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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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Back in the Bandbox

I’ve been to Fenway Park before — in fact, a few years ago I discovered that I saw my first-ever baseball game there, dandled (presumably) on my mother’s knee for a Red Sox-Tigers tilt in 1970 or so. I was back in the late 1990s, but with relatively few parks under my belt, my impressions were fairly surface: green walls, seats sized for the bottoms of the 1910s, and pillars. But even without a wealth of comparisons, I got it: Fenway had an intimacy that other parks had lost, and I sensed was all but impossible to regain.

I was back on Saturday afternoon to see the suddenly not so terrible Mets play the irrefutably terrific Red Sox, now in the waving-and-blowing-kisses phase of wrapping up a division title. This time, I was there with my wife (a Fenway veteran from her college years, when seats were cheap and aggressively available), my son and our friend Liz.

Emily and I were clad in Mets gear and rooting hard for our team. Joshua has fallen away from the fold, but was properly attired and publicly loyal. Liz’s loyalties are to the Bosox, her hometown team.

We were far from a unique group. Mets rooters probably made up a third of the fans in attendance Saturday, with the 7 Line Army forming a sizable sea of blue speckled with orange out beyond the Pesky Pole. And many of the pairs, trios and larger ensembles we saw featured orange and blue as well as red and navy.

Which made me happy. I’ve always thought that Mets and Red Sox fans should be friends — or at least natural allies, if friendship is a little too House on Pooh Corner for you. After all, as fanbases we both define ourselves not just by our tragedies and farces (current in our case, not so much in theirs) but also, however much we might sigh about it, by measuring ourselves against whatever’s happening with that other New York team.

It’s taken me a while to understand that few Boston fans want to be franchise friends — to most of them, the Mets are either the insufferable outfit that prolonged their much-mythologized agony by an additional baseball generation (which is fair enough) or a Gotham auxiliary to the pinstriped colossus they detest above all else (which is not fair at all).

But on Saturday, all was well in the stands — particularly when both teams’ rooters coalesced around baying YANKEES SUCK! into the blue sky and golden light of a crisp Boston afternoon. The Yankees were nowhere in sight, and I’m not just talking about the AL East standings, so the chant was thoroughly beside the point. But it still made me smile — a modern-baseball Kumbaya that’s as close as the actual world will ever get to the alliance I wish existed.

It helped that the Mets and Red Sox played a fun game, one that flirted with a number of storylines but refused to settle on any of them, remaining in doubt until late. At first it looked like the Mets would return the favor offered by Boston on Friday, patching together a bullpen game and getting routed. In the first Dom Smith threw a ball away and Amed Rosario couldn’t reach Xander Bogaerts‘ grounder to his left; in the second Smith let a ball get through him to bring more trouble to the doorstep.

But Corey Oswalt survived his teammates’ inattention and handed the ball off to Daniel Zamora, who was the pitcher of record when Rick Porcello finally cracked and left a fastball in the middle of the plate for Brandon Nimmo. From my vantage point behind third base, I thought at first that Mookie Betts had caught it while lunging over the bullpen fence, a la Dwight Evans a very long time ago. But no, it was just over Betts’s glove and good for a 3-1 Mets lead.

For a few minutes we were raucous, pleased with ourselves and perhaps pushing the boundaries of being good Fenway guests. But then Paul Sewald gave us an etiquette lesson.

Oh, Sewald. He looks dogged and imperturbable out there and says the right things in postgame interviews. But a little black cloud follows him around, leaving us screaming that it’s going to rain while everyone else strolls around blithely unconcerned. In the fifth Sewald struck out J.D. Martinez and popped up Bogaerts, but this only made me more anxious. Sure enough, what followed was like a bad dream: Sewald surrendered singles to Steve Pearce and Ian Kinsler before Jackie Bradley Jr. clobbered a ball off the top of the Green Monster.

I thought it was gone. Everyone thought it was gone. The umpires huddled, called Chelsea and eventually decided it was a double. The Bosox fans booed vociferously. Those of us wearing orange and blue shrugged and looked embarrassed. The Fenway A/V folks gave the umps a blast of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” to which I tip my cap. Instead of 4-3 Boston, the game was tied.

No matter. Sewald intentionally walked Rafael Devers, was sent away to think about what he’d done, and Brock Holt smashed Drew Smith‘s very first pitch off the Monster for a two-run double.

Sigh.

In the seventh, knuckleballer Steven Wright ran into trouble, walking two and battling Smith and Kevin Plawecki, whose experience swinging at knuckleballs is at best scant and may in fact be nonexistent. Both fought valiantly but were retired, leavingĀ Austin Jackson at the plate with the tying run a simple single away. Jackson popped up and the ballgame was lost — everything that followed was a not particularly necessary coda.

Sitting on my wooden seat at Fenway, I was … well, “disappointed but not devastated” wouldn’t be wrong. Much as I wanted the Mets to win and let me saunter through the streets around Fenway smiling beneficently, I couldn’t argue that mid-September is the perfect time for taking baby relievers and trying to make them grow up quick, not to mention taking pitchers formerly thought of as at least useful and working to get them back on track. The only shame was that it hadn’t worked out.

And anyway, it really had been fun. Sitting there with family and friends on a lovely afternoon, I was struck again by the intimacy of Fenway. It’s startlingly low — its highest seat would probably be smack in the middle of whatever Citi Field calls its mezzanine — and pleasingly odd, a jumble of angles and terraces and balconies assembled because of the street grid of which it is an essential, integral part, and not because of some committee of architects were told to be whimsical.

At Fenway the players aren’t participants in some distant action but right there in front of you. And when the stadium’s in full roar, or just abuzz with baseball fans riding the wave of a moment, you feel like you’ve edged over some invisible line between watcher and participant — you’re not an actor whose deeds will need to be quantified and recorded, but a part of the proceedings nonetheless.

It’s marvelous, really — an unidentifiable something you don’t realize is missing elsewhere until you’ve been steeped in it here. I’d forgotten that, and relearning it was a pleasure.

7 comments to Back in the Bandbox

  • LeClerc

    More of the miserable magic of Paul Sewald.

  • What a beautiful yet elegiac reminiscense. Like a golden tinged late summer afternoon, a memory to warm you through the long, cold days to come. Outstanding work Jason!

  • Dave

    I’m geographically in Red Sox Nation right now, in Portland. Yesterday I sought out a sports bar and the hostess graciously offered to turn the tv closest to my seat at the bar to “the Red Sox game.” I smiled politely and said, “no, it’s the Mets game.”

    Their memories of 86 aside, we should always have been brothers and sisters. I don’t think they understand how the rivalry plays out outside of the standings. Our success doesn’t depend on the Yankees losing, just a not-insignificant portion of our happiness.

  • Jacobs27

    I totally agree that the Mets and Red Sox ought to be as close to “natural allies” as it gets.

    For what it’s worth, my Dad grew up a Red Sox fan but moved to New York in the late 1970s and fell naturally in Mets fandom into the plentiful cheap seats at Shea. Aside from in 86, his (now our) dual loyalties always seemed pretty harmonious. It usually gives us three things to root for on any given day.

  • Daniel Hall

    Please don’t tell me your boy is wearing a Yankees hat right now.