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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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A Rainy Goodbye

Every November 17, I think, “It’s Tom Seaver’s birthday.” I’m thinking it again. Tom Seaver would have been 76 today. What a heartbreaking sentence to write.

November 17, 1944, was the first baseball birthday I learned. I’m pretty sure I plucked it off the back of one of Tom’s baseball’s cards, presumably his 1971 Topps, since that was the first one of his I ever pulled from a pack. I feel as if I’ve known about November 17, 1944, almost forever. I wasn’t seeking to learn any other player’s birthday. With Seaver, I was always looking to learn more.

Last year, when he reached 75 years old, I had to resist the reflex that I had to resist every time I found cause to write about him since the previous March. I didn’t want to refer to Tom Seaver in the past tense. When his family let it be known in March of 2019 that Tom was withdrawing from public life because of the intensifying effects of dementia, it wasn’t hard for those of us consuming this miserable information from afar to lurch toward a second step, from accepting Tom was altogether out of the spotlight to assuming that made him as good as gone. But nobody said one thing was leading imminently to the other. Tom was missing from our immediate radar for terrible reasons. That was the headline. There was no need for another story.

It was a relief during the summer prior to Tom’s 75th, in late June of 2019, when his daughter Sarah came to town for the dedication of Seaver Way and assured us, in so many words, that Tom was still very much with us, still very much keeping company with Nancy, still very much tending to their vineyard. I wished Tom could have been at Citi Field that weekend joining his 1969 teammates in golden-anniversary celebration of their accomplishments. It seemed all wrong that he wasn’t, but as long as he was somewhere doing something he could enjoy, that seemed all right.

We’d been primed for the worst Seaver news for eighteen months when it came around on September 2, 2020. I was shocked by it anyway. I was lightly scrolling through Twitter, not too many minutes after the postgame show wrapped on SNY, preparing to write up the game of September 2 at some point that night. David Peterson took over in relief of Michael Wacha and pitched four scoreless innings. Michael Conforto went 4-for-5 with 5 RBIs. The Mets beat the Orioles at Camden Yards, 9-4. I don’t remember what exactly I was noodling for a recap, but looking at the box score for the first time since then, I’m reminded that the losing pitcher for Baltimore was John Means, and his name made me think of John Maine, a former Orioles hurler who became a Met staple for several seasons. There was likely a play on words in the offing.

Except Twitter had other ideas. I started spotting Seaver’s name in my scrolling. When I saw somebody tweet, “rest in power to the greatest met there ever was,” I didn’t need to get to the end of the lower-case sentiment. I knew where it was going. And I knew where I was going. In a blink, I was in front of my computer to write the Faith and Fear piece I’d known was coming someday but didn’t know was coming that night. Game Seven had arrived in my Mets fan soul. The ball was in my hand.

I had nothing.

Understand that any chance I had to write about Tom Seaver from 2005 forward represented a feast day for me in this space. I’d practically tie a napkin around my neck in anticipation of what was I about to pile on my plate. I get to call attention to the premier career in Mets history. I get to high-five my generational peers as if Tom had just finished another scoreless inning. I get to provide background and context to the later generations who might wonder what all the Franchise fuss is about. I get to feel like I did some summer afternoon in 1975. It was a privilege to write about Tom Seaver in life.

What’s more, I’d been writing in-memoriam tributes for 15 years. Those were remembrances of Mets and Mets figures and others I connected to the Mets that I assigned myself with an utmost sense of purpose and crafted out of veritable holy obligation to the memories of the suddenly departed. I don’t mind telling you that when I wrote those they flowed from my fingers as if they’d been on file waiting to emerge. I wrote nothing in advance. I just knew what to say when the time came. Yet here, with my idol, my hero, my favorite player resting in peace, power or whatever — for minutes that felt like hours — I had nothing to say to my fresh, white, blank Microsoft Word document. Nothing that wasn’t obvious. Nothing that met the moment. Nothing worthy of my subject.

No page ever stared at me so blankly. The situation defied my repertoire. I’d spent 51 years loving Tom Seaver and I couldn’t piece together a proper goodbye. Tom never pitched a Game Seven, but he would have at least thrown a pitch by now. Not having any kind of fastball in me, I typed the word “Terrific” and stared at it. That was my get-me-over curve, I guess. Tom always said the most important pitch was strike one. Eventually, other words followed. They landed on the screen and a finished product landed on the blog before long, but the whole exercise struck me as hollow.

Everything struck me as hollow for the next 24 hours. There were fine stories penned, splendid thoughts uttered, heartfelt montages aired and necessary mourning shared, yet somehow it all felt like nothing. How was the greatest Met there’s ever been transferred so definitively to the past tense? I understood why he was traded when I was 14. I understood why he was left unprotected when I was 21. I understood why he couldn’t be at the reunion when I was 56. I didn’t like any of the reasons, but I understood that things we don’t like happen. I understand life ends, even for somebody so many identify as their idol, their hero, their favorite player. But there was a disconnect between this news and my ability to fully process it when I was 57. I just couldn’t plug in.

On September 3, I watched the Mets play the Yankees on TV from necessarily empty Citi Field under a metaphorically appropriate dark late-afternoon sky. I toggled between thinking it would be wrong for the Mets to not win this game of all games and deciding one thing had absolutely nothing to do with the other. I wouldn’t want the Mets to lose to the Yankees on any occasion, but the literal part of me didn’t see any symbolic relevance to the matchup. Other than in Spring Training, Tom Seaver never pitched against the Yankees for the Mets, certainly not in front of vacant stands. Beat the Yankees. Don’t beat the Yankees. He’s still the Franchise and he’s not coming back either way. (May Dave Mlicki live long and prosper, but if his passing is announced the night before a Subway Series showdown, I think I have my angle.)

While winning one for Tom was a terrific idea in the abstract, I didn’t deeply care, regardless of opponent. The Mets could have been playing the Cubs, and James Qualls III could have been batting cleanup for the visitors, and I don’t know that I would’ve cared deeply. Hollowness reigned.

The game went on and on for so long that I couldn’t sit and watch it to conclusion, not if I wanted to take care of three details I decided were essential. I had to go out and buy three newspapers: the News, the Post and Newsday. I stopped buying print editions a long time ago, but these were my lifeline to the Mets as a kid, what sated me between Kiner’s Korner one night and pregame the next. I tracked Tom Seaver putting up his unbelievable numbers in those papers. I read all the good things his teammates and managers and rivals had to say about him. I gleaned when there was trouble mounting between him and the front office. I delivered the June 16, 1977, Newsday that reported he was off to Cincinnati. Talk about bad news on the doorstep.

Not that I hadn’t devoured via social media most everything the News, the Post and Newsday had produced on the subject in the preceding 24 hours. I instinctively needed the physical confirmation that Tom Seaver was no longer with us. That’s what I told myself. I used to save newspapers from momentous events. For the most part over the decades I’ve discarded them in intermittent fits of purging. I’ve kept the front and back pages from every Mets clinching since 1986, but those are celebratory. I don’t know why I had to have these Tom Seaver Died newspapers from September 3, 2020. I just knew I did.

Late afternoon had turned to evening and evening had turned to night. I couldn’t wait for the game to end, lest the papers no longer be on sale. I got in the car, turned on WCBS and made two stops that I thought would bear newsprint fruit. Between a 7-Eleven and a Stop & Shop, I found all three. At Citi, the Mets fell further behind in the eighth, but then caught up in the ninth. There was still some game awaiting me when I returned home.

Once inside, I examined the papers I bought. They told their essential story on their respective front pages.

The News: A most ‘Terrific’ life

Check. Check. And what?

I was slapping my forehead in a second. I had seen the Newsday front page online. Not this one. The Seaver one. It was instantly memorable because, by some cosmic coincidence, it was presented in a throwback format. Newsday was commemorating its 80th anniversary that very day by making up its front page to resemble what it published in 1940. Normally I’d admire that kind of homage. On this particular evening, I would have preferred something out of 1970. I was too young to be a Newsday carrier when I was seven, but not too young to read the N.L. Leaders the paper printed most every day. I wanted that version of Newsday in my hands, the one that taught me no starting pitcher was statistically better when he went to the mound every fifth day. Most wins. Most strikeouts. Lowest earned run average. It wasn’t a summer’s day in 1970 without the sports in Newsday reiterating how good Seaver was. But I’d take whatever they’d created in 2020 that had Seaver’s passing on the front page.

I was berating myself over the rookie mistake I’d made when I’d gone out before. I didn’t check to make sure I had the right edition of Newsday. Obviously, because it was late in the day, the late edition must have been sold out (who knew newspapers sell out these days?) and all that was left at the supermarket where I picked this up were the remnants of the stack from early in the day. That had to be it, therefore this would be easily rectified. I’d go out again and get the right one.

Fortunately, the baseball game ended in short order, with Pete Alonso swatting the tenth-inning home run that inevitably had to be hit in Tom’s honor (forget what I said that it didn’t matter whether the Mets won or lost). I’m going out again, I told Stephanie the instant Mets 9 Yankees 7 went in the books. I grabbed an umbrella and a plastic bag and set off on foot in the neighborhood. It was raining too hard by now for my driving comfort and, besides, we have enough stores within walking distance to find a newspaper.

I tromped seven-tenths of a mile in the direction of the train station and the seven-tenths of a mile back as the cats and dogs commenced coming down in buckets. I tried six stores: two chain pharmacies; two chain convenience stores; one deli; one place I want to call a stationery store except I don’t think they sell stationery. Not one of them had the Seaver edition of Newsday. I got wetter and wetter, madder and madder. Why didn’t I go out earlier? Why don’t I get in the car again and try the next town? Why does this matter to me? Am I letting Tom down? Tom is dead. He’s never met me, but now I feel guilty that I’m not making the plays behind him. You didn’t need to be Buddy Harrelson to pick up the right paper. It was a simple ground ball and I let it get by me.

The phrase “hot mess” might apply to how I was coping. But I tell ya what: the hollowness filled in. I felt it now. I felt Tom Seaver’s death. It was real. I connected to it. Going out in search of a newspaper was apparently my true tribute to my favorite player. It was my proper goodbye. No, I didn’t make the play, but I left my feet in pursuit of the ball. It wasn’t going to do either of us any good if I had the late edition of Newsday in my hands or not. In fact, I would learn after doing a little digging, that the METS GREAT SEAVER DIES front page and the coverage that accompanied it only went out to home subscribers. I couldn’t have found it in a store no matter what time I sought it. Maybe if I’d kept my paper route I’d have it.

This was on September 3. It’s November 17 now, the date every year when I think, “it’s Tom Seaver’s birthday.” Tom Seaver would have been 76 today. That sentence remains heartbreaking so soon after September 3. But Tom had 75-plus mostly terrific years. We as fans reveled in the decades’ worth that brought him to our attention and kept him there. We’ll continue to revel in what he did and who he was in and out of a Mets uniform. That’s the headline here.

12 comments to A Rainy Goodbye

  • Ed Rising

    Greg, Thank you for sharing this emotional blog today. I too can appreciate running out for the paper and seeing how they treated the news – so important that they use right words, be as eloquent and respectful, and to share with the world how very important Tom Seaver was as a professional, what he meant to the Mets and who he was as a man. I do see your point. Tom is gone he won’t be reading these articles or blogs but that hardly matters. We write this for ourselves. For our own grief therapy. Like yourself I had trouble writing about Tom on Facebook and other social media platforms. I expected to hold off so that it would happen when I felt right. But you know how a story lasts only so long these days – so I managed to put together some tribute but that also did not feel complete. It didn’t fee complete – and really unless I someday obtain real writing talent – it will never feel complete. Tom Seaver was such a big part of my life. I cared so much. I cried when he was traded. I rejoiced when he triumphed. But it was more than wins and losses, strike outs and no hitters. It was a feeling that Tom gave to us. He acted as a professional and performed with excellence. I suppose I projected some of that onto myself as something to aspire to. It is heartbreaking to lose Tom and for his brilliant mind to have been so compromised due to dementia. It very sad. But I am so thankful that we were the fotrunate one’s to have picked his name out of a hat and how he helped transform our franchise. #41 always #1 with the Mets and in our hearts.

  • Seth

    Smart idea to bring the plastic bag, though. Not sure I would have been so “on the ball.”

    • I’m neurotic for plastic bags.

      • ljcmets

        My grandfather’s birthday was November 17. He would have been, I think, 119 years old today. A deeply spiritual man, he worked hard for most of his 84 years, retiring to Florida where he was so bored not working he took a job on the 6 AM shift at the neighborhood Dairy Queen. I know he would have saved you an edition of Newsday there if he ever had the opportunity, Greg. Any friend of mine was a friend of his.

        He was not a sports fan – except for basketball and boxing. But, as life would have it, he and my grandmother produced a sports nut, a boy who loved athletics of all types so much that he became the overnight sports editor of the University of Michigan Daily. His favorite player growing up was Richie Ashburn, who he had the pleasure to watch in person as a member of the Utica Blue Sox, minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.

        When Ashburn became a member of the 1962 Mets, my father became a Mets fan. And he happened to teach his only daughter all about baseball and the Mets. And that daughter, like so many other Mets fans, just loved Tom Seaver, so much that every time she remembers her Grandpa Moe’s birthday, she’ll always say a quick prayer for Tom, too.

  • Steve D

    In a strange twist of fate, Gooden was born 11/16, Seaver 11/17 and myself 11/18. So I always remember their birthdays.

  • eric1973

    We get you, Greg.

    I had not bought a newspaper for about a year, but I just had to go out and get the NY Daily News.

    Just had to.

  • Ed Rising

    Interesting Steve D how Gooden is a day behind Seaver in birthday and a game behind in his best winning season! I saw something on FB the other day about how the Mets should sign Bauer or Morton and how they would go something like 27-3. Not that would ever happen in today’s game anymore (shame) but no Mets pitcher can exceed 25 wins! No way!