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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.

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Club Quinceañera

Fifteenth anniversaries don’t get much play in our milestone-mad media. Ones, Fives, Tens, Twenties and up the line, sure, they’re money. But with rare exception, nobody gets too worked up over the crystal anniversary, not named for Billy Crystal, though I can see where the potential association might be a turnoff. Yet I encountered a fifteenth anniversary the other day whose context demanded my attention once I realized I’d never heard such a thing mentioned before.

On Sunday, during the WOR pregame show, Wayne Randazzo mentioned that day’s date, June 10, marked the fifteenth anniversary of the major league debut of everybody’s favorite current Met, Jose Reyes (please, hold your applause). The longevity itself, fifteen years in the big leagues, is impressive no matter who we’re talking about, but the part that got me was Wayne was referring to someone who began his career as a Met fifteen years ago and was still playing. It wasn’t so much that Jose was marking fifteen years — I was conscious of the math in his case — it was that anybody who was a Met fifteen years ago would continue on in the majors.

The key in this equation is “a Met fifteen years ago”. Our organization occasionally helps itself to the services of players who were something else fifteen years ago, literally and skillfully. Some of them were on their way to the Hall of Fame when they dropped by. Spahn. Mays. Murray. Henderson. Others. Some of them were on their way out but came attached to one of those fliers that’s so appealing when rosters are being filled out. I’d refer to Adrian Gonzalez here, except Adrian Gonzalez, despite his reputation for older than dirt, was actually less venerable than the good earth during his recently expired Met tenure. A-Gon wasn’t yet in the majors fifteen years ago. Nor was Jose Bautista, who may not be the only well-traveled type the 2018 Mets took a flier on but is the only 2018 Met who can claim to have been alive before the Philadelphia Phillies ever won a World Series (born the day of Game Five of the 1980 Fall Classic). Bobby Abreu — a major leaguer in 1996, a Met in 2014 — was a different, more experienced story. So, of course, was his 2014 Met teammate 1997 MLB debutante Bartolo Colon. Whether you tell it through numbers, letters or hieroglyphics, there is no story remotely like Bartolo Colon.

But those guys weren’t Mets early in their major league careers. Those are the guys I’m interested in. The guys who survived not just fifteen years of highest-level competition but did so after being born or at least nurtured under a Met sign. Putting aside whatever animus you might feel the need to express regarding the last favorite player I will ever have (all of which has been duly noted, thank you), it occurred to me that by enduring as long as he has, Reyes must have qualified for a select club.

He has. Very select. Only five players have found themselves Mets fifteen or more years after first having been Mets. Only two nailed their crystal anniversary by being Mets exactly fifteen years later. And only Jose Reyes played baseball for the Mets on the day he broke in — June 10, 2003 (2-for-4, two runs scored when the Mets lost by two to the Rangers in Arlington) — and fifteen years to the day he broke in — June 10, 2018 (1-for-2, a run scored when the Mets won by two over the Yankees in Flushing). The opposing shortstop when Jose introduced himself was Alex Rodriguez, ESPN’s analyst in the broadcast booth fifteen years later. The opposing second baseman was Michael Young. Judging by Jose’s play in the field Sunday, young is resolutely the opposite of Reyes these days.

You shouldn’t need a hint from anybody’s Perks Patrol to guess the lone other Met to celebrate what we shall call a Metropolitan Quinceañera. The only Met who started his baseball life as a Met, spent an entire Major League Baseball life of more than fifteen years as a Met and will never be anything but a Met is Ed Kranepool. Like Jose, Ed (feted by fans at a thoughtful fundraiser in Astoria on Sunday) was a teenage New York Met, all of seventeen years old when he made his debut at the Polo Grounds on September 22, 1962, replacing Gil Hodges at first base in the seventh inning versus the Cubs. The Mets were trailing, 8-1. Ed got one at-bat, grounding out against righthander Paul Toth. The Mets lost, 9-2.

But the Krane was airborne and would remain aloft fifteen years later. September 22, 1977, was an off day for the Mets (weren’t they all then?), but the next night Ed made it official, starting at first on September 23 — the fifteenth anniversary of his first big league hit — and singling off Bob Forsch as part of a three-run rally in the fifth inning at Shea that Friday evening. Alas, the crooked number only pulled the Mets to within 8-5 and they’d fall to the Cardinals, 10-6. No wonder they called him Steady Eddie. Mr. Kranepool’s path remained straight and narrow for another two seasons. He’s the only Met to have commemorated a seventeenth anniversary as a Met.

Not the only Met with a sixteenth anniversary, however. Three Mets who missed their quinceañeras as Mets did show up for their sweet sixteens. Unlike Kranepool, they had to step away from Flushing for a spell. Like Reyes, they eventually returned to the fold.

• Tom Seaver, whose Opening Day homecoming was instantly the stuff of legend, marked the sixteenth anniversary of his promising Met debut on April 13, 1983, presumably resting up from his start of April 12, when he gave George Bamberger seven solid innings (two runs, five hits) in what became a 4-3 extra-inning loss at the Vet. As occurred when Tom first showed his stuff on April 13, 1967, he received no decision, though on that auspicious occasion, the Mets were 3-2 winners versus Pittsburgh. Seaver’s first outing past his sweet sixteen came on April 20, 1983, and it couldn’t have been more Seaverian: a three-hit shutout of the Pirates at Shea, featuring nine strikeouts while Tom pitched and a triple while Tom hit. Even then the DH was a dopey idea.

• David Cone didn’t break in as a Met, but the former Royal (eleven relief appearances in 1986) certainly broke out in Queens. On April 11, 1987, Coney relieved the immortal Gene Walter in the seventh inning and threw three frames of one-run ball versus the Braves at Shea. Unfortunately, the one run was all Atlanta needed that Saturday, and David was saddled with the 4-3 defeat. It was his first loss as a Met and the Mets’ first loss as defending champions. Precisely sixteen years later — and one week after his triumphant return to the mound where he became a star — the 40-year-old version of Cone was the starter and loser in the Mets’ first-ever game in Puerto Rico, bowing to the same Expos he bested in Flushing, 10-0. Coney had been out of baseball during 2002 and would retire before 2003 was over.

• Jason Isringhausen was all the rage as part of the Generation K vanguard on July 17, 1995 (two runs in seven innings of an eventual 7-2 Mets win at Wrigley). He’d morph over the next sixteen years into a veteran reliever chasing 300 saves, leading Izzy the Recidivist Met to still be doing business with his right arm on July 17, 2011. As Terry Collins’s sixth pitcher on a Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, Jason produced a shutout ninth inning. The Mets, though, were already down four runs and they’d stay down four runs, losing, 8-4. Izzy would gain his 300th career save in August and, like Seaver, keep pitching after his second Met tenure ended, moving on to the Angels in 2012.

Those are your Mets who were Mets fifteen or more years after they were first Mets. Small gathering for a quinceañera, but there are a few others who at least rate an invitation to the cocktail hour.

• Mike Jorgensen came up to the Mets on September 22, 1968, pinch-hitting for Ron Taylor in an 8-1 loss to the Cubs in Chicago. Fifteen seasons later, he was on track for a crystal anniversary as a Met, but another defensively minded first baseman got in the way. Jorgy’s second go-round as a Met was interrupted on June 15, 1983, by the acquisition of that Keith Hernandez fellow. Much of Jorgensen’s portfolio by 1983 was coming in to field on behalf of Dave Kingman late in games. Once Hernandez came to the Mets, there was no need to start Kingman at first nor any need to replace Hernandez ever. The Mets sold Mike to Atlanta. He’d play through 1985.

• John Franco came really close to making Club Quinceañera, an especially remarkable feat in that he was already an established veteran closer when he first pitched for the Mets on April 11, 1990. Johnny from Bensonhurst debuted as a major leaguer in 1984, for goodness sake. That means he spent six seasons as a Red prior to the Mets swapping Randy Myers to Cincinnati to obtain his implicitly trusted left arm. They had to like what they received in his first Met appearance: an inning-and-a-third of solid relief to post a save behind fellow St. John’s alum Frank Viola. Franco would spend fifteen seasons with the Mets, with one of them lost to Tommy John surgery. Yet he spent his fifteenth anniversary in the uniform of the Houston Astros once the Mets decided they’d wrung all there was to wring from his surgically repaired elbow following the 2004 season. Appropriately, the 44-year-old southpaw found himself at Shea on April 11, 2005, as the ’Stros were playing the Mets. In a cognitively dissonant Met Home Opener during which he was associated with somebody other than the home team, Franco came on in the bottom of the eighth to face Cliff Floyd with runners on base. An RBI single ensued. The Mets won. John lasted with Houston until July. Today it’s like his time as anything but a Met never happened.

• Speaking of things that never happened, Jesse Orosco’s second term as a Met was pre-empted in Spring Training of 2000 before it could truly commence. Management went to the trouble of bringing back baseball’s premiere lefty specialist during the preceding offseason, meaning we were on our way to witnessing a Met career turn 21 years old right before our eyes. True, Jesse’d been wandering the highways and byways of baseball for more than a decade, but the important thing was that a pitcher who broke in as a Met on April 5, 1979, was in position to solider on as a Met on April 5, 2000. Think about it: a teammate of Ed Kranepool pitching for us in the new millennium! Except on March 18, the Mets concluded they needed a utility player more than they needed an extra portsider and they sent Orosco to St. Louis for Joe McEwing. Not a bad deal considering how far the Mets went before 2000 was over, but a bummer in terms of Jesse pitching for the Redbirds instead of the Metsies that April 5. He threw one-third of an inning in a Cardinal win over the Cubs at Busch Stadium while the Mets were blanked at home by San Diego. Karma probably insisted.

Orosco remained a major league pitcher until 2003. He earned the last of his 144 regular-season saves that May 9 in the same stadium where he secured the final out of the 1986 World Series. This time, in a more muted atmosphere, Jesse struck out Roberto Alomar of the Mets to end the game. A month and a day later, Alomar would be playing second base alongside a rookie shortstop just called up to the majors, a highly hyped prospect who was not quite twenty years old.

Fifteen years later…well, you know.

Your next Mets off night — Thursday, June 28 — should be spent with your fellow Mets fans at Two Boots Midtown East in Manhattan. Details here.

10 comments to Club Quinceañera

  • Ray

    Also throw in the karma of Jesse Orosco, the final outgetter of Championship II, being traded in 1979 to the Mets for Jerry Koosman, the final outgetter of Championship I. I brought up that coincidence to one Ed Kranepool at the ’12 conference and perhaps implied it was a good trade in hindsight. Superstiff ripped me a new one for daring to compare ANYONE to the great number 36.

    • I remember the “Jerry Orosco” response from Ed. He was revved up at the moment. May he remain as revved up as he cares to be.

      Kooz, incidentally, shares an adjacent distinction alongside Tug, Nolie, Straw, Doc, Aggie and no adorable nickname Jeff Kent: They played against the Mets fifteen or more years after first becoming Mets. Dave Magadan played against the Mets fifteen seasons after becoming a Met, but shy of his fifteenth anniversary.

      Honorable mention to Bud Harrelson and Jerry Grote, still active fifteen-plus years after their Met debut but playing their baseball in the American League, thus not crossing Met paths.

      • Ray

        I know he hated my take, but given recent events, all I can think of is something that a much younger-than-me-now Alan Alda once said to a MUCH younger-than-me-now Ron Howard in a MASH episode where the latter’s character tells the former that he hates Hawkeye:
        “Let’s hope it’s a long and healthy hate.”

  • K. Lastima

    Looking forward to Ollie’s return to Blue and Orange in 2021 for the quinceañera of his Mets’ debut

    • Pending the inevitable final bow for Reyes and the limbo of Wright, Ollie is positioned to serve as Last Met Standing from 2006 not to mention Longest Ago Met Still Active. A Metropolitan Quinceañera on August 26, 2021, would be icing on the perennial lefty’s cake.

    • Jacobs27

      My dad happened to have a flight delayed in Arizona this past spring and took the opportunity to go see a Nats-Cubs spring training game while he was waiting. The highlight apparently was seeing Ollie come in and give up a three-run bomb.

  • Dave

    I’ll thank everyone to stop talking about Ollie Perez, ‘kay? Just no need to ever be reminded. We good?

  • Bill Slocum

    Three years, 10 months to go before Jason Vargas qualifies for Club Quinceañera. I bet someone laughed about Eddie too.

    • Your 2007 Mets still active besides Jose and David* are Ollie, Carlos Gomez, Vargas and the perpetually fresh-faced Joe Smith. Add in Daniel Murphy, and those are all your Shea Mets still around in MLB. Endy Chavez plays for the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League.