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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 Elemental Pleasures

For at least one day the Mets, those egregious laughingstocks, were anything but: they stomped on the Giants to break their losing streak in convincing fashion. 9-5? That’s definitely a way to make a living.

Yoenis Cespedes led the charge, smacking two home runs and just missing a third, a just-missed that may or may not have led to me reacting too excitedly and slopping booze into the hair of my innocent child. (Sorry kid!) Bartolo Colon was his usual unflappable self, foiling both the Giants and Terry Collins‘s attempt to let the arson-prone wing of the bullpen loose at a perilously early hour. And tip the cap to Alejandro De Aza, whose three-run homer turned the game’s drama from potentially heart-stopping to merely entertaining.

Winning cures everything, it’s said, but it can’t stop time. It’s probably too late for the Mets to recover from what’s felled them. But watching today, I found I was OK with that — I’ve passed beyond denial and anger and bargaining and whatever the other stages are to find myself at acceptance, and to remember that acceptance can bring more happiness than you might guess.

It made me happy to watch Colon at work, doughily imperturbable as ever and doing the thing he’s mastered as many times as was necessary: throw subtle variants of a fastball. It seems so simple — add or subtract a bit of spin, a little sink, a mile per hour or so — until you remember that nobody else can do it. Heck, occasionally Bartolo can’t do it either.

It made me happy to watch Asdrubal Cabrera in his element at shortstop. No, Cabrera’s range isn’t astounding and his arm isn’t pure lightning. But like another non-darling of defensive statistics who got name-checked enough not to need another mention, Cabrera’s instincts are peerless. (At least afield — I’m not quite sure what happened on the basepaths in that all-too-Metsian first inning.)

I didn’t write down when the play happened, but I found myself smiling as Cabrera ranged into the hole to flag down a grounder, then turned without interrupting his momentum and hit Neil Walker‘s glove right at the second-base bag.

It didn’t make SportsCenter — heck, it’s not even an MLB video highlight from the game — but it was the kind of play that only seems routine because the man making it knows his craft and has honed it through dogged repetition. Cabrera knew where he was in relation to second base, where his momentum was taking him, how much time he had to get the runner, the angle needed for the throw, and how much he had to put on that throw. Except he processed all that in far less time than it took me to write it — it was already baked into muscle memory. See ball, run to it, throw, record out — that’s a quietly platinum-gloved play from a newly platinum-haired shortstop.

And of course it’s always fun to see someone who’s good at demolishing baseballs do so. Oh how we’ve missed Cespedes, in the standings and in the lineup and in the pleasure centers of our baseball-wired brains. He looks whole again, dangerous again, and that means our battered team feels closer to being the same way.

And there are more esoteric pleasures too — like Josh Smoker finding his place in The Holy Books. Heck, that one even came in a loss. I’d gone to bed before Smoker’s debut Friday night, brought low by exhaustion and disgust, and in the morning the question I most wanted answered wasn’t whether the Mets had won — it seemed safe to bet that they hadn’t and it didn’t really matter if they somehow had — but whether Smoker had gotten the call.

Smoker was up earlier this year, activated for the second game of a doubleheader, but was only glimpsed occupying a perch in the Citi Field bullpen. When he went back down a few hours later, he joined the ranks of the Mets’ ghosts, a roster that … well, haunts me is both the glib thing to write and the accurate assessment.

For a time, Smoker had become the 10th man to be eligible to play for the Mets but exit the active roster before entering a game. That list begins with Jim Bibby (1969 and 1971) and also includes Randy Bobb (1970), Billy Cotton (1972), Jerry Moses (1975), Terrel Hansen (1992), Mac Suzuki (1999), Anderson Garcia (2006), Ruddy Lugo (2008) and Al Reyes (also 2008). If you’re wondering, guys who escaped ghost status by appearing as a Met in a later year don’t count. Nor do odd cases such as that of Justin Speier, who suited up but was never on the active roster. (Call Speier a ghost of a ghost if you like.)

For me, the guys who stand out on that list are Cotton and Hansen — as the lack of links hints, they’re the only Met ghosts who never played a big-league game for any other team. They’re the guys who would have given their eyeteeth to be Moonlight Graham — or, in Metsian terms, to be Joe Hietpas, the emergency backstop who never batted but caught the final half-inning of 2004, beginning and ending his big-league career over 10 minutes or so. (Which also means Hietpas recorded the second-to-last putout in the history of the Montreal Expos.) If you think Art Howe never did anything good, keep it to yourself in the Hietpas household.

Some of the Mets ghosts have baseball cards — Randy Bobb got half a rookie card, while Terrel Hansen grins out from a Stadium Club glossy. I’ve made a full card for Bobb and ones for Bibby and Moses — Moses has to be the oddest ghost, a veteran catcher who was active for nearly all of April 1975 yet somehow never got into a game.

And I’ve made a card for Billy Cotton, called up amid a torrent of backstop injuries at the end of ’72 but denied playing time in favor of Duffy Dyer and the equally wet-behind-the-ears Joe Nolan. I vaguely remember Terrel Hansen leaning on a dugout railing in ’92, unaware that was the closest he’d get to the Baseball Encyclopedia; according to rumor, Cotton got one maddening step further, reaching the on-deck circle one night in September ’72 only to watch as the batter ahead of him hit into an inning-ending — and for Cotton, a career-short-circuiting — double play. I can’t confirm that, and hope that it’s a story that grew in the telling. Because Cotton’s story is gloomy enough.

These days, I sigh in relief when the roster of Met ghosts shrinks back to nine. I rooted for Matt Reynolds to escape extra-special ghost status in the postseason, then waited anxiously for him to make his belated debut this season. When Smoker went down after his stint as the 26th man, I crossed my fingers that he’d come back up — that he wouldn’t hurt his elbow or become suddenly ineffective or suffer any of the other woes that can befall a pitcher, and which in his case might have kept him from ever returning.

Happily, none of those things happened. Josh Edgin went down and Josh Smoker came up, and while I was asleep he gave up two hits and an earned run while recording just one out. I’m sure that isn’t what Smoker visualized when he let himself think about his big-league debut, but I bet Billy Cotton or Terrel Hansen would have taken it. I awoke to learn Smoker had arrived, and that made me happy too.

13 comments to The Elemental Pleasures

  • Michael G

    “Doughily imperturbable” — nice!

  • Wheaties54321

    This season of blah-ness would all of a sudden become a heckuva lot more interesting and fun if the Metsies won the next four straight. It could happen – right?

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Jason, you now have a Smoker and a Stoner in The Holy Books. You need a Boozer to complete the triumvirate. Unfortunately, there are no Boozers currently in the majors or minors. There is a 19-year-old named Will Boozer at Stephen F. Austin University, but he doesn’t appear to be a prospect.

    I hope you find your Boozer someday.

  • Greg Mitchell

    Walker to miss entire Cards series due to wife giving birth. Also: Niese scheduled to start Tuesday game.

  • LeClerc

    Granderson and Bruce please take notice:

    Cespedes (3)+ Ruggiano (1)+ DeAza (3) = 7 RBIs

    That’s what we’re looking for.

  • Dave

    How right you are about Cabrera, Jason. There are no statistics that fully measure fielding. Flores didn’t make a ridiculous amount of errors as I recall, but Cabrera just *knows* how to play the position. Makes a huge difference.

  • Matt in Richmond

    I’ll 3rd that. I don’t care what the advanced metrics say about either of them. Watching Cabrera & Walker man the middle infield has been one of the real pleasures of this season.

  • eric1973

    Agreed. Two positions we never had to worry about… Solid.

  • Jacobs27

    Solid is a good word. They’re both steady–Cabrera’s errant throw to prolong the 8th the other night was unusual for him–they turn the double-play with smooth assurance and they come in on the ball well. Generally, if they can get to it, they know what to do with it. That’s definitely underrated in defensive metrics.

    In other news, great win today. Crisp game, nice day at a nice park.