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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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Pattern Recognition

Years ago, I was driving through the night with some unfortunate passenger, on a road trip that was passing through northern North Carolina or southern Virginia or some similar locale. The description of the passenger has to do with the fact that we were listening to the Mets, and in this analog, pre-At Bat era we were out of radio range.

I refused to stop listening, even though the static was rising to painful peaks and atmospheric wow and flutter were killing two out of three words. When a protest was lodged, I insisted I could follow what was going on, and when that was met by doubt I proved it. No, I couldn’t follow the nuances of each play, or even differentiate between, say, a single and a batter being safe on an error. But I knew if a batter had reached, if an out had been made, if a run had scored.

It wasn’t the words so much as it was the rhythms and pitch of the announcer’s voice — back then it was either Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen or Gary and Howie Rose. Higher and faster narration meant something potentially big was happening; lower and slower was routine. That primed me to hunt for clues, and a third of the words were enough to fill in the rest of what had happened.

I didn’t have better ears than my passenger, just a lot more experience: I’d listened to the Mets so many times that I had an extensive library of calls committed to whatever shadowy part of memory handles pattern-matching. That part of my brain was pretty good at recognizing the sound signature of a single, a double up the gap, a home run, a routine fly, a managerial dispute and most every other ballgame component.

Last night I realized I can do the same thing with a televised game. We’re back on Long Beach Island for our annual week of sun, surf and sand, and game time found me out on the porch, eating dinner with family and our friends. I had recap duty, but I decided I could probably handle that by having one of the little bedroom TVs on about 10 feet away from where I was sitting. I couldn’t hear the game, and the TV was a small square, but I could see and thought that would be enough.

I could have guessed this, but baseball has a visual library too, one you can recognize at a glance if you’ve seen your share of games. Mostly you’re looking at the pitcher’s back and the reactions of whoever’s just been involved in events. Pattern-matching, though, depends on a small slice of the game: the important sequences are the transitions between the behind-the-pitcher shot and whatever’s next. If the shot switches to the infeld and someone’s vaguely hunched, you’ve got a routine grounder. If the shot jumps to half the outfield and folks are standing still, you’ve got a lazy fly. If the first thing you see after the pitcher’s back is the entire outfield and someone running, you pay attention.

With the Mets, that last shot was happily common. I couldn’t reliably see the ball, but I got used to seeing the full panorama of Citi Field’s outfield (such as its architectural missteps allow) and a Phillie hurrying to a location he wasn’t going to reach. I saw Asdrubal Cabrera erase a brief-lived Philadelphia lead, and Kelly Johnson put the game out of reach by launching a ball to the shoals of the 7 Line’s orange sea, and Neil Walker add to the festivities.

And I saw Yoenis Cespedes threaten my fellow al fresco diners of the Acela Club. That was fun, even peering through the New Jersey night. First there was a whole lot of Jeremy Hellickson‘s back and Cespedes lashing at balls, followed by the things Cespedes does to reset himself: a little stutter-step away from the point of contact, then a knock of the bat on each heel — bap, bap — before digging back in and cocking a reloaded bat, (By now I’ve got a Cespedes visual library too.) Cespy even lost a bat and nearly beheaded Noah Syndergaard, to add a little variety. At the end of the at-bat came contact, and the SNY cameras pulling way back, tracking fast enough that the left-fielder was blurry, then climbing hastily so that the outfield wasn’t visible at all, just the upper reaches of the foul pole.

Good lord did that get smacked, I thought, and then leaned forward, trying to figure out if it had been fair or foul. Half of a video board’s message told me the good news, changing from 91 MPH FASTBALL to ME RUN. Which meant Cespedes didn’t have to run but could trot.

The routine shots brought good news too: I saw plenty of shots of Syndergaard’s back that needed no transition, because Philadelphia batters wouldn’t be concerning themselves with the bases. I saw glum Phillie get-togethers on the mound. I saw fans waving and yelling happily. I saw Met helmets getting ceremonially snatched off heads. I saw a rout, and that’s fun to witness, even if it’s at a slight remove.

15 comments to Pattern Recognition

  • eric1973

    Sounds like how I watched the Ali-Berbick fight on Wometco without a subscription, and I believe they had some Met games on WHT as well.

  • Harvey

    I believe that last night’s game was the first ever in which the Mets hit the home run cycle (solo, 1 on, 2 on and grand slam). Quite a feat.

    • JerseyJack

      It would be interesting to find out if that’s true, Harvey. Someone could surely check (ie. Greg or Jason?). Gary Cohen called it a “royal flush” last nite !

  • So true about listening on the radio. I have an old bank freebee AM radio out in the garage and it gets worse every year (antenna broke off this off season so I rigged one). I still hang close by it and when the signals really bad (80% of the time) I get snippets, and have to go by the tone of the voice. If I hear yelling I strain to hear more. It always seems to pick up the yelling. And it’s always the most important part that gets garbled.
    Howie yelling: “And Cespedes lines a rope to ~~~fuzz~~~ that ~~~~fuzz~~~~fuzz~~~~ and the Mets ~~~~fuzz~~~~ here in the 5th at Citi Field!”

  • Greg Mitchell

    Team still can’t field a regular lineup. Today, after getting four days off and two days back, Walker sitting with back flare-up. Yoenis sitting with quad flare-up. Gsellman (sp -1?) on the mound. As I said earlier, weak schedule the team’s best friend.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    That stuff about listening thru the static reminded me of the old George Carlin routine about listening to the Spanish Language broadcast of Yankee games as a kid. He couldn’t speak the language but could more or less follow along by the voice inflections and certain key words.

  • Greg Mitchell

    The following is just a general point on claims that so-called “babying” of starting pitches is such a horrid thing–I’m NOT making any particular point about Mets and pitch counts this season.

    Without doing any research, my belief was that while SPs throw far fewer innings these days in five-man-rotation seasons, and with so few CGs, most of the really good ones in the past 40 years last longer in their careers and actually throw more innings than the great ones of the ’50s and ’60s–who tended to be done as quality pitchers by the age of 35.

    So, some stats below (along their age for last good season). Note how the career innings actually rise as years pass, despite all those CGs they logged, along with the age of their last high-quality season.

    Era of the complete game:

    Koufax 2323 (30)
    Drysdale 3432 (31)
    Marichal 3507 (33)
    Gibson 3834 (37)
    Jim Maloney 1849 (29)
    Ford 3170 (36)
    McLain 1800 (25)
    Lolich 3600 (31)
    Bunning 3760 (36)
    Hunter 3400 (32)

    Transition to 4-man rotations etc.

    Carlton 5217 (39)
    Seaver 4783 (40)
    Jenkins 4500 (39)
    Palmer 3900 (36)
    Blyleven 4970 (39)
    Ryan 5386 (44)

    5-man rotation only, fewer CGs

    Maddux 5008 (38)
    Johnson 4135 (41)
    Glavine 4413 (40)
    Mussina 3562 (39)
    Martinez 2827 (33)
    Smoltz 3473 (40) several years in pen
    Morris 3824 (37)
    Pettitte 3360 (38)
    Schilling 3269 (39)
    Colon 3132 (43)

  • Eric

    Last night was gratifying, but today, back to crossing our fingers. Gsellman, Montero, and Lugo. Hot hitters resting with chronic injuries.

  • LeClerc

    Montero vs Fernandez ? Gsellman without Cespedes, Walker ?

    Start a four game series with the Prado, Yellich, Realmuto, Ozuna Marlins with two rookies?

    Here’s hoping that resting now doesn’t equal PLENTY OF REST in October.

    • Eric

      It’s going to be a bumpy ride…and that’s if the Mets are game and play up. With all their handicaps, there’s no such thing as a weak opponent for the Mets.

  • Dave

    Had to laugh at the listening through the static description. Can’t tell you how many times my wife has said “you can’t tell me you have any idea what’s happening in this game with this much static,” and I explain the same thing…a few key words here and there, the vocal inflections…after listening to a zillion games, you catch on.

  • eric1973

    You know you’re in trouble when the healthiest guy on your team is Travis d’Arnaud.