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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
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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This Isn't Going Well

It’s two games. 1/81 of the schedule. Calm down already. I’m speaking to myself as much as I am to you.

But man oh man, this isn’t going well.

The bullpen’s terrible — and while I’m no scout, something tells me wheeling the embalmed corpse of Kyle Farnsworth onto the mound isn’t going to help things.

The lineup has struck out in an amazin’ 47% of its plate appearances so far. (While drawing five walks.) Curtis Granderson looks utterly lost, but he has company.

Ruben Tejada still makes you wonder what, if anything, is going through his head. Tejada tiptoed into home in the fifth, giving Jose Lobaton minimal trouble in getting tagged out standing. If he’d scored, it would have been 3-2 Nats with the tying run on second; instead it was inning over. I was walking back home from an errand, and on WOR Howie Rose and Josh Lewin needed a substantial part of the top of the sixth to inventory all the things Tejada had done wrong: He’d gotten a lousy jump, failed to pick up Tim Teufel at third, taken too wide a turn between third and home and then, of course, approached home plate like his mission was to put a daisy in a rifle muzzle. After the game, Terry Collins showed not the slightest hesitation in throwing Tejada under the bus, which might be his best position: Tejada, he said, didn’t understand the new rule about plays at the plate. If you immediately thought “potential failure of coaching,” I was with you — but Terry then noted, without changing expression, that they’d covered this at length in spring training.

Normally, one would inch a teensy way out on a limb and predict Tejada’s days are numbered, but the Mets want no part of Stephen Drew (not that I blame them, given Drew’s price tag and the fact that the team would still be lousy with him) and have so far refused to do business with the Mariners. So Tejada, rather amazingly, seems to have a sinecure. And the only thing that’s more galling than thinking of further head-in-behindery by Ruben is remembering that this year’s Mets actually gave a roster spot to the spectacularly useless Omar Quintanilla. As for Wilmer Flores at short, I think we’re in enough pain as it is, thanks.

Overlooked in all this: Ruben would have scored from second (OK, presumably) if Bartolo Colon had been able to get a bunt down. Colon is charming and entertaining to watch with his collection of finely calibrated fastballs and pinpoint control, but his debut wasn’t exactly the stuff of a Mets classic — I have no “nowstalgia” for it, to use a horrible catch phrase the Mets unveiled on Opening Day. If starting pitching becomes a problem for this team as well, forget September — it’ll be a long way to May.

It’s two games. But what I can’t get out of my head is that so far the 2014 Mets look appallingly similar to the 2013 Mets — not just a bad team, but a lethargic and unwatchable one. Last year’s team nearly broke me by summer; this one is trying my patience before there are buds on the trees. I don’t want to think about what that means.

Meet the Mets, Indonesia

Longtime Friend of FAFIF Ben Nathan, who in 2010 gave us his dissertation on why Jerry Manuel was a Woodrow Wilson for our 20-inning times, continues to put his mind to only the finest intellectual pursuits. Of late he has been in Indonesia teaching schoolchildren. And what has Ben been teaching them?

Why, to Meet the Mets, of course!

Ruth Roberts and Bill Katz would be proud. I sure as hell am.

The Cost of Hope

One of the benefits of sticking around to the final out when many have flocked despairingly to the exits in the face of howling winds and widening deficits is seeing things you wouldn’t believe if you didn’t experience them for yourself. Minutes after Jason bolted the imminent initial Met demise of 2014, he was joined by most of the lower half of Section 523. By the bottom of the tenth, I was literally one of four people left in the front ten rows of what had been a packed Promenade perch innings earlier — and two of those who remained were Nationals fans.

But you do see a few things. For example, when David Wright lifted a two-run homer off Jerry Blevins to pull the Mets to within 9-7, I was jumping up and down, partly for warmth, but mostly because I was delusional enough to think if Curtis Granderson could work his way on, Anthony Recker would tie it up. That would get us only to 9-9, and I wasn’t necessarily anticipating John Lannan morphing into the better long-relief angels of Shaun Marcum — and goodness knows I was cold enough to want to seek shelter inside a room with a roof ASAP — but this was Opening Day. Who wants to see the Mets lose on Opening Day?

I didn’t. But I saw it anyway. My best-case scenario turned into a called third strike and the Mets lost in ten. Oh well, I thought, that’s it.

But that wasn’t it. Because the Mets aren’t done with you just because their players are.

Y’know those “in-game hosts” the Mets introduced Monday? It seems Alexa and Branden weren’t hired simply to entertain the Citi Field patrons. One game’s worth of watching them on the video screens would convince you there’s nothing the least bit entertaining about what the Mets have them doing. Their job descriptions, however, go far beyond conducting contests and filling space between innings.

I learned this as I was leaving. Alexa and Branden stopped me right outside 523 in very cheery fashion.

“Sir, do you have a moment?” Branden asked. “We’d really like a moment of your time.”

I wanted to make the 5:24 at Woodside, but I figured I had a minute, so I said sure.

“Sir,” Alexa explained, “we noticed you seemed very happy when David Wright hit that home run.”

Sure, I said. I thought we had a chance to come back. Branden cut me off right there:

“It’s great you said ‘we,’ there. Not everybody in the stands would.”

Well, I explained, it’s kind of a figure of speech. I’m a big Mets fan and when you’re a fan of a team, you tend to speak interchangeably between the first- and third-person.

“That’s great, sir,” Alexa said. “Because as part of the team, you know ‘we’ all have to contribute something.”

Uh-huh, I said, nodding but not exactly sure what she was getting at.

“Sir,” Branden explained, “we were watching you all day.”

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“Sir, as you know Citi Field is a World Class ballpark that is always enhancing its world class technology,” Alexa said. “Maybe you noticed the upgraded scoreboard, for example.”

Yes, I said, I had. I told them I thought the graphics were much improved, though the balls and strikes were a little hard to find at first…kind of like they were for Tim Welke, I added with a chuckle.

Branden didn’t acknowledge my little shot at the umpiring, instead choosing to continue as if he had memorized a script. “Sir,” he said, “as a loyal member of Team Mets, you’ll be happy to know that Citi Field’s world class technology has allowed us to install multiple cameras that allow us to monitor every movement of our most loyal Team Mets fans, Team Mets fans very much like yourself.”

I told him I wasn’t sure I understood. And what was this “Team Mets” business?

“Sir,” Alexa said, picking up the script, “when you cheer in exceedingly loyal Team Mets fashion, our Fan Focus cameras record in algorithmic detail just how much you are enjoying the game. And when you enjoy the game to an excessive degree, we deduct an Improvement Fee from your Mets First account.”

Mets First account? What the hell were they talking about? Branden was all too happy to explain.

“Sir,” he said, “Citi Field’s World Class technology now incorporates Amazin’ Face recognition software so it can be inferred to a 99.94% accuracy rate your level of enjoyment, hope, belief and other Positivity Indicators.”

Even as I noticed Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” played over the PA instead of the usual post-loss recording of Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind,” I still wasn’t getting it. Alexa filled in the rest:

“Sir, during game action, not including pauses for pitching changes or replay challenges, your every exclamation and gesture is recorded so an accurate tabulation of how much your Mets First account should be debited can be made.”

She then withdrew a tablet from a tote bag she’d been carrying to show me a split-screen highlight reel. On the left were the Mets doing good things, like Andrew Brown homering or Jose Valverde getting out of that bases-loaded jam and on the right were my joyous reactions to it.

Holy crap, I said — that’s me.

“Sir,” Branden said while quickly tapping keys on one of those handheld devices you see the vendors in the Delta Club seats carry, “you enjoyed today’s Mets game to an excessive degree on eleven discrete Action Occasions, for which you owe Sterling Mets, L.P., and its affiliate companies and shareholders nine dollars and ninety cents. Along with the nine-dollar convenience fee that we apply in advance as a courtesy to all loyal members of Team Mets, your total owed comes to $18.90.”

Hold it, I said. I owe the Mets eighteen dollars and ninety cents after a game I bought a ticket to?

“Sir,” Alexa said, “loyal members of Team Mets all want the Mets to do well and win 90 games this year and say they’d do anything to make that happen, which is why the Get Better challenge has been instituted. It’s an Interactive Way we can all help the Mets ‘get better’. This and all elements of the Money Mouth initiative are detailed on the back of your legally binding ticket.”

I reached into my back pocket, took off my glasses and squinted. Sure enough, right between the boilerplate about how “the ticketholder assumes all risk” and “injuries, death, or loss of property,” was everything Branden and Alexa were telling me, down to the letter. It was all on the back of the ticket the Mets sold me the whole time.

OK, I said, I see it here for myself, but how did you get that total?

“Sir,” Branden said, “our 90 Wins goal will not be reached merely with ticket, television, radio, parking, merchandise and concession revenue or the financial resources of Sterling Mets, L.P. and affiliate companies and shareholders. Team Mets needs everybody to pitch in. That’s why in 2014 we have instituted Dig Deep Days, including but not limited to games played on weekdays, weeknights and weekends, in which select fans will be Drafted Specially to help make Our Mets the 90-win team we all want them to be.”

“To make certain this is a Fun Investment,” Alexa continued, “every Game Development to which loyal members of Team Mets like yourself; members of your family; friends and acquaintances of you; those sitting in sections adjacent to you; or those with whom you exchanged pre-game eye contact in the concourses, restrooms, shops or Jackie Robinson Rotunda of Citi Field demonstrate enthusiasm for is subject to a 90-cent Get Better surcharge — plus the overall nine-dollar convenience fee that we apply in advance as a courtesy.”

“Sir,” Branden said, “90 cents to win 90 games is the Team Mets way.”

I didn’t know what else to say, so I went into my wallet for a twenty. But Alexa stopped me.

“Sir,” she said, “cash is not necessary. As a loyal member of Team Mets like yourself you have already made payment of $18.90…along with an additional $9.90 Full Explanation fee.”

Alexa handed me a receipt for the entire Emotional Transaction and assured me the proper deductions had been made from my Mets First account that was helpfully linked to my major bank debit or credit card.

“All part of the service,” Branden said. “Have an Amazin’ Day!”

I reflexively thanked them but was otherwise left speechless, with no time to think if I wanted to make the 5:24, so I just shoved the receipt in my coat and got a move on. But at least I know what’s going on now with the whole 90-win thing. So just be warned on this day after Opening Day: If you stick around to the end of a game and get your hopes up, I imagine it’s gonna cost you.

Fandom in the Shadows

Every baseball fan worth her salt knows it’s one of the fundamental rules of fandom: You extrapolate from Opening Day at your peril.

Collin Cowgill‘s grand slam on Opening Day 2013 didn’t kickstart a 162-0 season and a World Series title, or keep Cowgill in the major leagues until early May.

On Opening Day 1969 Tom Seaver and the Mets lost an 11-10 horror show to the newborn Expos. Both the Franchise and the franchise ended the campaign just fine.

Losing on Opening Day hurts less than it does any other day, because even if you end it at 0-1 and looking up in the standings, it’s Opening Day. You’ve got bunting and flyovers and first pitches and introductions and video tributes and pomp and circumstance and firsts and old friendships renewed and best of all, you’ve got the promise that for the next six months (at least) this is normal. 1:10 and 7:10 mean something again, and the calendar is blissfully full instead of horribly empty.

But still.

You should have seen us after they lost.

You should have seen us after they lost.

I saw the second half of the Ralph Kiner tribute while getting and devouring tacos, then headed up to the Promenade to meet Greg, where we sat under bright skies and in the teeth of a nasty, whipping wind. When I woke up this morning the radar map looked like a bruise, an end-of-days mix of blue and red and purple, so it felt faintly miraculous to see the field bathed in sunshine. But that’s not the same as saying it was a nice day up there — it was cold, particularly after the sun dipped below the perimeter of the stadium, not to return. Not Jackie Robinson Night cold or Candlestick cold or Harvey Against the Padres cold (we discussed it at length), but cold enough. The crowd was cheerful but restless, eager to pounce on any and all targets, starting with Ruben Tejada and ending with the bullpen. Greg and I had opinions on all of the above, of course, but also discussed the various new Citi Field skits and bits and other between-innings marginalia. As with all other things, it’s unfair to extrapolate from one day, but the trio of Everybody Get Psyched! designated Mets rooters should try less caffeine or they’ll wear out their welcome by Tax Day. Cuppy’s back, you’ll be glad to know, though he’s now mute witness to Simon Says instead of vaguely hiding somewhere in the stands. Poor Howie Rose has been pressed into service as a triviameister, which seems like the kind of thing he’ll endure rather than enjoy. The kids in the mini-Citi beyond left field no longer swing for the fences but try to snag grounders, a competition that punishes failure rather than applauding success. But we’ll give all of the above a chance to mature — who would have predicted the Dada joy of finding Cuppy last April?

As for the game, well, Dillon Gee and Jose Valverde and Juan Lagares and David Wright and Andrew Brown were swell — Brown’s bolt into the left-field seats was one of those swats that’s instantly and obviously gone, bringing the crowd to its feet for a Cowgillian roar, and Valverde’s antics were welcome after the antics of Carlos Torres and Scott Rice, which involved not throwing a strike even once. John Lannan‘s homecoming wasn’t quite what he had in mind, and Eric Young Jr. did nothing on either side of the ball to make anyone but Terry Collins think he should be starting. (To be fair, Daniel Murphy was off becoming a dad, pushing EY to second base, which no one seriously contemplated him playing except in such an emergency.) More worrisome: Bobby Parnell got squeezed on one critical pitch in the ninth but had no excuse for several others, and his velocity mostly sat in the low 90s. At one point I watched as the scoreboard showed 90 MPH FASTBALL and then 88 MPH CHANGEUP, which is a recipe for further disasters.

So the Mets’ bullpen gave up one lead and then another and then the game. By the time Curtis Granderson had stuck out for the third and final time (yeesh), I was on the subway, called away to fetch Joshua from school. And on the way out of Citi Field, I ran into a metaphor I wish I’d avoided.

Like I’ve said, it was cold — my feet were numb as I descended the stairwell, tracking the game through snatches of Lewin-Rose and crowd reaction that leaked out from each level. Leaving the stadium, I braced myself for further wind and cold. But to my surprise, it wasn’t too bad outside. The sun was bright, and it was actually … warm. I frowned, and double-checked what I was feeling. I wasn’t imagining things — it had turned into a very nice early-spring day, the kind that lets you dream of soft, warm June nights. It was only my fellow fans inside who were still suffering, the ones stuck in the shadows watching the Mets lose.

Like a Room Without a Roof

I stumbled into a realization a few weeks ago: baseball is a metaphor for baseball. It’s not a metaphor for life. It doesn’t serve as our symbolic rebirth or any of that folderol. Opening Day means that after too many months without regulation games, we get one, to be followed almost immediately by another, and then one almost every night or day for half a year.

That’s it. That’s enough.

It also means we get to go outside again without reluctance. The weather in Flushing at 1:10 Monday afternoon will probably lean toward miserable, but if you’ve spent your interminable winter and thus far overly shy spring in the northeastern quadrant of North America, you’re used to miserable weather. Might as well drizzle baseball into the forecast. Bundle up and enjoy the summer game as soon as you can.

As for the 2014 Mets, enjoy them, too. Enjoy them so much that when I bring up the 2014 Mets years from now, you’ll remember exactly who and what I’m talking about and you won’t flinch. Citi Field has yet to host a Mets season that feels substantively different from all the others. Handfuls of highlights notwithstanding (SNY showed Johan’s no-hitter Sunday and, surprise of surprises, I watched it), it’s been five years of mediocrity again and again. The gloomy last month of these seasons rarely reminds you of their hopeful first day.

May the first day of 2014 be the first day of many when you’re beside yourself with happiness to be at this ballpark this year.

Citi Field is in its sixth season. When Shea Stadium was in its sixth season, we experienced 1969. I don’t mean to set the bar too high, but when your ballpark that’s neither exemplary nor execrable is neither novel nor vintage, it needs something besides The 7 Line’s kiosk to mark it for the ages (though that 7 Line news is pretty spectacular).

Did you catch the Mets in Montreal over the weekend? Wasn’t the undimmed enthusiasm something? I used to miss the Expos as an opponent like I missed Shea as a home park. Then I moved on, pausing now and then to recall with vague bilingual fondness that there used to be a ballclub there — even if the “there” Olympic Stadium represented was in dire need of replacement, far more than Shea ever was. But mon Dieu, to see and hear those abandoned Expos fans come out and support the act of baseball in a decade-dormant major league setting…it’s not so much that it makes me miss the Expos anew. It makes me feel blessed that I’ve got my team still and I’m gonna go spend some time bundled up with it on Monday.

What kind of team will it be? Finding out is why they play the season. I suspect they’ll be a little closer to good than they were when 2013 fizzled to its traditional conclusion. I don’t necessarily seek 90 wins and therefore won’t be disappointed if/when they don’t materialize. Dear Mets, just don’t seem hopeless by August; don’t have me questioning my priorities in September; and please get me to October in such a state that I can’t wait for the following April.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. How about nobody trips on the foul line Monday afternoon? Baby steps.

I read with interest some insights in the Star-Ledger of how the Alderson Group, now in its fourth year of running things on the mid-market shoestring it was handed, is putting its universally acclaimed wits to work. As fans, we drool over the various Oriole, Dodger and, lately, Cardinal “Way” of doing things. It’s encouraging to know a Met Way is being instituted. One really hopes it’s an effective way, particularly as it takes hold through the system. The way Craig Wolff writes it, this Met Way — kind of a ball-control offense, you might say — sounds perfectly logical, though the implementation as described comes off as chillingly corporate, stubbornly rigid and a bit self-satisfied (and is probably playing head games with Daniel Murphy, the one hitter who gave the Mets a full, solid season last year). But if it works, we’ll gladly hail it as visionary.

In the meantime, we have potential above-the-marquee pitching on the verge of settling in for the rest of the 2010s. Ironically, none of those young guns will fire to open 2014. Instead, it’s Dillon Gee, playing the role of Bobby Jones from 1996. That is to say when Generation K was supposedly coalescing, Dallas Green gave us last year’s boring second-line righty as our Opening Day starter. “Last time Bobby Jones gets the ball to start the season,” I chuckled to my buddy Jason on that wintry Flushing afternoon.

Long story short, Generation K never demographically dazzled, while Bobby Jones was back on the mound two Opening Days later. You never know. When Gee came up without hype in September 2010, nobody tagged him as a future Opening Day starter. But the guys who “should” have the assignment aren’t available and nobody at this moment deserves it more. It’s sweet as hell that it’s Dillon Gee, actually. I feel a little like the Notre Dame equipment manager in Rudy handing Rudy his uniform and telling him how great it is he’s finally getting his big chance. True, Gee’s been suiting up competently with the varsity for a spell, but something about him says “one of ours” that reaches beyond homegrown status and modest longevity.

I’d prefer warmer weather Monday, but given the conditions, I look forward to chillin’ with Dillon. I look forward to sitting next to Jason as we did 18 and 16 years ago for Bobby Jones. I look forward to being among the representative sample of the 27% of New Yorkers who expressed to the Quinnipiac folks the best taste possible in baseball allegiances. I look forward to being one of 42,000 or so paying unanimous tribute to Ralph Kiner and being in the likely minority of those respectfully greeting the city’s new mayor (mayors have been throwing out first pitches at Met Openers since Robert Wagner, you know). I’d prefer to not freeze my kishkes off, but if that’s what the winds of Promenade dictate, I’ll be doing it in a good cause. I’ll be welcoming back baseball and shooing away whatever’s left of that nasty ol’ vortex.

We’re shedding the polar and closing in on solar. Best-case scenario is we’re a first-place club by the evening rush hour. Worst-case scenario we’re 0-1 and one back of the Nationals. Either outcome surely beats NO GAME TODAY.

Bonus essay on the uncertainty of Opening Day at Purple Clover.

The Beat Before the Tweet

The headline didn’t have much on The Onion. “Farnsworth,” it reported, “rides bus without being Met.” Well, I thought, that’s too bad. It would have been nice if somebody had picked up Farnsworth, but sometimes you just have to walk home from the bus stop.

Of course it didn’t require much of a double-take to realize what the headline on ESPN New York’s dedicated Mets blog was really conveying. I knew the contractual status of Farnsworth (Kyle) had been double-parked for a couple of days, though it was mostly a matter of t-crossing and i-dotting to provisionally retain his Quadruple-A services. If you were a reasonably engaged Mets fan in the last week of Spring Training 2014, this bit of roster minutia was readily accessible and regularly disseminated to the point where there was little chance you wouldn’t understand what “Farnsworth rides bus without being Met” meant.

Then again, given the tarpaulin of coverage applied to every last Met tic of Spring Training, would it really surprise you if it had been a story about Kyle Farnsworth needing a ride home?

If it had occurred to me to have invented a medium through which I could have been kept continually updated on a hundred details of what dozens of people with Mets connections were up to around the clock, I would have invented it. Oh, to have been privy to the transportation manifest of Mac Scarce when I was 12! Except I’m not that kind of imaginative. I couldn’t have imagined Twitter. I couldn’t have imagined blogs. I’m still fascinated that when my parents took us to Florida for Christmas vacation when we were kids, I could insert a dime in a slot, pull down a door on a box and remove a very recently printed copy of the Miami News every weekday afternoon. I was more amazed that the paper itself existed, coming out as it did hours after the bigger-deal Miami Herald, replete with final basketball scores from the West Coast and slightly fresher information overall.

I’m instinctually a very one-and-done consumer of technological advances. I can handle a single major new development every couple of years. It’s the constant upgrading that blows me away. I’m not yet bereft of surprise that I can communicate competently on a phone without ever speaking into it. It’s not the technology that captures my fancy. It’s that the technology delivers me the content I want, and that I occasionally deliver content through it. And I’m just some reader/blogger.

Those who are professionally filling my devices with Metsiana live from Port St. Lucie, Montreal, wherever…here’s to them. Here’s especially to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, the guy who Tweeted the Farnsworth bus note at 2:07 PM on March 25 and had a brief, explanatory story blogged and posted at 2:43. It’s so routine to receive a dispatch like this that we probably don’t fully grasp how amazing it is that we live in a world where all the news that’s fit to print — as well as a large majority of the stuff that’s no more than vaguely interesting to us — winds up recorded for something akin to posterity.

Did we need to know that Kyle Farnsworth wasn’t technically signed to the Mets’ organization on Tuesday when he rode their bus from St. Lucie to Viera? Inform to taste, I suppose. Point is, I know it. I follow Rubin on Twitter (as I recommend you do) and I check his blog frequently (as I also recommend you do). The information snowball rolls downhill at astounding speeds. It’s hard to not want to grab a handful even as it does nothing but accelerate.

Gone in the bargain for volume and velocity isn’t necessarily depth; the Internet’s an expansive playing field and if your favorite beat reporter isn’t painting a big picture every day, you can always find somebody who is. What really turned out to be the element to be named later in the trade-off for immediacy was a certain strain of romance. That is if you can be romantic about how you get your baseball news.

Which of course I am.

I loved newspapers, whether they came out of a box outside the entrance to the Chateau Motel on Collins Avenue in North Miami Beach or were stacked up against the front window at the Cozy Nook on East Park Street in Long Beach or wherever and however I got them. I still love much of what’s in newspapers but even my romance gave way to technology (except on Sundays, when I maintain my diehard habit). The act of purchasing, opening and reading was one of my most reliable thrills as a baseball fan. The clicking and scrolling, now matter how much more it gives me and how much sooner I get it, just doesn’t feel as much a part of the game that I embraced growing up.

You rooted for your team. You watched or listened to their games. You read about them the next day. Maybe you picked up on a partial line score if it was a day game and your dad brought home the afternoon Post, but you were conditioned to wait. It didn’t occur to you that it was a wait. It was just the way it worked. Somebody who was watching the game at the same time you were — at the ballpark in some unseen place called the press box — had to write about it. Then it had to get printed and put on a truck. These things took time. Would have you wanted it sooner? Maybe, but reading about last night’s game the next morning helped keep the game alive that much longer. It smoothed the transition to the next game. Over 162 games, the flow couldn’t have felt more natural.

Where's a Western Union operator when you need one?

Where’s a Western Union operator when you need one?

My deeply ingrained fondness for that aspect of rooting for my team is what led me to (irony of ironies) download a book about how baseball used to be covered by newspapers onto my iPad’s Kindle app during the offseason. In 2013’s Keepers Of The Game by Dennis D’Agostino, twenty-three mostly former beat writers from across the major league map hold forth oral history-style on how they did their jobs when their kind, as the author puts it, “was the unquestioned primary source for any and all baseball news, opinion and analysis.”

D’Agostino, who worked for a while in the Mets PR department (and before that wrote the essential This Date In New York Mets History), confesses to a bit of a proprietary interest in the subject. He was, albeit for a single season, a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, a body we tend to think about mostly in terms of what a clumsy job they did in not electing who we wanted to the Hall of Fame. D’Agostino knew and worked among these BBWAA men. He was in baseball and they were in baseball. Now he worries their collective significance is “quietly being lost to history”.

Those the author sought out were often synonymous with the clubs they covered. If you read The Sporting News’s team-by-team reports, you learned who they were from afar, but within their home cities, they were authentic celebrities. In New York, where we had a few more newspapers than most towns, you certainly knew “our” writers’ bylines even if, pre-Twitter, you didn’t necessarily know much else about them.

It’s a splendid idea for a book, borrowed, D’Agostino happily admits, from Jerome Holtzman’s seminal No Cheering In The Press Box, which brought the same approach to an earlier generation of baseball writers. It’s also well executed. These writers were on the beat primarily between the ’60s and the ’90s, with some lasting into the 21st century and others remaining on the scene today as columnists, be they in print or pixel. They lived the changes that we read. It’s fascinating to learn what it was like for the likes of them to get their stories to the likes of me.

One name came up repeatedly in Keepers Of The Game, a name that tells you these writers entered a business far different from the one that exists today. It wasn’t Pete Rose or Hank Aaron or Bowie Kuhn. It was Western Union. Almost everybody who went back far enough seemed to have a Western Union story. No second baseman on a 6-4-3 double play was ever as important as the middleman whose cooperation ensured deadlines were met and white space didn’t sit where a story was supposed to run. You had to take care of the Western Union operator at the ballpark or you had to know where to find one on the road if you were writing for an afternoon paper. Later deadlines meant more time spent gathering quotes, and the Western Union operator didn’t necessarily stick around just for you.

That’ll slow your avalanche of news, won’t it? Yet these Keepers Of The Game don’t seem to mind having coming along in prehistoric technological times. “I don’t think they have as much fun today,” Phil Pepe reflected on those who’ve succeeded him, “but I used to hear the same thing from the old guys.”

There may be a wisp of “in our day” edge to some of the reminiscences, but little rancor is spewed toward modernity and only episodic grudges are held. And the ones that are you can’t help but admire for their longevity. For example, Chicago Sun-Times veteran Joe Goddard — who said it was “difficult [for him] to be critical of somebody” — found our lovable Dave Kingman “aloof and rude” as a Cub and didn’t mind mentioning decades after the fact that he drank heartily when he learned Kingman’s career was over. (The less than delightful baseball player apparently remains an evergreen occupational hazard, per this revealing first-person account from Eno Sarris at The Hardball Times.)

The writers D’Agostino interviewed in 2010 — whose New York ranks included Pepe, Bill Madden and the since-deceased Maury Allen and Stan Isaacs — expressed a real respect and affection for the craft they plied on a daily and nightly basis. It mattered to Wayne Minshew of the Atlanta Constitution that he was covering Aaron’s quest for a 715th home run, yet “when Hank hit it, I had a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter, and the words wouldn’t come.” Minshew “wanted it to be classic,” but settled for whatever came. More than thirty-five years later, he seemed both regretful and proud that, “It’d never win an award, but I got it in.”

Not every game is that historic, but they are all history in their own way, and the baseball fan who relished the game story, the sidebar and the “diamond dust” type elliptical notes that accompanied them appreciated the output even if that fan was never all that aware of how the complete package arrived in his hands every day. “I was writing for the guy on the subway,” Allen said, stressing that he tried his best “to entertain that that fourteen- or fifteen-year-old kid that’s really a fanatic about sports”.

As someone who’s been both that guy and that kid, it’s nice to know someone was looking out for us.

Breaking In & Going Out

Someday Spring Training will end, and when it does…what’s that? It’s over? More or less?

Didn’t see that coming.

Hallelujah, the Mets are done with grapefruits and slot machines at last, saving a couple of days here near March’s conclusion for un petit peu de poutine up Montreal way. Nice to pretend the Expos exist again for a weekend, unless somebody gets hurt on that mashugana Olympic Stadium carpet, in which case, what a terrible idea this was.

Canadian detour notwithstanding, Opening Day finally awaits, though there’s still a bit of roster business to be settled around the uninspiring margins. It doesn’t get much more marginal than choosing a backup for Ruben Tejada, himself a dubious Met starter unless/until he makes me eat those words smothered in cheese curds and gravy. The role could be awarded once more to Omar Quintanilla, who has familiarity going for him if nothing else (which there doesn’t appear to be after Q’s batted .158 thus far this spring), or Anthony Seratelli, a personable local boy who would be a great story, save for his having done close to nothing to take a job from Omar Quintanilla.

Seratelli is 31, a lifelong baseball underdog and totally untested at the major league level. Plus he’s local, which we already mentioned. One is tempted to guess the Mets are considering him instead of Quintanilla because then they’d have the chance to sell a few more tickets in the otherwise untapped Edison, N.J., market. If he rockets a few balls off the ol’ Big O concrete, hikes his exhibition average well above its current .213 and handles grounders competently, maybe he’ll overtake valuably experienced Omar and line up for introductions at Citi Field on Monday.

If that happens, then for a few moments before Anthony Seratelli inevitably wears out his utilityman welcome (or makes me ingest my cynicism like it’s smoked meat smuggled through customs), it would loom as the heartwarmingest of chilly March 31 moments. A pristine rookie tipping his cap on Opening Day — whether or not the stands include family and friends — would and should move everybody who realizes what’s going on to heartily applaud. When Scott Rice emerged from utter obscurity last Opening Day to hear Alex Anthony announce his name, you could feel the part of the crowd that was cognizant of the significance of his hard-earned beam with onlookers’ pride.

You don’t always get a major league debut on Opening Day (especially if you’re nurturing Super Two concerns more than you are hopes of contending) and you don’t necessarily get the major league debut you want on Opening Day, but what better setting could you conjure for a first day as a big leaguer than the first day of a new season? There’s no bad day to make the majors for the first time, of course, but making it on Day One is the stuff of cotton candy dreams and puffy cumulus reality.

Then there’s the opposite. There’s the day you stop being a major leaguer. There’s no good day for that.

Thing is you probably don’t know that it’s happening even as it happens. Certainly if you’re Chipper Jones in 2012 or Mariano Rivera in 2013 or Derek Jeter in 2014, you can lavishly choreograph your farewell (if it were up to me, all three would have taken their final bows in early 1996 and, by their subsequent collective absence, made the turn of the millennium a Metsian paradise), but most players aren’t those players. Most players don’t or can’t announce in advance that this is it for them. It’s not necessarily their call.

As much of a premium as we put on who’s gonna make a team coming out of Spring Training, we lose sight that this also tends to be the time of year when not only do guys not make the cut, they sometimes hang it up with no warning and minimal fanfare. Among the stream of longtime major leaguers who have quietly nodded over the past couple of months that, yup, that’s it, I’m done, are old friends or at least acquaintances Dan Wheeler, Liván Hernandez, Rick Ankiel, Rod Barajas, Valentino Pascucci, Jason Bay and the ever popular Guillermo Mota. No goodbye tours, no hauling parting gifts back to the mansion. Just the need to find something else to do.

Some of the above had been hanging on in what we used to call the bushes or had been reserving final self-judgment just to make certain they were really and truly done. They didn’t have to be officially released to know they weren’t going to be major leaguers anymore. If somebody had wanted them to play, they’d probably be playing. This weekend, Tim Byrdak, Met lefty specialist from 2011 through 2013, will be Josh Lewin’s radio partner for the games against the Blue Jays in Montreal. It’s not because Byrdak would rather be broadcasting than pitching. Tim’s let it be known he’s available to face lefties for a major league team. Thirty major league teams didn’t take him up on his generous offer.

The game goes on without any one player, which has to be the most humbling realization for an athlete to face. There are no more chances to make an enormous paycheck and, just as unfortunately for them, there are no more chances to compete on the highest plane in the world. They were major league baseball players. They might not have always succeeded (and fans like us might have taken strenuous note of their shortcomings), but they were at the top of their profession. The profession proceeds and the individuals move on.

When they’re gone, the retired players also miss out on the chance to create the best memories possible, both for them and for us. They don’t get to win anymore. They don’t get to try to win anymore. It’s quite possible the last thing they did on a big league field was lose. Their final act might not define their careers, but talk about going out on a low note.

Here are some more names you’ll probably recognize: Brian Lawrence, Dave Williams, Aaron Sele, Shawn Green, Willie Collazo, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, Jeff Conine and Sandy Alomar, Jr. All of them are attached to a rather dismaying thread. Each man played his final major league game as a Met. As a 2007 Met. As a 2007 Met in the second half of that September.

Every one of these guys was a component of the Worst Collapse in Baseball History and never got to redeem himself. Their respective last acts as active major leaguers, aside from tipping the clubhouse staff, was to help blow a lead of seven games with seventeen to play and keep from the Mets from returning to the playoffs…where the Mets still haven’t been since.

The Collapse of 2007 — to differentiate it from the deflation of 2008 — was every bit the team effort 1969 and 1986 were, except in reverse. It was the fault of no given Met; it was the fault of every given Met. Some of the 2007 Mets continued being Mets in the year or years following and were able to leave better impressions. They had the opportunity, at any rate. The aforementioned octet didn’t. They retired. Or they tried to hook on elsewhere but were left to sink at sea. They didn’t play another major league game for anybody after they didn’t boost the 2007 Mets to the postseason. They weren’t able to turn the page or put it all behind them or activate whichever cliché they leaned on to get them through a slump.

Not only didn’t they get to go out on their own terms, they didn’t get to go out on our own terms.

If you’re a ballplayer, you’ve looked forward since you became a ballplayer to the moment that might await Anthony Seratelli on Monday, the same moment that likely awaits Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero within the next few months. You’re gonna be breaking in. But someday, hopefully after many seasons and many successes, you’ll be going out. And when you do, a word of advice from someone who’s never played the game, but watched it a whole lot:

Try not to leave the Worst Collapse in Baseball History in your wake. Your fans will appreciate it. Thank you and best of luck in your careers.

I had the pleasure of joining Taryn “Coop” Cooper in the Mets Lounge for a little season preview talk. Listen here to all of it, find me a little after the 35-minute mark.

The Ghost of Ike Davis

There’s a scene in a church in one of my wife’s and my favorite movies, The Commitments. A lady, dutifully scraping away at the hardened wax countless candles have dripped in the name of divine intervention, rhetorically asks, “If ya didn’t do it for God, who would ya do it for?”

We were going to watch The Commitments on St. Patrick’s Day, but we didn’t get around to it. I was, however, thoughtful enough to stop flipping the ol’ remote long enough to provide us with a glimpse of a Mets Classic a few nights later. I don’t consider the game SNY was re-re-re-rebroadcasting all that worthy of enshrinement, but when Opening Day has yet to arrive, everything that evokes baseball is a Classic if you squint purposefully enough.

Anyway, Mike Pelfrey was pitching in this long-ago game, prompting Stephanie to ask me whatever became of Big Pelf. He’s a Twin, I said (assuming she knew I meant the Minnesota kind and wasn’t implying there are two tall pitchers roaming this earth licking themselves into submission). Then I noted that several of the Mets taking part in this well-worn 2010 contest shared a certain Pelfness.

Remember Mike Pelfrey? Probably, but I mean do you remember how large a share of mind Mike Pelfrey held in our collective head? He was one of those guys whose progress or lack thereof we ruminated the fudge out of. When’s Pelfrey coming up? Has Pelfrey shown enough to stay? When’s Pelfrey coming back? What’s wrong with Pelfrey? Pelfrey looks good! Pelfrey looks terrible. What’s with Pelfrey now?

If you were a friend or relative of Mike Pelfrey, that level of concentration regarding someone close to you would be understandable. If you weren’t, and you acted on your concern enough to proactively check on Pelfrey’s well-being, you’d likely earn yourself a sizable restraining order along with court-mandated therapy. “Who are you and what’s your business outside the Pelfrey home?” But in context, it’s perfectly OK to think deeply about fellows we don’t actually know because they play for the Mets. And we’re Mets fans.

And if ya didn’t do it for the Mets, who would ya do it for?

Everywhere I looked amid this Mets Classic, I could recall all the Pelfritude we put into that team. Our 2010 Fruitgum Company of a roster harbored several characters in whom Metsopotamia invested a little too much emotional capital. Some guys you accept as transient. Others you’re convinced you can pull fortune-altering improvement from if only you dwell on them hard enough. They become the center of your baseball-loving universe all out of proportion to their potential to help your cause. Four years ago, on that May night against the Giants, there was Pelfrey, who merely had to settle down and find his confidence. There was Jason Bay, who was bound to snap out of it if only he could relax. There was Angel Pagan, who only needed to get his head on straight to fully tap his abilities. There was Jeff Francoeur, who if he could discipline himself at the plate would put up numbers as immense as his smile.

And there was 23-year-old Ike Davis, who was fresh and promising and not one of those guys in 2010. Instead, Ike was a different kind of Met, a Met whose shortcomings we weren’t going to have to obsess over. He was going to run out to his position like David Wright and Jose Reyes. We were going to enjoy him every time we saw him. We were going to ride his inevitable development to better times, him and us, together.

That was four years ago. It’s four years later. Ike Davis is now one of “those guys”. On a good day he’s one of those guys. On a bad day, he’s the ghost of Ike Davis. You’re pretty sure that’s Ike you’re looking at out there, yet you can’t quite fathom that you’re seeing this person in a Mets uniform preparing to play for the Mets in this upcoming season.

You hope for everything to work out, yet you’re already resigned to one of his Mets Classics coming on in the not so distant future and someone who hasn’t been fully keeping up asking you, “Whatever became of Ike Davis?”

Ike turned 27 over the weekend, which in terms of math is perfectly logical, yet in terms of emotional aging seems almost impossible. Ike Davis has been haunting Citi Field practically forever. Only he and Wright remain from the eleven Mets Jerry Manuel deployed to defeat the Giants on May 7, 2010. Of course Manuel isn’t here anymore, either.

The continual Met presence of Ike Davis isn’t the story here, though. It’s more about something that’s been absent. At the moment, there’s no middle to Ike Davis’s career arc. He went from that rookie who was going to help lead us into a better era to a veteran struggling to put the pieces back together (while we still await the onset of that better era). His age feels immaterial. Ike, as we speak, is a not exactly old, not exactly young 27. He’s a ghostly 27. That’ll happen when you’ve disappeared a couple of times without ever actually going away.

Saturday he swatted a long home run. Sunday he needed to exit in the fourth inning due to what was described as fatigue. Ike’s calf demands caution, but there’s probably a touch of Ike fatigue within the Mets’ planning for 2014 and beyond. They treated him as if he had faded into the past-tense during the offseason. For three consecutive winters they invited Ike to Citi Field to model some updated jersey and chat up the media. He was as personable as he’d been promising. Why wouldn’t you want to show him off? This past winter, however, the only Ike talk in Flushing transpired in the third-person, as in, “How’s that trade of Ike Davis going?”

It didn’t go and Ike came to Spring Training, played a couple of games, got hurt and has played a couple more. He’s not, with a week to go, fully inked in as the projected starting first baseman for the season ahead, but there’s nobody obviously poised to take his spot. The Mets maintain a fistful of players who can play the position and contribute something valuable, but none is thought to add up to what Ike could be…not what he is, but what he could be. If he heals. If he doesn’t contract another malady. If his swing is fixed. If he doesn’t listen to too many voices. If he gets in a groove. If he doesn’t get down on himself. If he isn’t traded.

Four years after the only year when nothing went wrong for him, Ike Davis still beckons with potential. Of course he does. He’s only 27.

Deconstructing Harvey

The infrastructure of a baseball season encompasses a surfeit of components that don’t show up in the box score, including intramural dustups in March that dissolve into the murkiest of memories by May. They are as much part of the National Pastime landscape as the crack of the bat, the flight of the ball, the layering of convenience fees and the finding of Cuppy. There’s no use in rolling our eyes toward them. If whatever episode we attempt to haught away as a silly controversy didn’t materialize, another seemingly dubious contretemps would come along in its place to grab our inevitably evanescent attention. It’s how things work when we’re relentlessly interested in a subject as broad and deep as our Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’ Mets.

A few weeks from now, if an anvil doesn’t quash him from above, Matt Harvey will be diligently rehabilitating his right elbow in one of two geographic locations. Now and then we’ll receive an update whose key takeaway will be “progress” or “setback” and we’ll react accordingly. Then we’ll turn our attention to whoever’s starting that night’s game, as Harvey’s specter recedes in the moment because, unfortunately, he won’t be available to pitch.

Until then, judging by the fascinating-on-several-levels account written by Andy Martino in the Daily News the other day, young Matthew seems intent on tying Mets management in the kind of knots he previously reserved for roving bands of Rockies, Phillies and White Sox. I don’t believe he’s doing it out of malice. Matt Harvey got this far this soon hewing to his competitive nature. Disingenuously dismiss him for possessing a ton of nerve for someone whose major league record boils down to a scant 12-10, but what a 12-10 it’s been.

Besides, his won-lost mark in his year and change as a Met is far brighter than anything the Mets have put up over the past half-decade. When it comes to taking winning seriously, I’m willing to put a wee bit of faith in Harvey’s instincts, whereas the Mets…I’m still waiting to find out what business they’re in exactly.

Harvey will rehab and it will go encouragingly swell or distressingly slow whether it transpires in Flushing or Port St. Lucie. I’m rooting for the former mainly because Port St. Lucie in July — no matter its springtime charms — sounds spectacularly depressing. When I think of a Met serving injury time in PSL, I think of Kaz Matsui literally seeking shelter from the storm, riding out a Florida hurricane in the home team clubhouse. I also think of Keith Hernandez on Tuesday suggesting a player can “die on the vine” when exiled to far-away minor league precincts. It’s worth noting that in his final, hobbled days as a Cleveland Indian, Hernandez resisted a rehabilitation assignment in Winter Haven — and he’s Keith Hernandez.

The ace and his employer will figure it out and put a happy enough face on the decision, but Martino’s column remains fascinating even if we speed ahead to the part where we decide this was much ado about little. When you read it, you’re taken aback by how nervous the Mets are to have their marquee attraction (we’re attracted to him even when he’s technically inactive) speak to a reporter on his own. Spring Training is traditionally the long, languorous stretch when players are blessed with the opportunity to talk at length. It’s when there’s nothing to but talk once the workouts are over and it’s too late to golf. As antsy as the Mets are to generate interest in their product, it’s strange that they’d so assiduously try to hide one of the best pieces in their inventory from public view.

It’s Spring Training. There’ll be plenty of chances to forget about Matt Harvey once he’s not pitching.

You might also wonder why it took columnist Martino to successfully seek out Harvey and why it took more than a month after Pitchers & Catchers for this story to fully bubble up. I don’t know if Martino was the first media member to directly approach Harvey or the first one to break through a psychological barrier the Mets set up to keep their ace from saying too much to any one reporter, but since when does the vaunted New York press yield to unilaterally imposed prohibitions? I’ve seen allusions throughout the spring to the Mets making Harvey available in only gang-interview settings. I wondered how such a restriction could possibly fly in February and March (as opposed to a postgame setting during the regular season). Apparently Harvey wondered, too.

On a larger scale, I marveled at how the current administration hasn’t really had to withstand any kind of withering assault from those who are paid to cover the team. Oh, there are continual 140-character shots, snarks and snipes at the owners and their enterprise amid a generally almost passive-aggressive portrayal of the Mets as something less than wholly successful, but given that this is New York, and New York has this reputation for unforgiving media focus, you don’t really see anybody take much issue with what those charged with running the baseball operations have produced in the standings. The trees are examined to within an inch of their bark, but the forest tends to go undisturbed.

It’s possible that there is unanimous concurrence among all current and recent members of the Met press corps that the best of a bad situation has been made since 2011 — when there was so much leftover hash left to be cleaned up; and it wouldn’t be fair to fully judge the franchise until 2015 — when its most prized ducks are projected to line up in a row. But it doesn’t seem likely that among a diverse group of professional inquisitors, somebody wouldn’t think to pointedly ask, in so many words, “Why haven’t you guys made this team tangibly better than you have? You’re in your fourth year here, you’ve never put together a winning record and you’re well shy of constructing a legitimate 1 through 8 for this year. Why are your team’s fans left to wonder which least bad option will get the bulk of the playing time at two key positions?” We surely don’t lack for granular coverage of this team, but everybody seems eerily satisfied that the big picture is taking care of itself with all deliberate speed.

It could be that the Alderson group knows exactly what it’s doing and their slow build in the shadow of all the Wilponian mishegas will pay off relatively soon. This ongoing frustrating epoch may yet prove to have been the early stages of Cashen II (even if we’re at least one Strawberry shy of reincarnating 1984 ASAP). Still, it’s odd that nobody on the credentialed side of the divide really pushes the matter. You’d figure someone would bang the drum impatiently if just to generate a little old-fashioned headline heat.

Does the Mets’ path to on-field competence let alone glory really appear that unimpeded to everybody who has a close-up view? If so, clear my next few Septembers for meaningful games.

In any event, kudos to Martino for digging in with Harvey and for having the best spring in St. Lucie of anybody not named Eric Campbell. The News’s “Baseball Insider” has become something of a Met Whisperer of late, eliciting soul-searching stuff from Daniel Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud and now capturing Harvey in mid-smolder. (On the other hand, Martino’s smug defense of anonymous “one Met said” sourcing, in response to Howard Megdal’s enlightening talk with the scorned Justin Turner, was rather dispiriting considering the great work he’s done having players speak on the record this month.) Baseball newspaper columnizing, particularly in this digital day and age, can stand a point of difference.

One night late last season, Howie Rose was moved to bring up the grand tradition of the New York sports columnist, mentioning three names in particular: Vic Ziegel in the News, George Vecsey of the Times and Steve Jacobson at Newsday. I found myself thinking I’d happily read anything any of them had written, but in 2013, I wasn’t going to be reading much new. Jacobson hadn’t penned a regular newspaper column in a decade, Vecsey was primarily blogging whatever struck his fancy (sports or otherwise) on his own and Ziegel passed away in 2010. As someone who heard the same broadcast put it to me a few days later, “Two of those guys are retired and one of them is dead.”

I don’t know if anybody’s around today at any New York daily quite matching the kind of work those gentlemen did. I’m not suggesting talent has taken a sabbatical in the wake of their respective absences from press boxes across America. It’s just a far different media world balancing far different demands. The 800 well-thought words crafted to meet the thinking sports fan’s line of sight first thing in the morning doesn’t serve as the pinnacle of sportswriting anymore. There are still newspapers and there are still columnists, but as a reader who picks up or clicks on a local paper, you rarely experience columns that reflect and consider and breathe…all on deadline, no less. There’s information and there’s immediacy, but within what’s left of the sports pages, there just isn’t as much in the way of elegant engagement.

Granted, a vast array of venues exist to feature writing that fits more or less in that realm, but the general daily sports column in your newspaper isn’t necessarily one of them.

If you want a reminder of how well a general sports column could capture your fancy, you might want to pick up a collection that came out about a year ago called Summers At Shea. It contains the Mets-themed work of one of the contemporaries of the columnists listed above, Ira Berkow, long of the Scripps-Howard’s Newspaper Enterprise Association and later the New York Times.

I’d never particularly identified Berkow with the Mets, but that’s fine. A degree of detachment served his occasional forays into our obsession quite nicely between 1967 and 2007. While by no means naïve about the machinations of professional sports, this columnist didn’t fully tamp down a romantic’s heart when it came to the game and the individuals he was covering. He grew up a Cubs fan and never stopped wishing for their eternally elusive success. It’s refreshing to hear someone in the media confess to a lingering loyalty besides “the best possible story”.

And if you can be a lifelong Cubs fan and still write about the 1969 Mets without snarling, then you’re probably going to do justice to your stories anyway.

From Stengel to Seaver to the latter days of Shea, with a welcome Roadblock or two along the way.

From Stengel to Seaver to the latter days of Shea, with a welcome Roadblock or two along the way.

The columns featured in Summers At Shea are snapshots that prove worth preserving. There’s Tom Seaver in Rochester in 1970, having recently ascended to the peak of popular consciousness (but having misplaced his overcoat). There’s Willie Mays in St. Petersburg in 1973, doubling off the wall and proving himself viable for one more spring. There’s Rusty Staub battling gastronomical temptations as he would lefty relievers in his final season of pinch-hitting in 1985, the last year his conditioning would be served up for public consumption. There’s Berkow joining Ron Darling on a “dark and leaky afternoon” for the Sunday drive from Manhattan to Flushing for what was supposed to be Game Seven of the 1986 World Series, a little number Darling was poised to start a few hours hence until the leak became too much for the Series to bear. Nevertheless, Ira Berkow got himself in the car with that night’s starter on the biggest day of his life.

Casey Stengel shows up in Summers At Shea, in the book’s introduction. It’s a story about how the then 83-year-old Stengel rejected Berkow’s overture to work with him on a baseball instructional primer of sorts. “Cannot disclose my Future affairs,” the Mets’ first manager advised, but he does wind up a part of Berkow’s tapestry nonetheless. So does Sherman “Roadblock” Jones. So do Tommie Agee and Dave Kingman and Rafael Santana and Kevin McReynolds and, eventually, various millennial Mikes (Piazza, Hampton, Pelfrey). Berkow wrote sports for decades. He came in and out of the Mets’ life intermittently if not exclusively. No wonder he has a couple of similar collections out that focus on the Yankees and the Knicks. That writing a Metsian book — one padded with a frankly unnecessary “formidable rivals” section that includes an ode to Paul O’Neill, for crissake — appears more a box to be checked than a mission to be accomplished shouldn’t be held against him.

Nor should some really egregious editing errors. A pennant race column that quite obviously appeared in September of 1969 is labeled as having been originally published in September or 1968. Another, on the World Series just won, is listed as having been first printed in September of 1969, or a month before the World Series was played. A third, regarding Tom Seaver’s milestone performance of September 1, 1975, is identified with a publication date of September 26, when clearly it saw light on September 2. Berkow’s writing set a high enough standard so that the bar shouldn’t be lowered for historical accuracy.

More appropriate to the tone of Summers At Shea was the column Berkow wrote after covering Seaver’s retirement press conference in 1987. “I guess it’s time now to sit back and reflect on what I’ve done,” he quotes Tom. “It’s been a lovely 20 years. I couldn’t have asked for more.” Double that span for Berkow’s columnist career and the sentiment applies to having read this sampler of what he wrote.

Jay Goldberg welcomed Ira Berkow to the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in 2013. Listen to a podcast of the visit here.

Holy Smokes!

Thanks to the best blog readers in all of Metsdom, the Faith and Fear in Flushing retired numbers t-shirt has been spotted in ballparks all over America and on a couple of continents besides this one since its introduction during the 2006 postseason.

But we’d never seen anything like this until now.

Not the FAFIF shirt, but an incredible simulation.

Not the FAFIF shirt, but an incredible simulation.

David, from somewhere in the vicinity of Philadelphia, explains why the above 37 14 41 42 looks so different from all other 37 14 41 42s:

Just wanted to send you a note for how your t-shirt has been used over the years.

I bowl in a Thursday Night Men’s League and everyone there smokes. So I wear your t-shirt every single week as my bowling shirt so that only one shirt smells like smoke and not all of my shirts smell like smoke.

I’ve been wearing it every week for the past 6 years. I MIGHT wash it like 4 times in a year. But it’s held up quite well.

Needless to say I get a million comments about it (living in Phillies territory). Usually “Is that your locker combination?” or “wear another f’in shirt!”

Anyway, I am very glad you are still selling them because I think I will need the replacement pretty soon.

I’m attaching a pic of the week when the team we bowled against wore imitation t-shirts for your amusement.

Thanks for a great blog and a great t-shirt!

Faith and Fear doesn’t endorse smoking, but it has no problem with bowling — and it salutes the Faith and Fear tribute shirt…and David’s wardrobe habit for making this garment possible.

And of course it’s never too late to secure your classic Faith and Fear shirt here.