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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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The Lukewarm Stove League

Ow, this stove is … not particularly hot.

Ow, this stove is … not particularly hot.

During other, long-gone and apparently equally endless offseasons, Bill Veeck used to call up one of his fellow owners and engineer a “dog-and-cat trade” — a swap of generally useless utility infielders or outfield caddies or what in a few more generations would be called middle relievers. The idea wasn't really to improve the ballclub, though sometimes that was a lucky by-product, but to sell papers in two towns and keep fans talking about their baseball teams while the snow piled up.

Yes, dog-and-cat trades are pointless. But weeks like these remind you of why they're useful. Without them, you get the thigh-high morass of non-news, which for Met fans tends to mean anxiety and muttering.

It was just so Metsian, for instance, that a media tour of a ballpark that's finally starting to look like a ballpark would have to turn into an awkward colloquy on whether the Mets should give back $20 million as some kind of charitable gesture, and on Jeff Wilpon's feelings about credit crises and federal bailouts. Yeesh. Sometimes you look at the Mets and you think that Tommie Agee's twin catches and Zisk/Augustine and Mookie jack-knifing away from the plate and the ball squirting through Buckner are actually a vague return on our franchise's mostly unbroken run of buzzard's luck. Yay, we're getting $20 million a year for naming rights — and naming rights don't slump or get hurt! What could possibly go wrong?

Should Citibank dive into the death spiral it's trying to pull itself out of by cutting back on parts of its marketing budget designed to increase consumer awareness? Should the Mets forego the salary of a Cy Young winner or All-Star power hitter every year to show they too are tightening belts? Neither is worth even vaguely serious consideration — such a sacrifice would be a pinprick on Citi's balance sheet and a giant wound to the Mets' future payroll — but sports columnists and politicians make their livings outside the realm of vaguely serious consideration, running neck-and-neck as always in their race to be more fatuous. For me, the most interesting thing from the Citi tour was hearing that David Wright, Ryan Church and Nick Evans had taken batting practice there soon after the season ended — which cheered me up for about a nanosecond before it vanished under the tidal wave of polemical silliness.

A dog-and-cat trade would have pushed this nonsense off the sports pages, leaving us to wallow in more interesting nonsense. Instead, we have agate-wire pickups (Adam Bostick is back! We signed a backup catcher who doesn't have the initials R.C.!) that can't even excite me and Greg. We have closer anxiety before we actually have a closer, which was entirely sensible during our nightmare September but is pointless now. It's barely December and not one of them even plays for us, but I swear it feels like K-Rod has already blown a brace of saves for an enormous amount of money, Brian Fuentes isn't fooling anybody, and Huston Street is hurt. Oh, and Manny's potentially a Met target and Aaron Heilman wants to start but we don't want him to start because we'd be better off with him relieving, except recently he can't really relieve, so let's boo him. I swear I've read both those stories about 11,000 times since the Dow was at 11,000.

This always happens — were I a wiser man, I'd paw through this tangle of mini-stories and non-stories and maybe-stories and old stories, conclude “must be getting to be the second week of December,” and simply wait for the days to start getting longer instead of worrying about any of it. (And hey, remember that last offseason we did absolutely nothing anybody liked — until we stole the best starting pitcher on the planet away from the Twins.) But that's not the way baseball works in the dead of winter — this is the kind of “always happens” that's no help each time it happens again, because when the grass has turned to tundra and you've got your head scrunched down to your chest against the cold it's hard to imagine anything as simple and satisfying (or simple and aggravating) as a June game against the Pirates. So your baseball-starved mind fills up with the unsimple and the decidedly unsatisfying.

I flew back from North Carolina on the day after Thanksgiving, and coming into La Guardia I had an excellent view of Citi Field and Shea Stadium from just above the water, just as I'd hoped. Seen from the side, Citi looked startlingly finished and ready for action, and with its outer ring still intact so did Shea — two ballparks almost intertwined, nearly in each other's arms. At another time it might have given me a smile, or made me briefly sad, but not this time. Shea is no more but somehow still half-alive and Citi is near but not fully born, and knowing that made it into a mess — it looked like what it was, which was two ballparks occupying a space made for one.

The site, like the Mets and like all of us, is betwixt and between, stuck at the bleak crossroads of 2008's disappointments and 2009's anxieties. And it would be better for all involved if we could just hurry up, move along and get wherever it is we're going.

5 comments to The Lukewarm Stove League

  • Anonymous

    Should Citibank dive into the death spiral it's trying to pull itself out of by cutting back on parts of its marketing budget designed to increase consumer awareness?
    Not sure I understand this metaphor. Obviously Citi needs to do a lot more than that to right itself, but I don't really see how cutting some marketing would be “diving into the death spiral”. It seems more like an inadequate gesture than a self-destructive one.
    Obviously, Citi's already benefited from the naming buzz (fat lot of good it did them), but the Mets still don't have anything to show for it. And why should they be punished for Citi's shortcomings? But Citi and the Mets need to focus on putting their money where it will be most useful, however much it ends up being. The Yankees/Rays comparison is a great example of how it's not the absolute amount of money you spend, but the relative wisdom with which you construct your roster that counts. Fortunately, that shouldn't be affected by the economy.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, few if any of my metaphors stand up to close scrutiny, which is why I generally try to write past them real fast.
    I think Citi stands to get a lot of mileage out of the ballpark shots and sportscasts mentions, and believe that publicity will be generally good — or at least serve its purpose of making people aware of the name and have that shape, on some level, their choices about where to open an account or go to an ATM. The idea that Citi should forego that by way of vague atonement seems both silly and self-defeating to me.
    All this assumes, of course, that by the time spring comes we're not still arguing vociferously about the wisdom of federal aid to banks that lent recklessly. Or, for that matter, that we're not armed and fighting over our stocks of canned goods instead of worrying about middle relief. I'd like to feel more sanguine on both points.

  • Anonymous

    I would casually dismiss the promotional value of associating a corporation with a baseball team, but Met sponsorship has played a part in my decisions on more than one occasion. Once faced with two identical-priced kitchen faucets in Home Depot, I went with the Peerless model. When Modell's was a major sponsor I bought my sporting goods there. I'm pretty sure I was partial to a particular milk based on their affiliation with us as well. And I was partial to Schaefer and Rheingold well past those association's ends.
    Thing is, these were all relatively inconsequential purchases. If all things are equal (and I remember), yeah, I buy the Met product. But banking and financial services? That's a fairly important decision – I think I might look into their service, costs, and what they're offering me instead of blindly forking over my dough because they put their name on my stadium. The Nikon camera was $40 more than the comparable Canon; gues which I bought.
    So ultimately, I guess it makes more sense for a disposable consumer goods corporation to sponsor a ballclub. But they are much less likely to be able to afford it, or be willing to invest that way. Net takeaway: let's go back to naming stadiums after teams, towns or great Americans.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I totally agree.
    There's some initial value for a bank in getting your name out there. Citi, Citi. Put it in people's minds. But honestly, there are Citibanks everywhere in New York; I was already quite familiar with them. Just hearing their name over and over again is not gonna make me more inclined to pick them if another bank gives a better deal or is more convenient. And I'm gonna investigate. We're fans we're not zombies.

  • Anonymous

    We're fans we're not zombies.
    Speak for yourself.