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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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In the Heart of the Night

“A long flight across the night? You know why late flights are good? Because we cease to be earthbound and burdened with practicality. Ask the important question. Talk about the idea nobody has thought about yet. Put it in a different way.”

That was Jed Bartlet aboard Air Force One, somewhere over America, sometime late at night, advocating for the benefits of a nocturnal journey. Of course Jed Bartlet is a fictional character. As president on The West Wing, he also had what amounted to his own plane, so staying up late didn’t inflict much personal discomfort. But Martin Sheen as President Bartlet (and Aaron Sorkin, who served as Bartlet’s real-life speechwriter) had a point. There is something freeing about the wee hours.

The Mets began their West Coast trip at the not quite godforsaken hour of a quarter to ten Eastern Daylight. There was no daylight left in the east, but if you were watching prime time television on a normal night, it wouldn’t seem that late. Start a baseball game as quadruple-digits are approaching, however, and it’s late. Most of our games start at 7:10. We form a routine. Night games from St. Louis or Milwaukee are discombobulating enough. Night games from California be crazy.

Crazy, but novel enough to be invigorating for at least a few innings following an unforeseen lengthy pause. The Mets hadn’t been to San Francisco since 2019. We came into 2021 packing a valise full of “haven’t been to since 2019” status updates. The televised setting I apparently missed most was that of the home park of the San Francisco Giants. I was really glad to see it despite understanding more Met doom likely awaited within. The home park of the San Francisco Giants has gone by four different names since its opening in 2000. The first three were purchased by phone companies, so I thought of the place as Phone Company Park. The current name is owned by a tech behemoth, so I think of it now as (Not) Phone Company Park. Its fungible handle notwithstanding, it always comes across as sumptuous on TV, especially at West Coast dusk. I love the outfield lawn in particular. No patterns mowed in. Just smooth, unfussy green grass. Throw a picnic blanket down on that field and hang out. Combine the grass with the Cove and the bricks and the general San Franciscan ambiance, and every encomium we experienced last week about corn fields in Iowa could be applied to the San Francisco treat. Baseball in a big beautiful city, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.

It’s swell for the Giants this year. When last we saw the Giants, two summers ago, they weren’t terribly imposing. After Madison Bumgarner and Conor Gillaspie conspired to end our 2016 postseason prematurely, the Giants disappeared from the competitive landscape. Why, they were worse than we were between 2017 and 2019, and their record wasn’t appreciably better than ours in 2020. But they quietly got good ahead of 2021 and here they are, with the best record in baseball. They won three world championships in the first half of the previous decade. All that once was good for them indeed is good again.

Our season once was good, but that’s part of our past, Ray. All we’ve done for weeks is lose series. Except to the Nationals, but the Nationals, champions from the last full-sized contested season, opted to accelerate their immersion into the ain’t-what-they-been-no-more club. The Giants wound up there organically in 2017. The Nationals sold off half their recognizable players a few weeks ago and gave up the charade of fringe contention. Maybe they’ll be back in a few years the way the Giants are. Just what we need.

We did sweep the Nationals last week, and the games definitely counted in the standings. For a literal minute on Friday night, after the Phillies lost and while neither the Mets nor Braves had completed their appointed rounds, we were in first place by a single percentage point. “Look who’s No. 1!” a friend tweeted in my direction a little before 10:30. It was his homage to the Shea scoreboard from the second the Mets first took first place on September 10, 1969, the Mets nosing ahead of the Cubs by .001. That transcendent tick of the clock from 52 years ago was only the beginning of a first-place stay that never ended. The dizzying interval achieved after the Nationals series ended with the Dodgers beating us once. By the time L.A. beat us thrice, first place was falling out of easy reach. The Giants (along with the Braves) have batted away it even further.

From last Friday night’s hot “Look Who’s No. 1!” minute. We may never pass this way again.

Upon reflection, last week’s goofy sweep of the Nationals — with a suspended game, a resumed game, another rainout and two truncated Manfred Specials — was not a glimmer of 1969. It was a reminder of 2002. That was nineteen years ago, meaning it may not be vivid in the mind’s eye. Hence, in case you’ve forgotten, the 2002 Mets were supposed to be a legitimate contender. For four months they played not quite like it, but they managed to remain viable for the Wild Card, hovering four games above .500 and sitting 4½ behind the Dodgers as July wound down. The defending world champion Arizona Diamondbacks came to town to kick off August. If we didn’t love the Arizona Diamondbacks in the heat of a playoff chase, we should have appreciated what they had done for us the previous November, putting a sudden and glorious end to overall Yankee hegemony. I’d waited two-thirds of a season to show up at Shea and give the 2001 world champs an enormous round of applause.

I drew short-memoried glares for sporting a Diamondbacks cap (a November ’01 wedding anniversary gift from my wife because then as now she’s the best) with a Mets t-shirt and clapping heartily as their batting order was announced. Judgmental looks be damned; they’d earned my embrace. Anybody who pulls the plug on an undesirable dynasty deserves that much. I stopped appreciating the Diamondbacks at first pitch, however. I really didn’t appreciate the way they swept the Mets in the four-game series that followed. The first game of the rain-necessitated Saturday doubleheader set the tone. Future New York Mets Hall of Famer Edgardo Alfonzo whacked a two-run homer to stake the Mets to an eighth-inning lead, a very Fonzie move. All Armando Benitez had to do in the ninth was…oh, like you don’t know or at least sense that Armando didn’t do what he needed to do. Craig Counsell homered to tie the game in the ninth and Erubiel Durazo homered to put the Diamondbacks way ahead in the tenth. We lost the opener, we’d be swept in the nightcap, we’d be swept all four, and we’d fall below .500.

But then we hit the road, for a Central Time Zone jaunt through Milwaukee and St. Louis, and recovered a sliver of our Mojo. The Brewers weren’t any good that year and we took advantage, grabbing two of three. The Cardinals were good, but Al Leiter was too, going seven strong in a Friday night victory at Busch (Benitez posted his 27th save that night because Benitez really wasn’t total dreck). Mere days after the Diamondback debacle, the Mets had risen back above .500, were still in range of the Wild Card and getting those of us amenable to the sunny side of the standings thinking, well, if we can just…oh, like you don’t know or at least sense that we didn’t. The Mets lost their next two games in St. Louis, came home, lost six more, and continued their losing streak until it reached a dozen. Before the Mets won again, it was pounded into even the most optimistic of heads that 2002 wasn’t going to be our year.

That it has occurred to me that last week’s Nationals reprieve was the contemporary equivalent of the brief Midwestern bounce that imbued the Mets with the slightest touch of life nearly two decades ago tells you where my head is at amid this current winless stretch. We’re still not so far out of first place that it’s unimaginable that the Mets could make up a 3½-game deficit between now and the end of the year. But that’s basically what I said yesterday when the deficit was 2½ games and the current winless stretch wasn’t quite as long as it’s become.

In the interim, we’ve got another late-night start from San Francisco, another convincing of the inner owl that 9:45 isn’t so late, another 11:00 PM pep talk that c’mon we’re just getting cooking here! Big talk for the afternoon edition here. My Monday night bright-eyed, bushy-tailedness wore off as Aaron Loup was unjamming Jeurys Familia to get out of the sixth and keep the Mets down by no more than 4-3. When I next stirred, it was the bottom of the eighth and the score was 7-5, Giants. Trevor May had given up three runs. Jonathan Villar had gotten two of them back. I missed all of them, but I did make it to the less than thrilling conclusion.

Still, nice to see San Francisco on TV again and the way the Mets’ road grays pop against the home team creams. Would be nicer to see it wide awake and from the side of the handshake line. I may have to settle for groggy glimpses of the green grass and whatever crosses my mind as I drift off.

6 comments to In the Heart of the Night

  • eric1973

    I remember back in the 70’s when the night games in SF started at 1030p ET, and the Friday night games started at 11p.

    The first thing I would do when I got the TV Guide in the mail was to check the Sports to see what nights the Mets were on.

    I would inevitably fall asleep around gametime, but the all-day anticipation of staying up all night to watch the Mets from LA/SF/SD was like nothing else then, or since.

    The Cardinals and Astros started at 830p, and the Mets at Shea always at 805pm, right after the National Anthem. Of course, that’s how we learned the words. And we learned the Canadian Anthem from the games at Jarry Park.

    Good Times.

  • eric1973

    Greg, Speaking of Wrigley, please tell me if you remember this Mets play from 1973 or 1974.

    This is obviously before ‘replay,’ so the call stood.

    Line drive hit to CF. Rick Monday dives, cradles it, the ball hits his glove, stomach, and then the ground. He rolls around, picks it up, and acts like he caught it. LF Jose Cardenal signals out as well.

    The umpire calls the Met out. I remember it clearly because they showed the slo-mo replay over and over.

    Do you remember it?

    • Does not ring a specific bell, but I do remember the Mets’ telecast from Wrigley was regularly at the mercy of the Cubs’ WGN director, a harbinger of today’s road setup. I was never clear why the Channel 9s seemed to have a reciprocal agreement, yet WOR did its own thing everywhere else.

  • Guy Kipp

    I thought you were leading up to something, Greg, with your callback to 2002 there, but you left out the punch line: The Mets did not win a home game in August 2002. In fact, they had a 15-game home losing streak that carried into September, before Mike Bacsik beat the Marlins with a nightcap victory on Sept. 3.

    All these horrendous Augusts over the years (1991, 1992, 2002, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2017) run together, but 2002 was historically hideous.