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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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Immortals at Play

It’s a long way from Matty vanquishing Athletics in 1905 to MadBum mowing down Royals in 2014, though if you’ve pitched yourself into the same conversation, the gap grows short. In Game Five of the current World Series, Madison Bumgarner threw a shutout for the ages, certainly one that would have fit comfortably within the age of Christy Mathewson throwing three of them at the same opponent in the same week with the championship of the baseball world on the line.

Going nine and allowing nothing in a World Series game has always been impressive but you used to need to toss a trio of such games to really stand out historically. Today, a CG ShO is as rare as a fence that doesn’t eventually get moved in at Citi Field every couple of years. Whether the larger-than-his-competition Giant pitcher in question roams the earth in misty legend or high-definition living color, posting zeroes from beginning to end makes for an enormous World Series feat.

Tonight in Kansas City, mere mortals (performances pending) will take the mound for Game Six. When their and presumably their relievers’ work is done, either the Giants will have wrapped up their third title in five years or the Royals will stay alive with a chance to capture their second in thirty. When at last there’s no more baseball, come Wednesday or Thursday, then you’re talking about a really long way, the one that winds from the last out of the World Series to the first pitch some Brave throws to some Met on March 4 in games that won’t count but we’ll greet them as if nothing matters more.

Until then, after the Giants and Royals are done, there’s the opportunity to catch up on other things. I’ll recommend two.

If your DVR has been patiently waiting for the offseason to grab your attention, then go watch those installments of The Roosevelts you recorded in September. Or if you didn’t, go find the entire PBS series on iTunes. Deprived of any reason to turn to SNY at 7:10 every night (except for instinct), I just got around to knocking off all seven episodes of Ken Burns’s latest epic, which follows Teddy’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962, the same year the Mets and I were born. In between, there’s a lot of Franklin, which is appropriate. Franklin Roosevelt of the Hyde Park Roosevelts was elected to four terms as president of these United States; transformed the executive branch; led his nation through the most dire of times; and visited Ebbets Field.

FDR also visited the Polo Grounds, for the 1936 World Series between two of his home state’s three teams, the Giants and the Yankees. That part wasn’t in The Roosevelts. I read about it in Richard Ben Cramer’s 2000 biography of Joe DiMaggio. It was the second game of the Series, a blowout in the wrong direction (Yankees 18 Giants 4). Late in the festivities, an announcement was made: the remaining crowd was instructed to “stay at their seats until one special fan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, could get to his open limousine and ride off the field through the center field gates.”

The Giants’ last licks ensued. Their final batter, Hank Leiber, sent one to very deep center field, which at the Polo Grounds meant very deep and very near the staircase to the clubhouse. DiMaggio, an incipient national phenomenon by the fall of ’36, raced back there, a good 475 feet from home plate, and nabbed Leiber’s ball in over-the-shoulder fashion. Running as he had and being as close to the exit as he was, Cramer wrote Joe “just kept running, through the notch in the fence, up the steep stairs that led to the players’ clubhouse, in deepest center field.

“Then he remembered — Roosevelt!

DiMaggio had not only the last out in his glove but the presence of mind to halt his departure in deference to the fan-in-chief’s. Cramer describes the rookie center fielder “stiffen[ing] to attention” as FDR’s car rounded the warning track that would lead him to the Polo Grounds exit. All eyes in the house were on his vehicle, “save for Roosevelt’s eyes. He looked to the stands, then to the stairway, until he found Joe…and then FDR lifted a hand in a jaunty wave from the brim of his hat. And from the crowd there was a final, rippling cheer, as the Dago boy from Fisherman’s Wharf was saluted by the President of the United States.”

Eight years and two elections later, the president was still president, seeking to continue as such in the face of continuing world war and inevitable personal deterioration. As Burns’s documentary retells it, FDR was not a good bet to live through a fourth term, but nobody knew that for sure in the fall of 1944. What Roosevelt knew was he had to campaign yet again to win yet again, and for more than four hours on one terribly cold and rainy October day, the ailing 62-year-old incumbent submitted himself to a strenuous 51-mile, open-car motorcade through four of New York’s five boroughs. One of them was Brooklyn, where he entered, for the first time, Ebbets Field.

There was no World Series at Ebbets that fall, but there was a rally. Nobody knew how to reach out and touch voters prepared to rally to his cause — they were chanting “We Want Roosevelt!” — the way FDR did. Newsreel footage Burns features captured the president’s sentiments:

“I’ve got to make a terrible confession to you. I come from the State of New York and I practiced law in New York City, but I have never been to Ebbets Field before. I rooted for the Dodgers! And I hope to come back here someday and see ’em play. Thanks ever so much.”

There’s something about that desire to watch the Dodgers going unfulfilled and knowing with full hindsight it would go unfulfilled and knowing further Roosevelt likely knew it would go unfulfilled that made it more poignant than a politician pandering to local interests should have been. In that moment, I thought about an FDR who didn’t die in office the following April. I imagined that he lived to see the Allied victory to conclusion and, with the stress of his job eased, didn’t succumb to a cerebral hemorrhage. I think about him in the back half of his fourth term taking it relatively easy. Maybe, with World War II successfully concluded, he steps down and hands the keys to the White House to Harry Truman.

However it happens, an FDR who lives beyond 1945 perhaps visits Ebbets Field again and watches Jack Roosevelt Robinson — the infielder named up the middle for Franklin’s cousin Theodore — play ball for the team he said he wanted to see play a home game. I can see Franklin Roosevelt and Jackie Robinson smiling and shaking hands before a game in 1947, while Branch Rickey looks on approvingly in the background. I can see the photograph showing up in at least one Ken Burns film, probably several. It might be no more than a footnote, but I can see another paragraph or two added to the great interwoven American story of the 20th century.

None of that ever happened, but The Roosevelts documents what did, so watch it if you get a chance. And if you want to know more about what else happened at Ebbets Field, pick up the recently released Rickey & Robinson by Roger Kahn, the great author’s final volume showing what it was like to be a reporter at the epicenter of the shifting plates of culture, sport and life.

It’s rich material Kahn — who did his share of ghostwriting on Robinson’s behalf, as Grantland’s Bryan Curtis explores — has covered in previous books, but this one promises a particularly sharp focus on “the true, untold story of the integration of baseball.” As Kostya Kennedy noted in Sports Illustrated, “the broad strokes…may be familiar to readers, but Kahn spins the tale well and delivers, along with a knowing perspective, memorable scenes.”

I’m not looking forward to months without watching baseball, but I am looking forward to reading Roger Kahn writing about baseball. He gave us The Boys of Summer and now he gives us something to get us through the oncoming winter.

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