the year have come on emotional days for him (the other being the “other family” scandal which seems to have come and gone like it never happened).

    If he hadn’t thrown about 15 more meatballs during his short stint last night, I’d have sworn he grooved one for Gordon. Even so, if you watch Colons body language after the HR pitch to Gordon, I still wonder.

    In any event, I guess Gordon’s latest dose of PEDs kicked in at exactly the right time.

  • Dave

    I hope that my strong desire to see the Mets now get back on track and the entire focus being winning does not make me an insensitive lout, but the Mets are involved in one of the closest postseason races in the club’s history and we have precious little in the way of time or margin for error. Pedal to the metal 24/7 now.

  • eric1973

    Too bad Gordon’s PEDs kicked in, and Bartolo’s didn’t. Like I said, no more excuses and LGM!

  • open the gates

    Count me as one of the fans who didn’t mind losing last night. Given the fact that it was extremely unlikely that we’d finish the season with a road winning streak, the loss couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. And watching Dee Gordon weeping as he circled the bases, I thought, let ’em have this one. They need it more than we do.

    Having said that, time to get back to business. Mets have a wild card to win.

  • Eric

    I don’t agree with this: “within the parameters of baseball, however silly and ephemeral they might be”

    Baseball was his passion in life. Fernandez was a baseball player for whom the “parameters of baseball” certainly were not “silly and ephemeral”, so your framing de-values Fernandez’s love of the game that was played in his tribute.

    Every loss hurts at this point with very few games remaining in a neck-and-neck race. Luckily, the Cardinals lost, too. My rationale for accepting the loss is if Fernandez had made the start at home, the Mets likely would have lost, anyway. And if the loss means Colon purges his periodic bad start from his system, that helps.

    Now, the Giants and Cardinals are right up with the Mets and the Marlins are not eliminated yet. The Pirates are almost finished.

    I was pleased the Nationals lost to keep their record close to the Dodgers, so home-field advantage in their DS is at stake. The Dodgers should have something to play for when they face the Giants to end the season. If the Marlins get hot, they face the Nationals to end the season. Hopefully, the most likely eliminated Pirates will be ornery against the Cardinals.

    • Matt in Woodside

      I think Colon threw a batting practice fastball to Dee Gordon and several other Marlins. For good reason.
      http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17648309

      And I’m not saying they didn’t earn that game. I’m just saying the Marlins and their fans and Miami needed that Dee Gordon HR and the win last night. As much as the Mets needed a win for the wildcard, how could a team have any sort of killer instinct on Monday?

  • GroteFan

    Joel-I’m curious if you are serious in your criticism of ownership.
    Are you serious that you are blaming them for not trading him, or paying him, and he ended up dead, or did you say that tongue in cheek?
    I do agree with the author and the comments section that Miami ownership are distasteful, but I have the same view of our friends in Queens.
    Looking forward to your response….

  • Pete In Iowa

    Absolutely, last night’s game was unique and gut-wrenching.
    However, as Jason correctly points out, a huge mistake was made by leaving Colon in for 2.1 innings when it was clear way before then he was doing nothing more than throwing batting practice. We all know by now there is a good Colon and a bad Colon. Two distinct Colon’s which are almost always apparent from the get-go. I needed no more evidence than the very first pitch he threw — a ball to a right-handed standing Gordon. If he couldn’t groove a strike there, I knew it was big trouble.
    Last night, Matheny pulled Garcia after one inning after he’d allowed 2 runs. Obviously, it turned out to be of no consequence — but it was the right thing to do. When you’re down to six games in a race like this, every batter, every inning and every game is CRUCIAL. You can’t wait around and HOPE for better, no matter who is on the mound or who is due up at the plate. The better option ALWAYS has to be used, especially when you have 39 players to employ. Matheny realized this and, I’m sad to say, Collins didn’t.
    If Thor gets smacked around early tonight like he did last time out, he MUST be quickly replaced by a better option.
    LGM!!!

  • Given the effects of strep, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Thor be strong for 2 or 3 innings and then lose it completely quickly. No great options in 4th inning but maybe Robles could go 2 or so again…

    I think it’s hindsight to say “how could Mets win against fired up Marlins?” If Mets had won 8-0 you might say, “Of course, Marlins were too wasted and distracted to play well and Mets, needing to take care of business, did.”

    • Matt in Richmond

      Perhaps from some, but not me. I said from the moment I heard about the tragedy that it was going to be an incredibly difficult game for the Mets to win. I can barely imagine a more awkward position to be put in. We can only hope that most of that wears off and they can get back to more “normal” baseball now.

  • Dave

    One thing for sure, I don’t want to hear anyone else say a word about MLB needing to “do something about this September call-up issue.” They’ve needed every single guy they have and I wish they had more or at least different guys. The Mets are back to early spring training pitching schedules, starter going an inning or two, no established long man in the pen…I hope that Thor discovered a miracle cure for strep throat.

  • GroteFan

    I agree with the call ups, just don’t agree with how our manager uses his players, whether it’s 25 or 39, he is Clueless Terry for a reason.
    But Dave, yes when did this criticism come into vogue?
    Could it be improved, sure maybe? But for now, why criticize the mets or anyone else for using the tools/players available to them?
    Thanks,

  • Just now Matz ruled out for year, and Flores tried to swing bat and got nowhere, also may be out for year. Will not mention again how much the failure to pinch run for him in that game has cost team.

    • Matt in Richmond

      If one feels the need to cast blame, then the only person worthy in this case is Flores himself. Everyone knows (or certainly should know by now) that sliding head first into home is foolish and irresponsible. A hard lesson to learn, but hopefully he’s learned it now.

  • Rob E.

    Exactly how much a manager contributes (or not) in today’s game is very much up for debate. That being said, this team is a team built on pitching – said to have a staff that could have been the “best of all time.” Three of our four potential Cy Young candidates have been unavailable for ALL of this pennant race. The fourth missed an absolutely crucial start with strep throat. Three of the most key players at the moment are Las Vegas 51s, and not even high-profile prospects, but two guys that had ERAs around 6.00, and an unheralded 27-year-old. I won’t even bring up all the other injuries over the course of the season. And with five games left, they hold a playoff spot and control their own destiny.

    If they make the playoffs, this guy is not only NOT clueless, he’s Manager of the Year.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Amen Rob E. Amazing how this bunch rakes him over the coals for using too many players in the Braves finale, and then remains silent as he uses the same strategy to take 3 of 4 (and almost all 4 with a miracle comeback) against Philly. He has done a remarkable job utilizing all the spare parts to keep us in contention thus far. Ultimately it comes down to whether or not the players execute.

  • eric1973

    I think he”s a crummy manager, but he’s our crummy manager, so smile when you say that, Pardner.

    Many teams win with crummy managers every year. We just don’t realize it brcause this is the only one we see close up, day after day, so he is under our microscope.

    Hey, we’re on the verge of making the playoffs with a crummy RF (one good month), and a crummy catcher (no good months).

    So you can win anyway, with lots of clumsiness.

  • eric1973

    That’s crumminess, I say.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Guess Noah was fine after all eh? Bruce and Duda raking, Curt continuing to be Mr Clutch. Keep rolling boys.

    I don’t believe you are right, or even within a thousand miles of being right eric1973, but if you were, then with the success this team has had, particularly with all the injuries this year, then that would be the ultimate proof that the manager is a mostly ceremonial position and carries very little import in terms of wins and losses no?

  • eric1973

    Just the opposite.

    I think the manager’s in-game decisions affects the games greatly, and they all do not just even out randomly.

    Happen to believe Mets would have had a better record had better moves been made from the bench. I believe in this case, the bad outweighed the good. But because we are on the verge of a playoff spot, that all tends to be swept under the rug.

  • Rob E.

    I don’t know how you can say the manager affects the game greatly, and then look at the guys we have and our record, and then call the manager crummy!

    Anyone who thought that a team with a rotation featuring Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, and a lineup with TJ Rivera hitting in a power spot would be in the playoff hunt after 158 games, please come forward (again, I won’t list every injury along the way).

    At some point you critics decided you hate the guy and now you dig your heels in to find any reason to validate that hatred. But I don’t know how anybody can look at this season and blame Terry Collins for ANYTHING. He is not perfect and every move is certainly not above criticism, but take a step back and look at where we are and the guys we had to get here. At some point you have to just say “alright, I hate you, but you did a hell of a job getting us here.”

  • eric1973

    TJ. Rivera won a batting title, so I wouldn’t exactly dismiss him as unqualified.

    The replacements for Wright and Duda are better than Wright and Duda. The other injured hitters all came back, though the Legares thing hurt.

    That leaves us with the SP replacements, which don’t have much to do with the manager.