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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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Back in the Sweetest Swing

For my birthday I went back to Citi Field, and that was wonderful, even with zip-tied seats for social distancing and vaccination checks and mandatory masks. Last week I went to my second game and it was even nicer, because those three things were gone and the only strange note was how normal all the old routines felt. (It helped that the Mets won both games.)

But something was missing from this year: I hadn’t been to see the Brooklyn Cyclones, in their ballpark by the sea on Coney Island.

Emily and I had tickets for the end of May, but rain scotched those plans and then the usual complications of life (which all seem to be back too) got in the way. Until Saturday night: The Cyclones were playing the Jersey Shore Blueclaws at 6 p.m. We’d be there.

We started going to Cyclones games in their inaugural 2001 season, a giddy ride that screeched to a halt when 9/11 canceled the winner-take-all finale of the championship series between the Cyclones and the Williamsport Crosscutters. (It had been scheduled for the evening of Sept. 11.) That year the Cyclones were a hot NYC ticket, with jaded Manhattanites and Brooklyn hipsters trekking out to the beach to watch new draftees led by heartthrob center fielder Angel Pagan play baseball (with wildly varying proficiency) and gape at the antics of Sandy the Seagull, their cheerfully shambolic Big Lebowski of a mascot. Over the years Emily and Joshua and I watched good Cyclones teams and bad ones, learned about the pitiless realities of life in the New York-Penn League, and got used to the idea that this year’s players would be mostly gone next year, with the successful or favored ones moving up in the organization and the unsuccessful or overlooked ones moving closer to a return to civilian life.

I was there in 2019 as the Cyclones played another winner-take-all game for a title, this one against the Lowell Spinners. I was in the stands as the Cyclones came from behind and held off the Spinners and celebrated on the field, with skipper Edgardo Alfonzo in the middle of the happy scrum. I had no way of knowing I’d watched the last pitch in the 80-year history of the New York-Penn League (and that of the luckless Spinners); that the Cyclones would be idle for all of 2020, with their ballpark repurposed as the Mets’ alternate site, to use the creepy terminology of pandemic ball; or that when they did return they’d have moved up a minor-league level as part of a league called — with all the originality bureaucrats can muster — High-A East.

A lot would be different. But it would still be baseball by the sea, with neon rings around the stadium lights and the Parachute Jump coruscating in the darkness and the wind off the ocean making home runs to center or right all but impossible and all the other wonderful little things I’d become used to over nearly two decades.

The only problem was that the Mets were playing the Phillies that same afternoon — and Jacob deGrom would be on the mound. Not a big deal, I figured — I’d navigated overlapping Mets and Cyclones games before, so I figured I could do it again. What I hadn’t thought through was that Saturday would also be our first visit to Coney Island since the pandemic. Emily and I were overjoyed to be plunged into its ragamuffin charms, once again strolling down the boardwalk, putting our hands up and screaming on the Cyclone, biting into a Nathan’s hot dog, and lolling high above it all in a car (swinging, of course) on the Wonder Wheel.

We were having such a good time that I did the unthinkable: I forgot all about deGrom, the Mets and the Phillies, and the opening act of our baseball evening.

When I came to my senses it was 1-1 in the second, which seemed impossible. DeGrom had given up a run? It was like hearing that Einstein had muffed long division. That’s simultaneously a tribute to the extraordinary things the Mets’ ace of aces has done in 2021 and a hideously, horribly spoiled thing to find yourself thinking. I did a little math in my head and realized if deGrom went nine and gave up just that one run, his ERA would still go up, which was self-evidently absurd. In fact, it would do up even if he went 18 innings and gave up just that one run, for which I have no words whatsoever.

DeGrom didn’t go 18 innings, or even nine. He departed after six, having given up two runs — a strong game for most any starter, but not for him. Less shocking was seeing that the Mets weren’t scoring runs, news I absorbed from Gameday with weary disgust. By the seventh we were in our seats at the rechristened Maimonides Park with the Cyclones and Blueclaws preparing for hostilities, and I turned on the WCBS feed, letting Howie and Wayne burble up at me from my drink holder (and hoisting them up to my ear at critical moments) and wondering why the Mets and Phillies kept insisting on playing the exact same baseball game.

Kevin Pillar homered to get deGrom off the hook and the game ground along in my ear while I sized up the new Cyclones with my eyes. The current team is in the cellar, yet features a trio of bonafide prospects in Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty and Francisco Alvarez, the 3-4-5 hitters on Saturday night.

Mauricio is rangy and grasshopper-legged, with a million-watt smile and an easy grace no matter what he’s doing. I wonder if he’ll outgrow shortstop, particularly if he bulks up, but for now he’s a superlative fielder there, with a rifle arm, phenomenal range and soft hands. Baty made less of an impression, at least until he scalded a ball to left for a home run late in the game, showing off quick hands and plus power. Alvarez then followed with a blast of his own to much the same spot, but I was already riveted by him: He carries himself with an easy confidence and a swagger that we’re going to love, approaching every pitch like it’s a chance to do something extraordinary.

It was early for the Cyclones, but late for the Mets — and seemed about to get downright dark when Edwin Diaz came in to hold the fort and pitched like he does too often in non-save situations, a recurring problem that makes me want to shake Luis Rojas and scream at him to stop doing that and undoubtedly makes Rojas want to shake Diaz and scream at him to stop doing that. Diaz turned a HBP and a lack of interest in holding runners and a walk and a wild pitch and a sac fly into a one-run Phillie lead, and was saved far worse by the wizardry of Luis Guillorme, who jammed his foot between Luke Williams‘ shoe and the third-base bag, turning yet another stolen base into a critical out once the Mets challenged the call.

Guillorme also provided a priceless moment, which I caught on video on the subway and then revisited via Here he is as captured by WPIX’s cameras as the umpires talked to New York (not so far away for once) about what had or hadn’t happened:

Luis Guillorme being awesome

Guillorme already knew, because he’s Guillorme. Also very Guillorme: that bit of sly deadpan as he waited for the rest of the relevant personnel to catch up with him. My goodness do I love him.

Guillorme is always involved, and would play a key role in the bottom of the ninth as well. So would the Phillies’ star-crossed bullpen and execrable defense, which are so chronically terrible that I want to feel bad, except for the fact that we’re talking about the Phillies. I can muster this bit of empathy: There’s nothing that torpedos fan enthusiasm more completely than a chronically terrible bullpen, because even when your team’s ahead you feel like you’re being set up to be the butt of the joke once again.

The maroon perpetrators this time were Hector Neris and Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins began the ninth by fielding a hot shot from Travis Blankenhorn with his knee and fumbled for it just long enough for Blankenhorn to beat Neris to the bag. Neris then walked Billy McKinney and surrendered an infield hit by Pillar that caromed between Williams and Ronald Torreyes, loading the bases with nobody out.

A chronically terrible offense isn’t a lot of fun either, and about now I told Emily that I didn’t know why I did this to myself and announced I was going to throw my phone into the sea to avoid further torment. Instead, I listened as Guillorme walked on a splitter from Neris that was low and inside by an eyelash each way, tying the game. Francisco Lindor then struck out in an AB that was both ineffective and weirdly panicky, sending my anxiety spiking once more. With the sea too far away, I declared that I was going to smash my phone underfoot.

I didn’t do that either; a couple of minutes later Michael Conforto socked a hanging splitter to center, deep enough that McKinney could slide across home on his belly, looking for all the world like Robin Ventura having fun on the soaked Yankee Stadium tarp a generation ago. The Mets had won, even on a day that had seen me be shamefully negligent and deGrom dare to be merely excellent.

The Mets had won, and a little over an hour later so had the Cyclones, powered by those back-to-back homers from possible future Mets. It wasn’t so long ago that I was keeping an ear on the Mets while watching Conforto in a Cyclones uniform; perhaps not so long from now I’ll listen to Baty and Alvarez win a game at Citi Field while watching Cyclones I’ve not yet heard of continue the baseball cycle. That would be a nice thought on any evening; it was an even sweeter musing after a year without nights like that.

12 comments to Back in the Sweetest Swing

  • Eric

    2 runs allowed on a day that, according to deGrom, he was a mess is good work. Best part: DeGrom stretched out to 88 pitches. That should mean he’s ready for 100 pitches his next turn.

    Besides the 2 runs, 11 K over his last 11 innings. That could indicate that at the same time he’s hopefully moved past the injury-restricted portion of his season, deGrom is regressing to the mean of a career 2.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP pitcher.

    He’s on schedule to miss pitching in the all-star game, which would be too bad.

    Normally I would prefer deGrom start versus a division rival, ie, the Braves, instead of a non-division opponent, ie, the Yankees, but I wouldn’t mind deGrom pitch a DH game. DeGrom swinging his bat makes me nervous, more so in a game his pitching is struggling. It’s apparent there’s no swing restriction. A clean single and a fielder’s choice that should have netted an RBI, but for Realmuto’s foot redirecting McCann’s foot above home plate. (Easy to blame McCann for a bad slide, but Realmuto — like Guillorme — is an elite defender who knows how to use his feet.)

    After the Bench Mob, ReplaceMets’ rally to tie the game in the 9th, I thought the regulars were going to choke off the rally when Lindor struck out. Good job, Conforto.

    More Guillorme.

    I’m pleasantly surprised the Nationals have dropped 2 to the Marlins after reaching .500, like the Braves and Phillies stumbled back after they reached .500 and 2nd place. I expected the Nationals to keep closing the gap relentlessly.

  • Paul

    I wonder why the Phillies changed the name of their minor league team from the Lakewood Blue Claws to the Jersey Shore Blue Claws? Did the Phillies think by re-naming the team after the New Jersey shore, they would attract more fans, who would think the team’s ballpark was located near such upscale beach locations as Spring Lake, Sea Girt, Manasquan and Point Pleasant? It’s not, the minor league ballpark is located on New Hampshire Avenue, just off of Route 88 in Lakewood, NJ.

    Maybe the Phillies thought that the city of Lakewood was not the most “desirable” and “scenic” spot in which to interest baseball fans to come out and watch the games?

    For whichever reason, I think the city of Lakewood was slighted by this regrettable move by the Phillies and I will continue to proudly display my Lakewood Blue Claws pennant right next to my official Rheingold Extra-Dry Lager Beer Let’s Go Mets plaque.

  • Eric

    Paul, I guess the broader name is purposed to cast a regional net for ad revenue beyond the Lakewood city limits. Which goes hand in hand with rebranding for a wider fan base, particularly I guess summer tourists.

  • Paul

    Eric, I guess it could have been worse for the city of Lakewood. After all, the New York York Yankees pulled their Double-A team out of Trenton, NJ to move to Bridgewater Township, NJ. And,understandably, the residents of Trenton were not very pleased about it.

  • Flynn23

    OMG. That Ventura comparison is so spot on. Brilliant. That was a big win that most likely doesn’t happen without the footwork of Louie Louie Louie Louie … Louie Louie Louie Lou-I. Sorry, but it’s been burned into my brain.

    • Seth

      I’m OK that they chose Brother Louie as his song, but why do they play the line “Louie, Louie, you’re gonna cry”? They couldn’t find a more upbeat lyric? That doesn’t bode well…

  • eric1973

    We started going to Cyclones games in their inaugural season as well, and what a great deal of fun. My favorite players back then were John Toner, and ‘The Blade,’ Ian Bladergroehn (sic, probably).

    I got my only foul ball there, in one of the early years. It was hit by Corey Coles in the 6th inning, smashing against a seat 10 rows behind me and landing under the seat in front of me, where I quickly snatched it up.

    It only took me 15 minutes to get there, on Coney Island Ave., (before speed cameras, that is).

    One night, the game had been delayed multiple times by rain. So I drove my parents home, and my brother and me drove back to catch the end of the game.

    They used to have Fireworks every Friday night when it got dark. One night, the game ran a little long, and sure enough, in the 8th inning, there they were! The managers and players were so confused and they had to stop the game for 20 minutes for the big display.

    Good Times!

    • Yep, got one of my only two foul balls one night as I strolled up late. It was hit over the concourse by the immortal DJ Wabick. Though I saw them play *through* the fireworks display one night. That was different.

  • Harvey Poris

    I too started going to Cyclones games in 2001, their first year. They were league co-champions that year, with the deciding playoff game called off because of 9/11. My favorite players that year were Mike Jacobs, who won their home opener against the Staten Island Yankees with if I recall a sacrifice fly, and later played for the Mets, and Ross Peeples, a tall Australian lefty pitcher who had a terrific year.

    • greensleeves

      Mike Jacobs, of the sweet swinging Mike Jacobs. What is it about
      players with classically sweet swings and their chronic, anti-climactic under performance? Strokes that seem to foreshadow major success are often lost in the dustbin of baseball history. Can Billy McKinney transcend this pattern?

    • Jacobs27

      Harvey Poris and greensleeves, I feel you.

      My FAFIF alias is a tribute to Mike Jacobs, and he was also my favorite player on that inaugural Cyclones squad.

      Then I happened to be at the game with my family when he got that unexpected first Major League at-bat. That would have been a nice moment in itself, but when he took Esteban Loaiza deep… I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for a home run in, like, the 4th inning of a game.

      Here’s hoping McKinney can transcend the pattern.