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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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Once Upon Citi Field

Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.
—Bruce Springsteen

Getting off my train after witnessing a 13-2 Mets loss in person — my personal-worst ninth consecutive loss at any of the ballparks the Mets have called home — I noticed a few people were arriving back on Long Island from New York’s annual Pride Parade.

Man, I thought, I’d love to someday return home from a parade full of pride for the Mets. That day is probably far off. It felt farther off than usual Sunday despite the focus on one of the leading indicators that better days are directly ahead.

Zack Wheeler couldn’t have been better in his first Citi Field inning had his name been Matt Harvey. Actually, Harvey was stomped on by the Braves in his first home inning of 2012: a walk, a fielder’s choice and a home run blasted by Jason Heyward. Harvey settled in thereafter for six unremarkably effective innings, but whatever glow was extant for the kid who had set the Diamondbacks on fire in Phoenix was briefly extinguished in Flushing. Of course it would go on to spark bigger and brighter than we could have imagined, and we all lived happily ever after every fifth day, but it was definitely on hold last August 10.

Wheeler drew a bigger crowd and set off more excitement as he paraded to the mound on the last day of June 2013, probably because the Harvey precedent has made us salivate our heads off at the idea that we could maybe get another one of those, whaddayacall, superstars practically out of the box. Zack received the same “Feels Like The First Time” introduction from the AV department that Matt did last summer and lived up to the novelty of so-called Wheeler Day immediately. Denard Span struck out. Anthony Rendon struck out. Ryan Zimmerman grounded out. Zack Wheeler, clad in the 45 made famous by McGraw and Franco and Martinez, was making it all look very easy.

But this pitching to big league hitters only looks that way, especially at the beginning of the trail. The Mets treated Wheeler like Harvey in the bottom of the first in that they put two runners on with one out and didn’t score. Then the paths of the phenoms diverged for now. The Nats beat up on Wheeler in the second and the third and the fifth, his last inning, the one he didn’t finish. By his performance, you’d never know there were special musical cues (I would’ve gone with “Heart Like A Wheel” by the Steve Miller Band over John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels,” whose context is a bit too wistful for someone over whom we’re so hopeful), ticket deals and orange t-shirts devoted to him. You suddenly forgot Tug and Johnny and Pedro and were left to remember that 45 was also worn by Brent Gaff and Paul Gibson and Jerry DiPoto and that the one sight you’ll never see on a pitching mound is a sure thing.

Zack Wheeler wasn’t a budding ace Sunday. He was an unready rookie. That’ll happen when, perhaps, you’re an unready rookie.

We 33,366 who came out to celebrate the birth of a local idol chose instead to incubate him until he is ready. Zack was not hooted off the mound. We applauded warmly upon his removal with two on and two out in the fifth. We’re impatient by nature but we’re not idiots. We wish for Harvey II: Wheeler’s Revenge to open to rave reviews in Queens as it did on the road, but we realize boffo box office doesn’t necessarily lead to immediate critical acclaim.

Then we got back to being idiots, sitting through intermittent showers, invisible offense and Brandon Lyon. When your day’s highlight morphs from “I’m at Zack Wheeler’s first home start!” to “All right, Anthony Recker’s gonna pitch!” you should probably check and see if your health insurance covers stupidity.

What had hinted at a brighter future around 1:10 was, well before 4 o’clock, best left to the chronically dim, myself included. It became one of those days in which you and your companion debate which horrid game this is most like in your vast Met-going experience. I couldn’t decide if I was reliving the 10-1 debacle of September 2011 (a convenient precedent, as the Nationals were the opposition that gray Thursday afternoon) or the second game of the season-crushing doubleheader loss to the Diamondbacks in August 2002. That one — started by Wild Card insurance policy John Thomson — went so bad so much that my friend Joe agreed we should give up and get out, which is something Joe never does.

I was with Joe on Sunday and we stayed to the Recker end. He and I were giddy to be in on Citi Field’s first episode of Met position player pitching, but the misguided euphoria lasted all of two batters, or time enough for 11-0 to become 13-0. Once Ian Desmond landed Recker’s first strike (following six straight balls) square in the middle of the Acela Club’s Market Table, Joe capped his pen and shut his scorebook. If you know Joe as I do, that’s his version of Laurence Olivier ripping a piece of cloth from his suit jacket to signify that his rotten modern son Neil Diamond is dead to him in The Jazz Singer.

Yet we’re too stupid to stay mad at the Mets or leave them before they’re done losing more than once every decade or so. Thus, we stayed to watch Recker sew back a shred of our dignity by setting down his next three batters and John Buck hit his utterly unapplaudable home run to give us a final score of 13-2, a tally that was tangibly better than 13-0 only in that brought to mind another blowout the Mets absorbed — their first, actually. I wasn’t on hand for it, having made the mistake of not being born as of April 18, 1962, but I cherish it, thanks to Leonard Shecter’s account and description in Once Upon The Polo Grounds:

It was a cold and miserable day at the Polo Grounds and the Mets were down 15-5 with two out in the ninth. A fan stood in the aisle in right field, his shoulders hunched against the cold, his hands deep in his coat pockets. He jiggled up and down for warmth and all the time he was rooting. “C’mon,” he said, almost to himself. “C’mon, one more run, just one more run.”

“Why one more run?” he was asked.

“That would make it six,” he said. “Then you could say if they got any pitching they woulda won.”

The fan turned back toward Don Zimmer, who was at the plate. “C’mon,” he said. “Just one more.”

Zimmer popped up to the catcher.

The fan shrugged his shoulders. “Ah well,” he said. “I’ll be back tomorrow. No use giving up now.”

As a matter of fact, I will be back at Citi Field Monday night, with every possible chance that I’ll be racking up my tenth consecutive loss. But Shaun Marcum was 0-9 as of last week and he stopped his streak. And Shaun Marcum is pitching versus Arizona!

Like the man said, no use giving up now.

(P.S. Joe took the cap off his pen and reopened his scorebook for the bottom of the ninth. I knew he would.)

If you want more heartfelt Mets talk from a crazy person, listen to the interview and audience Q&A Jay Goldberg conducted with me last week at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse when he graciously invited me over to discuss The Happiest Recap. Find the podcast here or on iTunes.

And when you see one, get yourself a 2013 All-Star Game program to read what I have to say about David Wright and John Franco as part of a wonderful article on Mets captains through the years, written by Jon Schwartz. The whole thing is a worthwhile $15 investment, actually (you can find my thoughts starting on page 269).

13 comments to Once Upon Citi Field

  • Kevin from Flushing

    I was out there with you guys, tempted to leave when it was 5-0 in the 7th, forced to stay the course once it was 11-0. What are you gonna do?

    Congrats on the all star program!

  • Steve D

    The Mets must immediately cease and desist from marketing Harvey and Wheeler together. No more “Super Tuesdays” for the foreseeable future, please. It is not fair to either one at this point and will put undue pressure on Wheeler. Met fans are smart and will not fall for it now anyway. Hope Warthen can’t screw him up as much as they screwed up Ike Davis…but with the Mets you have to assume the worst.

  • metsfaninparadise

    I remember that doubleheader in 2002. I knocked a Mike Piazza statue off my table and broke his bat, and was convinced I’d jinxed them….What about “Wheel in the Sky”?

    Good luck to both you and Marcum tomorrow.

  • AaronMo

    When it got to 11-0 I was put in mind of a game that ended that way, my last at Shea — featuring the ejections of Carlos B. and then-new skipper Jerry M., and Ollie Perez getting shown up by an unexpectedly effective journeyman knuckleballer named R.A. Dickey.

  • Andee

    I was afraid of this. Not that Wheeler would have some bad outings — I knew he would, because all rookies do. Shelby Miller had one the other day that was much worse than Zack’s. In Matt Harvey’s third start, he coughed up five runs and the fans in San Diego were laughing at him. But people don’t remember that. They remember Harvey being an instant ace, and it just wasn’t so.

    And let’s face it, Wheeler is a Las Vegas lab experiment. I know people think I’m being Chicken Little or something when I say this, but it’s a shitty, shitty place for developing pitchers, and the effects linger after callup for almost all pitchers. I mean, Rafael Montero is walking lots of guys there. Montero. A guy who had pinpoint control up until now.

    It’s the equivalent of gaslighting pitchers, to make them pitch in LV and tell them their problems are all in their head. They’re not. The very last thing they should ever do is send him back there. He already learned, through painful experimentation, how to pitch there. Learning how to pitch in the majors is a very different story, and I think that because of the Vegas factor, it’s going to take him longer to adjust than if he were coming out of Buffalo. But there’s really no substitute for giving him time to iron it out.

  • Chris Galligan

    I stayed till the end ,which is a hard and fast rule, explaining to my four year old the virtues of not giving up. I was reminded of the anniversary and actually started day dreaming about being present for another 10 run eighth . Here’s to hoping that the photos and ticket stub(stubhub paper;Rats!) will someday have the cache we covet. Wheelz up sure was fun till they came off.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    Hope you got your bobble head so it wasn’t a completely wasted afternoon!

    As we all know, the Mets have been hyping Wheeler for the past two years – already calling the trade a steal on the part of Sandy instead of a “potential” steal which would be more aptly put. And they outdid themselves in promoting what their future would be (not could be) with the promoting of “super Tuesday”.

    That is really the essence of many of our complaints – like the Yankees did with Joba Chamberlain, the Mets too are already pronouncing him as possible hall of fame material. At the beginning there was no talk about a good middle of the rotation starter – they were talking in terms of him being an ace or number two in the rotation.

    No one denies Zack has electric stuff. But there are also obvious flaws with control and consistency that has plagued him in his near four years of professional ball with no improvement as he progressed up the chain. We’ve seen how far off the plate he can be and the amount of pitches he absorbs in a relatively small amount of innings. Part of his success against Atlanta was Braves hitters swinging and missing at pitches that weren’t deceptively good but simply off the plate. Same with the first inning on Sunday – the Nats were swinging at pitches in the dirt.

    He needs work but what I’m really afraid of again, is the pressure of the hype mentioned above. Zack is also a public relations sell to spin the credibility of the front office’s “rebuilding” and that includes the justification of trading away a still all-star quality outfielder with nobody to replace him and throwing in the towel back in 2011. That’s too much weight to place on any lad’s shoulders no matter what one might feel about the ethical integrity behind the trade.

  • Dave

    Anthony Recker’s sure no Rob Johnson, that’s for sure.

  • March'62

    I still think they’ll be fine once Milner comes back.

  • My choice would be “This Wheel’s on Fire.” Assuming, as I do, that he’ll come to merit it.

    And my favorite line from 1962 is the fan who, leaving their Opening Day loss, said “Same old Mets.”

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I was actually glad it went way beyond 5-0 at the end of 7. At that point the game seemed eerily similar to the Sunday game just before last year’s All Star break, a listless 7-0 defeat which at the time seemed like, well, just a loss in a general procession of more wins than losses. Then came all the games After the All Star Break. So I was glad to see yesterday beoome a full fledged blowout, and maybe, well, just a loss.

  • Lenny65

    Wheeler will be fine, we’re just all Harvey-happy right now.

  • Ramblin' Pete

    I stayed to the bitter end – my companions left three runs into Lyon’s brutal stint when a full scale brawl broke out in our section (421), spilling into our row. Security was absolutely nowhere to be found; interesting since merely sitting in an unoccupied seat in one of CIti Field’s “luxury” sections usually results in a battalion of guys in vests surrounding you and offering to escort you off the premises within thirty seconds…

    The eight year old kid in my group didn’t even get his bobblehead , as the tickets we had – won at a school auction of all things – turned out to have been voided and re-sold on stub-hub the week before… By the time we finally made it inside they were gone, as was Wheeler’s command.

    Can’t help feeling that the relentless 24/7 hype machine of radio/cable/internet/media overload in this day and age is making expectations for Zack and other young players somewhat unrealistic. Was it like this for Matlack or Gentry?

    As a theme song I’ll offer that ol’ chestnut “The Wheel” by the Grateful Dead:

    “The Wheel is turning and you can’t slow it down;
    You can’t let go, and you can’t hold on;
    You can’t go back and you can’t stand still;
    If the thunder don’t get you, then the lightning will…”