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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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Things That Used to Be

So first I was really busy. And then I was really busy and in Toronto. (More on Toronto in a bit.) Between those two things, the Mets receded into a vague, distant unpleasantness, like a civil war in another hemisphere. I read Greg’s recaps and saw highlights, but I was spared the endless, metered doses of pain you get watching a lousy baseball team struggle night after night. The Mets are getting swept by the Marlins. Oliver’s been exiled to the pen but not to the minors or the ranks of the formerly unemployed. Jeff Wilpon just happened to be wandering through Atlanta and felt like checking in on his failing family business. David Wright struck out with nobody out and a guy on third again. Imagine what the Mets might have done if Angel Pagan wasn’t essentially alone out there.

It was no fun knowing the Mets were sinking further into irrelevance unless the discussion concerned whether it was possible to spend $134 million and still be in last place. But it was worse to realize that what I was feeling was a sneaky, disloyal relief at having drawn a Get Out of Bad Baseball Jail Free card for a few days.

So, Toronto. Lovely city — very walkable, nice people, lots to do, plenty of food and drink. It deserves a lot better than the Rogers Centre, formerly the SkyDome. (Greg will be along presently with his impressions as part of Flashback Friday.) Along with the White Sox, the Blue Jays had the misfortune to get new, mega-priced palaces just before Camden Yards ushered in the retro ballparks, which may have grown a little generic in recent years but certainly makes for a much better template than, say, the concrete doughnuts of the turf-and-elastic-waistband era. But by being the last in line before Baltimore, Chicago and Toronto got stuck with instantly out-of-date parks.

I haven’t been to New Comiskey, but the Rogers Centre is so consistently uninteresting that it actually comes to feel like some kind of weird accomplishment. The concourse is a sterile circle dotted with really boring things you don’t particularly want to eat. (The hot-dog girl’s amused look when I reacted with horror at receiving a huge pile of Canadian change was pretty funny, though.) There’s some kind of awful sculpture beyond center field that commemorates everything everybody did to line up financing for this place, or something: It’s all wire and words and depressingly late-80s, like a sweaterdress worn with a huge belt and a bunch of kooky bracelets. I mention it because it’s actually one of the more interesting things in the park. There are indeed hotel rooms overlooking the field. I suppose that would be cool if you were in one. The stadium staff are Canadian and don’t have enough to do, meaning they’re almost spookily nice and constantly in the way. (After a foul ball plunked into the seats in the next section and was retrieved by a fan, four of them arrived in record time and stood in the aisle for a couple of minutes for no reason I could figure out.) Oh, and former Blue Jays greats are honored with the usual ring of names and numbers up around mezzanine level — an unsurprising but perfectly appropriate ballpark feature. It’s called the Level of Excellence. Seriously. My friend Michael and I spent a half-inning or so trying to think of a more generic name and failed. Circle of Immortality? Arc of Triumph? Olympian Oval? Ring of Honor? No, it’s the Level of Excellence.

There’s a lot of “used to be” heard when discussing the Rogers Centre. There used to be a gigantic McDonald’s on the premises, possibly the only one in existence where you could order a hot dog. It’s gone now. (Things are bad when McDonald’s decides it can’t make a situation like this work.) Above the center-field fence there’s a multi-level restaurant, deserted and possibly abandoned — it used to be something, but now it’s just a depressing nothing, the baseball equivalent of keeping a rusted-out junker on cinderblocks in your front yard. Looking around the vast expanses of unoccupied seats, I politely said to Michael that this place must have been pretty awesome when the Jays were a powerhouse, the place was full every night and everybody was screaming. He shrugged. Yeah, it used to be.

None of this is a knock on Blue Jays fans. There were maybe 15,000 people in attendance, but that meant they were diehards — they knew their stuff, cheered batters for moving runners over and booed Lyle Overbay if he so much as twitched. (Overbay had one of the worst games I’ve seen a major-leaguer have in a long time, culminating with a play that saw him drop a throw, then heave the ball past the third baseman.) The Blue Jays’ song is pretty cool, complete with calisthenics. And the roof was open.

So we were nominally outdoors and got to watch baseball. That’s pretty good even when the park isn’t. And then today, it was back to the Mets — and they even won. They won ugly, starting the night with a tense semi-confrontation between John Maine and everybody and ending it with a parade of ineffective relievers trying to hand the game to the Nats. They won because the Nationals were a lot worse. The Nats just missed balls they might have caught. They completely missed balls they should have caught. They fell down. They ran the bases poorly. They were more Mets than the actual Mets. Ryan Zimmerman’s look of disgust after falling down before he could pursue Jose Reyes’s little blooper said it all.

But it was one game.

One of the more useful baseball cliches, in my opinion, is that you spend April and May figuring out what you have, June and July getting what you need, and then August and September seeing if it works out. Except the Mets have spent April and May figuring out they have what a lot of people said they had in February and March. It’s good that they stopped giving Mike Jacobs at-bats — except he shouldn’t have gotten them in the first place. It’s good that Frank Catalanotto was relieved of his duties — but he shouldn’t have been given that job in the first place. Jenrry Mejia will supposedly soon be sent down to the minors to develop as a starter — that should have happened in the Grapefruit League.

And now, to present difficulties. Oliver Perez is in the bullpen. John Maine is … oh, who the hell knows anything about John Maine, except that several somethings are wrong with him, and it probably no longer makes sense for the Mets to figure out what those things are. So now it’s R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi and for a night, the heroic Raul Valdes. But didn’t a legion of bloggers and writers and interested observers spend the winter wondering why the Mets’ plan for the starting rotation seemed to be hoping for the best from very uncertain arms? (Joel Pineiro, the man the Mets wouldn’t bother to call, has had five good to great starts, one average one and two clunkers — I’d sure take that right now.) Sooner or later the useless Gary Matthews Jr. will depart the premises, and we’ll be heartened even though it will be just the latest example of the Mets no longer doing something stupid months after it was first identified as stupid.

That’s what $134 million buys you in these parts these days: the belated realization of stupidity. Better late than never, but weren’t there higher expectations around these parts once upon a time? Weren’t there higher aspirations? Yeah. There used to be.

17 comments to Things That Used to Be

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by You Gotta Believe!, Jason Fry. Jason Fry said: These days even a #Mets win is depressing. Plus a Toronto stadium report. Faith and Fear in Flushing. […]

  • Andee

    Warthen’s comment that Maine is a “habitual liar” when it comes to his health is going to be a lightning rod for debate, I’m sure. And while he shouldn’t have used the inflammatory word “liar,” it does seem pretty obvious that Maine should be cut loose. He doesn’t sound like he has a whole lot of insight into what’s causing him problems — or if he does, he’s not telling anyone what he knows, no matter how many times and in how many ways they ask.

    I’m just not sure why they let him start the game at all, if he looked like such molted crap warming up. But if they hadn’t, he’d probably have been even whinier about it, so I’m not sure there was any way to win that one.

    And if this game doesn’t get Mejia sent down, I don’t know what will. Dude can’t finish two mop-up innings with a 7-run lead without losing the plate? Who does he think he is, Doug Sisk? (Not that it’s his fault nobody’s given him a ticket upstate yet.)

    But hey, a W. Hitting. Lots of it. Even from Reyes and Frenchy. Bring on the Stinkees!

  • Rob D.

    Jace: I hope you don’t mind, but I’m lifting the “What $134 million buys you” line for one of my Facebook status updates. Beautiful.

  • Joe D.

    Anyone notice how SNY jumped on the bandwagon hyping the situation, urging us to stay glued to the post-game show and not to miss the comments from Jerry, Maine and Werthan? Guess the organization is desperate for something to ignite fan interest.

    Maine, of course, was in an angry state of denial about anything being physically wrong with him but Jerry didn’t think so. Neither did Ron Darling (after that fifth pitch Ron’s first words were “Maine is hurting”) or Bob Ojeda (noting his slow pitching motion) or Dan Warthen (adding fuel to the fire by saying John was a habitual liar when it came to his health and that he gave him the benefit of the doubt after his bullpen warmup).

    And Jerry was so livid that Ron Darling pointed out he didn’t accompany Maine off the mound, something every manager does with an injured pitcher. But from his post-game comments, we now know that it was because Jerry didn’t want to be responsible for jeopardizing Maine’s career.

    But a much more intriguing point that was probably lost in Jerry’s press conference was that even with Maine and Neise out, he was firm in stating that Perez would not return to the rotation until he showed him something in the bullpen. With the rotation desperate for replacement starters, this shows Perez is in Manuel’s dog house. He’ll have to move over to make room for Maine.

    • Guy Kipp

      My guess is that, in a year or two, John Maine will resurface in Atlanta or St. Louis and win 15 games in a season for one of those two clubs.

  • tim

    I saw Roger Clemens shut out the Yankees at SkyDome in 1997. Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado played in that game for the Jays. It was still new enough that about 40,000 showed up for a Sunday afternoon game, although I’m sure Clemens vs. the Yankees had a lot to do with it. I remember going up in the CN Tower before the game and standing on the plexiglass floor they have in the observation deck. That’s 1,122 feet of nothing straight down. Made my knees go wobbly.

    • My girlfriend and I stood on the same glass floor and noticed that a spider had built a web underneath it, making us REALLY wonder: did that spider attach itself to something, come up the elevator, then make its way out–or did it climb all the way up from the ground floor?!

  • Ron L

    It was good to see the Mets finish a hideous road trip with a win, but let’s be practical here. Even with the Washington Nationals doing everything humanly possible to give this game away, the Mets still found a way to make it a nail biter in the end.
    The real issue is, obviously, who is going to be in the starting rotation? Ollie has been banished, Niese is hurt again, and Maine? Well, who can figure out what is wrong with Maine? That does not leave the Mets with many options going into a home stand against the Yankees (who are looking to turn things around after the brutal Red Sox loss and Tampa sweep) and the Phillies. Sorry folks but I just can’t get too overexcited about the prospects of relying on Takahasi and R.A. Dickey. These games will be big in determining the fortunes of this team going forward. “Faith and fear” are appropriate.

  • Somebody give me a reason to believe the Yankees are not going to maul the Mets this weekend, with the Phillies swooping in to feed on the carrion beginning Tuesday. Please.

  • cropseymonster

    Weren’t there higher aspirations? Yeah. There used to be.
    What? Like playing “meaningful games” in September? The Wilpons suck. NYC should test the limits of its powers of eminent domain and buy the team at FMV and then auction it off to the highest and best offer, hopefully from the Russian gazzillionaire who has a take no prisoners approach to ownership

  • Great read. The sad reality of bad Mets teams is that things always get worse before they get better, so it didn’t matter what their plan for this season was, it was doomed from the start.

    Firing Jerry won’t fix this problem. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Omar clearly has no Plan B in place, and his Plan A of “build around Reyes, Beltran, and Wright” hasn’t worked. It’s time for someone else to make the plans.

  • Lenny65

    I can’t see the point of keeping Maine around anymore either. He’s constantly coming up lame and if he appears to be shot right now what reason is there to believe he’ll be of any use later in the year? There’s a point where patience and potential turns into blind misguided optimism and Maine is at that point right now.

    Perez is a lost cause too, I mean why keep him on the roster at this point? No one else you throw out there is going to do any worse, so it just seems silly to keep the guy around for mop-ups when the spot would be better spent on someone…anyone…who might have the slightest possible upside.

    Is there another MLB team that would seriously consider taking a chance on Maine or Perez right now? I believe that answer is “no” so why are WE keeping them around? Same question applies to Gary Matthews Jr too, BTW.

    Mejia should have been in the minors all along and if he had been we’d at least have a glimmer of hope and excitement once he arrived. Keeping him in the bullpen accomplished nothing and it’s very difficult to understand how anyone thought that was a wise move.

  • […] by Greg Prince on 21 May 2010 6:10 pm At the risk of dampening our mutual bout of Toronto Fever (now as well as then), the Subway Series begins anew […]

  • Andee

    Oh, and also? Anyone who simultaneously complains about Warthen or Manuel “throwing players under the bus” in front of the media and clamors for the return of Bobby Valentine, needs to ask Pete Harnisch, Todd Hundley, and Bernard Gilkey how well BV kept schtum about how he felt about them to the press. How soon people forget…or maybe it’s that they never bothered to find out.

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