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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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With Jay Bruce as Todd Zeile

Have you ever seen anything like Jay Bruce? Once, maybe. Like most precedents, it’s inexact. Unlike most precedents, this one had physical proximity going for it.

On Wednesday night — a night when the Mets’ starting pitcher pitched into the eighth instead of the fifth and the Mets’ manager used three relievers instead of all of them — Bruce let loose with a pair of home runs that accounted for five runs batted in and exquisite timing. The first clout, in the sixth, turned the score at Citi Field from an irritating Phillies 2 Mets 0 to a jubilant Mets 3 Phillies 2. The second, in the eighth, unlocked a 3-3 deadlock and put the Mets up, 5-3. Jay thought of everything, including breathing room for the inevitable post-Gsellman bullpen blip that made it 5-4. That was a final we could handle, just as the Bruce trade is a transaction we can bring ourselves to embrace.

Remember when we were wary of acquiring Jay Bruce last year and no better than resigned to keeping him this year? No, me neither. We all loved Jay Bruce being on the Mets starting with the moment it became counterproductive not to.

Bruce is productive. Other Met hitters are sporadic. A couple are dinged up — contusions of the wrist (d’Arnaud) and hyperextended elbows (Duda) are all the rage this spring — but only one lately seems prone to produce dingers, plural. That’s the Jay Hey Kid, as we’ve been calling him ever since I wrote the first part of this sentence.

If breathless cable news talking heads applied their talents to baseball, they’d declare that Jay Bruce launching those missiles is when he became president. But I’m not concerned with presidents here. I’m thinking precedents. Precedent for Bruce entered my headspace once Bruce’s bombs cleared Citi Field airspace. It helped that I had moments earlier been sharing actual space with another Met from another administration, though in my head, all Met time is continuous and encompassing. The Met whose example Jay was following without even knowing it was Todd Zeile, last seen swinging for a fence in these parts in 2004.

Why, you may wonder, am I bringing up Zeile a Home Run Baker’s dozen years later?

Let me count the whys:

• Zeile, like Bruce, was a run-producing veteran — five seasons of 90+ RBIs — who nevertheless didn’t receive much of a honeymoon period in the wake of his Met arrival. Todd dared replace the universally adored John Olerud when Olerud left (or was allowed to leave) for Seattle prior to 2000. Olerud was intrinsic to the dynamism of the 1999 Mets. The Mets could have brought in 1938 Hank Greenberg to succeed him and fans like me would have experienced a post-Olerud letdown.

• Zeile, like most of us, wasn’t Hank Greenberg. Or John Olerud. It might have taken a while to appreciate that Zeile being Zeile, like Bruce being Bruce, could help keep a good team going. The 2000 Mets were the first Flushing edition in fourteen years to go to the World Series. They got there with a first baseman who played 153 games, hit 22 homers and contributed greatly to the reassuring sense that his club usually knew what it was doing and — if nobody screwed up too badly — was sooner or later gonna figure out a way to win.

• Zeile, like Bruce if not most of us, had a game in which he homered twice and drove in five runs to account for all the Mets’ scoring and claim responsibility for the Mets winning. It happened for Todd in 2004 in a situation similar enough to Wednesday night’s. On June 2 of that season, at Citizens Bank Park, Todd came up with two out in the eighth, the Mets trailing Philly, 3-0. Vance Wilson was on third, Kaz Matsui on second. Zeile worked Ryan Madson to a full count. The end result wasn’t a walk, but a game-tying homer. Two innings later, the score was still tied, there were again two outs and Karim Garcia was on second. The pitcher in this encounter was Roberto Hernandez. The slugger once more was Zeile, who belted the future Met reliever’s two-one delivery out of sight and put the Mets up, 5-3, which would become the tenth-inning final. According to research I did a while back, the only previous case of a pair of Met home runs springing forth from the same bat that late and doing quite that kind of prodigious damage happened in 1967 at Shea, when Jerry Buchek walloped a three-run homer in the eighth and another three-run homer in the tenth to beat the Astros, 8-5. (Jerry blossoms were in full bloom that night.)

• But I suppose the most compelling reason I found myself thinking of Zeile while Bruce was enjoying his best Mets game to date was Todd was standing a few feet from where I was jumping for Jay. We were both in the SNY suite at Citi Field. One of us is probably invited to ballpark suites often. The other of us was not only happy just to be there but delighted to be given a couple of middle innings to watch the game with an authentic 2000 National League Champion New York Met.

Zeile does some work for SNY, so his presence wasn’t accidental let alone incidental. I was there because SNY reached out to a bunch of bloggers and such, which alone was delightful, given the spiffy accommodations (heated, with a 100% chance of Shake Shack and, oh yes, the Mets playing baseball directly in front of us). The fellow who set the whole thing up, an above-and-beyond director of communications named Kevin Sornatale, is to be commended for his outreach efforts. The suiteness, at field level behind home plate, was utterly fantastic.

Watching with and talking to Zeile for half an hour was above and beyond.

My main impression of Todd Zeile, sixteen seasons a major leaguer, was this was a baseball player who really felt the game. Still does, thirteen years after we last saw him, circling the bases against the about-to-be-extinct Expos in his and their final moments on the field. I love how his experiences have stayed with him, how, depending what he is asked, he is again…

a young catcher fiercely proud of his defense;

a converted third baseman, if not necessarily of his own volition;

a hardened professional who earned the right to be a little cynical about the business of sport;

a chronic trade-deadline target who learned to deal with being dealt;

a playoff junkie whose jones for another trip to October led him to New York on the cusp of the new century;

a determined competitor who can recite what went wrong in a long-ago playoff chase that didn’t quite work out;

a true romantic determined not to waste his last time ever batting drawing a walk (so he swung at a pitch up in his eyes and homered for the ultimate Toddy Ballgame moment);

and, with eleven MLB identities from which to choose, a Met in his heart. Zeile acknowledged his Cardinal roots, but said that everything about the Mets feels like family to him, and clearly he relishes the sense that he is at home within its hearth.

I like to say “we” when it comes to the Mets, fully cognizant of my conspicuous absence within the listings of Baseball-Reference. So I asked Todd what a player with more than 7,500 at-bats thinks of amateurs like me opting for the first-person plural to describe his team. It’s all right, he told me. When he’s on the air as an ideally neutral analyst, wearing a suit instead of a uniform, he hears himself saying “we,” too. Todd said he puts himself in “the Mets fan category” as much as any of the rest of us, no quotation-marks required.

One thing is markedly different in his wing of the family, though. When Bruce sent his second home run into orbit, every one of us Mets fans populating SNY’s suite leapt and screamed and high-fived. Every one of us but one. I turned and snuck a glance at Zeile. He just watched and knew. He didn’t have to cheer Jay Bruce. He had already been Jay Bruce.

Todd Zeile played with Mike Piazza in Los Angeles, Florida and New York. One of those periods is examined pretty closely in this book right here.

17 comments to With Jay Bruce as Todd Zeile

  • DAK442

    A pox on those pedants who rail against “we”.

    The fans live every day with the team for 6+ months (not to mention Spring Training and Playoffs). And spend a fair amount of the rest of the year thinking about them. We spend a fortune on tickets, our wardrobes are inordinately orange-themed, we obsess over them with fellow fans wherever we encounter them. I like the Mets more than I like most of my relatives. It IS we, dammit.

  • Dave

    Love the tying together various parts of Mets history like this, Greg.

    If anyone reading this thought that two of the most important contributors – hell, life savers – for this team in the first 2 weeks of the season would be Bruce and Salas, I want you to advise me on investments, because you can obviously see what the rest of us can’t. Yes, Salas is now showing signs of early wear and tear, but has been lights out most days, while Bruce is the Plan B who has arguably been more important than the guy who was always Plan A. It’s nice to have both…nobody can pitch around Yo with JB on deck.

  • mikeski

    Love these kind of entries. About the game, but not really about the game, more about The Game.

  • Dennis

    June 2, 2004 at Citizens Bank…..I was there. My Dad obtained some free tickets at work….great seats along the 1st base side. My son almost snagged a foul ball from a Met batter….can’t remember who. You look at the dismal final results of that 2004 season (71-91), but they were still in the pennant race in mid July……only a game out of 1st at one point.

  • Gio

    Up until this year, I have always been a big anti-“we” guy. I thought using “we” when discussing the team’s fortunes was equal parts presumptuous and preposterous. What, you think that you get to call yourself a “Met” – or at least insinuate that you are one – because you spend your evenings watching the game and know the roster and have passionate feelings? You aren’t a Met, you’re a Mets fan – we all are – and that carries its own rich history and connotations and brand of suffering. You don’t impact what the team does on the field, especially if you’re not in the stadium, and you aren’t pitching, or batting, or making decisions, or doing anything truly Metsian. You’re just… cheering, and the team will play (and win or lose) regardless. I felt this way in 2000, and 2006, and even in the Alderson era. It’s weird to say “we” or “us” when talking about the team. Be proud of your Mets fan heritage and be proud of the Mets for their own history.

    But lately, especially after 2015’s wild ride and 2016’s fun year as an ultimate also-ran, I’ve begun to feel differently about the whole thing. I care less about what pronouns my fellow fans use, because I know that we’re in it together and because the small stuff carries way less meaning. More than that, when sharing my feelings and participating in posts on the r/NewYorkMets subreddit, I’ve found myself naturally using “we” to describe what the team needs to do or how I’m feeling. I resisted it at first – scoffing at myself a bit – but it only took a few of those instances for me to become more comfortable with it. We DID need a big win last night. I mean, the Mets themselves needed it, but so did we, the fanbase. In both cases, for morale. We DO need to figure out a solution at 3B if Reyes keeps this up. The front office does, really, but we the fans need to be placated and adjust our rooting tendencies based on their decision-making. We DO need to play better D and hit lefties more consistently. Well, maybe that one’s better left to the Mets themselves. But I’m not cringing at it as much. Why should I begrudge someone his or her identity?

    Now… as I’m typing this, I’m realizing that maybe growing up around Yankees fans who talked about how THEY were the best, rather than saying that their team was the best, is the reason that I’ve been so jaded. So maybe I’m just more comfortable with “we” in conversation between fans of the same team. I… I think that’s the difference, actually. I’ll gladly tell another Mets fan that we need to get Conforto in the lineup, but it’d be weird to tell a BoSox fan that “we” are really hitting the cover off of the ball.

  • LeClerc

    Bruce 5 Phillies 4 Very well done indeed.

    Lead-off kings Granderson and Reyes went a combined 0 for 7. More Conforto please.

    15 games in Robles is 3-0, and, therefore, on a pace to be the first pitcher since Denny McClain in 1968 to win 30 games! (just kidding)

  • Jon

    Tell Todd to call me, man. I still owe SABR a bio.

    This was a Big Win. Didn’t have to be well played or fun to watch or anything, just a win.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Jay Bruce and family are graciously accepting apologies from the fans that booed him mercilessly, that proclaimed him a bust, and/or that strangely chose to judge him based on a tiny sample size in the midst of a transition rather than on his career record as a borderline elite run producer, one who happened to still be in the prime of his career. In lieu of gifts they would appreciate donations to NY area schools in the hopes of raising more fans with a better grasp of concepts like logic, probability and statistical analysis. All who donate will receive a bumper sticker with the famous saying “those who don’t learn from history will be doomed to repeat it” in the hopes that next time a player is struggling, folks will remember these events before rushing to judgement.

    P.S. Love the Todd Zeile flashback

    • Gil

      PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS! That’s the bumper sticker I’d like to see. I think it was Brian Schneider who said: “I like getting booed. It means the fans care. I’ve been places where they don’t boo. They just sit there.”

  • JoeG

    At the start of last night’s game Howie Rose stated Conforto was something like 3 for 8 with 2 home runs against Velasquez, whereas Granderson was 0 for 11. And yet Granderson was starting. This is inexplicable!

  • Matt in Richmond

    Conforto started and batted leadoff Tuesday and went 0-3 with minimal contact. At this point in the year he’s not going to get a second straight start after that kind of effort. This will shake itself out and if Conforto rakes all year he will get more and more PT. In the meantime, the best thing for the TEAM is to try to get everyone contributing. No need to be panicking in April.

  • Gil

    After Bruce’s first home run the camera had him in the dugout and it was clear he said “F–k yeah, man.” I think, collectively, WE were all saying the same thing. Nice to get back into the W column. The second shot got out in a hurry.

    Grandy will come around. He needs at bats. And Walker’s shot! Only wish it were 10 degrees warmer. Warning track ‘right blinker at first’ instead of the trotting tour.

    Thor tonight! LGM!

  • Pete In Iowa

    My goodness – Jerry Buchek!! It’s been 50 (F I F T Y) years since watching him on the old 11 inch portable black and white propped up on a chair in the kitchen!! Hard to believe. Where did all that time go….

  • Left Coast Jerry

    I don’t do the “we” thing because I would feel like a hypocrite. I used to work with a Yankee fan who would say things like “WE won 29 championships.” To which I would reply “Oh yeah. How many hits did you get?”

    That said, I don’t mind if other folks commenting here played the “we” card, unless, of course, you’re referring to that team from the Bronx.

  • eric1973

    I like Gio’s last part. If we are around our own, like here, I’ll say ‘we’ most of the time.

    It also depends on the context. I would never say ‘What channel are we on tonight?’ That’s way too weird, I think.

  • Lenny65

    “We” is OK only when you’re fraternizing with fellow fans. “Your guys” is my pet peeve, as in “your Mets really looked terrible last night”. They’re not mine, as much as I wish they were sometimes.

  • […] gnome, but a Todd Zeile Beanie Baby, dropped off at my seat by dear friend Sharon, who read what I wrote earlier this week and, because she’s Sharon, just happened to have a Todd Zeile Beanie Baby to pass along. Kudos […]