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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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If It Rains, It Might As Well Pour

Let’s get the part that made me mad out of the way: In the bottom of the first, Mike Baxter came to the plate for his first Citi Field at-bat since he was helped off the field on the night of June 1, after the amazing sprawling catch that preserved Johan Santana’s no-hit bid. In making that catch, Baxter displaced the sternoclavicular joint between his collarbone and breastbone and tore the cartilage attaching the ribs to his sternum. I assume there’s a sternoclavicular joint somewhere in my mouldering wreck of a body; should I ever do anything that displaces it, I will probably squeak that I must immediately be taken to an emergency room, after which I will lie in the fetal position in a dark room for several months.

Not Baxter. As I’ve written before, he made that catch for his teammate and inflicted that damage on himself when his career was at a potentially crucial crossroads: this way and in a few years you’re tell people at your job that you once played in the big leagues, that way and you spent 10 or 12 years in the bigs and then never have to work again. Baxter had a very good spring, pushing himself into the conversation as a Mets regular. No one would have blamed him if he’d come up short making that catch, if he’d shied a bit from contact with the wall. But he went all out, slamming into the wall and threatening everything he’d worked for. And in that moment he ensured another moment would soon happen — one that may be the only thing about the 2012 season that we regularly recall a few years from now.

Anyway, having done all that and paid the price, Baxter was back. And the reaction? I’d describe it as ambient noise. No standing ovation, not even a detectable acknowledgment. It was infuriating — at that moment, if I’d been given the authority to DFA 26,193 worthless fans, I gladly would have sent them all home.

There’s no possible alibi for such mass obliviousness — remember when people understood that as Mets fans we were too romantic and long-suffering but knew our baseball? But if pressed, I can think of two vaguely plausible excuses.

1. The fans were on line for the new Pat LaFrieda steak sandwich. I was out at Citi Field tonight because the Mets had invited a few bloggers — me, Greg and some other dwellers in mothers’ basements — out for the evening. We listened to Terry Collins’ pregame (or the others did — I was late) and watched BP and then repaired to the Pepsi Porch to chat with Chris Carlin and Bob Ojeda before they set up for pregame. (Ojeda, no surprise, is just like he is on TV — awfully smart about pitching and intense to the point of being slightly scary.) Then we went down to the left-field landing and tried the new steak sandwich, with Pat LaFrieda and Mark Pastore themselves in attendance. LaFrieda and Pastore are the reigning god-kings of the New York City burger religion, of which I am a zealous adherent, so I have to confess that I was possibly more starry-eyed about meeting them than I’d been about quizzing an ’86 Met about pitching.

The sandwich? It’s great — pieces of tender, perfectly cooked filet mignon, with cheese and caramelized onions, on a bun robust enough that it holds together until you’re done, which is where a lot of sandwiches falter and become messes. (Here’s a more in-depth review from Ted Berg, connoiseur of both words and sandwiches.) In fact, I’d put it up there with the carnitas at Verano and the fries at Box Frites as Citi Field must-haves — as proof, an hour after our free sample (which was by no means stingy), I was back in line. A tip, though: One sandwich will feed two, unless one of you is a linebacker or a yeti. Anyway, consider this a rave — and get yourself one before the lines get Shake Shackian.

What’s that? We were talking about fans not cheering for Mike Baxter? Oh yeah, we were — I got distracted thinking about steak sandwiches. Back to the other vaguely plausible excuse for being oblivious…

2. The fans could see the future. The Mets got beat. Oh boy did they get beat. Holy Sweet Mother of Jesus did they get beat. They got curb-stomped. Pasted. Atomized. Nullified. Carbonized. Annihilated. Taken out with the trash. Made extinct.

Chris Young got two outs, and then it was 1-zip thanks to Jose Reyes yanking one into the front row of the Pepsi Porch, a section over from where Gary, Keith and Ron had set up temporary quarters. (Long night for those gentlemen.) Two hitters later it was 3-zip thanks to Giancarlo Stanton knocking one into the party deck. Young hung around till the fifth, while the Mets did next to nothing against Nathan Eovaldi, and then Carlos Lee drove in two and Stanton hit another one. 7-zip, farewell Mr. Young.

7-zip is bad, but the Marlins were just getting started. They treated newcomer Garrett Olson roughly, making it 10-zip. Manny Acosta got nicked — 11-zip, and I was wondering how many times Keith had muttered “oh boy” or just sighed and/or groaned out there in the Pepsi Porch. Hello Frank Francisco, and then it was 13-zip. The Mets haven’t won a Citi Field game since before the All-Star break; they probably deserve two losses for whatever the hell it was they were doing out there tonight. By the time it was over — and I stayed until the pathetic end — it looked like 1983, with a handful of ironists and die-nevers cackling at each misfortune.

But it was fine. Weird thing to say, but it was. Getting beat 5-4 when a comeback doesn’t quite make the grade stinks. Getting beat 2-0 stinks. But 13-0? Somewhere along the way to that you let go and let the baseball gods do what they will.

It’s like being caught in the rain: It happens to all of us at some point, and none of us like it. You turtle your head down into your collar as if that’s going to do anything, and try to go faster but wind up kind of scuttling because you don’t want to stomp in puddles, and when you finally get to wherever you’re going your clothes are spotted and blotted and you’re winded and unhappy. Sucks, right? But you’ve probably also been really caught in the rain a time or two — so thoroughly drenched that you’re soaked through to the skin and can’t even see for the water running down your face. When that happens you give up — your life has turned into an unexpected trip to the water park, and you’re half-drowned and it’s a disaster, but it’s too late, so what the hell. If it’s happened to you, you maybe even remember that eventually you just started laughing.

That’s the difference between getting beat 2-0 and getting beat 13-0.

I was in the press box when I realized that Jeff, an old baseball acquaintance, was in the park too. So we exchanged some messages and met up for that previously mentioned second go at a LaFrieda sandwich. Then we hung out for the rest of the game talking baseball, trading memories about great games at Shea and wincing about not-so-great games at Shea and talking baseball cards and autographs and everything else. Sure, down there on the field outfielders were falling down and relievers were trudging into the dugout and it seemed possible that Giancarlo Stanton might kill someone with his next line drive, but up in the stands we were reliving 1992 and 1999 and 2006 and June 1, 2012, and we were having a grand time.

Would we rather have been reminiscing with one eye on a crazily dramatic 7-6 Mets walkoff win? Well of course we would have. But baseball doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you get caught in the rain. You might as well laugh.

21 comments to If It Rains, It Might As Well Pour

  • Kevin From Flushing

    I want to say that the Upper Deck at Shea would have given a big cheer for Baxter, and maybe because it’s gone, a certain fan element is gone with it… but I don’t know.

    • Steve D

      You are right…live baseball is now tailored to a new breed…one that needs a host of things to do besides watching and talking baseball. They need fancy restaurants and shops…sports bars and clubs…wiffle ball games…rock music and scoreboard games between innings. Half the fans are probably texting during the game. A guy called in to WFAN yesterday…he said his first Yankee game was in 1954…and his last ever was last week. Why? He can’t take the blaring music and distractions. The days of Jane Jarvis on the Thomas Organ are gone, except in the memories of our youth…those can’t be taken away. Give me Shea anyday.

      • Dave

        I was at a game at Wrigley a few weeks ago, and aside from the edifice itself and spending time with a good friend who grew up within walking distance of the place, my favorite part was that they presume that fans will be entertained enough by the game itself. No instructions to make some noise while the sound systems is already pumping it in, no guessing today’s attendance (gee, that looked a lot more like 24,793 than it did 25,011 to me), no video clips of players reciting ballpark rules against letting your pet chinchilla eat on the Box Frites counter, just sit back and watch the game. What a concept.

  • Sometimes you give Mets fans too much credit. It’s become more and more a reactive, cynical, hopeless bunch who get too high after a five game winning streak and too low during a batting slump. They scream for manager changes after a poor road trip and boo players who get concussions. Fans that would trade Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy. The Baxter blow off is just another example of the poor season the Mets fans are having. And I don’t mean “poor fans”, but fans who are in a prolonged rooting slump.

    The response might be that “Hey, the team doesn’t spend any money, they don’t know how to build a team. We have nothing to root for.” Bullshit. Tejada, Wright, Murphy, Johan, Baxter, even Valdespin have given the team some great moments this year. And that’s not even including the amazing season RA Dickey is having.

    My point? The 13-0 whitewash that the Mets got last night? That’s the kind of performance the team gets from a lot of its fans.

    • Steve D

      Met fans are just tired…in our 51 seasons, you could easily make a case that the Mets are the worst franchise in that time in developing hitters. There is no Met hitter that has amassed more than 1418 hits (Kranepool). That is really mind blowing if you think about it. Reyes would have broken the record last week had he stayed. Wright will break it probably at the end of this year. Who else have the Mets developed and kept for any length of time? Strawberry who left…Fonzie…Cleon Jones? Mookie? It is sad that our top two hitters all-time do not even have 3,000 hits combined.

  • Dave

    Baxter’s comeback wasn’t well timed, it’s coincided with us all being numb from July’s free-fall and the apparent ability to go 0 for the rest of the season at home. As others have said, I ever see him in a bar, he’s not paying for his beer.

    I’m going to this afternoon’s game, thanks for the tip on the steak sandwiches. Might be the highlight of the day.

  • BlackCountryMet

    Great analogy regarding rain

  • Inside Pitcher

    I cheered Baxter. And made sure that my friends knew that this man should never have to buy his own beer in this town again!

    It’s hard to remember that this was his first Citi Field appearance after the interminable road trip; I think the significance of the at-bat had been muted by our familiarity with seeing him on TV over the past several games.

    • I took it on faith that you and yours did. To revise, I would have dropped by your section and picked you up to help distribute the DFA orders removing everyone else from the park.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    The La Frieda sandwiches might be great now, but let’s see how they will taste when LaFreida is not looking over everyone’s shoulder, and the team is 18 games under 500 and playing in front of 2,400 people in a 58 degree drizzle in September.

  • kjs

    Were the 26,193 actually there? I usually knock about 5,000 from the real attendance before the All-Star Game, 10,000 after. And those that did show—were they there for baseball or just for the beer? Did they know who Mike Baxter is?

    • Looked more like 15,000 to me, so your math is probably right.

      The rest of your questions are disturbing and quite on point these days. Different crowd….

  • Joe D.

    Wonder how many who go the games now are really Met fans at heart or, as others have alluded to, are there to have a good time doing other things. If that is the main appeal of this now four year old park, it appears the Wilpon’s goal was reached.

    If one recalls when Citi Field first opened, everyone was urged to leave their seats and take in the stores and food. The emphasis was less on enjoying the game as it was enjoying the amnenties.

    That is the real shame of it. It’s not a ball park – my colleague at Fordham who is an architect described it as a nice convention bureau.

    • Steve D

      When I first went to New Shea, I thought I had landed in Cincinnati…it is a little better now, but a Walmart where Shea used to be will not help…”Attention Walmart shoppers…a ballgame is starting beyond aisle 25″

  • Dak442

    I’ve been a little down on my fellow Met fans since the time in 2002 when Luis Gonzalez made his first appearance at Shea since doing the world a favor in the 2001 World Series; I stood up and cheered, and everyone looked at me like I had three heads.

    I’s not the losing. Everyone is content to sit, eat, drink, wander around, text, post pictures to Facebook – basically anything except pay attention and root. It is terrible that we have to be prompted by Kevin James or some wrestler dude to yell “Lets Go Mets” and even then it only lasts about four rounds.

    Dave above was spot-on about Wrigley. What a fantastic place to take in baseball in its native state. If you tried it here people would probably say it was boring.

  • ToBeDetermined

    There were, I think, three of us in my section wildly cheering Mike Baxter’s first at bat, to the apparent confusion of many of those surrounding us. No particular nasty looks, though, unlike the attitude I got (for instance) when I was wildly cheering Matt Franco’s successful attempt to set the major league record for pinch walks in a season. Note that this happened at Shea.

    I think a bunch of us in this comments section have developed a nasty case of Good Old Days Syndrome. I can recall plenty of deathly silent days at Shea, where the place was nearly empty and felt like a mausoleum without even the consolation of edible food. I’m sure lots of us were there during the late 70’s to early 80’s and in the mid 90’s. Does anybody think this is really all that different?

    It’s not the facility. It’s the team. When there’s not much to cheer for, people fall out of the habit of a) showing up, and b) cheering when they happen to be there. This happens to every team and fanbase when things are bad on the field (with rare exceptions like the Cubs).

    Ticket prices are a legitimate complaint, though they’d have been going up even without the new stadium. And they certainly did a dreadful job that first year of making it look like the Mets played there, since fixed. But the loud, mostly bad music, the piped-in noises, the scoreboard-driven cheering, and all that garbage has been happening at every sports event around for years now. What that says about society is something we could discuss at length, but it’s not an issue with Citi Field and it’s not an issue with the Mets.

    When the Mets finally get around to fielding a team that can make it into a pennant race, then and only then will we be able to make a judgement on whether Citi Field is somehow harming the fan experience. Until then, I’ll enjoy the fact that during the five or so hours I spend there before and during games, I have good food to eat, functional bathrooms to use, and pleasant places to wait out rain delays.

  • You cannot compare this team to the schlock they doled out in the 70s. You can’t! Who was the David Wright on the 70s Mets? The Ruben Tejada? The RA Dickey? Those teams would be out of the pennant race by April. Those who wax poetically about good old Shea quite possibly never used the toilets there, nor had a nosebleed seat at the top of the building. Mets fans truly had nothing to root for back then, and there was good reason not to go to Shea.

    • Steve D

      1969 and 1986 were at Shea too.

      • The point is Mets fans are pretty spoiled right now IMHO. The team is developing some actual talent worth rooting for. Yes, the second half has been awful, and yes, there is no decent pitching in the middle innings, but no way you can compare this year’s team to the days of Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson and Pat Zachary.

        • Steve D

          The teams of Flynn, Henderson and Zachary would become contenders in 6 years and World Champs in 8 years. I think I would sign up for that right now. Since the Wilponz bought out Nelson Doubleday, the Mets have made the playoffs once in 10 years.

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