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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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Anybody Here Can Play This Game?

I’ll be fortunate enough to be watching somewhat up close and personal in Flushing today, but for those who aren’t among the 42,000 or so who will account for yet another of those magical Citi Field attendance records management is so fond of periodically revealing, the New York Mets will be on TV in one of their usual time slots on one of their usual channels this afternoon, and that, of course, is spectacular. I’m generally happy to see the Mets appear on television in other non-SNY contexts as well (there’s an award that recognizes the phenomenon, you know), and anything that, shall we say, shakes up the roster is a welcome development. But this much-ballyhooed reality show the Mets are collaborating on with Fox Sports 1? It seems…I don’t know…

I think the term for it is “trainwreck”.

Or is “undignified” the word I’m groping for? This is a franchise that once spent a season trotting a reportedly incontinent mule around its stadium’s warning track, so to deem anything post-Mettle as not quite up to vaunted Metropolitan standards might be harsh, let alone historically myopic. And if I look at the bright side (which seems the right place to look on Opening Day), maybe this whole idea that they’re guaranteeing one lucky fan a spot on the Mets before this season ends is truly what this team has always been about.

After all, the name of the show speaks volumes. They’re calling it Anybody Here Can Play This Game, which explains why they’re asking aspirants to show up at the Casey Stengel entrance on the third base side today starting at 11 AM to sign up. I like the democratic nature of the proposal: You, too, can be a New York Met. I like that it’s not a gimmick, or a gimmick within a gimmick. It’s a pretty straightforward proposal:

• You go to the portal marked STENGEL
• You tell them you’re here for the reality show
• They take your information
• They tell you at what point Tuesday to come back to try out
• They hand you your Amway Courtesy Card, redeemable through the sixth inning only, and wish you luck

It all sounds a little cheesy until you read the fine print and see they’re not kidding around, no more so than the Marlins were when they did their one decent thing and signed Adam Greenberg. Skeptics said that was about entertainment or whatever, but Greenberg got in shape and got his at-bat (against R.A. Dickey…somebody else who benefited massively from a big break). The big difference here is Fox Sports 1 is opening Anybody Here Can Play This Game to, appropriately enough, not just anybody with professional baseball-playing experience, but anybody at all. Or anybody who’s a Mets fan who signs the appropriate waiver.

The Ol’ Perfesser, albeit with a dash of literary license from Jimmy Breslin, couldn’t have framed the opportunity better himself.

So the first round of tryouts begins Tuesday, and the coaches/producers go about their whittling and their interviewing (including a “Mets Knowledge” test for which I apparently provided a few questions after they contacted me in rather vague fashion asking for “some help on a special project”) and the whole thing circles back to Citi Field during the All-Star Game. That’s when the outgoing Mr. McCarver and the intolerable Mr. Buck announce the winner in the middle of the fifth inning, right after the tribute to Mariano Rivera when David Wright or whoever’s representing the Mets changes his uniform to No. 42 for the rest of the night and everybody else follows in turn. Then it’s off and running for the chosen one: a couple of weeks at St. Lucie, a couple at Binghamton, some finishing school with the Las Vegas 51s and, when September rolls around and the 25-man becomes the 40-man, that person (actually, they haven’t said the winner will necessarily be a man, so maybe we’re in for more history than we realize) will be the starting center fielder for the New York Mets in a regulation Major League Baseball game.

Maybe there’s a caveat in the covenant among the Mets, MLB, News Corp. and the creative team (those would be the same guys who promoted Greenberg’s story so effectively) that if the team is somehow in the pennant race on September 1 that the deal is off, but given how much Fox is hyping this program and how much they need Fox Sports 1 to garner legitimacy after its debut this summer — not to mention how little leverage lame duck Terry Collins or his interim replacement would have by then — I doubt it.

I also doubt the Mets will be in a pennant race on September 1, but one miracle at a time.

A show like Anybody Here Can Play This Game should ideally be something to celebrate. It’s about striving and making dreams come true. It harks back to the oft-told tale of John Pappas, who wheedled his way into a tryout in St. Petersburg that very first Met spring of 1962. He insisted he’d been getting his arm loose under the 59th Street Bridge and was ready to solve the expansion team’s projected pitching woes. Johnny Murphy, then the chief of scouting, tried to brush him off, but the beat writers needed a good story (because Casey Stengel wasn’t enough of one) and Pappas got his moment in the sun, even if it was over in a blink.

Pappas never made the bigs, but Murphy you’ll recognize as a New York Mets Hall of Famer, the general manager who put the finishing touches on the 1969 World Champions. He definitely had a different, perhaps more focused or serious view of his job than its current, nuanced occupant, Sandy Alderson. I’ve honestly enjoyed my brief interactions with the dry-witted executive in whose hands we’ve entrusted our long-term baseball hopes and happiness, but consider that Alderson…

a) was always a little too eager on those blogger conference calls to talk television with our friend Shannon Shark — and by the way, let us add our congratulations to the chorus of hosannas for the erstwhile Mets Police maven on his well-deserved appointment to succeed Dave Howard as the club’s head of business operations;

b) goaded Jay Horwitz into taking a more outsized public role, the results of which have included his incessant, inimitable Tweeting, the rash of stories about his cell phone mishaps and his star turn dancing the Citi Field Shake; and

c) transformed into a veritable Sandy C.K. this winter as he went on the record with those killer bits about his outfield’s shortcomings.

Or “what outfield?” as the GM fancies asking.

Now it all comes together. Alderson’s offseason was essentially one long establishing shot: he releases Jason Bay; he eschews Scott Hairston; he goes to great lengths to imply Michael Bourn might be en route (including all that talk about draft picks); he throws in some asides about one Upton or another; and then he conveniently comes up with a heretofore unknown named Collin Cowgill, which is as made-for-TV a name as you could imagine. Then the Mets go through this whole charade of auditioning one outfielder after another in St. Lucie, with den Dekker getting hurt, Nieuwenhuis not hitting and Valdespin somehow managing to “forget” to wear his cup against Justin Verlander. All of that just to wind up with an alliteration, a reclamation and a defensive miscalculation as the supposed everyday starting outfield?

When I read that it was going to be, from left to right, Duda, Cowgill and Byrd, no platoon (because who could possibly crack that tough a troika?), it seemed like something you could purchase at Catch Of The Day…a little too fishy, if you will. But now that we know about Anybody Here Can Play This Game, it all adds up. The stage is literally set for the center fielder who’ll come out of this reality show competition a real live Met, eligible for induction into The Holy Books and everything. What wouldn’t have been the least bit believable anywhere else, not even in Houston — where Fernando Martinez couldn’t stay healthy long enough to play on Opening Night — makes all the sense in the world in its own very Metsian way.

It doesn’t have to be a trainwreck. It doesn’t have to be undignified. But yes, somehow, it does have to be the Mets, doesn’t it?

Think about it, though, as the Mets return to being part of our regularly scheduled programming at 1:10 PM. Who else could it be on this day of all days?

9 comments to Anybody Here Can Play This Game?

  • Scott M.

    Happy Opening (April 1st) Day! Seeya with the 7 Army today!

  • It took me until the last paragraph before I remembered…

  • joenunz

    Shame on me for not realizing what day today is until close to the end of the post or…shame on the Mets for this being TOTALLY BELIEVABLE?

    I’m retaining my dignity and choosing the latter.

  • Pat

    You forgot to mention the John Fogerty theme song. Look at me, gotta be, centerfield!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I thought the “Anybody Here Can Play This Game” contest was over already…Nieuwenhuis made the team with a .086 batting average against Spring Training pitching, and at Center Field yet.

  • Dave

    I hope Sidd Finch shows up for this.

  • Lenny65

    Colin who???? Colin “Grand Salami” Cowgill, that’s who!

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    Anybody can play this game but it seems not everybody can learn all there is to know to understand it on a professional level from advanced statistical analysis. At least, that is what can be implied by the attached written by Paul dePodesta.

    Maybe Sandy is the exception rather than the rule. At least for today with Cowgill, Byrd and Buck (no relation to the FOX guy) getting big hits. And so I wonder if a computer link to one’s stats is also required for tomorrow’s tryout.