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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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Without Roger Angell, You Aren't Reading This

Roger Angell died yesterday at 101. Greg offered his tribute here last night, shortly before the Mets and the Rockies spent the night staring out the window waiting for it to at least resemble spring. There will be many other such tributes, as there should be.

To that avalanche of grief let me add my own couple of rocks.

I was a child and a relatively newly minted baseball fan when someone gave me a paperback copy of The Summer Game, which I remember inspecting with a certain trepidation: It was very long, the print was very small, and it was filled with names of bygone baseball players I didn’t know. But after reading that book, I felt like I did know them — my baseball education came from trivia and factoids on the backs of 1970s Topps cards and from Angell, who brought Willie Mays and Stan Musial and Sandy Koufax to life for me. As it turned out, the only problem with The Summer Game was that it wasn’t long enough, which is the nicest thing a reader can say about a book. (Happy sequel: I quickly discovered there were other Angell collections.)

But Angell also perfected the formula for what we do, and he did it before we were born.

He became a baseball writer in ’62 — fortuitous timing, as a foraging trip for the New Yorker brought him into contact with the newborn Mets, who became one of if not the team closest to his heart. (I remember clapping with glee when Angell, at the end of the epic ’86 chronicle “Not So, Boston,” declared he’d interrogated his divided loyalties from that World Series and realized he was above all else a Mets fan.) A lot of wonderful writing would emerge from that trip, but so did something else. Angell, inspired primarily by Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” wrote with no walls between the professional and the personal. He was an excellent reporter, bringing players to life not just as extraordinary athletes but as people, but he didn’t shy from making himself part of that story. That was verboten in sportswriting, and its double vision was largely ignored as a New Yorker oddity, but decades after Angell pioneered the form it became the template for a certain slice of sports blogs.

Certainly it was the form we followed. Combining Mets’ wins and losses with the experience of observing them? Angell did that long before we did. The tightrope walk between being clear-eyed about team business and hopelessly besotted by wanting said team to prevail? He showed us how to navigate that too. I see Angell in every simile and metaphor I throw into the air and hope comes down in a way that makes a reader nod, or at least smile. He taught me all of that when I was 11 or 12 — the only thing missing was an outlet for it.

And he made being a fan so much richer. Every late fall or early winter brought a clear-my-calendar evening when Emily told me Angell had chronicled the now-concluded baseball season. When that night arrived in 2006, I was not only a grown-up (at least chronologically) but had also blogged the better part of two baseball seasons. For the second season, Greg and I had chronicled the Mets and their giddy, never-in-doubt division title, their joyous pummeling of the Dodgers in the NLDS, and their exhausting, ultimately futile heavyweight bout with the Cardinals. It was an experience I figured had armored me and imparted a certain emotional distance. But then I read Angell’s account of it, which he ended like this:

I have studied the very last pitch — as delivered by the Cards’ very tall, right-handed closer Adam Wainwright — in replays and then over my own IF ONLY mental video, and have watched it repeatedly plummet past Beltran’s gaze like a bat in an elevator shaft. Time to go home. Instead, just lately, I’ve gone back to Jose Reyes’s shot to right center, and now see him catching a fraction more of the ball with his slashing bat, and the ball, this time, taking a course that carries it a yard or two more toward right and lands it there, in for a double. Noises rise, the score is tied, with one out, and Lo Duca is just coming up.

When I read that in November 2006 and saw the little New Yorker diamond that meant it was the end of the article, my brain slipped its track for a moment. And then, to my astonishment, I began to cry. Not a little chest hitch ahead of a moment one could hand-wave as allergies or a bit of dust in the eye, but a child’s dissolve into shocked misery.

That paragraph is everything we’ve ever tried to do at Faith and Fear, only perfected. The dispassionate observation of the scene, leavened with details personal and piercing. The intriguing but slightly lampshade-on-the-head simile. The exquisitely chosen detail — “with his slashing bat” is concentrate from which Jose Reyes is instantly reconstituted. The wistfulness for what might have been — that offset “this time” is doing a lot of work — and the way it rope-a-dopes you into the last sentence’s glimpse into a better world that never was. That’s the emotional KO, the part that leaves you on the mat looking up and wondering what just happened.

It was perfect now and it’s perfect then. Thank you, Roger. For everything.

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