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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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A Good Hair Day

In a few minutes, I shall require a diversion.
—Alan Swann, My Favorite Year

Where there is deGrom, there is delight. Stadiums can sit all but empty, standings can tease with cruelty, seasons can run out of sand as captains cede reluctantly to the inevitable, but when you have a young starting pitcher who doesn’t give up runs, there’s nothing in a cool September night that feels the least bit wrong.

Jacob deGrom, beyond bidding ever more convincingly for N.L. Rookie of the Year honors, has injected some much needed oomph into 2014 ever since he figured out how to affix his lower-case last name next to W’s rather than L’s. This campaign needed a deGrom to step forward, just as 2013 required a surfeit of Harvey Days, 2012 articulated a desire for Dickey and 2011 needed to be chased toward a batting title by four guys named Jose (Jose Jose Jose). Somebody needed to peel back the top layer of morass on a season that wasn’t going anywhere fast.

We needed an individual distraction from a collective disappointment. You get one of those and you have something to look forward to in the short term and, perhaps, work up a lather over for the long term. For three months, there wasn’t much. For two months and change, for a change, there’s been deGrom’s push into the upper tier of not just National League freshmen, but National League pitchers, period.

If you can’t have Kershaw and you can’t have Cueto, who would you rather have as of now? What Met hurler is easiest on the eyes, the nerves, the sense that you’re not going to fight the frizzies all the way home? Wheeler’s been wonderful, but man, can his starts be chores. Everybody else, pending Montero’s return, is old news. DeGrom is both new and improved.

Jacob goes long again.

Jacob goes long again.

Against the Rockies, he was Pert near impenetrable: 8 innings, 3 hits, no walks, nine strikeouts, no runs. Though his stuff isn’t quite so organically electric and his demeanor isn’t nearly as intense, this conquest of Colorado recalled the night Matt Harvey blew nine zeroes past the same opponent last August. Harvey’s first shutout also became Harvey’s final win to date, so let’s not squeeze the comparison too hard — plus the Rockies minus Tulo and CarGo are, let’s be honest, barely Fruity Pebbles. Still, deGrom’s been aces for months. What a pleasure it is to have maybe developed another one of those. What a pleasure it was Tuesday night to be among the 4,500 or so in attendance to enjoy the latest steps in Jacob’s journey.

I’m not exaggerating that total downward, official gate of “21,035,” notwithstanding. I was willing to estimate maybe 5,000 on hand, but my pal Paul, who was kind enough to invite me to the purple whitewashing, literally laughed out loud when I floated that figure in the middle innings, drily labeling it “generous”. It was probably closer to 4,000, but what the hell, when the Mets are winning, what’s a few hundred phantom fans among friends?

But “21,035,” like Aristophanes, is ridiculous.

One of those at the game was a guy I started talking to or with or at on the 7 Super Express afterward. I wouldn’t call it a conversation as much as two people each speaking to the same general topic in close physical proximity to one another. The similarity of our bullet points drew us temporarily together: deGrom is great; Lagares is great; nobody was there. Turns out this guy, whose frame of reference for outstanding Met centerfielders is Agee (so you know he’s been around), was making his first trip ever “to the new ballpark”. His boss gave him two tickets; he couldn’t find anybody who wanted to join him, so he went alone. Whoever didn’t go, he declared, missed a helluva game.

That’s true. And this is truly puzzling: what kind of vibe have the Mets been putting out there these past six seasons that somebody who knows instinctively from Tommie Agee has avoided going to Citi Field until now? Judging by the accent, my fellow traveler didn’t just fly in for the game. He was all excited about the Super Express because it was going to let him change at Queensboro Plaza for the N. A tourist doesn’t get excited about the N, about deGrom, about Lagares. This was a Mets fan who has stayed away. Had I not been exiting at Woodside (and maintaining a safe interpersonal distance besides), I would’ve asked why it took him so long.

Seriously, why did it take him so long? His life may not allow for too many trips to ballgames, but you’d think once in nearly six years — 474 home games — he would’ve grown curious. Was he convinced by the early buzz that Citi Field was too darn expensive? (Had he not heard of 4 for $48?) Is he disgusted by ownership? Did he clamber off the Mets express after Agee was traded to Houston for Rich Chiles? He seemed too engaged to not care at all between 1972 and the present. Something tells me there are a lot of Mets fans like him…and a lot more could-be Mets fans like all those who told him, “no thanks,” when he unsuccessfully offered that other freebie around.

It’s going to take a while to fill that joint. The Mets being on a mini-roll isn’t going to move the needle. Should they stay in the groove for all of 2015 and move in on a playoff spot at this time next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see not that many more people than I saw Tuesday night. OK, a bigger bunch than 4,500, and certainly a more boisterous one, but if you watch teams that are in actual contention this September and see how many empty seats they’re contending in front of, you won’t be shocked if public perception lags behind pennant race reality if/when an actual pennant race transpires.

Forty-five years ago tonight, the Mets did what was considered impossible and moved into first place for the first time ever, sweeping a doubleheader from the Montreal Expos and enabling the Shea scoreboard operator to post those immortal words, “LOOK WHO’S NO. 1”. That was September 10, 1969. On September 9, a black cat crossed in front of the Chicago Cubs’ dugout to warn them they were about to be NO. 2. On September 8, Jerry Koosman came hard and inside on Ron Santo, in his way auguring far worse luck for the Cubs than any feline could transmit. The Mets won both of those games versus their archrivals. They were poised to make history against the Expos. It was, perhaps, the greatest, most legendary three-day stretch in the history of the New York Mets franchise.

And on Wednesday September 10, the Mets drew 23,512 to the twi-night doubleheader where first place awaited — which is to say if the 1969 Mets as they approached the apex of their Miracluousness were left holding an inventory of more than 30,000 unsold tickets, don’t hold your breath waiting for Citi Field to pack ’em in the day the Mets arrive in September in uncommonly good shape.

This past Monday, the Mets and everybody else released their 2015 schedules. Among the hardcore, if it wasn’t Christmas morning, it was at least Black Friday, everybody trying to decide what they wanted in the way of road trips and Interleague opponents. A couple of hours later, I noticed a poster-sized 2014 Mets schedule still hanging up at my LIRR station, taped to the wall to enable potential riders to take the train to the game. Nobody seemed to be perusing what was left of its contents and few were queuing up to change at Jamaica for Woodside en route to Mets-Willets Point.

You can hop aboard several modes of transit to get to Citi Field, but the Mets somehow couldn’t ride Jacob’s coattails (or pigtails) to the easiest of wins Tuesday. His offense provided him all of two runs, and when the manager decided asking deGrom to throw another dozen pitches was going to jeopardize his career, Jenrry Mejia set a fire he couldn’t stomp out. Bases got loaded, backup was summoned and two sighs of relief — one from Josh Edgin, the other from Jeurys Familia — were necessary to preserve the winning effort.

Missing from the lineup and all lineups for the duration was and will be David Wright, who will do something most people aren’t tempted to do these days: he’s going to take a seat at Citi Field. That shoulder of his that either was or wasn’t bothering him and was or wasn’t hindering him, well, guess what: it bothered him and it hindered him and now he’s going to rest it.

One wants to applaud his determination to play through the pain. In a short series of major import, that would be admirable. Down the stretch in a fierce battle for the playoffs, it would be monumental. When your team has been wallowing below .500 and marking time toward next year or whenever, you weren’t helping. Put another way, when does playing in a diminished state make you a better hitter and how does it boost your team’s chances of winning?

Gentle admonishment complete. Feel better, David.

If 2014 could get an addendum tacked on, the Mets inching to within 5½ games of the second Wild Card by securing their eighth win in eleven tries would be cause for captainly cortisone shots and playoff package come-ons (“Branden, you know my favorite month is October!”). But it’s seventeen games to 2015. Yes, fellow savants, I recall vividly what happened in the span of seventeen games in 2007, but step back and consider the Mets haven’t won a series from a winning ballclub since July 23 and, you know, get ahold of yourselves. Most of you probably have a grip already. Yet when your team almost consistently beats the Rockies and the Reds for a week, imaginations are prone to take a mighty big lead off first.

There’s nothing wrong with not losing to lesser competition and going out on a higher note than the one on which you came in, even if it doesn’t make for much of a marketing slogan. If the Mets can play over .500 the rest of the way — just go 9-8 — they will have responded positively to my previously stated mandate of winning more games than they lose following the All-Star break. I’d consider that a heartening accomplishment and something to build on, pending the usual budgetary mysteries that will undermine the offseason. It’s not as sexy as invoking 1973, but sometimes you gotta believe in incremental progress.

(Programming note: should the Mets sweep the Rockies; rise up and smite the Nationals this weekend; and then elbow the Marlins out of the way next week, forget everything I just said and start rubbing your copy of Screwball for karma because Wild Card here we come!)

19 comments to A Good Hair Day

  • Jascobs27

    This is of course, not at all my favorite year, but that is a great movie. Good call, Greg.

  • dmg

    my family and i were at the black cat game — it was electric, and i assure you shea was rockin’.

    as distressing as the news about the david was, i was heartened by, of all things, the post-game attaboy interview with d’arnaud. i don’t recall what softball burkhardt was slo-pitching him, but unbidden, travis mentioned matter of factly that he and the team were aware of where they were in the playoff chase, and that they still had a chance. it’s fun to hear the youngster say that, and mean it.

    not to go all crazy about it, but the kid has a point: the last hope of the mets season is here, in this homestand. if they sweep the rockies, they’ll be a mere 4 games under .500. then they face the nationals for 4 games and the marlins for 3. pass the marlins in the standings, and who’s to say which other wild card contenders might also melt away?

    oh gee, look at me: mathematically alive, etc. hell, it’s september. if these games aren’t meaningful, at least the team seems to want to finish strong. .500 or bust!

  • Dave

    Mets have as much a chance at the 2014 postseason as I have of playing shortstop on Opening Day of the just released 2015 schedule. But if the season can at least end with some young players giving us a reason not to dread 2015, I’ll be at least a tiny bit happy.

    Remember those 3 days in September 69 vividly. I often think that my black cat, Pandora, is a direct descendant.

  • argman

    Fruity Pebbles…
    Crowds in the 60’s and 70’s in general weren’t as large as they got to be in the 80’s and beyond. I think that’s why they scheduled doubleheaders, etc, to drive up attendance. And as great as 1986 was, 1969 will always be the most magical Mets season.

  • Harvey

    With all the talk about the Yankees post-season chances, the Mets are in the exact same position as they are, 5 1/2 games out of the wild-card with 4 teams to pass. Doubt they will do it, but 11-6 will get them .500!

  • RodPell

    Why is Hamilton, with his .260 BA and .300 OBP considered the leader in ROY. HECK, even d’Arnaud has better numbers!

  • Dave

    The second wild card contenders play in a sort of round robin this month, except for the Brewers. Seven games against the Nats is a hard road for our heros.

  • Inside Pitcher

    Aristophanes – I love it!

  • Art Pesner

    Was at both games, by myself, the past two nights. Not surprised by Monday’s crowd, but slightly taken aback by even less people being in the stands to see deGrom. At least 2015 will have Harvey Day, deGrom Day, Wheeler day, and eventually Thor Day.

  • kd bart

    Down here in Atlanta, despite being in the race for the wild card, the Braves have trouble drawing more than the low 20s during the week. Draw well on the weekends. Draw peanuts weeknights. Moving to Cobb won’t change that that much.

  • RoundRockMets

    It’s a known fact that Lincoln loved mayonnaise

  • Ken K. in NJ

    The press conference was painful to watch, why did this require a press conference anyway?

    I’m old enough too to remember where I was 9/10/69. In a bar in Bay Ridge. Unlike Shea, it was packed. Like Shea, it was raucous. One of my fondest Met Memories.

    Pipin’s Pub, to be exact. Unlike Shea (and me in Brooklyn, for that matter)it’s still there.

  • The Jestaplero!

    THe reason people don’t go to Citi (even if they hold paid-for tickets, as the bogus attendance claims reveal) is because the team hasn’t won and the prices are not a good value.

    Example: a friend of mine had seasons tickets in the second row, center in Loge at Shea. For the same price they had to move to Promenade in deep right field.

    FOr opening day last year, I paid $100 for a Caesar’s level seat. It was towards the back, with that incredibly annoying overhang that prevents you from seeing flyballs. At Shea, those equivalent seats at the back of Mez and Loge were $5.

    At Shea I would occasionally treat myself with a field level seat right behind the plate for about $80. Those are of course untouchable, $500+ tickets now.

    Citi just isn’t as much fun as Shea. It isn’t raucous. People aren’t into the game. The place is designed to divert one’s attention AWAY from the game and towards the concessions.

    The real fans, the middle-class and working-class fans the Wilpons dared to shame for not flooding the gates of their way-overpriced baseball-themed mall to see their San Diego-payroll team, are priced out and stay at home. Gary, Keith, and Ron are a fine option.

    That all being said, if they build it (if they field a winning team), they will come.

  • open the gates

    So I took my kids to a Met game a couple of weeks ago. It was only their (and my) second game at Citi Field, and the last time, Johan was pitching at the top of his game. There was bound to be a letdown, and of course the Mets played dreadfully, not even looking like they were pretending to care. (That was the game where Dice-K came on in the ninth and gave up 3 runs in approximately 5 seconds to put the game officially out of reach. Let’s go home. Let’s go home.)

    I noticed two things:

    1) Like Jestaplero said, the stadium seems designed to distract from the, you know, actual ballgame. Granted the Mets were awful that night, but I’ve never seen such disengaged fans in all my years attending Met games. At one point the Mets were making a rare feeble attempt at a rally, and I started yelling “Let’s Go Mets!” My older son said, “Dad, please don’t embarrass us. No one else is doing that.” I’m sure a winning team will fix that, but the ambience doesn’t inspire.

    2) Heading down into the Jackie Robinson Rotunda (or whatever they call it), I felt like I was in a huge museum dedicated to Jackie Robinson. Nothing against the guy – he obviously is very important to baseball history, and played his home games not far from Queens – but he had nothing to do with the New York Flippin’ Mets. I felt like I was walking out of someone else’s home park. If you’re gonna make the place a museum, how about Tom Seaver? Gary Carter? Gil Hodges? Joan Payson, for crying out loud? The Wilpons seem to care more about the NL teams that flew the coop over half a century ago than they do about the NL team that’s here now, and does have some history of its own.

    Honestly, I enjoy the games much more just listening to them on the radio. Listening to Howie Rose and Josh Lewin kibitz just seems a lot more fun that the (to use Howie’s word) mishegoss that goes on in the actual ballpark.

  • Harvey

    Baseball attendance, (I mean fannies in the seats, not “paid”) is down all over for many reasons. One is demographics. Many immigrants are not into baseball. Kids prefer other sports or playing with their electronics. Rising ticket and concession prices and stagnant income keep many away or reduce the number of games they wind up attending.

    Finally, the increase in the time of games keep people away, especially from weeknight games with work or school the next day. Baseball will have to address this. It may not bother the diehards, but it does keep casual fans away.

    In the Mets case, add to this the futility of the past 7 or 8 years and the way the Wilpons seem to have done little to improve things and you wind up with 4,500 fans in the place.

  • Jesse

    The 4 for $48 deal put me over the top to go Sunday with the family. Bark in the Park will keep my daughter more than happy so long as we make a couple of trips from the Apple section up to the Porch to meet some pooches. And I’ve got the 7Line concession as well as Shake Shack right behind me. Who could ask for more on a Sunday afternoon in September?

  • APV

    Here’s my blunt answer about why I don’t go. I did four times between August 2009 and July 2010. Wasn’t 2010 the year the Mets went 47-34 at Citi? Well they were 47-32 when I wasn’t there, and the two games I went to the Mets lost by a combined score of 11-0. One of them was to the Braves and it was with Pelfrey pitching when people actually thought Big Pelf was good. Was so disgusted by his effort and the team’s approach to facing Tim Hudson that day (when they were in contention) that I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to attend the rest of the season. After the second-half collapse that year, I was so angry that I vowed never to set foot in Citi again until the Mets won 82 games in a single season. And I don’t expect to be there in 2015 either.

    Sorry, but when the team falls apart in second halves of seasons regularly and the ownership group decides to make up flimsy excuses to justify why they can’t pay key players (Dickey, Reyes), go out of their way to NOT bring in important trade pieces (2012), charge major-league dollars to boot, and generally cares more about the money they don’t have than being a playoff contender, tell me why I should go?

    Greg, two weeks ago a buddy (not Harrelson) and I went to see the Ducks play the Camden Riversharks in Central Islip. Spent $9 for a seat looking down the third base line. Ducks won 5-0, the atmosphere was fan- and family-friendly if a little cheesy, and there was a cool fireworks display after the game. Needless to say, I got way more than I paid for. Based on what I’ve seen since leaving Citi Field on July 10, 2010, and really since the park opened, I can’t say the same is true in Flushing.

    Oh, and for anyone who gets any ideas that I’m a fairweather fan, I started rooting for this team in 1982. They lost 98 games that year. I have been angry at this organization before but it’s only been the last five years that I’ve seriously questioned my fandom.

  • Rob

    They may be short on name value minus CarGo and Tulo, but those Fruity Pebbles featured five guys hitting at least .286 (with two more over .270), and three slugging over .500 (and Morneau at .488). Even adjusting for Coors’ inflated stats, that’s no cake walk. That was an elite performance…no watering down required (or deserved!)

  • Dak442

    It’s really very simple: the tickets are too damn expensive. I went to a lot of games, even when the team was terrible (which, let’s face it, is more often than not) when I could get a pair of decent seats for $30 and parking was $5.

    I am especially reluctant to buy tickets in advance, at these prices, when the weather is so dicey. I’ve been to three games this year: froze my ass off opening day, spent the following Friday with obstructed view in the Caesars Club avoiding rain, couple weeks ago in rainy mess. It’s very tough to lay out $100 in advance knowing unpleasant conditions are at least possible (if not probable in my case). Tired of eating expensive tix or being miserable, I resign myself to just buying tickets day of when I want to go. And then life and bad teams get in the way and I never end up going.