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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 Ghost of Ike Davis

There’s a scene in a church in one of my wife’s and my favorite movies, The Commitments. A lady, dutifully scraping away at the hardened wax countless candles have dripped in the name of divine intervention, rhetorically asks, “If ya didn’t do it for God, who would ya do it for?”

We were going to watch The Commitments on St. Patrick’s Day, but we didn’t get around to it. I was, however, thoughtful enough to stop flipping the ol’ remote long enough to provide us with a glimpse of a Mets Classic a few nights later. I don’t consider the game SNY was re-re-re-rebroadcasting all that worthy of enshrinement, but when Opening Day has yet to arrive, everything that evokes baseball is a Classic if you squint purposefully enough.

Anyway, Mike Pelfrey was pitching in this long-ago game, prompting Stephanie to ask me whatever became of Big Pelf. He’s a Twin, I said (assuming she knew I meant the Minnesota kind and wasn’t implying there are two tall pitchers roaming this earth licking themselves into submission). Then I noted that several of the Mets taking part in this well-worn 2010 contest shared a certain Pelfness.

Remember Mike Pelfrey? Probably, but I mean do you remember how large a share of mind Mike Pelfrey held in our collective head? He was one of those guys whose progress or lack thereof we ruminated the fudge out of. When’s Pelfrey coming up? Has Pelfrey shown enough to stay? When’s Pelfrey coming back? What’s wrong with Pelfrey? Pelfrey looks good! Pelfrey looks terrible. What’s with Pelfrey now?

If you were a friend or relative of Mike Pelfrey, that level of concentration regarding someone close to you would be understandable. If you weren’t, and you acted on your concern enough to proactively check on Pelfrey’s well-being, you’d likely earn yourself a sizable restraining order along with court-mandated therapy. “Who are you and what’s your business outside the Pelfrey home?” But in context, it’s perfectly OK to think deeply about fellows we don’t actually know because they play for the Mets. And we’re Mets fans.

And if ya didn’t do it for the Mets, who would ya do it for?

Everywhere I looked amid this Mets Classic, I could recall all the Pelfritude we put into that team. Our 2010 Fruitgum Company of a roster harbored several characters in whom Metsopotamia invested a little too much emotional capital. Some guys you accept as transient. Others you’re convinced you can pull fortune-altering improvement from if only you dwell on them hard enough. They become the center of your baseball-loving universe all out of proportion to their potential to help your cause. Four years ago, on that May night against the Giants, there was Pelfrey, who merely had to settle down and find his confidence. There was Jason Bay, who was bound to snap out of it if only he could relax. There was Angel Pagan, who only needed to get his head on straight to fully tap his abilities. There was Jeff Francoeur, who if he could discipline himself at the plate would put up numbers as immense as his smile.

And there was 23-year-old Ike Davis, who was fresh and promising and not one of those guys in 2010. Instead, Ike was a different kind of Met, a Met whose shortcomings we weren’t going to have to obsess over. He was going to run out to his position like David Wright and Jose Reyes. We were going to enjoy him every time we saw him. We were going to ride his inevitable development to better times, him and us, together.

That was four years ago. It’s four years later. Ike Davis is now one of “those guys”. On a good day he’s one of those guys. On a bad day, he’s the ghost of Ike Davis. You’re pretty sure that’s Ike you’re looking at out there, yet you can’t quite fathom that you’re seeing this person in a Mets uniform preparing to play for the Mets in this upcoming season.

You hope for everything to work out, yet you’re already resigned to one of his Mets Classics coming on in the not so distant future and someone who hasn’t been fully keeping up asking you, “Whatever became of Ike Davis?”

Ike turned 27 over the weekend, which in terms of math is perfectly logical, yet in terms of emotional aging seems almost impossible. Ike Davis has been haunting Citi Field practically forever. Only he and Wright remain from the eleven Mets Jerry Manuel deployed to defeat the Giants on May 7, 2010. Of course Manuel isn’t here anymore, either.

The continual Met presence of Ike Davis isn’t the story here, though. It’s more about something that’s been absent. At the moment, there’s no middle to Ike Davis’s career arc. He went from that rookie who was going to help lead us into a better era to a veteran struggling to put the pieces back together (while we still await the onset of that better era). His age feels immaterial. Ike, as we speak, is a not exactly old, not exactly young 27. He’s a ghostly 27. That’ll happen when you’ve disappeared a couple of times without ever actually going away.

Saturday he swatted a long home run. Sunday he needed to exit in the fourth inning due to what was described as fatigue. Ike’s calf demands caution, but there’s probably a touch of Ike fatigue within the Mets’ planning for 2014 and beyond. They treated him as if he had faded into the past-tense during the offseason. For three consecutive winters they invited Ike to Citi Field to model some updated jersey and chat up the media. He was as personable as he’d been promising. Why wouldn’t you want to show him off? This past winter, however, the only Ike talk in Flushing transpired in the third-person, as in, “How’s that trade of Ike Davis going?”

It didn’t go and Ike came to Spring Training, played a couple of games, got hurt and has played a couple more. He’s not, with a week to go, fully inked in as the projected starting first baseman for the season ahead, but there’s nobody obviously poised to take his spot. The Mets maintain a fistful of players who can play the position and contribute something valuable, but none is thought to add up to what Ike could be…not what he is, but what he could be. If he heals. If he doesn’t contract another malady. If his swing is fixed. If he doesn’t listen to too many voices. If he gets in a groove. If he doesn’t get down on himself. If he isn’t traded.

Four years after the only year when nothing went wrong for him, Ike Davis still beckons with potential. Of course he does. He’s only 27.

16 comments to The Ghost of Ike Davis

  • Inside Pitcher

    It seems like forever since we’ve seen this (photo taken July 29, 2010) –

  • metsfaninparadise

    Maybe it’s the Valley Fever. Msybe he’s actually the ghost of Conor Jackson

  • Dave

    Well, if it’s any consolation to Ike, we’ll never spend this much time agonizing over Zach Lutz. Just like Pelf should have appreciated that he got so much more attention from us than Pat Misch.

  • Steve D

    As I have been saying for nearly two years, Ike Davis needs a totally new swing…his swing and his approach to hitting is hideous. The fact that the NY Mets staff of coaches and doctors cannot help him in any way is not surprising, but he shows no initiative to change either. They sent him down for a while last year and said he was much better…then I saw his swing was almost exactly as it was before he left. It’s a shame, because he has good power.

  • rich porricelli

    Ike is like and old school Met..Looks great in the uniform. Tons of hope put on him..He takes his place on a long line of guys just like him..Bottom line- who the hell else do we have!!

  • Dennis

    Would love to see him turn it around. For whatever reason, he was never the same player after suffering that injury in Colorado, as he was on his way to a big season. These were his stats when he went down in 2011:

    129 AB 7 HR 25 RBI .302 BA .383 OBP .543 SLG

    Who knows what his career would be like if that had not happened?

  • open the gates

    Last year, the question was “What outfield?” This year, it’s “Who’s on first?” So far, doesn’t look like Davis, Duda, or Satin have made their move. Maybe we gotta hope that there’s a Rico Brogna in the organization somewhere. Or that Mr. Alderson maks a trade.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Fatigued?? The day after I turned 27 it was called Hung Over.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    If one looks at both Ike’s swing and his stats after he was called back from Vegas last year, one will notice two positives.

    The first obviously was that he hit well until injury brought him down. He hit .267 in July and August in 131 at bats. Had four home runs but will not go into his high OBP because that could very well have been a reflection of simply Ike being pitched around with nobody in the order to protect him.

    The second – and more important than any stat will show – had nothing to do with his swing but with his motion before his swing. He would lift his bat high up and then bring it back down before settling in for the pitch which was said to be off-setting his timing. When he came back from Vegas, though he was still lifting his bat up and down prior to swinging, it was noted he had reduced the length in which he was doing this which in turn gave himself a split second more to get ready for the pitch. His swing stayed the same – but he was doing less movement setting himself up for the swing.

    Perhaps pitchers caught up with this and began exploiting that weakness and it took this much time for Ike to figure it out. Let us hope so.

    The problem is Ike’s inability to hit left handed pitching. Though in his rookie year he creamed left handed pitchers, they quickly learned how to deal with that and even during his short stint in 2011 when he was hitting .302 for 36 games, he was batting just .163 against lefties whereas his rookie season he hit them even better than he did right handed pitchers, at .295.

    So what would be best is to have Ike be a platoon player against right handed pitching with at this point, Josh Satin playing first against left handed pitching whom through 92 at bats in his career is hitting .315 against them.

  • APV

    Pelfrey? The same guy who didn’t understand the concept of calling who takes a popup when the star third baseman and burgeoning first baseman converge in front of the mound? Yeah I remember him, and not in a good way either. Guess I’m saying I blame Pelfrey for the beginning of Ike’s troubles. Though in fairness Pelfrey had nothing to do with what happened last year. Still hate him though.

    • Joe D.

      Hi APV,

      Actually, it was noted that it was the catcher’s responsibility and Ronnie Paulino failed to make the call.

      • Seth

        Why would it be the catcher’s responsibility when the play is happening in front of the mound, right in front of the pitcher? I too remember Pelfrey standing there like a moron, watching the incident happen.

        That said, it’s unlikely an ankle injury can be blamed for all of Ike’s subsequent problems.

        • Joe D.

          Hi Seth,

          I remember when watching the game that the broadcasters said it was the job of the catcher on that pop-up – perhaps because the catcher is supposed to take charge of things and not the pitcher?

          Agree, it wasn’t the injury that created Ike’s problems. Combination of too many things including (but obviously not limited to) his hand movement which pitchers began to exploit to throw off his timing which might (I don’t know) explain why after his rookie season he suddenly was unable to hit left handed pitching for as noted, even during his hot start in 2011 he was hitting just .163 against southpaws.

  • mikeL

    i continue to blame both battery mates on that day.
    ike might have regressed without the injury, but we know for certain that he DID after getting hurt – and after the subsequent boot-gate.
    remember too that david wright was lost on that play.
    if i was the mets GM i would have sent pelf packing after his failure to protect two of the team’s best hitters.
    real GMs of course have to be a bit more pragmatic.
    i hope ike has a fast start – but if he doesn’t i hope he’s sent elsewhere. there’s been too much front office patience – with players treated as perennial rookie works-in-progress – even as they start to push 30.

  • […] out, the Mets had two runners on — and momentum. Soon enough they had the bases loaded and the ghostly presence of Ike Davis materializing in the flesh to remind Mets fans of what it’s like to not just be glad […]