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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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Longevity Has Its Rewards

Todd Hundley was at Thursday’s Mets game. He suited up and strapped it on in the bottom of the second when Lucas Duda added him to his pass list. Duda hit a home run that admitted one Hundley. Lucas’s blast evoked from the past the catcher who still owns half of the Mets’ single-season home run record and, until Duda touched home plate, could claim half of seventh place on the Mets’ all-time power rankings. Now Duda is alone in seventh with 125 Met homers, one ahead of Hundley’s 124 in eighth.

I doubt Todd — who Bobby Valentine thought stayed up and out too late c. 1997 — is losing sleep over losing his place. Whatever Hundley is up to fourteen years into his retirement from baseball, I very much doubt it hinges on whether he has more, as many or fewer home runs in a Mets uniform than Lucas Duda.

Yet because Duda went deep off Lance Lynn on Thursday afternoon at Citi Field, we were given a moment to pause and recall Todd Hundley as a Met who hit a lot of home runs in his time: 41 in 1996, 30 in 1997, one as a pinch-hitter to win a searing game in Houston in September of 1998 when it was becoming apparent Todd Hundley’s time as a Met was ending, but oh, what a homer, and oh, what a game. Mike Piazza, Hundley’s successor and then some, had tied it in the ninth, and the two catchers combined to keep the Mets afloat in ultimately doomed pursuit of a Wild Card. But we didn’t know it was doomed; we just knew we’d won, 4-3, in eleven innings. We didn’t know Hundley had just hit the last of 124 home runs as a Met. We wouldn’t have guessed Todd would fade from the common Met narrative fairly quickly and need somebody to come along nineteen years later to resurrect his memory for a couple of minutes. By making decisive contact with a pitch from Lynn, Lucas Duda made contact with the baseball spirit of Todd Hundley, conducting a veritable horsehide séance in broad daylight.

This will happen when players stick around on your team a while. Duda is in his eighth season as a Met. Only one of them has been wholly uninterrupted by injury or demotion, but they’ve added up. They’ve added up so much that when you looked up on Thursday, you realized only six Mets ever have hit more home runs than Lucas. To a degree, it speaks to a certain power deficiency in the construction of the New York Mets franchise, but it also says Lucas has been here long enough to leave a deep dent on our impressions and in our record book. Maybe he’ll be gone soon, which is the way it goes, but until then, I like the way it stays. I like that a guy who’s been here long enough to quietly belt 125 homers unintentionally evokes a guy who was here long enough to loudly belt 124 homers. Take THAT, mercenary tendencies!

I like even more that a guy who could win us a game in walkoff fashion early in his third season in the big leagues just won us a game in walkoff fashion in the second half of his fifteenth…and that he never did it for us in between…and that the ways he did it on opposite ends of his career contained commonalities.

Jose Reyes was a Met for nine seasons once and has been a Met in their two most recent. He has more hits as a Met than anybody not named David Wright. Only two of those 1,441 safeties directly won games. The first came on April 13, 2005, on a ball that couldn’t quite find a clean path out of the Shea Stadium infield. The opposing pitcher got a glove on it. So did the opposing shortstop. The opposing second baseman corralled it, but too many hands stirred the pot on this stew. While young Jose was scampering to first, the Mets’ runner from second scored to give the Mets a 1-0 win in eleven innings.

The opposing team was the Houston Astros, then of the National League. The opposing pitcher was Wheeler…ex-Met Dan Wheeler. Among those he succeeded to the mound were Astro starter Roger Clemens and Astro reliever John Franco. Clemens would never pitch again at Shea, Franco would pitch there the next night, then never again. Clemens had gone seven until he was pinch-hit for by Jose Vizcaino, the Met who was obtained for Anthony Young after the Mets finished last in 1993 and the Yankee who bested Turk Wendell once the Mets had finally made it to the World Series in 2000.

Round and round this sort of stuff goes if you dig just a little into a relevant box score, and the box score of April 13, 2005, became relevant when Jose Reyes stepped to the plate on July 20, 2017, one plot of real estate east of Shea Stadium a dozen years later. It was another tie game, 2-2, in the ninth. As far as we know, nobody who pitched for the Cardinals Thursday will resonate down the halls of time the way Clemens and Franco do, but we only know as far as we can throw ourselves when it comes to looking ahead. Looking behind, we can throw ourselves back with confidence. Looking behind, we have context.

Jose brought context to the party on Thursday like Lucas brought Todd. Jose came up in a potential walkoff situation, just like in 2005. In 2005, he’d not yet walked off a win for the Mets. In 2017, he’d not walked off a win for the Mets since 2005. He wasn’t on hand from 2012 through 2015, but he had other opportunities through 2011 and since 2016. The singularity of his RBI from April 13, 2005, had lingered in my Mets consciousness. I knew he was due.

He was due and he did. As in 2005, he needed some aiding and abetting by out-of-town fielders. When Jose was 21, it was pitcher Dan Wheeler, shortstop Adam Everett and second baseman Chris Burke (who that June would break up Pedro Martinez’s no-hitter back when securing one of those was our most urgent nightly cause). With Jose now at 34, the opposing defense that broke down consisted of Matt Carpenter, who did his job just fine, actually, and pitcher Trevor Rosenthal, who didn’t. The play — Reyes grounding sharply down the first base line; Carpenter snagging the ball and preparing to shovel it from foul territory; Rosenthal distracted by dandelions until rushing the bag too late to beat a speeding/diving Jose; Yoenis Cespedes scoring unimpeded from third on the other side of the field; and teammates remembering to grab ample supplies of sunflower seeds for the ritual celebratory shower — is fresh in memory. So is the delight intrinsic in a Flushing midweek afternoon walkoff that emanates from any Met batter in any Met ballpark, though especially someone who, give or take a lengthy hiatus, has been around here forever.

That it had nothing to do with a playoff push has nothing to do with anything. A wonderful win is a wonderful win. We don’t need papal dispensation to revel in it.

Jose’s been hot lately, batting .371 in his past twenty games. You wouldn’t lose your sense of perspective, slip him an Omar Minaya-style blank contract and invite him to fill in the terms based on these few torrid weeks, but he’s been hot enough to remind us a good player with some mileage doesn’t generally freeze into a state of unmeltable frozen tundra overnight. What he did against the Cardinals was simple enough — he got his bat on the ball and sent it toward a first baseman who had to make a play behind the bag. This Amed Rosario from another age lit up the Statcast meter with what it identified as Reyes’s fastest sprint rate of 2017, 29.3 feet per second. Sounds quick. Looked quicker.

“I’m going to hustle all the time,” Jose said after the game (conveniently ignoring those occasions when he taps the ball weakly and gives up in disgust). “My body feels so good.” Mets legend is built on veteran speedsters cranking their venerable legs and creating ninety feet of havoc. Mookie Wilson, he of another ground ball to another first baseman, played his final game in the majors in 1991, twelve years before Jose Reyes played his first. Jose Reyes achieved his first Mets walkoff RBI in 2005, twelve years before collecting his second.

Wilson and Reyes aren’t the only entities in our world known to whoosh by. Look! It’s time! And it’s gonna beat the first baseman to the bag!

The runner Jose drove in from second the first instance he was on the swinging end of a walkoff — the carrier of the only Mets’ score on a night when Willie Randolph started Kaz Ishii, Kaz Matsui and Eric Valent — was no Yoenis Cespedes. He was Victor Diaz. Young Victor Diaz was a high-hoper in early 2005, almost on the level of young Jose Reyes and young David Wright in our anticipatory estimation. We were introduced to Victor Diaz the previous September. He greeted us powerfully, launching a three-run homer that tied the Cubs in the ninth, snatching from Chicago critical ground in their playoff quest. Craig Brazell finished the Shea heist a couple of innings later with the winning homer. Nobody much dwelled on Craig’s future. Everybody was psyched for Victor’s.

Diaz was going to be the next Ramirez (Manny, not Neil). He wasn’t even the next Manny Alexander, but we didn’t know that in September 2004 or April 2005. We just knew we’d seen him hit, now we’d seen him score, and soon we’d see him…well, not very much. The Mets traded him in August 2006 for Mike Nickeas, who didn’t make it to the Mets until September 2010, the same week as Lucas Duda. Duda, until further notice, is still here. Nickeas, like Diaz and the ball Duda hit Thursday, is long gone. Mike was part of the R.A. Dickey deal that was supposed to become the Travis d’Arnaud deal before it morphed into the Noah Syndergaard deal. Noah at the moment is a heavily promoted bobblehead model who plays catch with Matt Harvey, speaking of supposed-to-be’s.

More to unpack there than is necessary, though you are welcome to sort the contents as you wish. Being a fan of a team for a considerable period of time will allow you to do that. Having been a Mets fan since I was old enough to be a fan of anything, when I see a reason to invoke Victor Diaz, I take it and I note that in Jose Reyes’s rookie year of 2003, the Mets traded off as many veterans as they could. With little wistfulness, we said goodbye in July to Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, Armando Benitez, Graeme Lloyd and Rey Sanchez. Alomar was on his way to the Hall of Fame, but Shea Stadium represented only a rocky Robbie detour. Armando was a major contributor to postseason qualification and a stubborn detractor from postseason success. Burnitz got good after leaving the Mets a couple of times. Lloyd and Sanchez were just passing/stumbling through. In 2003, an underrated horror show in the Met annals of disgust, the team was going nowhere with them. They could go, we trusted, somewhere with whoever we got back for the lot of them.

The most we got out of anybody received in those five separate fire sale transactions was Victor Diaz, whose Met career came up 110 home runs shy of where Lucas Duda’s is now. There were a few hot minutes, but not a lot more — yet way more than we got out of the rest of that summer’s ineffectual haul. That’ll happen. It doesn’t mean a sell-off shouldn’t be tried again in the days ahead. It doesn’t mean we cling to everybody old because it’s so hard to come up with anybody new. But it also means FDA-certified magic beans aren’t included in every transaction. Even the best prospect we’ve ever received as modern midyear sellers, Wheeler (Zack, not Dan, exchanged for Carlos Beltran in 2011), hasn’t grown into the towering beanstalk we’d anticipated.

I had been thinking of Victor Diaz in this realm in the last few days, and when Jose Reyes brought home Cespedes as he once brought home Diaz, I thought of him again. I don’t mind that kind of thinking. Longevity has its rewards.

My thanks to Darren Meenan and Brian Erni for having me on the 30th episode of Orange & Blue Thing Thursday night to discuss Piazza (I batted in front of Curtis Granderson, which doesn’t happen every day). A replay of the show is viewable here. Audio downloads are available via Soundcloud and iTunes. I recommend those since you can listen without seeing my thumb repeatedly blocking my face as I forget how to hold an iPad.

Monday night, I hope you’ll join me and several of my fellow baseball authors at Varsity Letters in Manhattan. A week from tonight, July 28, I’ll be bringing Mike (the book, not the icon) to Rockville Centre’s beautiful Turn of the Corkscrew. Find out more here.

5 comments to Longevity Has Its Rewards

  • Pete In Iowa

    Very nice piece Greg. What you and Jason do is so very cool. It is so nice to occasionally revisit Mets history in the context of today’s action.
    Kudos!!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Yes, thanks for this trip down relatively recent memory lane. Good diversion in the dog days of July.

    One heads up, the links in paragraph 2 and 3 both lead to the Hundley/Valentine “controversy” over Hundley’s Lifestyle.

    And speaking of that article, I actually do remember the issue with Hundley’s toe infection. With the Mets, even then, it was Always Something.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    This is straight up Met porn. Outstanding.

  • Jacob27

    This is what makes FAFIF great. Thanks, Greg.