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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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He Wore His Heart on His Head

The Mets turn 60 this year. They’re as old as the American League was when the Mets were first signing players in 1961, including their very first, a young feller named Bruce Fitzpatrick (Casey called him Fitzgerald) who not long ago told his story of being the original Met prospect. Bruce never made it to the big leagues, but the Mets did, and they’ve stayed, somehow.

We don’t feel a day over 1962.

One is inevitably reminded, whenever a commemorative logo sees light, that as your franchise keeps on keeping on, it can’t help but grow further and further from its roots. The people who created the Mets are gone. The players who constituted the Original Mets are ever fewer. The people who made the Mets something special in the first (or tenth) place were never going to last forever, except in legend, where their place oughta be secure.

Dan Reilly recently passed away. His name may not be instantly recognizable to hardcore Mets fans the way we always knew Jane Jarvis was our organist or Karl Ehrhardt was the Sign Man, but his persona became a global phenomenon that lives on to this day. Dan was the original Mr. Met. He worked in the ticket office and handled multiple responsibilities when in 1964 he was asked to take on — or put on — one more. Please wear this head was the request from his supervisors. It was made of papier mâché, it had stitches drawn into it and it was topped by a Mets cap. Dan donned a baseball uniform and a baseball head and radiated baseball cheer. The Mets sent him out onto the field at Shea Stadium now and then. He caught on. Dan brought Mr. Met from concept (he existed first as an illustration) to a reality.

“Once I saw the reaction of everybody in the room,” Dan remembered, “I knew Mr. Met was going to be a hit with the fans.”

When it came to mascots, the Mets were ahead of the game.

Mr. Met has evolved over the decades, but Dan was ahem ahead of the game. The head he wore is on permanent display in the Mets Museum at Citi Field, a magnet for snapshots like the Apple out on the Plaza. The first time I saw it up close was at a press luncheon to introduce the Amazin’ Era 25th-anniversary cassette in 1986. Even then it seemed startling to realize the Mets were as old as they were. They were the new kids in town just the other year. How were they having a significant milestone anniversary? Dan had brought his signature noggin to Jimmy Weston’s in midtown to help promote the VHS. I spotted it as it sat on a shelf in a foyer as Dan stopped to use a pay phone.

You don’t forget a sighting like that.

Mr. Reilly published a book some fifteen years ago, The Original Mr. Met Remembers, with Bill Curreri. It’s a wonderfully engaging memoir about life at the beginning of this thing of ours. Not just the low-tech unveiling of a mascot, but the close-knit vibe of the Mets family in the 1960s, when baseball might have been a business, but it didn’t seem all that imposing. Dan himself went in on the renting of a house in Whitestone with Ron and Cecilia Swoboda. The Swobodas, he wrote, had more room than they needed. If you knew this, you weren’t surprised that when Jay Horwitz passed along the sad news of Dan’s passing, Jay said he heard it from Ron, who’d stayed friends with Dan all these years.

Dan Reilly was first to fill the costume, but there’s a little bit of all of us in Mr. Met (and vice-versa).

It’s also fitting that when Jay Horwitz succumbed to all the “you oughta write a book” suggestions he received when he ran Mets PR, he appropriately titled it Mr. Met. All of us who inadvertently take on the personality of our team have been tagged “Mr. Met” or something in a more honorifically appropriate ballpark. I’ve been “Mr. Met” to several well-wishers (and maybe ill-wishers) in my time. I’m sure you’ve been “Mr. Met” or “Mrs. Met” in your time. We take it as the ultimate compliment given that we each fill our heads like we fill our hearts with what it means to love the Mets. Dan Reilly was the first to make a suitably big thing out of it.

He wore it well.

6 comments to He Wore His Heart on His Head

  • Dave

    Some years back they were offering ferry service for games between I want to say the South Street Seaport and the closest you could get to Shea on Flushing Bay, so we thought it would make a nice change of pace from the 7 train. And we were not disappointed. Dan Reilly was on hand as kind of the Master of Ceremonies for the trip, and he kept us entertained with all sorts of stories of Mets history and his experience as the first Mr. Met. Good thing he did too, because that route takes you past such must-see sites as Rikers and LaGuardia. RIP to a great and overlooked member of the Mets family.

    • Most every Friday game when I worked in the city I considered but ultimately rejected he NY Waterway option as it never seemed particularly convenient. Had I known the original Mr. Met was on board, that might have swayed me onto the boat at least once.

  • Seth

    60th anniversary, but the Mets’ 61st season. Ouch, math…

    • I’m pro-anniversary rather than anniversary year, though the Mets jumping the gun on marking 25 in 1986 worked out cosmically.

      • Seth

        Yeah, that patch was cool. It helped to distract from the racing stripes (though they never really bothered me as much as they seem to bother Keith).