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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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Just Go Ahead Now

After a winter of discontent — signs brazenly stolen; titles shadily retained; postseasons potentially diluted; owners who never quite sell — baseball’s redeeming feature comes to the fore today: baseball, or something very much like it.

A reasonable facsimile of the 2020 Mets will take a field or two in Florida. One group of them will be broadcast to their incurable followers in New York and wherever Mets fans hook up intravenously to screens and speakers. A split squad of Mets versus a random school of Fish, live from Yet Another Sponsor Stadium in Port St. Lucie, 1:05 PM LGMT.

Rick Porcello will throw, followed by others. Our pitchers will be clad in Mets uniforms. Many of them will look familiar. Same for our hitters and fielders. By afternoon’s end, the numbers on their backs will soar and their names will be as fleeting as our attention, but their mission will have been accomplished. Mets-ish baseball will remind us why we return to this annually and distract us for a spell from the aspects of it we consider chronically mishandled.

That’s plenty for day one’s one-day moratorium (or Melvin Moratorium) on whatever ails our great game and adversely affects our favorite franchise. The Mets already look pretty good on paper. They’ll look even better on TV and sound terrific on radio.

Flight 2020 is more than a month from its scheduled departure time, yet we are ready to begin preboarding.

Yo, Speak Up

Yoenis Cespedes said he won’t be speaking to the media this year. If he’s not speaking to the media, he’s not speaking to the fans. C’mon, Yo, talk to us.

You don’t have to say anything substantive. Hardly any of your professional colleagues do when they’re not suggesting what acts of vigilante justice they’d like seen performed on select members of the 2017 Houston Astros. We just like feeling a part of the conversation. Last season, Pete Alonso (have you guys met?) tweeted “#LFGM” and reiterated the message to Steve Gelbs in a postgame interview. We went nuts for it.

To make certain I accomplish nothing with my life, I carved out a half-hour Tuesday evening to watch the Hot Stove Report on SNY. A person couldn’t do less with his time if he tried. Still, I listened attentively when Gelbs chatted with Dom Smith, who captured the essence of baseball playerspeak when he explained how well the Mets “clicked,” “gelled” and “meshed” with one another. “Aren’t those three words that mean the same thing?” my wife asked. Indeed they are. No wonder the next episode of Hot Stove Report will be broadcast live from Roget’s Thesaurus.

It’s not what Smith said. It’s that Smith said it and evinced a happy-to-be-here demeanor that convinced me, baseball viewer back in New York, that my Mets are clicking, gelling and meshing beautifully in Florida. They’re genuinely happy to be there. And if I wasn’t sure, the show concluded with Gary Apple engaged in an intense dialogue with Brandon Nimmo. In a world exclusive, Nimmo revealed to Apple he really hopes to play every day.

That’s all I want from my players in February. Happy horsespit is fine. Acronyms are a bonus. Revelations can come later. Yoenis can surely hang in there for five minutes and tell the beat reporter steno pool that he feels pretty good, that he hopes to stay healthy and that he’s gotta go get his treatment. That will feed the fairly tame beast. Click. Gel. Mesh. Move on.

Once Opening Day rolls around, if Cespedes is back at the ranch, he won’t have anybody but the crashing boars to ignore. If he’s somehow fully physically rejuvenated and swinging at Citi, the talking doesn’t have to go as deep as his best-case scenario swings. Just don’t be the one Silent Sam amid a roster of Garrulous Guses. Don’t make Dom or Brandon or another of your teammates answer for you when you don’t catch up to a fastball at the plate or a sinker in left should we be so lucky so soon to be again graced by your talents. Don’t give Luis Rojas one more detail to master without proper preparation. The mysterious stranger persona is cool to a point. Now and then, though, chime in with a cliché. You felt good out there. You’re healthier than you’ve been in a while. You gotta go get that treatment.

See? That didn’t hurt a bit.

Last Played at Shea

Late spring is the time to see Gil Hodges work. Not summer. Then heat sits on the cylinder of Shea Stadium and a baseball season, like New York summer, grinds down strong men.
—Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer

Citi Field is entering its twelfth season. Children no longer eligible for whatever discounts being under twelve gets their parents will be charged full price this year, which means there are about to be people alive who are not all that small who weren’t alive when Shea was. Eighteen-year-olds — adults — going to the polls for the first time in November will do so with no more than the foggiest personal memories of Shea if any.

Conceptually frightening, isn’t it?

Suddenly, Shea Stadium is chronologically distant. Suddenly, ballplayers who debuted after Shea came down are announcing their retirements after reasonably lengthy and distinguished careers. Veteran David Freese won a World Series MVP and made the last out in the first Mets no-hitter. He started in 2009, a year after Shea ended, and called it quits following 2019, a decade after Citi Field began. Same basic situation for veteran Jeremy Hellickson, 2011 AL Rookie of the Year. He just said goodbye to baseball on Saturday, citing a shoulder injury too tough to overcome.

You may have noticed during the not horribly long though certainly long enough baseball winter that Curtis Granderson, who broke in with the Tigers in 2004, retired. In Met terms, Grandy may have been, except for batting average, his generation’s John Olerud, a lifelong American Leaguer who spent a few years in our midst and made himself one of ours as if he’d been a Met all along. You couldn’t help but embrace Curtis, the people’s choice whose presence coincided with an upsurge in franchise fortunes. When we think of the first great things to happen to the Mets as a team at Citi Field, from 2015 and 2016, we’ll picture Curtis Granderson in the middle of most of the images.

Upon learning that he was hanging ’em up, I closed my eyes and tried to see Grandy at Shea, the way I know some others who’ve retired this past offseason (Brian McCann, CC Sabathia, Ian Kinsler, Martin Prado) could say they played there as opponents. I thought he might have been there for a weekend in 2004, or at least hoped he was. Not that it really mattered, but wouldn’t have that been a lovely grace note to slip into our reminiscences of Curtis? You know, that time he came in with the Tigers for an Interleague series, getting a sense of New York’s better baseball half and then expressing it nearly a decade later when he said, “A lot of the people I’ve met in New York have always said true New Yorkers are Mets fans. So I’m excited to get a chance to see them all out there.”

Alas, Granderson didn’t make his major league debut until September 13, 2004, about three months after the Tigers were swept out of Shea Stadium, so it’s likely Curtis met those people in New York while he was a Yankee from 2010 through 2013. We’re glad he kept his ears and mind open once he became a free agent, yet we’re a little sorry he wasn’t with Detroit when the Mets took three from his first club in June of ’04. It would make a swell story that much sweeter.

The world isn’t wanting for those who knew first-hand what being in, perhaps playing in Shea Stadium was all about. I’m here. You’re here. We know Shea from its Upper Deck down to its Field Level and its Loge and Mezzanine in between. We’ll be around to tell anybody who as much as feigns interest what it was like. It’s our nature as baseball fans. I attend meetings of the New York Giants Preservation Society and regularly hear recollections of what it was like to sit in the Polo Grounds and strain to see the action. Few had a great view and nobody would trade the experience for anything.

To have seen a game at the Polo Grounds and remember it well enough to tell somebody something tangible about in 2020, you’d have to be topping 65; to make it a baseball game that didn’t involve the Mets, you’re talking 70. Longevity might not be a ballpark’s best friend, but actuarial tables fortunately provide ample space for fans hailing from venues long gone. If you were a kid at a Giants game as late as 1957, or a Mets game in ’62 or ’63, you’ve hopefully got a ways to go.

If you played for the Giants in the Polo Grounds, you’re not alone these days, but it’s getting close. Gil Coan, a Giants outfielder for 13 games in 1955 and 1956 — and a stalwart for the Washington Senators in the eight seasons following World War II — died on February 5. He was 97 and, until his passing, the oldest living New York Giant. There were seventeen New York Giants still with us at the dawn of this decade. Now there are sixteen. That will happen.

If you played for the Mets at Shea Stadium, nobody’s counting who’s still with us, except in the active player sense. That’s a cohort that’s been necessarily dwindling since the day the 2009 major league season opened without the likes of Moises Alou, Trot Nixon and Damion Easley, among other 2008 Mets who never made it into another major league game. It’s only in very recent years that the count of former Mets continuing careers that date to the Shea days has required no more than a single hand.

On January 16, Carlos Gomez removed a finger from our figuring, announcing his retirement from baseball effective at the end of the Dominican Winter League season. Winter is over, as is Carlos’s career. We got one good last look at the blur that was Gomez in 2019 when he briefly injected a little life into our outfield in May and June. Carlos Gomez homered twice as a Met at Citi Field a dozen years after homering once as a Met at Shea Stadium, making him the last to achieve such a delayed daily double.

When Gomez returned to the Mets, he was one of four onetime Mets to have made a mark at Shea Stadium still plying his craft in the bigs. With Gomez joining Granderson on the retired list — call it a complete game for a couple of guys initialed CG — we are down to three currently under contract to play somewhere in the big leagues in 2020: Oliver Perez, Joe Smith and Daniel Murphy (a fourth who played last year, Jason Vargas, remains a free agent). When they made their respective Met debuts in 2006, 2007 and 2008, Perez, Smith, and Murphy were what we refer to as kids. Today they are bona fide veterans. Perez of the Indians will be 38 on Opening Day; Smith of the Astros will be 36; Murphy of the Rockies turns 35 the first week of the season.

That will also happen.

If you want to talk about Shea and upper-case Veterans, you have to start with a name that spanned Queens ballparks proudly. Astoria’s own Luke Gasparre came to work at Shea Stadium in 1964, not quite twenty years after he fought for his country in the Battle of the Bulge. He left in 2008. Same exact tenure Shea had, except Mr. Gasparre, an usher in 109 who removed a “56” from the left-center field wall in Ol’ Blue’s final year, kept going, directly across the parking lot to Citi Field, where he would hold forth for another decade at the intersection of 310 and 311, on Excelsior. Luke kept greeting fans with the best of cheer clear through to the final weekend of the 2018 season. His last game came the same day as Jose Reyes’s, the afternoon after David Wright’s. Three legends who earned varying degrees of fame from what they did to make two fields of dreams all the more memorable. Luke Gasparre died on February 13 at age 95. If you showed him your ticket or simply exchanged hellos, you had a great day in Flushing.

Gasparre was in his second year at Shea when Paul McCartney and his mates John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr first came around. McCartney, a lad of 77, still gets around plenty. A couple of Sundays ago the Cute One was spotted at Hard Rock Stadium (formerly Joe Robbie and every other name under the sun — and the final NFL stadium to have once regularly hosted baseball) watching Patrick Mahomes, a gent of 24, leading the Kansas City Chiefs to their first Super Bowl championship in a half-century. How nice, I thought, to see such a distinguished pair in the same place, given their Shea Stadium backgrounds. Of course we recognize Paul from Beatlesque appearances in 1965, 1966 and 2008, the last of those sitting in with Billy Joel. As for Patrick, who didn’t swoon at the archival sight of the quarterback as a child shagging flies in the shadow of Mike Hampton as the Mets prepared themselves for the 2000 World Series? Talk about a Cute One! Mets fans found themselves feeling good for a Kansas City professional sports enterprise not five years after the Royals wrecked our autumn in 2015 because, hey, that’s Pat Mahomes’ boy! The elder Mahomes soaked up some valuable innings for us right before and right after the century turned. We’ll be loyal for something like that if you catch us in a Super enough mood.

(For the record, Larry “Chipper” Jones’s son Shea has not played in a Super Bowl. Also for the record, Papa Jones went 1-for-4 off Big Daddy Mahomes at Shea in 1999 and 2000, with the lone hit being a two-run homer.)

McCartney and Mahomes weren’t the only ones at the Big Game who knew what it was like to play at Shea. The NFL celebrated its 100 greatest players in honor of its centennial, many of them taking a quick bow at Hard Rock before Kansas City topped San Francisco. There was Dan Marino, who I remember ruining an October afternoon in 1983, when he was a Dolphins rookie. There was Terry Bradshaw, from the final game the Jets played in Queens that same autumn (it went better for the Steelers than it did for the Jets). There was Roger Staubach, who chalked up a win in ’75 when the Football Giants were borrowing the joint. Among the introductions as well was a blitz of AFL-era Chiefs and Raiders, a few of whom surely experienced in the ways of Shea, particularly the playoff winds of December.

Oh, and the boyfriend of the co-star of the halftime show was there: Alex Rodriguez. We definitely saw him at Shea, first in the stands during the 2000 Fall Classic when he was thinking about taking his talents there, and then annually between 2004 and 2008 when he was a visitor from slightly to the north. Last week we learned A-Rod, because being significant other to J-Lo might not fully fill his days, is “kicking the tires” on the notion of owning the Mets. Not “owning the Mets” in the sense that he hit particularly well against them — at Shea he batted only .218 and slugged a mere .327 — but actually throwing himself into a consortium that might pick up where Steve Cohen was nudged to get off. “Kicking the tires” is the phrase the Post used on Rodriguez’s potential ownership bid. “Grain of salt” may also apply.

When he believes it serves to heighten his situational appeal, A-Rod likes to play up his childhood Mets affinity. Don’t we all? Seeing as how Alex managed to not sign with the Mets as a free agent when they were right in front of him (and, to be fair, when he was right in front of them), maybe “really liked the Mets as a kid” is no more than a talking point, like me remembering I really liked the Texas Rangers the year I was 11. Except the Rangers never tried to lure me to Arlington for $252 million. It probably would have worked out exactly as well for them as that time they got Alex Rodriguez.

The Mets of the moment, operated by a family that’s owned at least a piece of them since Shea was overdue for its first enormous paint job, have a player who knew what it was like to play there: A-Rod’s fellow infielder of yore, Robinson Cano. In eleven games between 2005 and 2008, when he was no older than 25, Robbie hit .250 and slugged .409 at Shea Stadium. His two homers were unwelcome intrusions. He’s welcome to do all the damage he can muster at Citi Field in this his age 37 season.

Cano and the aforementioned trio of Perez, Smith and Murphy aren’t the only 2020 players who can accurately tell their teammates what it was like when Flushing was truly Flushing. I haven’t conducted an exhaustive survey, but I do know the Cardinals somehow continue to feature Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright from the 2006 NLCS, a septet of games that ended sadly at Shea. The big bopper who we thought would give us the most trouble in those playoffs, Albert Pujols, continues to swing for the fences for the Angels. In the same series that Luke Gasparre removed his countdown number, Clayton Kershaw made his first major league road start (the Mets shelled him on May 30, 2008…and went on to lose anyway). Nick Markakis, who was kind of a pain when he showed up at Shea with the Orioles in 2006, is slated to remain a pain for the Braves in the months ahead.

If you’re not a stickler for major league affiliations, Rajai Davis, twice a hero for the 2019 Mets and a prospective member of Acereros de Monclova in the year ahead, pinch-hit for the Pirates in same 2007 game at Shea during which I saw the pitcher he faced, John Maine, belt a home run. I also saw Bartolo Colon pitch and hit for Los Angeles of Anaheim at Shea in 2005. Lucky Mexican League fans might see 46-year-old Bartolo do at least one of those two things this year, as he has signed with the same Mexican League club that has snagged 39-year-old Rajai’s services.

The last of Shea was torn down eleven years ago this week, on February 18, 2009, but the last of Shea’s players — home or away — have some time. We who inhabited its seats, concourses and puddles will continue to recall it for decades to come. We’ll remember days like April 5, 1993, Opening Day that season, my first Opening Day somehow. It took me four years from the beginning of my fandom to make it to Shea, then another twenty years to make it there for the outset of a year. When I settled in, the second batter I saw in the bottom of the first inning was Tony Fernandez, our big get that offseason. Nineteen Ninety-Two was a horrible Mets year, but we were willing to assign it a mulligan. Surely everybody who went off the rails would straighten up and glide right in ’93, and to make certain all that went wrong in ’92 would be corrected, the Mets went out and scooped us up a genuine All-Star shortstop from price-cutting San Diego.

We got Tony Fernandez! There he was, improving the Mets right away, driving in the very first run of the promising new season. There I was, watching him help the revived Mets to a 3-0 victory over the expansion Rockies. By the end of 1993, only one among the two of us was still hanging around Shea, and it wasn’t Fernandez. It will be recalled that Tony’s credentials, including four Gold Gloves earned as a Blue Jay, kind of went on hiatus when he was a Met. It should also be recalled that Fernandez battled kidney stones and didn’t mesh with the season’s second manager, Dallas Green. Losses were cut and Tony was sent back to his major league origin point, Toronto, where he immediately resumed his trajectory as a top-flight shortstop and batter. Come October, he’d have a World Series ring.

Tony Fernandez died on Saturday at the age of 57 after ongoing health problems got the best of him. Not only is he the third of the 1993 Mets to pass too soon (Jeff McKnight and Anthony Young preceded him), but he’s the first of the nineteen future Mets born in 1962 to go. That’s the year both the Mets and I came along, for what that’s worth. Tony was born on June 30, 1962. That night in Los Angeles, Sandy Koufax no-hit the Mets. Maybe some things simply weren’t meant to be.

Some would say the Los Angeles Dodgers weren’t meant to be, or certainly shouldn’t have been. Anybody who’s read Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer would come away strenuously objecting to their existence, never mind that if the book’s subjects, the Brooklyn Dodgers, had continued to maintain their geographic identity, we’d have a helluva time being New York Mets fans given that there probably wouldn’t be New York Mets. But let’s not this minute let the realistic interfere with the romantic. Roger Kahn, who died on February 6 at 92, wouldn’t have bothered with the latter. As for the Mets, on the eve of the 2000 Subway Series, he let it be known he wasn’t particularly impressed with what had been getting the rest of us revved up in Queens.

“I always felt, probably emotionally, that the Mets were a copied Dodgers,” Kahn told the Post. I don’t know if he had spent a ton of time at Shea in those days, but maybe he got a gander at that scale model of what would eventually become Citi Field and intuited what the Wilponian heart yearned to recreate.

My interest in what Kahn had to say about anything emanated from a stroll I took along MLK Plaza on my way to class on a Wednesday, right around this time of year in 1984. I know it was a Wednesday because Wednesday was flea market day at USF. On a blanket covered by paperbacks, The Boys of Summer beckoned. I had known of it, at least by name, since its publication in 1972. I’m pretty sure I flipped through it in the Long Beach Public Library but never officially checked it out. At the flea market, on that blanket, the vendor was asking, I think, a quarter. Fifty cents tops. Microeconomics was a bane for me in college — I had to take it twice — but I didn’t need a business degree to recognize this was a bargain.

The Boys of Summer went up on my shelf in my dorm room and stayed there until I graduated a year later (the same semester Don Henley enjoyed a solo hit by the same name). I took my bargain book home with me to New York and somehow resisted its possibilities for another four years. It wasn’t until 1989, with a long trip ahead of me, that I grabbed it for in-flight reading.

I couldn’t put it down. I mean that more literally than you’d suspect. At least two legs of my trip, including one on a prop plane that bumped along between Tulsa and Wichita with a quick stop in Pearson, Okla., included incredible turbulence. Anything I could clutch I was not going to let go of. What I clutched was what I didn’t want to unhand under any event.

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn got me through those flights and then some. It took me to Brooklyn, where I’m technically from, to Kahn’s childhood and adolescence — he attended the same high school as my mother — and entry to serious adulthood, covering the Dodgers for the Herald Tribune in 1952 and 1953, two pennant-winning campaigns whose stories far outlasted their glories. That was Kahn’s doing. He brought those Dodgers back to life in the early ’70s, busting them out of their sepia tones via memoir and making them modern by capturing their where-they-were-now circumstances. In 1972, 1952 loomed as far longer ago in public perception than 2000 seems in 2020. What an achievement it was to so effectively rewind and fast-forward and do it all in living color.

Kahn got to those Dodgers just in time. The book was published in the winter prior to the ’72 season. Before Opening Day, we would lose Gil Hodges. After the World Series, Jackie Robinson would be gone. In my flea market paperback, there is an epilogue acknowledging the premature deaths of each man. Gil was not quite 48. Jackie was 53. They live on in The Boys of Summer, same as Furillo and Reese and Campanella and the rest of the team, all of whom — save for 93-year-old Carl Erskine — are since deceased.

One anecdote in particular struck me from my summer of ’89 journey with Kahn: his frustration that his father, who had indoctrinated him into Dodgers fandom, couldn’t believe manager Charlie Dressen was anything less than a deeply textured Leader of Men. The author had to break it to him that it didn’t necessarily work that way in real life and that Dressen’s sage advice to his team when it trailed late in a game was, “Hold ’em, fellers. I’ll think of something.”

That’s intermittently been my credo for more than thirty years when I didn’t have an obvious solution to a given moment’s challenge. I had it tacked to my workspace wall for several years. Since the quote wasn’t offered to paint Dressen in a flattering light, I suppose I muffed Kahn’s point, but I still like it.

Roger Kahn would write more about baseball, and I’d read (and quote) much of what he’d publish, straight through to his final book, 2014’s Rickey & Robinson. The heyday of the Dodgers was exponentially more ancient by then than it was when The Boys of Summer arrived, but Kahn was still revealing its truth, guiding us to the world where it happened. Somebody on the beat at a ballpark a few years from demolition, covering a team destined to pull up stakes, reporting for a newspaper that wouldn’t last too many years beyond all that, was writing what he saw more than six decades later. That was a gift for the rest of us. Those who were around and stay around and keep telling us what was around, reminding us of where we’ve been and who we’ve been…honestly, what could be more of a gift?

There’s also something to be said for getting a handle on what is and what might be. Fifteen years ago today, we started proffering our ongoing analysis of the fleeting present and maybe the immediate future when we founded Faith and Fear in Flushing. We’ve got Shea in our bones and Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds in our DNA, but we’ve also got a whole new season in front of us.

Can Jacob deGrom win a third consecutive Cy Young? Will Pete Alonso achieve his dual goals of a Gold Glove at first and being “drunk as hell” on a World Series parade float? Does Matt Adams have a chance of sticking if he can prove he can play a little left field? Matt Adams is one of those veterans who, when no other option is viable, cadges an invitation to Spring Training so he can keep doing what he loves to do. This year he’s in Mets camp. Veteran Matt Adams is a ripe 31. Veteran Matt Adams began his major league career in 2012. When veteran Matt Adams was drafted out of Slippery Rock University by the Cardinals in 2009, Shea Stadium was already exclusively a memory.

What’s gonna happen next with Jake and Pete and Matt and everybody else currently in St. Lucie, and what will there be for us to write about it? Hold ’em, fellers. We’ll think of something.

An Actual Sign of Spring

Pitchers and catchers reporting hasn’t done much for me for a number of years, which I say not in an effort to get you to feel the same way, but as an admission that I am a flawed human being.

Because of course pitchers and catchers doing baseball stuff down in some dull Florida (or even Arizona) precinct is better than nothing. Yes, it means a significant milestone in our slow trudge out of winter and its despond. Yes, all of that is wonderful.

image of 2020 Topps Mets cards

After I’m done venting, we really will talk about this one.

But it no longer does much more for me because it’s such a big tease. The pitchers need the long march (see what I did there) of spring training to get their arms used to being tortured and damaged again, or at least used enough to it that they can go five or pitch in relief without too much of a layoff, which has been declared good enough to start the season. Kind of like how babies are born as late as possible in terms of gestation but still come out pretty much helpless. (Or, really, not very much like it at all, but consider it the metaphorical equivalent of throwing catch and light jogging in February.) Nobody else needs that long doing not much, though. Not hitters, not coaches, and not fans. Or at least not this fan.

Pitchers and catchers reporting is awesome for like a day, as are all the goofy spring-training stories that are really just the same stories you read in 2019 or 1999 or 1979. Did you hear Jeurys Familia has lost a ton of weight? I’m not sure he’s said he’s in the best shape of his life, but we can go ahead and assume that’s the case. We’ve already gotten that one; ahead (if I haven’t missed it already) will be stories about Edwin Diaz‘s new outlook (he’ll be turning the page, working on his toughness, or whatever), how someone (maybe Dom Smith or Brandon Nimmo) has had something click and is ready for a breakout season, and how someone has been hurt for a long time but finally feels healthy again. (I’m betting on Michael Wacha, since Yoenis Cespedes‘s story involves wild boars and contract restructurings and other oh-so-Metsian stuff that makes it sui generis.) We’ll get the thoughtful revisiting of difficult times, with the candor and insights one gets when the alternative is going back to the sports bar and risking getting in trouble in the parking lot. (What really did happen to Jed Lowrie during his very weird lost season, anyway?)

And of course we’ll get kumbaya talk about Luis Rojas as the great communicator and Jeremy Hefner as cerebral and hard-working and paeans to leadership and common cause and pulling for each other. Wouldn’t be spring without any of those things.

And then it will be March 10th or so and we’ll have gone through all those stories and guys will be tired of seeing the same three clubs and tired of Port St. Lucie and it will have dumped three feet of snow in New York, about which I am pre-tired, and Opening Day will transform in our imaginations from being right around the corner to being the end of the hallway in Poltergeist.

That happens every year. All of this happens every year.

This offseason, though, has come with an additional helping of Mets drama and turmoil and plain old weirdness. First off, of course, we’re on our third manager since October, which is a trick I hope the Mets never pull off again, and February and March are going to be a drip-drip-drip of more Carlos Beltran stories, reminding us all that the Mets somehow got blindsided by this, as they somehow get blindsided by everything.

The Mets were going to be sold, to a guy who sounds like a hedge-fund serpent even by hedge-fund serpent standards but is not Jeff Wilpon and so we were all fine with that, except then it turned out they weren’t going to be sold, because Jeff Wilpon is determined to become the dictionary definition of Large Adult Son even with substantial competition from the political world, except now they might be sold again, and this time the buyer supposedly won’t have to put up with Jeff Wilpon as part of the acquisition, which would be fantastic (particularly for said buyer) except by now I’m dizzy and dispirited and just want to lie down in a dark room until someone knocks on the door to tell me how it all turned out.

The Mets unveiled a swanky new clubhouse in Port St. Lucie, which is the kind of real-estate press release turned middling story that a certain aforementioned Large Adult Son lives for, and harmless in isolation. But being the Mets, they managed to step on their own anatomy by revealing that the minor-leaguers won’t get to use the palatial clubhouse after spring training, to … remind them of what they strive for? This was greeted with proper derision by the likes of Ty Kelly and P. J. Conlon, who reminded us that life in the low minors is crappy deli sandwiches and cramming into efficiency apartments. MLB’s treatment of its minor leaguers is a cynical crime, as it has been for years; somehow the Mets managed to take a furniture story and remind of their role in that crime.

Yoenis Cespedes is looking good! Or at least looking upright and hitting balls long distances, which is more than we’d hoped for at this point. So the Mets, being the Mets, talked about giving him playing time at first base. Cue the “That’s So Mets!” jokes. I tire of that meme, as I know you do too, but all too often you read something and before you even process it you can hear “Yakety Sax” in your head and find yourself wondering how it is we’ve wound up here yet again. It is so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so very Mets to look at a position they’ve actually solved and immediately think about how to unsolve it, isn’t it?

I’ve probably missed some misadventures, but that’ll do.

What will fix all this? Actual games that count. And that’s why, despite all the above, my shriveled little heart did expand a half-size or so (I’m not capable of going up two sizes, sorry) when I saw Wilson Ramos and Jeurys Familia pop up in little video windows on Twitter. Because meaningless and maddening as the next six or so weeks will be, they’re still better than winter.

And there are other signs of spring. Like my 2020 Topps Mets team set came in the mail today. There are way too many horizontal cards, and reputable scientists will tell you that horizontal baseball cards are a primary contributor to global warming, civic apathy and a host of other ills. But the design is not bad and they come in team colors and the photography’s pretty good and the team card features J.D. Davis looking insane, which is as it should be, and they’re new Mets cards, little pages in what will be the next chapter of our ongoing saga. And my goodness, doesn’t that shiny new Pete Alonso card look perfect, like the actual flesh-and-blood shiny new Pete Alonso we got to enjoy last year?

New cards, new posts, new stories, new games. They’re coming, they’re actually coming. And boy I do need them.

Outta Sight

The Oscars were handed out Sunday night. Thus, per Monday morning-after tradition, the Academy pauses to remember those Mets who have, in the baseball sense, left us in the past year.

Cue the montage…

___

MICKEY CHRISTOPHER CALLAWAY
Manager
March 29, 2018 – September 29, 2019

Callaway’s good will was all based on talk and theory. In theory, he was gonna be a great manager. In theory, he was gonna make a great difference. Oh, he’s made a difference, all right. Whatever the metrics are on managerial impact, you can’t watch this team on a going basis and not infer they are a reflection of a first-time manager who had no idea what he was getting himself into and has yet to come up with one.
—June 28, 2018
(Relieved of duties, 10/3/2019; named Angels pitching coach, 10/26/2019)

___

BROOKS CASEY POUNDERS
Relief Pitcher
June 16, 2019 – June 29, 2019

“Next…do we have a Brooks Pounders here? A Brooks Pounders? Or maybe it’s a Pounders Brooks. I don’t want to seem culturally insensitive. The name was just scribbled on my attendance list.”
—June 16, 2019
(Free agent, 9/30/2019; currently unsigned)

___

PATRICK JOSHUA “P.J.” CONLON
Starting Pitcher
May 7, 2018 – July 10, 2018

Conlon wasn’t around enough to give those folks the reward of a win, but he did collect his first hit. Which, it turns out, hastened his departure — he jammed his thumb, couldn’t feel his pitches, and was pulled in the fourth. And honestly, can you imagine a more perfect introduction to life as a Met than that?
—May 8, 2018
(Released, 7/25/2019; currently unsigned)

___

AARON SAMUEL ALTHERR
Outfielder
May 24, 2019 – August 23, 2019

I’d be at least a little confident in anybody the way the Mets have played. I was confident when Aaron Altherr pinch-hit in the ninth, and Aaron Altherr has literally FIVE base hits in SIXTY at-bats for THREE teams this season.
—August 22, 2019
(Free agent, 9/30/2019; signed with NC Dinos, 11/21/2019)

___

KEVIN KACZMARSKI
Outfielder
June 24, 2018 – July 9, 2018

Another Kevin, Kaczmarski, made his big-league debut and almost beat out a little trickler for a hit, one he would have been forgiven for slowly morphing into a sizzling line drive over the coming decades.
—June 24, 2018
(Retired, 9/21/2019)

___

RYAN PATRICK O’ROURKE
Relief Pitcher
May 1, 2019 – May 4, 2019

Of course break out the Champagne of Beers on behalf of every Met reliever who wasn’t Chris Flexen. Let’s have a roll call to recognize Daniel Zamora, Seth Lugo, Edwin Diaz, Drew Gagnon, Ryan O’Rourke and Robert Gsellman, who kept the Brew Crew off the board from the eighth through the sixteenth.
—May 5, 2019
(Free agent, 8/8/2019; signed with Twins, 8/9/2019)

___

DONNIE SCOTT HART
Relief Pitcher
August 4, 2019

Noah was succeeded to the mound by Donnie Hart, whom you’ve heard of now. Hart, a lefty who tossed a scoreless eighth, is the kind of August pickup available to contenders, someone cast off by some other organization (Milwaukee waived him). There will be no clever trades for Addison Reed or Fernando Salas as September approaches. Savvy grabs at the waiver wire and insightful scouting of the Atlantic League represent the best chances for fringe improvement. You gotta have an arm that you haven’t already shuttled up from Syracuse ten times before? Then you gotta have Hart.
—August 5, 2019
(Free agent, 11/1/2019; signed with A’s, 2/4/2020)

___

TIMOTHY LOUIS “Tim” PETERSON
Relief Pitcher
May 30, 2018 – June 11, 2019

Zack Wheeler had been so good against the Pirates for seven scoreless innings and, more relevantly, Tim Peterson had been sharp for nine economical pitches in relief of a faltering Robert Gsellman one night after five zippy deliveries the night before. Peterson was already in, and he’s been in the zone in a way no emerging setup man has been since perhaps Jeurys Familia in 2014. Familia, on the other hand, threw 28 pitches the night before, barked at a baserunner who had done nothing wrong and has aged plenty over the past four years. Except Peterson is just some rookie and Familia is an established closer, and when you have an old, set-in-his-ways manager who has always hewed closely to roles…no, wait a second, that’s not Mickey Callaway, at least not the Mickey Callaway who was sold to us as an avatar of new age situational progressivism specifically where the bullpen was concerned.
—June 28, 2018
(Free agent, 9/30/2019; currently unsigned)

___

KEON DARELL BROXTON
Outfielder
March 28, 2019 – May 16, 2019

One more run was required to keep Saturday at 1:10 perfect and we weren’t about to be picky how we got it. Fortunately, the Mets proved there is more than one way to skin a Nat. With two out and the bases empty in the bottom of the eighth, Conforto doubled off of Tony Sipp, knee-nagged Jeff McNeil arose from the bench to absorb a pitch to his shoulder for the greater good and Keon Broxton took a big gulp out of Sipp, singling Conforto across the plate and the Mets into the lead. It wasn’t a home run, but other ways to score are also nice.
—April 6, 2019
(Traded to Orioles, 5/22/2019)

___

ERIC DRU HANHOLD
Relief Pitcher
September 4, 2018 – September 9, 2018

The kiddie corps of Eric Hanhold, Tyler Bashlor, Daniel Zamora and Drew Smith was tasked with holding a contender at bay. The contender prevailed, thanks to Hanhold encountering a bit of bad bloop luck and Bashlor being taken practically to the World’s Fair Marina by Rhys Hoskins. Oh well. Good to see the youthful arms getting a chance nonetheless.
—September 8, 2018
(Selected off waivers by Orioles, 9/16/2019)

___

GAVIN GLENN CHRISTOPHER JOSEPH CECCHINI
Infielder
September 11, 2016 – October 1, 2017

Cecchini has started one game in the big leagues, and in it he homered off Clayton Bleeping Kershaw. That would be enough of a career for most of us. Cecchini probably would like more.
—June 20, 2017
(Free agent, 11/4/2019; signed with Blue Jays, 1/17/2020)

___

DEVIN DOUGLAS MESORACO
Catcher
May 8, 2018 – September 29, 2018

Mesoraco caught Wheeler for six uncharacteristically solid innings, which, unlike Cabrera’s double, did show up in the box score. Zack raved about Devin afterward, hinting perhaps that it does matter who does catch a pitcher. Maybe the chronically befuddled Steven Matz would have followed Wheeler’s effort with five fine innings sans Mesoraco (he was on his game in his previous start a week ago), but every little bit helps, and it now appears Devin is helping talented Met starters whose performance wasn’t living up to their curdled hype. That, like the Mets’ near-invincibility in Philly, is a narrative we can deal with until it’s proven otherwise inoperative.
—May 12, 2018
(Placed on restricted list, March 25, 2019)

___

CHRIS JAMES MAZZA
Relief Pitcher
June 29, 2019 – September 29, 2019

The score by this point, as if one needed to be kept, was Mets 11 Twins 3. After Chris Mazza threw a serviceable inning of relief in very sharp striped socks, Minnesota answered by sending forth Ehire Adrianza to mop up. Don’t feel bad if your pre-Interleague series bullpen research yielded no usable intelligence on Adrianza. Ehire is a shortstop usually and served as Rocco Baldelli’s white flag on Wednesday. The first-place Twins were crying “UNCLE” in the face of the fourth-place Mets. Good luck holding off the Indians with that attitude. Three more runs on five more hits ensued. I’d say a position player’s presence on the mound made a mockery of the game, but the game already included the use of designated hitters, so why not go all the way?
—July 17, 2019
(Selected off waivers by Red Sox, 12/20/2019)

___

SAMUEL ONOFRIO “Sam” HAGGERTY
Infielder
September 4, 2019 – September 29, 2019

Sam Haggerty was up next, and I liked the idea that Sam Haggerty could get his first big league hit in the biggest spot imaginable that wasn’t really he biggest spot imaginable except if you were sitting here in the eleventh inning on Closing Day, now edging into Closing Night. Except Haggerty wasn’t going to hit.
—September 30, 2019
(Selected off waivers by Mariners, 1/10/2020)

___

HECTOR FELIPE SANTIAGO
Relief Pitcher
May 24, 2019 – June 14, 2019

I turned off the audio but kept Gameday on my knee, watching in horror as the newest Met, Hector Santiago, sprayed balls well out of the strike zone but somehow escaped the usual and fitting punishment for such antics.
—May 26, 2019
(Free agent, 6/18/2019; signed with White Sox, 6/20/2019)

___

WILMER FONT
Relief Pitcher
May 8, 2019 – July 7, 2019

On Wednesday, the Mets couldn’t have started a less distinctive pitcher. His name was Wilmer Font. It is no knock on Wilmer Font to say that other than having fun with Wilmer’s last name and fondly recalling the last Met who shared Font’s first name, there was very little to say about Wilmer Font in advance of his first Met start. He was picked up because the Mets needed anybody, a description that neatly fits Wilmer Font, a former member of several other organizations who joined this one just the other day.
—May 9, 2019
(Sold to Blue Jays, 7/17/2019)

___

CARLOS IVÁN BELTRÁN
Manager-Designate
November 1, 2019 – January 16, 2020

As we look ahead to 2020 and our sixteenth season of blogging, we learn that the manager of our New York Mets will be Carlos Beltran, long removed from his playing days as a Met, not so long removed from playing in general. He is universally admired within the game, yet taking on a wholly new role. So are the Washington Nationals. They will be first-time defending world champions, charging out of the visitors dugout at Citi Field on March 26, taking on Carlos Beltran’s Mets. That’ll be Opening Day, when everything old and new traditionally merge into something else altogether.
—November 1, 2019
(Mutually agreed to part ways, 1/16/2020; currently unaffiliated)

___

ANDREW MILES “Drew” GAGNON
Relief Pitcher
July 10, 2018 – September 25, 2019

Gagnon is in his eighth professional season, and with his third organization. Las Vegas marked the fourth season in a row he’d pitched in Triple-A. He had to have thought that the call was never going to come and the dream was never going to come true. And with good reason: he knew he’d become a roster-filler, and that 28-year-olds with marginal stuff are Plan H or I for big-league rotations. But the Mets specialize in Plan Is.
—July 10, 2018
(Released 11/22/2019; signed with KIA Tigers, 12/9/2019)

___

RUBEN DARIO TEJADA
Infielder
April 7, 2010 – October 10, 2015
August 14, 2019 – August 20, 2019

Lugo wasn’t hit particularly hard — the Braves jerked some tough pitches over the infield, broke bats and still had balls fall in, and were gifted an extra out when Pete Alonso left first and Lugo didn’t cover on a grounder to recidivist Met Ruben Tejada, returning to duty as Jeff McNeil’s replacement. (I would have opted for Dilson Herrera, but that’s another post.)
(Free agent, 11/4/2019; signed with Blue Jays, 1/17/2020)

___

LUIS ARMANDO AVILÁN
Relief Pitcher
March 31, 2019 – September 26, 2019

Luis Avilan’s music is “The Man Comes Around,” by Johnny Cash. It’s a vaguely apocalyptic song full of Biblical imagery, and strange to hear in a ballpark. Good to hear, or too odd a choice? I’ll need to think about that one.
—July 26, 2019
(Free agent, 10/31/2019; signed with Yankees, 1/22/2020)

___

JOSEPH MATTHEW “Joe” PANIK
Second Baseman
August 9, 2019 – September 29, 2019

I am moderately satisfied to have a middle infielder of Panik’s pedigree among us. I was also moderately satisfied to have had middle infielders of Panik’s pedigree among us in other playoff chases: Tommy Herr in 1990; Mike Bordick in 2000; Luis Castillo in 2007. None of those names jump off the page as net Met positives a million or so years later, but at the moment of their respective acquisitions, they filled in nicely and filled holes ably. Panik probably isn’t a panacea, but for the time being, he’s all right.
—August 12, 2019
(Free agent, 10/31/2019; signed with Blue Jays, 1/18/2020)

___

CHRISTOPHER JOHN “Chris” FLEXEN
Pitcher
July 27, 2017 – August 24, 2019

Young Chris threw 57 pitches, almost of all them (at least the ones in the strike zone) scalded. Flexen entered at 10-6 in the fifth; he exited at 17-6 in the seventh. Only three of the seven runs he allowed were earned, but that seemed a technicality. Oh, and the Mets stopped scoring, transforming a potential slugfest into a standard-issue blowout of epic proportions, the kind in which you’re grateful nobody grabbed a lat muscle, yet you’re a little disappointed a catcher didn’t pitch. I got old just watching it and I’ve gotten even older just now reliving it.
—May 27, 2018
Designated for assignment, 12/6/2019; signed with Doosan Bears, 12/7/2019)

___

ADEINY HECHAVARRÍA BARRERA
Infielder
May 4, 2019 – August 7, 2019

Ah, but just when you think you know what the Mets are going to do next, you know next to nothing. In the bottom of the ninth, Adeiny Hechavarria, the kind of versatile veteran presence every team needs on its roster, walked with one out (I could take or leave him, really, but his mere Metsian existence drives my partner to frothing, and that’s always fun to provoke).
—May 22, 2019
(Free agent, 8/16/2019; signed with Braves 8/16/2019)

___

CARLOS ARGELIS GOMEZ
Outfielder
May 13, 2007 – September 29, 2007
May 17, 2019 – June 29, 2019

On May 23, 2019, however, after an odyssey that stretched from Minneapolis through Milwaukee, Houston, Arlington, St. Petersburg and Syracuse, the prodigal son, as Gary Cohen was in the process of tabbing him, blazed around the bases, having just hit his second home park home run as a Met, his first in home blues at Citi Field. He thoughtfully brought Smith and Ramos along on his come-from-behind sprint to make it 6-4 for the rejuvenated Go-Go Mets. When Carlos Gomez homers in a Mets uniform for the first time in twelve years, you can be assured he does not trot.
—May 24, 2019
(Free agent, 7/3/2019; retired, 1/16/2020)

___

RAJAI LAVAE DAVIS
Outfielder
May 22, 2019 – September 29, 2019

Find someone who looks at you the way Davis looked at Urias’s one-and-two changeup…and then maybe get away from that person, because Davis smacked that pitch hard. Rajai meant no harm, however, except to the Dodgers. The veteran hitter produced a three-run pinch-double, clearing those bases of Mets and generating a 3-0 lead for Justin Wilson to protect in the ninth.
—September 15, 2019
(Free agent, 10/31/2019; signed with Acereros de Monclova, 2/13/2020)

___

THOMAS JAVIER “T.J.” RIVERA
Infielder
August 10, 2016 – July 26, 2017

Rivera, whose name was all over the bottom of the ninth in the field and had imprinted itself upon the box score with two hits and two ribbies in regulation, batted second. As he came up, I found myself sorting through his brief MLB career to date and wondering, “Has he homered yet? I don’t think he has…has he?” I can now answer definitively that he has. The rookie from Lehman High School showed Melancon the Bronx the best way possible, via the left field grandstand. That’s where T.J. (or “T.” as his friends call him) deposited the Washington closer’s two-strike delivery for his first major league home run. The Mets were ahead again, 4-3.
—September 14, 2016
(Released, 3/9/2019; signed with Long Island Ducks, 7/6/2019)

___

JASON MATTHEW VARGAS
Starting Pitcher
May 17, 2007 – July 3, 2007
April 28, 2018 – July 28, 2019

Nights like Tuesday, defined primarily by rain, futility and Jason Vargas, deserve to be evaluated not on how bad the Mets’ loss was mathematically, but how the elements that constitute the whole of the experience measure within the parameters of the carefully calibrated Jason Vargas Index. For those who have forgotten, here are the scales of the Jason Vargas Index:
• VERY VARGAS: Truly dismal
• SORT OF VARGAS: Could be better
• NOT AT ALL VARGAS: Perfectly lovely
—August 8, 2018
(Traded to Phillies, 7/29/2019)

___

TODD BRIAN FRAZIER
Third Baseman
March 29, 2018 – September 29, 2019

I guess it’s laughable, sort of like promoting a Todd Frazier Batting Practice Pullover giveaway and then not giving away the Todd Frazier Batting Practice Pullovers as promised (never mind not having Todd Frazier around lately). But it might take a few decades and an intervening championship to find the funny in the defeat that followed the imploded promotion.
—June 3, 2018
(Free agent, 10/31/2019; signed with Rangers, 1/12/2020)

___

TRAVIS EMMANUEL d’ARNAUD
Catcher
August 17, 2013 – April 27, 2019

It’s always cathartic to poke fun at the Mets’ inability to cure and communicate, but never mind that for the moment. I’m more interested in Travis d’Arnaud the player than Travis d’Arnaud the latest example of what always seems to go wrong. Travis d’Arnaud, you’ve surely noticed, was an essential part of this team when it was playing its best, which has made him an enormous part of this team when he hasn’t been playing at all.
—July 19, 2015
(Released, 5/3/2019; signed with Dodgers, 5/5/2019)

___

ZACHARY HARRISON “Zack” WHEELER
Starting Pitcher
June 18, 2013 – September 26, 2019

I particularly liked what he answered when I asked him a process question concerning when he knows he has his “A” arsenal versus when he thinks he’s gonna have to figure things out as a game goes along. I used as an example how well he pitched at San Francisco last July, and midway through my question, I realized that was an extreme example because, duh, it was the Giants who decided they could spare him when they traded him for Ol’ Mercenary Head, a.k.a. Carlos Beltran. Thus I amended my question as I asked it to encompass that extenuating circumstance, and Zack was more than happy to volunteer that he was really “pumped up” that day and wanted to “shove it against ’em”. They were the ones who gave up on him, after all. He hadn’t forgotten and he wasn’t shy about remembering it now. The words might have differed coming out of different mouths, but I could hear echoes of Seaver or Martinez saying essentially the same thing.
—December 18, 2013
(Free agent, 10/31/2019; signed with Phillies, 12/4/2019)

___

JUAN OSVALDO LAGARES
Center Fielder
April 23, 2013 – September 29, 2019

Juan got that first rally going Saturday night. He also got the second rally going, the one that culminated in Alonso’s two-RBI hit in the seventh. And he capped off the Mets’ third and final rally, tripling in Luis Guillorme in the eighth, providing the crucial insurance run every deGrom start requires before responsibility for its safety passes into the hands of the (gulp) bullpen. Good for Juan Lagares. And what’s good for Juan Lagares is good for the USA…or our orange and blue corner of it. Next time you see him crossing home plate, be sure to line up behind the bat boy and slap the man’s palm like you mean it.
—August 18, 2019
(Free agent, 11/1/2019; signed with Padres, 2/10/2020)

___

STEVEN A. “Steve” COHEN
Prospective Majority Owner & Eventual Control Person
December 4, 2019 – February 7, 2020

The best news about Cohen, in addition to his resources, is that he’s a Mets fan. Not a Mets fan because he already owns a minority stake in the Mets. Not a Mets fan in the sense that he politely applauds his investment. He’s a 63-year-old Mets fan originally from Great Neck, eight stops on the Port Washington line from Shea. I’ve read he attended games at the Polo Grounds, which means he’s old enough to remember the entirety of the Mets experience and young enough to not remember a time before the Mets. The latter shouldn’t feel like a positive, but after eleven seasons passing through the turnstiles of a ballpark whose guiding architectural principle was Ebbets Faux, I’ll take my chances on a baseball worldview shaped by love of the Mets and nobody else. The least encouraging news is that this deal is by no means done.
—December 5, 2019
(Highly complicated transaction termed too difficult to execute, 2/7/2020; maintains minority stake)

Maybe Not, Virginia

We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its fitful author is numbered among the friends of THIS BLOG:

***

“DEAR FAFIF: I am several decades old (and then some).

“Some of my middle-aged friends say there is a Santa Cohen.

“Sources say ‘If you see it on THIS BLOG, it’s so.’

“Please tell me the truth: is there a Santa Cohen?

“METS FAN
41 SEAVER WAY.”

***

METS FAN, your middle-age friends may be wrong. They have been affected by the unfounded optimism of an otherwise skeptical age. They believed what they yearned to see. They thought that it was comprehensible that the team of which you are a fan could be whisked upward to new heights by an owner who would fling a sack off of his shoulder and purposefully empty its contents, which were surely to be revealed as many, many millions and millions of dollars that were no doubt to be directed toward the improvement of the team they were supremely confident he was going to own.

Yet, METS FAN, there may not be a Santa Cohen. We cannot at this time be certain one way or the other, but based on recent reports, it would be irresponsible of THIS BLOG to convince you Santa Cohen exists.

Santa Cohen may not exist as a cure-all to the array of your team’s problems.

Santa Cohen may not exist as the devoted cash cow you have envisioned.

Santa Cohen was never a sure thing, METS FAN. When you first became aware of the specter of Santa Cohen, all you saw, probably, were the sugar-plums that danced in your heads. A sugar-plum who pitched. A sugar-plum who patrolled center. A sugar-plum behind the plate who could both credibly catch and hit. Enough sugar-plums to overcome the perceived paucity of sugar-plums that had marked the enduring experiences of too many Mets fans like you. Everywhere the eye could see: sugar-plums! Santa Cohen wouldn’t ask how much the sugar-plums cost. Santa Cohen would simply deliver.

Alas, METS FAN, it has become clear you can’t absolutely count on Santa Cohen. Santa Cohen likely won’t shimmy down the chimney in time for Opening Day, or the Home Opener, or anytime in the season ahead. You should have realized that, METS FAN, when you first took note of Santa Cohen, because Santa Cohen never said explicitly announced he was coming this year. Actually, Santa Cohen laid low and left it to others to say he’d be along in five years if all the merry gentlemen were in agreement on the details of his arrival and what they would entail. Everything else — especially the notion that five years was TOO long for Santa Cohen to wait; and that there was NO way a figure as robust as Santa Cohen would lurk in the shadows while the team he owned continued to operate its dreary business as usual — was a product of childlike imagination.

Believe in Santa Cohen? You’d be better off believing in Polar Bears, Squirrels and Buffaloes. At least you’ve seen those.

To be fair, METS FAN, we don’t know with incorruptible certitude that Santa Cohen won’t magically materialize at some unforeseen date. You shouldn’t necessarily give up hope, because, METS FAN, you ARE a Mets fan, and hope is your eternal light, no matter who owns your team. But we have to admit that as of right now, Santa Cohen isn’t walking through that door let alone shimmying down that chimney.

As for the Wilpons, they live and they live forever. A thousand years from now, METS FAN, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, they will continue to make sad the heart of Mets fandom.

Or so it appears again.

Contiguity Connects Three

On September 15, 1983, a 33-year-old lefthanded pitcher from West Chester, Pa., appeared in a major league baseball game for the 361st time in a career that dated to July 11, 1971. In 318 games, he was the starting pitcher. This wasn’t one of those games. On this day, a Thursday afternoon in Oakland, Jonathan Trumpbour Matlack pitched in relief for the Texas Rangers. He entered in the seventh inning to protect a 6-4 lead. In the seventh, he gave up a triple to Davey Lopes and a run-scoring single to Mike Davis, but in the eighth, he struck out Jeff Burroughs and got a double play liner that erased a walk to Bill Almon.

Jon Matlack departed the mound with the Rangers still up, 6-5. For his trouble, he was awarded a hold. Soon enough, though, he lost his grip on the job he’d held in two places over the previous dozen years. September 15, 1983, was the final game of Matlack’s career. Texas manager Doug Rader didn’t use him again in the two-and-a-half weeks that remained in the season, and on Halloween, he was released.

As of September 15, 1983, Matlack’s 361 appearances understandably dwarfed the total compiled by a recently promoted pitcher for the New York Mets, the team for whom Matlack pitched 203 times (199 of them starts) between 1971 and 1977. This other pitcher, a righty born in Honolulu and raised in Millbury, Mass., had debuted on September 6 at Shea Stadium versus the Phillies, losing, 2-0, despite giving up only one in run in six-and-a-third innings. In his rematch with the same team six days later, it was much the same story: seven innings, two runs and a 2-1 loss to the eventual National League champions at Veterans Stadium.

Interesting venue for Ronald Maurice Darling to get his traveling feet wet. One road start hardly made Darling a veteran, but he was on his way, following in the footsteps of Matlack. When 1983 ended, Darling would have five starts to his credit; by the middle of 1991, the same pitcher would work in 257 games as a Met, 241 of them as a starter. Then, as was the case with Matlack, Darling was sent elsewhere to ply his craft. Come August 15, 1995, pitching for Oakland at Kansas City, Darling took the ball for the 382nd time in a career that stretched about as long as Matlack’s had. Unlike Matlack on 9/15/83, Darling on 8/15/95 was starting (his 364th such assignment). Exactly like Matlack, this would be it for Darling. Against the Royals on a Tuesday night, Darling lasted five-and-a-third innings, surrendering five earned runs in a 7-4 loss charged to his record. His final inning of work consisted of a double to Keith Lockhart; a lineout to retire Wally Joyner, an intentional walk to Jon Nunnally and a run-scoring single to David Howard, the hit that moved Tony La Russa to remove him from the game and, ultimately, his profession. Six days later, the A’s released Darling.

By the day Ron Darling, 35, found himself a man without a team, an infielder born in Santa Teresa del Tuy, Venezuela, had played in 88 major league games, the first of them on Opening Night of the 1995 season in Denver. The year started late, on April 26, thanks to the 1994 strike that took far too long to conclude. When it did, however, this 21-year-old who could play three positions was ready to go, skipping Triple-A and making Dallas Green’s roster out of truncated Spring Training. Edgardo Antonio Alfonzo pinch-hit in the tenth inning on a chilly Wednesday evening at Coors Field, the first game ever at Coors Field. With one out and Todd Hundley on second, Green inserted Alfonzo to bat for John Franco. Facing the Rockies’ Bruce Ruffin, the rookie lifted a fly ball to center, moving Hundley to third. The Mets would neither nor score nor win. Alfonzo would not stay in what became an 11-9 loss.

But he wasn’t going anywhere in 1995, except a little further into his manager’s plans. Alfonzo chalked up his first start on April 30; notched his first hit on May 2; and rounded the bases for his first homer — and inside-the-park job — on May 6. All that could stop the progress of the Mets’ sometimes second baseman, sometimes third baseman and once-in-a-while shortstop was a herniated disc, a setback that placed Alfonzo and his .276 batting average on the disabled list on August 18, retroactive to August 11, a week encompassing Darling’s final start. When Alfonzo was activated on September 1, he continued pretty much where he left off. When his first, briefly injury-interrupted season was over, Alfonzo had put 101 games in the books, posted a .278 average and provided versatility for a ballclub groping for stability.

There’d be another year of coming off the bench for Alfonzo in 1996, then six seasons as a starter, three years at third, three years at second, through 2002, by which time the righthanded-hitting infielder had logged 1,086 games as a Met. In the four years that followed beyond that, he play another 420 in other uniforms, bringing his total in the majors to 1,506, the last of them for the Toronto Blue Jays on June 11, 2006. The final time Alfonzo reached base came in the sixth inning that Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre, via a single off Detroit’s Jason Grilli. Two innings later, versus Joel Zumaya, he’d ground out. A day later, the Blue Jays released him.

A month after that, following a detour to the Atlantic League’s Bridgeport Bluefish, the Mets signed Alfonzo to a minor league contract and sent him to the Norfolk Tides, the stop he’d skipped on his early ’90s ascent to the big leagues. When the Mets first signed Alfonzo, in 1991, he was 17. Now Alfonzo was 32, not quite as old as Matlack was in 1983. Matlack had been a Tide when the franchise was known as Tidewater. Darling was a Tidewater Tide, too, just after he’d pitched for the Tulsa Drillers, top farm club for the Texas Rangers in 1981. Come Spring Training 1982, owing to his status as a No. 1 draft pick, Darling was in major league camp with the Rangers, aiming for a spot in the same rotation that had included Matlack since 1978. Instead, Darling was traded to the Mets and spent most of two years developing with the Tides. Matlack could have related. A No. 1 pick himself in 1967, Matlack pitched for Tidewater most of 1969, 1970 and 1971. When he came up for good in 1972, there was no doubting he was prepared, winning 15 games and capturing the National League Rookie of the Year.

Darling’s Tidewater apprenticeship yielded similar results. In 1984, he made 33 starts for the Mets, won 12 games and earned a few Rookie of the Year points for himself. In his second full year, Darling made the NL All-Star team. Matlack would have to wait until his third full year, 1974, to claim the same honor, one he’d receive three times as a Met. Darling never made it back to the All-Stars, but by the end of his third full season, he was a world champion, having started three games in the 1986 World Series, performing brilliantly in two of them. Matlack had also made three World Series starts, in 1973, with similar individual results.

Alfonzo? He’d be an All-Star in 2000, his sixth season, though that felt overdue. His third season, 1997, was the year he put himself on the map, attracting MVP votes for the first of three times in his career. In his fifth season, 1999, he’d ascended to the cusp of superstardom, winning a Silver Slugger for a team that went to the National League Championship Series largely on the strength of ethereal infield defense, a quarter of which was the doing of Alfonzo. A year later, he’d be as good a reason as any that the Mets were in the World Series.

Whereas erstwhile Tides/Mets Matlack and Darling stopped actively seeking pitching opportunities once their American League teams released them, Alfonzo the former Met plugged away as a Tide. A poetic coda to twelve major league seasons would have had him called up to Shea Stadium in September of 2006 for the Mets’ coronation as division champs. But that never happened. Another game in the majors never happened, either, though not for lack of trying. Edgardo Alfonzo played for the Long Island Ducks in 2008, the Yomiuri Giants in 2009 and Newark Bears in 2010. He kept playing in the Venezuelan Winter League for a few years more, until he was approaching 40.

Then he, too, stopped. He turned to coaching, then managing in the minor leagues. By 2019, he was a champion at that, guiding the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets short-season Single-A affiliate, to their first undisputed NY-Penn League title. Instruction had also come to define Matlack’s next chapter in baseball. He ran the Tigers’ minor league pitching operations from 1997 to 2011 and then took on a similar role for the Astros. Darling hadn’t pursued any kind of coaching, but he also stayed close to the game. For fourteen going on fifteen seasons, he’s been one of the TV voices of the New York Mets.

We don’t know SNY’s booth schedule for 2020, but we have learned Darling is definitely going to be at Citi Field on Sunday, May 17, to be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame. Matlack will be there for the same reason. Alfonzo, too. As much as they have in common, it figures to be the first time they stand on a field together in Flushing. Matlack wasn’t there for Shea Goodbye in 2008, the best opportunity the three had to meet up until the Mets announced on Tuesday that the trio would be the club’s first Hall honorees in seven years — with Al Jackson posthumously recognized via the Mets Hall of Fame Achievement Award for “contributions to the organization”.

The Mets have put more than one person in their Hall at the same time before, but this is the first time they’ve created a class so chronologically diverse. When you dig into their respective career ledgers, you see Matlack’s time overlapped slightly with Darling’s, and Darling’s overlapped slightly with Alfonzo’s. But when you take a step back, you realize that the contiguity forged by these three Met greats covers more than a half-century in baseball, featuring 36 consecutive seasons in the majors, highlighted by a whole bunch we rightly consider outstanding. Jon, Ronnie and Fonzie weren’t quite contemporaries, but now they are certified as peers of the highest Met order.

It would have been sweeter from our admittedly biased perspective had Jon Matlack not thrown his last pitch as a Texas Ranger, had Ron Darling not left his last game as an Oakland Athletic, had Edgardo Alfonzo not taken his last swing as a Toronto Blue Jay. What is undeniably sweet, however, is that at last, they end up grouped exactly where their legends deserve to endure.

Inside the Park Home Run

Outside it’s cold, misty, and it’s raining. We’ve got a FanFest; who right here’s complaining? Not anybody who thinks it’s sexy that the Mets opened Citi Field on the last Saturday in January for as much baseball as they could possibly produce without benefit of a baseball game.

It was the first hopefully annual FanFest in Mets history. Mets history goes back a ways, yet they never before did this. They ran modest caravans and arranged diffuse appearances, half-heartedly and intermittently currying winter goodwill if it wasn’t too much trouble. A full-fledged FanFest, however, was some other sucker’s parade. Cubs Convention. Cardinals Winter Warm-Up. Red Sox Weekend. And whoever heard of those teams? The Mets were content to maintain a low hot stove profile. It’s not like folks wouldn’t turn out on Opening Day.

For much of the 2010s, if you wanted a Mets FanFest, you did it yourself. Queens Baseball Convention, or QBC, was as DIY as it got. We, the fans, did that, though I use “we” broadly. In recent years, these original LGM Meetings were largely the work of two dedicated Mets fans, Keith Blacknick and Dan Twohig, with dozens of volunteers and contributors (I was among the latter) pitching in to put on a show, and hundreds of Mets fans investing in tickets just so we could all be in one place for a few hours between seasons. It was a great time wherever it was held, which was usually in a spot where the seams all but burst out into the frigid streets. QBC was an Off Broadway production, but it had heart.

Thing is, QBC, its miles and miles of heart notwithstanding, shouldn’t have existed. Fans shouldn’t have to put on their own FanFest. Fans want to rally around the flag, even when the flag never got higher than fourth place the previous year and wasn’t projected to fly much higher the next year. We want to revel in our thing. The Mets have been our thing collectively since 1962. We don’t go on hiatus after Game 162. We embrace the Mets 365 days most years, 366 days this year. But ya got meet us halfway one day. We’ll come to you, but ya gotta open the door and let us in. Do that, and the reveling and embracing will flow.

And so it did on Saturday. The first hopefully annual Mets FanFest clicked. At least I think it did. I was there, but I was officially in media mode, kindly credentialed by the club’s communications department, which meant tamping down my natural inclination toward the first-person plural and foregoing the myriad selfie lines that gripped and grinned with most every Met in creation.

That was fine. I didn’t have to queue up and pose with Michael Wacha. It did my heart good that so many others were able to.

The vibe, at least as observed from the distance of a dangling press credential, was warm, sunny and excited inside Citi Field. Some of it, I believe, was the simple thrill that this was actually happening, like when we got our no-hitter. We’d spent our lives imagining what it would be like and couldn’t imagine it as having happened.

FanFest? It has happened.

***

My first stop, at 10 AM, was a room I’d never seen on the third base side of the suite level. I haven’t seen all that much of the suite level, so no surprise that it contains nooks and crannies that have gone underexplored since 2009. They sent the media up there. All the familiar nooks and crannies were otherwise occupied for FanFest.

Our first player availability was with Jacob deGrom. They got him started a few ticks early, meaning by the time I took my place on the fringes of the scrum of microphones and cameras, my main takeaway from whatever he said was that in January in New York, Jake wears a knit hat. Good thinking. We don’t need Jake catching a chill.

Jake was ushered away and Pete Alonso was ushered in. Up close, I can report with confidence that he’s Pete Alonso. I mean totally Pete Alonso. He seemed thrilled to be Pete Alonso in something close to his natural habitat. The questions he fielded had mostly to do with Luis Rojas and Carlos Beltran. Luis as manager was thrilling to him, albeit in a mellow vein. “Dude never loses his cool,” Pete said. “I’m so pumped. I’m so pumped for him.” Good, I thought, let Pete handle the pumping. Let the skipper be the mellow one if that works. I heard variations throughout the day on how super it was that Rojas is low-key. It’s a good reminder that these guys, the Mets, have a long grind ahead of them and don’t believe they need a lot of unnecessary chatter harshing their buzz. They’ve got the clusters of microphones and cameras for that.

Pete is pumped.

Carlos Beltran was a ghost at these proceedings (as opposed to Mickey Callaway, who seemed to have simply vanished from contemporary dialogue). “The stuff that happened with Carlos was unfortunate,” Pete said somewhat somberly, but mostly he wanted us to know Luis is gonna be awesome and that “I’m so damn excited” to get going, improve and win.

All active ballplayers, I’m convinced, are variations on Don Draper. Their business may exploit our predilection for nostalgia, but all they want to do is look ahead and move forward. Shame about Beltran, but he’s not here. Rojas is. Spring Training almost is. We should all be pumped.

(There I go, slipping into first-person plural.)

Our next Met was Amed Rosario, accompanied by Alan Suriel, familiar to anybody who stays tuned for the postgame shows on SNY. Suriel translates questions and answers between the English-language reporters and the Spanish-language players. I’m continually amazed at how well this works, at least for topline communication regarding what went right or wrong out there tonight. All I really gleaned from Rosario’s session was that Amed, too, thought what happened with Beltran was “an unfortunate situation,” and that Spanish as a language is as fast as Amed as a baserunner.

***

There was a bit of a gap between Rosario and the next scheduled availability, so I visited the Foxwoods Club, home of the main stage for the duration. The season-ticket holder session was in progress, featuring Brodie Van Wagenen and Luis Rojas, as moderated by the eternally classy Gary Cohen. Luis indeed seemed relaxed. The day before, after his introduction, Steve Gelbs did a standup with the new manager, and something about the interplay — just the “Hi, Steve” of it — put me in mind of Jerry Ford shortly after assuming the presidency from Richard Nixon, specifically the photographs of Ford toasting his own English muffin. Our long national nightmare was over. We had a regular guy in office.

Brodie said something about Jeurys Familia having lost 30 pounds, presumably most of it ERA.

The manager and the general manager gave way to the award-winning duo of deGrom and Alonso. The season ticket-holders applauded Pete and Jake, Pete more than Jake at first, if only for the novelty, I hunched. We’ve had Jake for six years. In this atmosphere, deGrom was briefly Rod Tidwell at the NFL draft, “five years late for the prom.” The moment belongs to Pete Alonso.

But the age belongs to Jacob deGrom, and Mets fans appreciate him just as much after his second Cy Young. Jake got his applause, too. It might have been for clearing his throat. Everything is an applause line when you’ve got the best pitcher and the best slugger in your midst. Pete, clearly paying attention this past year, announced, “There’s no casual Mets fan.”

More applause.

***

Steven Matz was our next media availability. We learned that he knows Rojas well; that he considers Luis “even-keeled”; that after one interaction, “I’ve already learned a lot” from pitching coach Jeremy Hefner; that “I’ve never put much thought into” whether opposing dugouts are stealing his signs. It was all spoken like a true Mets veteran. Calmly holding a cup of coffee while everybody wanted to know about the chaos that had been floating around the Mets, Steven could have been Dave Foley on Newsradio.

***

At 11:42 AM, we gentlemen and ladies of the press were shepherded into yet another room I’d never seen, somewhere down the first base line on the Plaza level. It’s painted mostly blue with streaks of orange. There’s an outline of New York State on one wall with “Mets” scrawled from Albany to Buffalo, à la the Erie Canal song we learned in fifth grade. Something silly is about to happen, a photo op involving a mostly packed truck full of baseball gear. It’s the truck that will soon be rolling south to St. Lucie. They’ve saved a few bags of equipment so they can be loaded on by two mascots, three players and one alumnus.

I told you it was silly. But if I weren’t there in a semi-professional capacity, I’d be consuming it on my phone or tablet later, probably thinking it was incredibly cool. As we waited on our celebrity baggage-handlers, I listened in on a debate as to whether Luis Rojas is the 22nd or 23rd manager the Mets have ever had. It’s not the first of these I’d overheard. The Mets specified Beltran as the 22nd in November and have stuck to that script, calling Rojas the 23rd. Yet as someone said earlier in the Foxwoods Club, Wally Backman was named Diamondbacks manager one offseason, but never actually managed a game and isn’t listed among Arizona’s skippers.

Beltran, I decided, is our John Hanson. John Hanson’s title was “President of the United States in Congress Assembled” in 1781 and 1782, the Articles of Confederation days. I used to work with a guy who loved to invoke John Hanson, not to any grand philosophical end on how government should be organized, just to let it be known he knew we had a president who wasn’t really a president, but he was kind of the president before we had a president.

Sort of like Beltran.

Down in Washington, DC, this Saturday morning, impeachment proceedings were continuing. Now and then I’d scroll Twitter for an update. These are serious times for our democratic republic, and I’m standing here waiting on two figures with enormous baseballs for heads to finish packing a truck. What a country.

Ah, finally, here come Mr. Met and Mrs. Met. And here come the contingent of Mets with more naturally proportioned noggins: Robinson Cano, Jeff McNeil, Edwin Diaz and, from the past, Turk Wendell. Maybe it’s my imagination, but Diaz and Wendell seem to have an organic simpatico, reliever to reliever. For the occasion, though, everybody’s an assembly line worker, passing those bags up a ramp and onto a truck. I told you it was silly, but the cameras go crazy. These images will whet whistles all over the Metropolitan Area and perhaps throughout the state illustrated on the wall. A small crowd connected with the truck’s sponsor gathers and cheers.

I write down the license plate number of the truck in case the gloves and bats therein meet with foul play.

Once the hubbub simmers down, we get our next wave of availabilities, though it’s still kind of loud, so mostly what I divine from listening to Diaz/Suriel is he’s working on his mechanics. Edwin will be fixed. Jeurys will lose weight. The sun will come out by March 26. I’m sold.

Also, McNeil’s wrist is fine; Cano played for Luis’s father Felipe Alou on the Dominican WBC team; and “the fans mean everything to us,” according to Robbie. I could swear he means it.

***

In the Rotunda a few minutes later, I am introduced to Art Shamsky. This is the fourth time I’ve been introduced to Art Shamsky over the past eight years. I consider Art Shamsky my personal alumnus. We should all have one. Art doesn’t remember me from 2012, 2014 or 2017. To be fair, Art meets a lot of media and fans, and I’m one or the other as Saturday morning has morphed into Saturday afternoon.

First, I’m media and ask him about the last year, which he perhaps more than any Miracle Met devoted to proudly carrying the 1969 banner. There were a bunch of those champion Mets among us in 2019, but rare was the instant when Art wasn’t among them. Makes sense. He’s local, he’s written two books about it and, as Sports Illustrated’s Michael Bamberger put it on the occasion of their fortieth anniversary, Shamsky’s “the unofficial class secretary of the ’69 Mets”.

As such, Art dutifully reads me the minutes of the last meeting, with the caveat that he “can’t put into words” what it all meant, in light of everybody getting on in years and too many of his teammates missing. The reunion in June and all the attendant fuss “brought back a lot of memories” for “a great year”. There were young fans, their parents and their grandparents testifying to how much 1969 meant to them, and that imbued the seasonlong celebration with even greater currency.

I guess I knew that, so I asked him something specific. At the reunion in June, Art accompanied Buddy Harrelson when the carts brought the Miracle Mets onto the field. Given Buddy’s difficulties from Alzheimer’s, I told him I thought that was the most touching moment from an afternoon loaded with them. Shamsky said he didn’t know they’d be riding in together, but once they were on board, he mostly wanted to make sure his teammate didn’t fall.

I was back to being a fan.

“It was a special team,” Art said, and after fifty-plus years, I wasn’t about to question his assertion. I also wasn’t about to turn down his request that I tell our readers to go to artshamsky.com to find out more about his most recent book, After the Miracle (the climax, wherein Shamsky, Harrelson, Ron Swoboda and Jerry Koosman visit Tom Seaver in California, is a love story unto itself), and maybe follow @ArtShamsky on Twitter.

One question to me from Art: Is this really the first FanFest the Mets have held? Yup, I confirmed. “That’s hard to believe,” he said. I agreed, and wished him and his 1969 teammates a happy fifty-first anniversary.

***

I had been told that if I hit the Delta Club at one o’clock, I could catch up with Turk Wendell, who escaped the microphones and cameras in the New York State room once he played his role in loading the truck. The Delta Club was where much of the action was, with games and pictures and general commotion of the delighted variety. Sure enough, I found No. 99 greeting fans and joining them for a few rounds of cornhole, a game tailored for a man expert at slamming rosin bags to the ground. My only agenda in meeting Turk was asking about Diaz. I didn’t know if they’d ever met before gathering up the bags for the truck but I wondered if they had some sort of innate reliever bond.

“Never mind, Sugar, we can watch video of your release point.”

Not so much, Turk said, but he watched Diaz struggle last season, “and I struggled with him.” Something about his release point was off, according to Turk. Or maybe it was what Edwin told Turk. It was pretty loud in the Delta Club, but he left me feeling modestly more optimistic about the closer for whom Jarred Kelenic was judged fair trade.

***

Back on the suite level, there is an auditorium. It’s a room I was aware of but had never seen until Saturday. All day it was open to anybody who wanted to rest a pair of aching dogs and watch old highlight films. As the clock was pushing toward two, that sounded ideal. I found an outlet, plugged my phone in, grabbed a seat and lost myself in the feature presentation, 1986: A Year to Remember. Lord knows I’d seen it before, but never on a big screen and never in the company of dozens of Mets fans.

We’d all seen it before, but it was still impressive (even with the color being off for more than half the video, or did I forget the Astros wearing blue striped shirts?). When Keith Hernandez fields that bunt in Cincinnati and throws to Gary Carter at third, I heard “wow” and “jeez,” because even if you know what’s coming, you’re still blown away by that team. As swell as the proximity to Mets of today and yesterday was on Saturday, looking up at the 1986 Mets as literal matinee idols felt fitting. This is how I knew this larger-than-life team. They were too big for a mere TV. The narration casually mentions the Mets’ lead building to 18 games in August, 19 games in September, and I’m thinking this must sound like a fairy tale for any Mets fan who wasn’t of age in ’86.

Given that our last world championship is one month from turning a third-of-a-century old, there wasn’t much suspense regarding the outcome, but still, I couldn’t believe some lady two rows behind me obliviously took a phone call during the World Series portion. Well, almost obliviously. “Ray Knight just won the Series,” she told her caller before hanging up.

***

My final mission for the day awaited me in Foxwoods, the 3 PM session billed as the 2000 Roundtable, about as much attention as the Mets have showered upon their fourth of five pennant-winners. As I waited for it to commence, I took in the last minutes of Pictionary with Seth Lugo and Paul Sewald. During the season, I watch them, critique them, rank them, yet there they are being accessible and fun and we’re all happy they’re here, never mind that Lugo is generally terrific and Sewald is less so. Today, everybody’s terrific.

And everybody’s accessible. In about a ten-minute span, Tim Teufel materialized over my left shoulder and posed for anybody who wanted evidence they’d been in his presence; Ed Kranepool sat for photos over my right shoulder; and the guy directly behind me in a McDOWELL 42 jersey was, in fact, Roger McDowell, and he would shake your hand as willingly as he’d give Bill Robinson a hotfoot.

The 2000 Mets appeared as scheduled: Turk, Todd Zeile and Al Leiter. Especially Al Leiter. Al Leiter hasn’t been around all that often since leaving as a free agent after the 2004 season. He showed up for Shea Goodbye. He was on hand when Mike Piazza’s number was retired. Otherwise, he was engaged elsewhere. I had no idea how much I missed Al Leiter, who was the Mets pitcher most worth listening to between Tom Seaver and R.A. Dickey. At one point, Leiter mentioned Casey Stengel. Since I was still wearing my media credential, I resisted the impulse to applaud, but I’m pretty sure I pumped a fist or two (just as I had in the dark theater when we beat Boston).

Al in the middle of things in Flushing like it oughta be.

Al, Turk and Todd spoke to the closeness and chemistry of the 2000 Mets — that and the fans. They sounded like Alonso and Cano in the morning, Shamsky in the afternoon. “There’s a grit between us and the fans,” Al said. Zeile concurred: “Plenty of times I sucked and I heard about it,” but that, he said, only made him get better. Turk reiterated what he told me down by the cornhole, that being traded to New York was the best thing that ever happened to him. I didn’t applaud, but plenty did.

I realized here that the point of a FanFest is as much the Mets festing us as it is us festing the Mets. Luckily, we were all on the same page. I also realized, as the 2000 session broke up and I was passed in quick procession by J.D. Davis, Dom Smith and Kranepool — two walkoff heroes from 2019 and one all-time icon forever — that a Mets fan couldn’t get much more out of a January day. It was still cold, misty and raining when I left the ballpark, but on my way home, I saw a rainbow.

That truck must be in Florida by now.

Designated Survivor

“I promoted from within. Promoting from within is very big in my family.”
—C.J. Cregg, The West Wing

Once upon a time, some team that wasn’t the Mets did something that got the commissioner’s attention, and ultimately the Mets benefited. Maybe it’s déjà vu all over again 54 years later.

Summoning the greatest fortune-laden precedent in Mets lore — William Eckert spiking the Braves’ contract with USC pitcher Tom Seaver in 1966, leading to a hat and the word “Mets” being picked out of it — may be a glass overflowing interpretation of what’s going on now, but let’s dream big. Let’s dream that the dark cloud out of Houston that deprived us of Carlos Beltran’s managerial services encompasses a silver lining that was under the Mets’ nose the whole time. Let’s dream that we’ve scratched off a lottery ticket that reveals three Alous and wins us the kind of jackpot Tom Hallion’s ass would envy.

Let’s dream that Luis Rojas, the second 22nd manager in New York Mets history, is the best-case scenario to emerge from a bad scene. Rojas, we learned Wednesday, is a dotted “j” from being announced as next man to take the reins in the Met dugout, reins that had been barely gripped by his designated predecessor.

Step right up and meet Luis Rojas, 38 years old and sporting the same major league managerial record held by Beltran and, for that matter, every major league manager entrusted with his first top job. I know of him more or less what you know of him. He’s part of the Alou family (Moises’s brother; Felipe’s son; Jesus’s and Matty’s nephew; and, because genetics ain’t always kind, Mel Rojas’s cousin). He was a Mets minor league manager for a lot of years. He was their quality control coach last year. Based on the archival footage SNY has been airing in a loop, Luis’s responsibilities seemed to include taking part in Opening Day introductions, having two conversations in the dugout, wearing his jersey in a school library, and heading back to the clubhouse after a game.

Rojas has been hiding in plain sight, doing whatever the Mets told him to do and doing it well enough to keep doing it from 2007 forward. He did it promisingly enough to earn an interview for Mickey Callaway’s vacated chair last fall. The consensus from those who likely didn’t think about devoting his candidacy incisive analysis was he’s young and probably required more experience before he would be taken seriously. Three months have passed, one more manager has exited and, suddenly, young Luis Rojas seems to have gained a world of wisdom.

It helps to have been around the organization, to have gotten to know everybody’s name and face, to have been liked by those he’s managed and coached. The wheel was already invented by Brodie Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon when they staged the nationwide talent search that yielded Beltran. There was little time for anything but bolting on a sturdy spare good and tight and heading down I-95. The Mets weren’t expecting to start skipper-seeking again so soon. Hell, they’re still paying Mickey Callaway.

Serendipity is an appealing outcome here. I’m reminded of an early episode of The West Wing in which the White House was ecstatic that it got its ideal Supreme Court nominee lined up. Yet before the hour was over, they dumped Peyton Cabot Harrison III in favor of dark horse Roberto Mendoza, with the clear message that Harrison was flawed and Mendoza was the real gem all along. That’s a plot twist we can all get behind.

The second chance the Mets didn’t particularly want theoretically gave them an opportunity to reach out to a name-brand manager they didn’t pursue in October. Whatever philosophical or budgetary issues deterred them from embracing the possibility of Buck Showalter or Dusty Baker in the first place didn’t evolve come January. They wanted their collaborative manager, and if we knew anything about Rojas as a quality control coach, it was that he was regularly described as a “liaison” between the front office and the clubhouse. That’s a pretty new-agey concept for baseball, but for nearly twenty years we’ve been hearing that analytically inclined decisionmakers don’t necessarily think an independently operating field manager is an asset. Even World Series rings aren’t quite the currency they used to be. Other than Davey Martinez in Washington, no team is currently helmed by a manager that won it a world championship, a first for MLB since 1966 and a rarity dating back over a century. No Cora in Boston or Hinch in Houston, obviously, but also no Maddon in Chicago, no Yost in Kansas City, no Bochy in San Francisco. Francona and Girardi are, like Maddon, managing somewhere, but not where they did their gaudiest work. Either the industry is experiencing a brain drain at the managerial level or it doesn’t matter who’s nominally calling the shots because the shots are being determined by committee upstairs.

Still, you need somebody downstairs before, during and after games, especially in front of a microphone twice a day. If Luis can explain why two plus two equals four without wandering off on a tangent that knowing arithmetic isn’t really that important, he’ll already be nimbler than Callaway at dealing with the media. It’s a low bar. The overall learning curve may prove steep, but Rojas will have plenty of support from the organization, albeit the Mets organization. The dugout is crammed with coaches, which may be why we rarely picked Rojas out of the crowd in 2019. I get the feeling that if the sports impostor Barry Bremen, who used to sneak into All-Star team photos and such, were still with us, he could have grabbed a blue windbreaker in March and lasted as a presumed component of Mickey’s staff until June without anybody asking any questions.

Two years ago, Luis Rojas was a name in the media guide, manager of Double-A Binghamton. Two years ago, Brodie Van Wagenen was Jacob deGrom’s agent, sticking his two cents into our consciousness just to let us know his client needed to get paid. Now they’re the successors to Hodges & Murphy, Berra & Scheffing, Johnson & Cashen, Valentine & Phillips, Randolph & Minaya and Collins & Alderson. Those are the manager & GM combos that gave us playoff berths. Let’s stick with dreaming big.

Voyage of the Damned If They Didn’t

“I just can’t wait to rewrite our story.”
—Carlos Beltran, November 4, 2019

Baseball is stories as much as it’s statistics; it’s equal parts narrative and numbers; it’s four cups of emotion for every quart of analytics. Baseball is also rules, exceptions and the narrowest of hallways between those two opposing walls.

The rules, written and otherwise, have a real problem with stealing signs. The exceptions are to be kept as quiet as Kevin McReynolds, never expressed with any gesture less subtle than an imperceptible nod. If a center field camera can pick up the slightest movement of a head raising and lowering in a vertical motion, then you’re just asking for trouble. And what are you doing looking at the feed from the center field camera anyway?

After living a week and change with the fallout from the commissioner’s report on a very specific sort of wrongdoing in baseball by a very specific, very successful baseball team, I have come to the conclusion that it all boils down to you can’t steal signs; and if you steal signs, you can’t be elaborate about it — and you simply can’t get caught. It’s not about conceptual good of the game or philosophical issues of integrity. It’s the sign-stealing itself. You don’t do that. You surely don’t do that with anything greater than your eyes or your wits. Eyes and wits are the exception. We’ll romanticize your low-tech cleverness after you’re properly dusted for your sins.

The first time I remember a specific mention of stealing signs was sometime after August of 1984, the month the Mets went into Wrigley Field and were swept four games, basically settling the National League East for the year. Sometime later I read an assertion by a Met that the Cubs had stolen the Mets’ signs, something that fell in the darkest gray area of baseball’s do’s and don’ts. Letting your signs be stolen implies a breach of security on your part, but the stealing of your signs is a breach of etiquette on your opponents’ part, and that, somehow, is worse. However it is viewed, the Cubs, those bastards, had purloined what didn’t belong to them and there was to be no honor bestowed on thieves.

Unless you’re on our side stealing signs, and then you’re a pretty cagey SOB. Steal (or borrow) a glance here, pick up a pattern there, all’s fair in love and gamesmanship if you didn’t get caught. And if you got caught, you’d catch one in your ribs and get the message. Now and then, somebody would allude to somebody blinking a light or poking a head at a furtive degree, but mostly baseball was the great American game, played by the rules, spiced by the exceptions.

Crashing the harmless folklore at the speed of light came the Houston Astros. They did that a lot in the 2010s, losing by grand design, crunching numbers as if on an all-analytics diet and angling for edges nobody else had the nerve to nab. When they added a dash of humanity in the form of past-their-prime veteran leadership, it made them a much warmer story. They’d calculated into their formula for winning the previously incalculable and recently out-of-fashion — that there was something tangible to the intangibles of clubhouse chemistry.

There was something to signing Carlos Beltran, even though Carlos was passing 40 in 2017. He wised up the talented youngsters. He calmed the intensity surrounding daily battle. He consented to a burial service for his own glove. Whatever residual thunder remained in the designated hitter’s bat was a bonus at that point. Beltran was turning a talented team into a legitimate winner. What narrative strand could fill the heart more?

We now know that Carlos’s wisdom included making use of every possible avenue into knowing what pitch was coming next, and with his former Met teammate and now bench coach Alex Cora, they got something cooking with cameras, monitors and a garbage can that was just minding its own business. When it simmered mostly unnoticed in the background, the stew it produced was to be celebrated. The Astros won a world championship. Beltran had his ring at last and could retire on top. Cora, acknowledged far and wide as a certified smart baseball man who aided A.J. Hinch all the way through Game Seven, had the credentials to earn a manager’s spot of his own, in Boston. And within a year of Alex’s arrival at Fenway, the Red Sox were world champions, too. He posted pictures from every win in his office. He rallied his team for breakfast after an eighteen-inning loss. He cared about his battered homeland.

Those were great stories. I got caught up in them. When the Mets aren’t in the postseason, I am prone to whirlwind romances with whoever makes October most intriguing. In ’17, it was the Astros. In ’18, it was the Red Sox. Beltran was a significant part of it for Houston. Cora was the center of it for Boston. Carlos was an old friend, Alex a familiar face. You gotta love stuff like that.

I did. Now I feel a little used, and I’m neither an Astros nor Red Sox fan. I just liked how it all felt for a week or two across a couple of autumns. It was the sort of sensation I’d voluntarily summon for the rest of my Metsless Octobers, that time that team elevated baseball at its highest level to even greater heights. Stuff like that is why I take the World Series seriously.

So that’s more than a little ruined now, and that’s too bad. The reputations of several pillars of the baseball community are in ashes. Hinch was a Leader of Men we could all admire in the wake of those Astros victories that served as a balm for a storm-tossed city, and Houston GM Jeff Luhnow could at the very least be described as rabidly innovative and highly successful. Hinch and Luhnow were suspended by MLB, then fired literally an hour later. Cora was fired by Boston before MLB could get around to fully investigating what he did for the Red Sox. Beltran’s name came up in the commissioner’s report. No other Astro’s did, but it’s understood that didn’t shed a halo of innocent bystanding over the unnamed. In the quickly emerged popular mindset, the 2017 world champs and 2019 league champs formed a suspect lot, especially when you got a load of the squinty evidence of vibrating buzzers underneath jerseys that clearly…or not so clearly…but there was something there…there had to be, because look — he’s not letting them tear his shirt off in a wild celebration because surely he had something to hide.

Allegedly.

In the aftershock atmosphere of disbelief and mistrust, Carlos Beltran, 22nd manager of the New York Mets, never stood a chance. When the commissioner’s report broke on Monday, January 13, it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the 2020 Mets. By Thursday the 16th, it swallowed whole the cerebral cortex of their prospective brain trust — Beltran and what everybody had referred to approvingly as his high baseball IQ.

There’s a scenario in which the Mets stood firm behind the manager they chose when there was little more than whispering regarding the Astros and signs. The Mets were home for the winter in the fall of 2017, figuratively a million miles from that World Series. Beltran may have been named once the garbage can-banging came to light, but he wasn’t suspended. He was just a player then. A decorated player, a sagelike player, a Hall of Fame-bound player, but not a coach, manager or general manager. He was free to go about his business, the business of managing the New York Mets two-plus years removed from whatever he was doing cracking other teams’ codes in Houston.

But is that how you want the Mets to go about their business, with the guy acknowledged as one of the masterminds of a scheme to steal signs that involved cameras and monitors? Maybe it is, and, well, OK, fine. Scandals don’t necessarily take down the scandalizers like they used to do in this society, and the scandalized grow numb to the idea that anything is ever particularly wrong. Plus forgiveness and big pictures. In the big picture, Carlos Beltran’s career and character still came off as a net positive. You could forgive a transgression birthed in murky territory and branched out of control. We forgive, we forget, we compartmentalize.

Last week, though, was no season for equivocation. Mutual parting of the ways was the de rigueur catchphrase of the inelegantly exiting. Alex Cora and the Red Sox mutually agreed to part ways on Tuesday, one day after the Astros, Luhnow and Hinch didn’t overly antagonize amid their respective relationships’ dissolution. As the spotlight shifted to Queens, defiantly powering through prospective criticism as if we were in for a one-, two- or four-day story receded as an option. Mutually assured distraction was the least of it. The Mets would have become the poster children for shady postseason behavior without the benefit of postseason participation.

There was no definitively wrong or definitively right way for them to proceed (except definitively less Metsishly). In some quarters, they’re damned for having done away with Carlos Beltran. In others, they’d be damned had they not. Usually this is all just fiber for a tiresome straw man argument, the part of the plot in which those who don’t care for a point of view say that criticism is inevitable, so why are you even bothering me with an alternative perspective? You know: “if they did sign free agents, they’d be attacked for spending too much”; or “if he’d brought in his closer in the eighth, then he’d just have to answer questions about not having his closer available for the ninth,” as if averting arguments is a higher priority than winning ballgames.

Here it was something to think about, because it was about sign-stealing — about tacitly coming out in favor of sign-stealing by reconfirming that your first-year manager will be the guy fresh off a featured role in a bona fide baseball scandal. There was going to be a ton lip service paid to putting that behind us, especially the scene when Beltran was all “what camera?” when asked about it by Joel Sherman in November. Not everything can be damage-controlled as quickly as its principals would prefer, and damage control is no way to commence a whole new phase of one’s heretofore brilliant professional life.

Given time, I would assume Carlos Beltran will be back in baseball if he so chooses. He’s got decades in the sport, he was one of the best and best-respected players of his time, and I doubt anybody thinks his understanding of the game stops at dissecting ill-gotten video. It’s not permanent condemnation to suggest this isn’t the appropriate moment to have Beltran manage the Mets, yet what he did with the Astros doesn’t and shouldn’t define him for the long-term. I have a magnet with his face on my fridge, a cup with his swing in my office and a t-shirt with his name and number in my closet. I’m not getting rid of any of it.

Meanwhile, here in the short-term, as we verge on the fourth week of January, the Mets sail on sans skipper. Preparation fetishization notwithstanding, it doesn’t matter much that we don’t have a manager when no baseball games are scheduled to be managed. Probably soon they will have someone at their helm. Come Saturday morning, the Mets will open the gates of Citi Field for their their first full-blown FanFest, which seems pretty late for a first FanFest when a franchise is entering its 59th season — later than late January seems late for not having a manager. It would be nice if the fans who are showing up to fest were to be greeted by a freshly selected manager who will spout inspiring platitudes before gathering his charts and graphs and hopping the next flight to West Palm. Then again, we treasure the Mets’ knack for putting on late charges to capture playoff berths and better. Perhaps not having a manager in place three weeks shy of Pitchers & Catchers is a fortuitous omen.

Sooner rather than later, somebody will be appointed, camp will percolate, Opening Day will approach, and it will be like Carlos Beltran’s tenure as the 22nd manager of the New York Mets never happened.