You know we cherish our Mets Pop Culture here, so much so that at the end of every year we round up the previous twelve months of such sightings — anywhere that anything Mets shows up in a non-sports, non-news context — and present them with Oscar’s Cap Awards . That, of course, is Oscar as in Oscar Madison, the fictional character whose affection for the Mets was as authentic as the Mets cap that so often topped his head across every iteration of The Odd Couple.
If you know it, and it’s something we do at year’s end, why am I bothering you with this now? For that matter, why am I pre-empting our regularly scheduled dissection of Matt Harvey’s latest quantity start, this one a little longer than usual (6 IP), but no more successful (6 ER en route to a 12-4 loss in Atlanta )? Because, gentle readers, this Sunday night, April 22, on the CBS television network, Faith and Fear in Flushing becomes part of the pantheon of Mets Pop Culture.
No kidding. Tune into your CBS affiliate, 10 PM Eastern Daylight Time (check local listings), for the acclaimed drama Madam Secretary. At some point — and you’ll have to watch closely — you will see me, you will see Jason and you will see the Faith and Fear logo. Like Oscar’s Mets cap, it will be on our heads.
Did I say no kidding? I have to say it again: no kidding. We’re TV stars! Well, we’re TV extras. Bit players would be a stretch. We speak no lines and our names appear nowhere in the credits, but we’re there, on film, beaming to millions of viewers from coast to coast. No kidding — somebody decided we and our blog needed to be on a long-running television series that otherwise has nothing to do with the Mets.
“Somebody” is Sam Hoffman. Sam is a producer of Madam Secretary, with the show since it premiered in 2014. He’s also a writer and director, having applied his talents most recently to the motion picture Humor Me, which enjoyed a nice theatrical run over the winter and has just become available on DVD  and through Video On Demand. Humor Me is a father-and-son story that weaves many threads, one of them a distinct blend of orange and blue.
Now we’re getting somewhere in discerning what your bloggers are doing on your TV screen this Sunday night. We weren’t cast for our pretty faces. We weren’t cast for our faces at all. We were cast for how we appear on your other screens: your computer, your tablet, your phone (though I suppose you might watch television on those). Sam Hoffman is a Mets fan who likes to read, which you’ll recognize as code for he reads Faith and Fear in Flushing.
As you’d expect from a Faith and Fear reader who makes movies, Sam’s film has a Mets angle. In it, the father (Elliott Gould) and the son (Jemaine Clement) don’t bond over much, but they bond over the Mets. Specifically, they bond recalling with recriminations the trade that sent Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell to Philadelphia for Juan Samuel.
The film is listed as a comedy, not a tragedy, but in splicing in a Mets misstep, Sam is borrowing from real life, specifically his real father’s reaction to basically every Mets misstep. “The Mets are gonna blow the game” was a common elder Hoffman refrain. But the Mets did help keep a son and his dad close, just as the lead characters in Sam’s movies find a moment of common ground while recalling what a bad trade the Mets made in 1989.
I first learned about the Samuel subplot in Humor Me after we ran our latest edition of the Oscar’s Cap Awards. Sam reached out to let me know his movie contained that particular Met grace note. I thanked him and added it to my Mets Pop Culture file for next year’s presentation. Then, about a month later, I received an e-mail from him, the kind of e-mail we don’t get every day here at Faith and Fear:
“I’m a Mets fan and a fan of your writing. In the episode of Madam Secretary I’m about to direct, some of the characters are standing in line to see a 3 hour (fictional) baseball documentary. I’d love to put you in the line as a cameo.”
After Jason and I overcame our disappointment that there was no actual three-hour baseball documentary to stand in line for (though it did have an intriguing name: Man On Third), we said sure. Technically, first we said “what the…?” to each other, then “sure” to Sam.
At first, television production works fast. There was a flurry of e-mails from all kinds of studio professionals telling us what we had to sign, what we had to bring, what we couldn’t wear (licensed Mets gear was out, but that would turn out to be a blessing), where to go and for how long. No, check that — nobody said how long this would take. If they had, we might have reconsidered.
But probably not. We had stars in our eyes, even if we were only extras on a call sheet the length of a CVS receipt.
Our day of filming was February 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and Mets fans’ emancipation from the endless, cold New York winter, for February 12 was also the day Pitchers & Catchers reported for Spring Training . You may not remember that anymore, but we all pretended it was a big deal between the last out of last year and February 11. Oh, Spring! Oh, Warmth!
Not where we were. We reported to Actors & Extras, headquartered in a borrowed church rec room in Cobble Hill. That’s where they told us to go, and we went. Jason lives in Brooklyn, so it was a stroll. I live on Long Island, and it was a schlep, made schleppier because I followed wardrobe’s instructions to the letter and brought multiple changes of clothing that got heavier and heavier as I changed train after train. They had a certain look in mind if we were supposed to portray baseball fans.
Jason showed up unencumbered by such details. His approach was the right one. We already look like baseball fans. What we were wearing was basically fine — except they had to give us something for our heads. Synagogues give you yarmulkes, but this was a church and we were representing the Church of Baseball, so they gave us baseball caps.
Faith and Fear in Flushing baseball caps. Those don’t exist (unlike our t-shirts, which exist in theory; apologies for difficulties with our vendor). In the course of our intense “where do we sign?” negotiations, we told the production company and the network and whoever else — because they asked nicely — go ahead and use our logo if you want. And they did. They turned it into the centerpiece of an expertly aged two-toned baseball cap. The lid is royal blue, the brim is black, to match the black patch that fields our white letters. Not only were we told we should wear them in the scene, other extras on the movie line would be wearing them as well.
Not sure what’s crazier: a three-hour baseball documentary (“one of the three best of the year,” according to the detailed poster outside the theater) or the idea that the people lining up to see it would be showing off their affinity for our blog. I’m still hung up on the fact that there was no baseball documentary.
See? Expert casting.
We were stoked to get the caps, stoked to be ever so briefly drafted into show business, just plain stoked. Then maybe a little less stoked as the day wore on. I knew there was a lot of waiting around in filming, so I wasn’t surprised. But it does take some of the stoke out of you.
Not the worst wait of our lives, by any means. We hung out like we usually only hang out during doubleheaders, except longer. We kept up on the vital news of the day, mainly that the Nationals had picked up that traitor Matt Reynolds. We met people who extra for a living, people who would prefer to act for a career. None of our fellow extras had heard of any Mets blogs, but some professed familiarity with baseball. One who’d done this a lot offered to lend us a book to pass the time.
Around six o’clock in the evening we broke for lunch. That’s what they call it. I looked forward to partaking in craft services . Alas, craft services is apparently for the real actors and was nowhere in sight. The extras can go get their own lunch, which we did. We used our hour to eat at a nearby coffee shop; to mutually decide the 2018 Mets weren’t shaping up as terribly promising; and to debate with surprising civility the artistic merits of Billy Joel (I’m steadfastly pro, Jason’s virulently con, but we didn’t start a fire). We spilled nothing on our caps — we were urged to keep wearing them to get in character — and we prepared to wait a little longer. And a little longer still. At some point, after our late lunch, we got the good word: go to the actual set, which was, in fact, an actual movie theater.
That’s where we waited some more after walking over, by which time, it’s worth noting, there was no sign of spring. Walking a few blocks on a chilly night is no big deal. Standing outside for a movie you’re not actually going to see because it’s not there can get frigid. It can and it did.
The other part of long, besides the waiting around (which continued for a while inside the blessedly warm theater), is the actual filming. I assure you we won’t be on camera for long. Nobody, not even the actual Madam Secretary characters who are meeting on a blind date outside the theater, will be on camera for long at this location. But it takes time to set up the shot, to shoot from multiple angles, to correct all that isn’t immediately right, to do it take after take after take. We don’t see the incredible effort TV takes when we watch TV. You know it when you’re in the thick of it, especially on a thirty-degree night amid a thirty mile-per-hour wind.
I’m been waiting to say this, so I’m going to interject it now: that’s showbiz.
Just before being called into action, we met Sam. He’d been busy directing the rest of the episode all day. We got three minutes of baseball talk in before he had to dash. Then we had to dash. And freeze. And, if you can call it that, act.
How do non-professionals like Jason and me not ruin everything in an established television show populated and produced by pros? We do as we are told. We were told to stand over here. Then stand over there. Then look like we’d look as we were waiting in line for a three-hour baseball documentary: fidget on our feet; scroll through our phones; lightly grumble to one another. Turn and talk without talking. Just mouth words. Don’t whisper. Whispers can be picked up by the omnipresent microphones.
My silent dialogue, improvised on the spot, was made up mostly of mid-’70s Mets whose names don’t get mentioned out loud all that often: Jay Kleven…Mike Vail…Jerry Cram..Roy Staiger…Bob Apodaca. Skip Lockwood, too, probably because I had recently finished reading an advance copy of his new memoir  (highly recommended). Given that Jason and I spent a chunk of our church waiting time in Talmudic analysis of the Holy Books , one of my imaginary lines was “he doesn’t even have a card,” which I apparently whispered instead of mouthed since he asked me after somebody yelled “CUT!” whether that was, in fact, what I’d just said.
Mostly we had to be unnoticeable (though Sam made sure we’d be recognizable to anybody likely to recognize us). The focus is on the two characters meeting for the date. We’re ever so briefly in their way and then just there. Same for the rest of the extras in line, though none of them were bloggers. We were all bundled up against the worst the winter night had to offer, but otherwise appeared as baseball fans. One of the extras who took the wardrobe instructions to heart brought a baseball with him, as if that’s something a baseball fan would bring to a movie. I’m guessing he’s not a baseball fan when not being paid to portray one.
When you shoot on the streets of New York — Brooklyn included — you take your chances. Pedestrians who were held from walking toward their destinations weren’t too happy to stand aside for however long it took for each take. Drivers and passengers seemed to relish honking their horns into our boom mics. Then again, I spied a neighbor in a nearby building pleased to avail himself of a sneak preview from his window, while somebody in a car double-parked across the street long enough to take a few pictures. Glamour, inconvenience, frostbite, baseball — the night had something for everyone.
I thought it would go on forever, yet somehow it was decided, after a dozen or so attempts to show our prospective lovebirds meeting for the movie and making their next move, that we were done. All that was left was to thank the crew for their patient expertise (some were Mets fans) and head back to the church to sign out and gather up our unworn stuff for the schlep home. We had been told we’d have to return all official wardrobe items, including the caps with the Faith and Fear logo, but Sam told us to tell them he said we could keep ours. Since it didn’t seem likely FAFIF would become a recurring character, we didn’t get an argument.
So you’ll recognize it, a link to the cap is here:
So that was our adventure in acting and our stitch in the rich tapestry of Mets Pop Culture. You’ll see the results Sunday night on Madam Secretary, if you are so inclined. And if you keep reading, you’ll learn more about the man who made it happen for us.
MEET SAM HOFFMAN
I couldn’t let this experience pass without asking our patron in the arts what led him to care enough about the Mets to insert a couple of fairly obscure bloggers into his network television show simply because they write about the Mets. Sam Hoffman graciously consented to be interviewed in early April, at which point I had just about completely thawed out from our shoot in mid-February.
Sam’s first brush with Mets Pop Culture came during Spring Training in 1979. As he tells it, his father took him to St. Petersburg as part of an “incentive package” related to his Bar Mitzvah preparation. Learn your haftorah, go see the Mets. Good deal. His visit coincided with a historic moment: the filming of the Chico Escuela comeback  for Saturday Night Live, during which he encountered Garrett Morris as the former Met icon and Bill Murray as the intrepid reporter. Years later, when Sam entered the business, he’d find himself on several movie sets with Murray. On one of them, Sam told him they’d met before, in Florida, at Spring Training, when baseball was being berry, berry good to both of them.
“Yeah, I don’t remember that,” was Murray’s response.
Bar Mitzvahed and grown, Sam’s career has wound through a couple of landmark sports movies. In the early ’90s, there was Rudy, the film I am most likely to drop what I’m doing and watch whenever it’s on. Sam recalled most vividly that Notre Dame gave the crew exactly eight minutes of halftime to shoot football action and that the crew ran what amounted to “an eight-minute drill” to get all they could out of it. During that same general time period, Sam worked on A League of Their Own, not only serving as second assistant director, but playing a little ball.
In the tryout camp scene, filmed at Wrigley Field (which he counts as his “No. 1 thrill”), Geena Davis as Dottie Hinson has to make a bullet of a throw from behind the plate to second base. A great actress isn’t necessarily a natural catcher, so they had a stuntwoman on hand to make the throw. Except the stuntwoman didn’t have the arm for it, either. All her tries were “lollipop throws,” Sam says. With Jerry Grote unavailable, Sam went to director Penny Marshall and volunteered that he could do it. Marshall figured there was nothing to lose in letting Sam try. He was as good as his own scouting report.
Thus, when you see Dottie Hinson firing a frozen rope to second, that’s Sam Hoffman in a wig and Geena Davis’s costume. He was, in essence, an uncredited twentysomething stuntwoman, but he’s in the movie.
Sam’s predilection for baseball came from his father. “He was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan originally,” Sam says. “He switched to the Mets when they came along and inculcated and indoctrinated me.” Who else would take a kid to St. Pete for Spring Training as part of Bar Mitzvah training? Who else would agree to a youngster’s insistence that, when the family was in the San Francisco area, they drive around looking for Dave Kingman’s house because the youngster had read something about his favorite player living in a particular neighborhood?
Don Hahn is the first player Sam remembers, though more as a name than as a Met hero. “I remember that trade,” he says, referring to the swap that shipped Hahn, Dave Schneck and Tug McGraw to Philadelphia for Mac Scarce, Del Unser and John Stearns. Hahn generally gets no higher than fourth billing when that trade comes up in Mets fan conversation, but it is to Sam’s credit as a Mets fan that he’d fixate on a below-the-marquee player worthy of being silently mouthed by a baseball fan standing in the cold waiting to see a fictional three-hour baseball documentary. Come to think of it, I might have mouthed “Dave Schneck” to Jason. Had Humor Me been made twenty years ago, perhaps Gould and Clement would have rued the 1974 Hahn trade the way they presently rue the 1989 Samuel trade. Mets fans of every generation can always find a trade to rue.
For Sam, Hahn’s departure from New York is a point of Met demarcation. “That’s about when they became bad,” he approximates, but that didn’t stop him from growing into his fandom. “I got excited when Craig Swan won 14 games,” he says. “I was heartbroken when Dave Kingman broke his thumb” and was henceforth halted from breaking Hack Wilson’s National League home run record. Each of us spent a moment mourning that injury four decades after its occurrence.
Far from silently mouthing, Sam cheered wildly when Mookie Wilson’s grounder rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs. That doesn’t differentiate him from any other Mets fan, except Sam was in college in London during the 1986 World Series. “In my dorm, there was me and a kid from Boston,” he says. “We listened over Armed Forces Radio on a transistor radio in the middle of the night, yelling and screaming and keeping awake everybody else who didn’t care.” Sam didn’t hesitate from exulting while England slept. And he kept caring, kept rooting, kept the family tradition going. In 2015, he had another great thrill, taking his then ten-year-old son to the World Series at Citi Field.
I asked if being in entertainment has him crossing paths with athletes. Not that much, he told me, but on The Royal Tenenbaums he worked with a rugged stand-in whose previous profession he knew nothing about. “The back of his neck was sun-damaged,” Sam says, “so I asked him, ‘What’s the deal, are you a cowboy?’ He told me, ‘I was a catcher.’” It was Greg Goossen, who made a Hollywood career of standing in for Gene Hackman, but attained a modicum of fame in Sam’s infancy as the Met of whom Casey Stengel told reporters was twenty and had a chance in ten years to be thirty .
“I played for the Mets,” Goossen informed Sam. “Then I got traded to the Seattle Pilots.”
“I said, ‘Holy shit!’” By the tone in Sam’s voice, I believe that’s an exact quote.
It got better. At a later date, Sam had the opportunity to go to a Mets game with, among others, Goossen and Luke Wilson, a genuine movie star. Outside Shea, they were accosted enthusiastically by a fan. “He looks like he wants an autograph,” Sam says, figuring the target was Wilson. The fan ignored the star and went straight for the stand-in. “You’re Greg Goossen!” the stranger exclaimed. “You played for the Mets in ’68 and you’re Jewish!”
Indeed, he did and indeed, he was. Greg Goossen is part of that small fraternity of Chosen Mets . People generally know from Art Shamsky, Shawn Green and Ike Davis…Greg Goossen, not so much. This was new information to Sam, the former Bar Mitzvah Boy who would go on to create the online phenomenon Old Jews Telling Jokes . You had to understand, Sam explained, Greg Goossen was “the least Jewish guy you’ve ever seen — he comes from a family of boxing promoters in Las Vegas! I asked him, ‘You’re Jewish?’
Goossen shrugged, “Half.”
Well, I’m no Greg Goossen, but I am fully appreciative both of the time Sam gave me over the phone and the experience he provided Jason and me on Madam Secretary. I also appreciate that he’s been a Faith and Fear reader for a long time. “A number of years ago,” he remembers, “there was a boom of blogs about the Mets. I would sample a number of them.” Sam namechecked the pioneering Eddie Kranepool Society and the sabermetrically innovative Mets Geek from what the Cranberries might have called those “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? ” days.
“Then I found yours,” Sam says, “and I came back to yours. That was a result of how you guys bring some poetry to being a Mets fan.” When the three-hour documentary appeared in the script for the episode of in question, “I thought who would be in this movie line? First thing that came to mind was you guys. You have the combination of wonkish devotion to the Mets and baseball and the love of artistry and writing. I’d seen your picture on the blog and thought it would be fun to see you guys in line — sell the idea of real baseball fans going to see this movie.”
I don’t know if it will be fun for anybody else to see us there, but we sure had fun being there, cold and all. Thanks again to Sam Hoffman and everybody who gave us our moment just to the side of the spotlight.