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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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So Tonight We're Gonna Ponder Like It's 2006

That old feeling. It was there Tuesday.

No, I don't mean thrilling come-from-behind wins against Hall of Fame (c)losers in which everybody has a hand in triumph, after which you look up and realize your team is in pretty darn good shape.

OK — that, too. But something almost better because it's been missing more than I realized.

With Carlos Beltran locked in more securely than anybody east of Garret Anderson, Howie Rose noted how when Beltran's hot, he's unstoppable, but when he's cold, he essentially gets himself out. So true, I thought.

Well, Carlos is locked in and he is unstoppable and it is a big help, to say the least. When he came to bat in the eighth with the Mets down by one and runners at the corners, I thought this first:

“Oh boy! We have exactly who we want up right now!”

I thought this second:

“If what Howie said earlier is accurate, that means at some point Carlos will cool off and a situation like this that comes down to his hitting with runners on won't be desirable. That will be very sad.”

I thought this third:

“Shut up, stupid.”

And this matters…how? I'm not sure. I just know that most of this season I've worried about thinking the wrong optimistic thought and having it karmically backfire. Last night I instinctively went the other way, looking ahead to when something on some date to be determined will go wrong, as if whatever's going on at this moment is going undoubtedly right.

It was, in my occasionally overwrought way of rooting, the most reassuring sign that 2007 might turn out well after all. The five-game lead and such is a decent enough indicator, I suppose, but sometimes you can just feel something turn to the good and familiar. I remember after Piazza hit the homer that capped off the magical ten-run inning in 2000 that Rob Emproto mentioned to me the camera angle on one of the replays: Mike would swing and everybody on the first base side would turn en masse to watch his ball wave bon voyage. Rob said he grew used to that angle in 1999 when that sequence and reaction were regular occurrences, but to that point in the next season he hadn't seen it at all. Seeing it again was a relief to him.

That's how I felt worrying that the Beltran we got Tuesday night wouldn't always be that very Beltran, the one who tore up the league last week and is threatening to do the same this week. It felt good to think in those “this is so pleasant I don't want the sensation to end” terms that were a dependable part of my thought process in 2006.

Oh, right…Beltran's at-bat. He singled in the tying run. You probably knew that, but it seemed worth mentioning.

The Mets fell behind again, but when Lastings Milledge returned the favor by singling off Trevor Hoffman to start the ninth, you just kind of knew, didn't you? We didn't fall to Hoffman. We didn't fall to Heath Bell who was probably salivating at the chance to make us regret his departure. We gave back leads but we kept the game. It was a very first-place thing to do.

Bell was hardly the goat and Luis Castillo — game-winning hitter after Milledge, Mike DiFelice, Marlon Anderson and Jose Reyes did their ninth-inning parts — wasn't the only clutch performer, but I found their roles in this passion play of a baseball game instructive. These are two guys who seem to represent something to a good-sized segment of Mets fans.

• Heath Bell was the Overlooked Reliever who never got a chance from management who didn't understand what they had.

• Luis Castillo is the dreaded veteran who gets too much of the benefit of the doubt when in fact there is little in his current portfolio to merit it.

Nonsense I say to both dogmatic characterizations.

Castillo has vindicated my relative faith in him, though I imagine there will be nights when he pops up four times and I ask what the hell Omar saw in him. Likewise, Bell may very well come in the next two nights and yield nothing to Beltran and make me wonder why we wasted him and Royce Ring on Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson.

But those are the actual ballplayers Heath Bell and Luis Castillo. They'll have their ups and downs. There will be nights when I'll be proven dead right about both — I didn't ever want to look at Heath Bell in a Mets uniform ever again after his multiple callups between 2004 and 2006 yielded little in the way of substantial performance and I was reasonably happy to have obtained Luis Castillo because I'm not at all convinced of the specialness that many have assigned to Ruben Gotay — and there will be nights when I will be proven dead wrong. That's baseball and that's fine.

What I don't get is the need by some fans (and I'm not necessarily referring to anybody in particular, just a lot of what I've read online in my 2-1/2 years of blogging) to slot guys such as Bell or Castillo into their preconceived notions of player value judgments, for lack of a better phrase.

“The failure to give an unsung pitcher like Heath Bell a longer look is symptomatic of…”

“The reliance on aging infielders like Luis Castillo shows…”

Statements that begin with clauses like those are some of the most unfun sentiments in this great game of ours. They're right down there with “This week's Power Rankings say…” and “Hi, this is Jon Miller with Joe Morgan…” Unless you're vying for a general manager's job somewhere, I'm not sure what the big kick is in aching to be right rather than happy.

My blogging partner came up with a great line ten years ago, one he's probably forgotten. He had predicted the Mets would lose a hundred games in 1997. They were doing nothing of the sort that summer, as I like to point out once a month. In baseball, Jason said, sometimes there's nothing as satisfying as being proven wrong.

I sense there are Mets fans who would rather see Luis Castillo (or other vets who don't meet with their seal of approval) fail so it validates some abstract theory on player procurement. I hope whoever they are have been watching him field his position and handle his bat these last few weeks because he's been doing exactly what Omar Minaya acquired him to do and the Mets and, by extension, we are the beneficiaries. Rooting isn't a Henry Clay proposition. It's way more fun to be wrong and happy than it is to be right and miserable.

As for Bell, my feeling that he wasn't going to make it as a Met (based on 81 mostly ineffectual appearances across three seasons) doesn't look terribly valid because he's sure done well as a Padre. Maybe we could have gotten that out of him here. Or maybe he needed that ever popular change of scenery and a different pitching coach. I do know that if he were still a Met and was succeeding as he has for San Diego, I'd happily post three times a week, “My goodness, I was SO wrong about this guy and ain't I glad?”

Esoteric topic to chew over in the face of a rousing walkoff victory? I suppose. But the mind tends to wander when the Mets are winning. That, too, is a very good sign.

19 comments to So Tonight We're Gonna Ponder Like It's 2006

  • Anonymous

    As you well know from my numerous emails on the subject (after all, I've certainly watched more than my fair share of Padres games…) I have been lamenting the loss of Heath Bell all year. Why, why, whyyyyyyy? He needed a change of scenery, alright. Same change Kaz needed. And the less said on that subject by me for the billionth time, the better. (But the change back to the miserable, crappy scenery he understandably doesn't miss one iota certainly didn't have a good effect on Bell…)
    And Luis Castillo, well, he made me quite happy during his tenure in the Twin Cities, so I was happy as the proverbial pig in you-know-what to bringing him here. Marlon Anderson… never should have let him go. I openly rooted for him in his return with the Dodgers.
    Speaking of openly rooting for ex-Mets, I just dug out my Mike Cameron t-shirt…

  • Anonymous

    Two pictures. The first looks to me like the hottie in my English class in 11th grade. The second looks like my Aunt Edna (sorry, Aunt Edna):
    NY 71-53 .573 – –
    PHI 66-58 .532 5.0
    ATL 66-60 .524 6.0

    NY 70-54 .565 – –
    PHI 66-58 .532 4.0
    ATL 67-59 .532 4.0

    With a little bit of bad luck here and there, that bottom picture would be reality this morning.
    Are our boys beginning to create their our own good luck, finally?

  • Anonymous

    OMG – last night was the first time in a long time that I actually believed they would come back and win. For the first time in months, I felt like I did when I was watching this team in 2006. It felt so good…
    It was especially sweet doing that to Hoffman. Yes, I have a long memory ;-)

  • Anonymous

    Nailed it on all counts, Greg.

  • Anonymous

    (sniff…sniff…) Smell that? Smells like '06 to me…

  • Anonymous

    Let's hope it's not. We need to remember that '06 in '07 would be a failure. Let's look forward, not backwards.
    It's easy to second guess Willie and Omar from the comforts of our own couches, but when it comes down to it, no one's perfect and Willie and Omar seem to be doing a good job. It's silly to look for flaws when it's better to just hope he's right. Sure I'm not a big fan of Easley, or Valentin or Green, but I'd rather they come up and get a big hit than whif and prove me right.
    It's not often I can feel good about being wrong, and baseball makes being wrong feel so good.

  • Anonymous

    “I sense there are Mets fans who would rather see Luis Castillo (or other vets who don't meet with their seal of approval) fail so it validates some abstract theory on player procurement. I hope whoever they are have been watching him field his position and handle his bat these last few weeks because he's been doing exactly what Omar Minaya acquired him to do and the Mets and, by extension, we are the beneficiaries.”
    Hi Greg,
    I too could not understand critics of the Castillo deal. He still has a few years ahead of him , is a proven .300 hitter, perfect in the number two spot (giving the Mets the best lead-off combo in baseball) and even when not getting a hit produces a “productive out” (an under-appreciated term).
    If anybody forgot he was a golden glover, that 6-4-3 double-play over the weekend should end any doubts.
    He's psyched up. It shows in his intensity on the field and in the dugout. Playing in New York, in front of close to 50,000 raving fans each game (except when paid admissions don't show up due to inclement weather), on a team that could go all the way (which he's already been on) gives me hope that he will sign on with the team after season's end.

  • Anonymous

    If you really have an Aunt Edna, you're my hero. Everyone refers to her, but she never seems to actually exist.

  • Anonymous

    What I mean by this, Ceetar, is that last night's win had a “just like last year (regular season, of course)” feeling.
    That intangible thing I spoke of last week was definitely present last night…

  • Anonymous

    In all fairness, Luis Castillo has spent the last two seasons playing in front of loud, loyal fans, on a team that never gives less than its all and could always go all the way. The Twins are not chopped liver, and like the rest of his Twins teammates, he's used to being showered with love, not boos, even in the bad times… so the atmosphere here isn't exactly a plus in convincing him to stay.
    I know there's this idea that New York is nirvana, and the “lowly” Twins go out there every night to some desolate, depressing, empty atmosphere and play in front of a few lethargic fans, but it's just not true. Couldn't be further from the truth. They may not get 50,000 people, but the people who are there are fiercely loyal and supportive. And LOUD. They love their team, in good times and bad. I envy that atmosphere every time I watch. Which is nearly every night.
    I want him here too. But I don't see that playing in front of 50,000 mean-spirited “fans” who turn on you like you're the enemy if you put a foot wrong would be the thing that makes him want to stay. If that's what we're putting on the table, we'd better put a heck of a lot of cash on top of it.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to discuss the Beltran issue. You should never boo one of your own… however, I must say that his latest stint on the DL had me questioning EVERYTHING about him. Now that he's back, he's hitting dingers left and right, big RBI hits and he's still a worthless piece of overpaid prettyboy fanciness with a stupid mole.
    (hating him has been working wonders!)

  • Anonymous

    I was sitting at the dining-room table when Lastings singled.
    I absent-mindedly moved to the couch for a better look, DiFelice bunted Lastings over, and I thought, “Wait a minute, did I just get up from the dining-room table? Have I learned nothing in 32 years of fandom?”
    So I got up. And then thought, “DiFelice did exactly what he was trying to do. There's no bad karma in this couch.” And so I sat back down.
    Comfortable Butt 1, Superstition 0.
    I had indeed forgotten that line. It's pretty good; wonder whom I stole it from.
    I'll own up to not being terrifically in favor of the Castillo deal, though a) I knew Gotay hadn't proven anything yet and b) my objection was more about if the Mets resign Castillo to any kind of long-term deal at his age.
    That said, I was mildly against it. Luis Castillo can stick that in my eye every night until around Halloween if he likes. Because I'd like it just fine, too.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Laurie,
    Please know my pride in being a Met fan should not be construed as putting down the rabid enthusiasm of fans of your beloved Twins or most other franchises, for that matter. Minnesota has a great baseball heritage from Killebrew to Oliva to Puckett to last year's Central Division Champions and under the dome we all know the cheering crowd makes the decible level almost intolerable.
    But that's not saying there isn't something special about playing in New York, either, the sports-media capital of the world (something Castillo might like or might not enjoy). The Apple's experience is not an end-all, win-all situation; it's just that New York City has it's own uniqueness, just like Minnesota.
    While on the subject, was Castillo considered part of the Twin equation the next few seasons or did Minnasota management feel they couldn't re-sign him?
    – Joe

  • Anonymous

    Reply posted here:
    I started writing this before, but since this post touched on my very topic, I made it more of a response.

  • Anonymous

    …the increasingly pedantic Greg from Faith and Fear in Flushing points out…
    Wait a cotton-pickin' minute! I never touched that kid!
    Pedantic doesn't mean that?
    In that case, fair points.
    Knock wood.

  • Anonymous

    I mean pedantic in the best way possible. Thanks for understanding.

  • Anonymous

    In a completely unrelated matter, I was listening to XM in the car today and had to choose between “Mighty Love” and “Will It Go Round in Circles.” I chose the latter and have felt guilty about it ever since. Am I damned, or was this a forgivable offense?

  • Anonymous

    Technically it's not a close call since “Mighty Love” is No. 105 and “Will It Go Round In Circles” did not make the list. But the other day I heard it and thought “why the hell not?”
    Of course you always go with the Top 500 Smash. But no guilt is in order.
    Next case…

  • Anonymous

    Ummm…no, I must confess I don't. But all my aunts read FAFIF, so I can't throw any of them under the ugly bus.
    Not that I ever would. Because they're all beautiful.
    PS to Aunt Ellen, Aunt Kay, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Mary – Remember, my birthday's September 4th. Gift cards are fine.