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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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Spring Its Ownself

On Wednesday morning, March 13, a bright, warm Florida day, Jeffrey M. Hysen woke up with a squirrel in his stomach. In his good life as a baseball fan, there had never been a month quite like this one. In the next few hours he was going to see Noah Syndergaard sharpen his right arm for the season ahead, Jeff McNeil reacquaint himself with the peculiarities of third base and Ol’ Sol challenge his personal comfort level. The Mets and Astros are sold out, to Jeff’s surprise. The ticket today will have to be in the picnic area. Even though he’s been going to these Spring tuneups since March began, the excitement of it, the lure of the games, makes him nervous. Nervous but delighted. Baseball to Jeff Hysen, and thousands of other expatriate New Yorkers, is as essential as air conditioning. It is what a Mets fan grows up with, feeds on, worships, follows, plays and, very often, dies with. Jeff Hysen, 60, married, father of two boys, semi-retired attorney, intermittent stand-up comic (he’s told jokes in one of the rooms Jerry Seinfeld frequents), Fantasy Camp graduate, baseball enthusiast, was either going to live a lot this afternoon or die a little.

Jeff Hysen is a modern semi-retiree. Being a modern semi-retiree means Jeff Hysen chases the Mets up and down Florida’s so-called Treasure Coast as if they’re going somewhere. They are, to Washington in a couple of weeks, where Jeff will be in position to greet them, since he still lives near there most months, though not most of this one. Jeff retired from his 31-year government job at the end of last year and promised himself one satisfying detour en route to new life adventures as winter begat spring and spring begat the runup to another baseball season. Jeff was gonna plant himself close enough to Port St. Lucie to keep a wading white ibis’s eye on his New York Mets.

And he has. He has a ballpark, backup ballparks and a tube of sunscreen. He’s seen the Mets play the same handful of teams over and over again because that’s what the Mets do in Port St. Lucie, in Jupiter and in West Palm Beach, each facility reasonably accessible from his snowbird home base in Boynton Beach (“I’m 60 and I feel young here”). He’s gotten to the ballparks early, stayed in them late and soaked it all in, not every day but most days. Jeff’s as warm all over about his choice of activity as someone who carries a tube of sunscreen every game he goes to by necessity. You have to do that in Florida, even in March.

Does he like these Mets? Jeff does, particularly the routine he’s attached himself to. “It’s been fun,” he swears. “The weather has been fantastic and it’s always good to see the Mets.” Words to live by from a lawyer who dedicated himself heart and soul to ethical issues at the Federal level, which may sound like an oxymoron to the civilian ear (like “starting left fielder Jack Reinheimer”), but Jeff took his job seriously. Comedian by night, you couldn’t as much as jest with him in daylight about the niceties of the Hatch Act or any Act. Jeff’s colleagues took him and his dedication to heart. When he retired, they chipped in and presented him with a bottle of wine autographed by Ed Kranepool.

Multiple trips up and down I-95 have made Jeff a Spring Training authority. He even knows the names of the facilities by their sponsors and tenants — FitTeam, with the Astros and dogass Nationals in West Palm; Roger Dean, home of the Cardinals and lonely Marlins in if not on Jupiter; and of course historic old First Data Field, formerly everything else, in St. Lucie, where the Mets and the antelope have played since 1988, or just after Jeff started being a Fed. Jeff wound up in the District of Columbia the year prior because he won a contest on WHN right before it became WFAN. The prize was a train ticket and a game ticket to see the Mets and Phillies at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. It rained and it was cold and he escaped to the dry and warmth of Union Station where he found his future job listed in the Washington Post. The Mets wouldn’t make regular visits to RFK until 2005. Jeff accepted gainful employment nearby anyway.

As a newly minted sunscreen-toting semi-retiree, Jeff will tell you the first priority at any Spring game is “shade. It’s important in Florida. You think that you want to sit as close as possible to the field, but it’s 83 degrees and sunny, so you move back.” If the games look empty on TV, it’s not because baseball doesn’t still tickle Florida’s fancy. “In reality,” Jeff explains, “everyone is hiding from the sun.”

As a modern Mets fan, Jeff objectively ranks First Data as his favorite Spring ballpark, followed by Roger Dean, then FitTeam. Across the board, “the food is mostly garbage,” he concedes, “and they don’t allow any outside food, so you have to find the good places.” Jeff also advises you bring your own water bottle, either sealed, or empty “to fill inside.” The dimensions at First Data are leftover from Shea…and so is “lots of the food,” Jeff says, “but the pizza will make you think that you’re in Queens,” plus there’s Nathan’s hot dogs and fries. Ten dollars near the tiki bar will buy you “a good grilled chicken sandwich with Nathan’s fries. That counts as a bargain.”

Go for tacos at Roger Dean, Jeff counsels. Avoid the pizza. “That’s not what pizza is supposed to be!” is what he felt like telling the guy who sold it to him, but Jeff kept the thought to himself. At FitTeam, “eat at the concessions stand behind home if you hate yourself.” If you don’t, go with the Italian delights out beyond center.

Jeff is also happy to rank parking, a must given the lack of 7 train or, for that matter, Metro (Jeff despises the Metro after 31 years of waiting for the Red Line to arrive as scheduled). Roger Dean’s lot edges First Data’s based on the permanent “annoying traffic jam” at First Data. The parking lot at FitTeam “might as well be in Houston,” he says, given the hike to and from the front gate. As for the fans who come in the cars, well, Jeff swears to Gil Hodges that Mets fans are the best in their slice of the Grapefruit League (“so smart and good looking”). Runners-up are Astros fans “because I have no reason to dislike them.” He can report having “actually” sighted a Marlin fan. Behind that lost soul in Jeff’s estimation are “Cardinals fans, who are not smug as in past years. I surprisingly met some nice ones.”

Nationals fans, Jeff has decided, “are as ignorant and arrogant here as they are in Washington,” and he’s had opportunity to comparison-shop. “I thought my dislike for Nationals fans might change in the Florida sunshine,” he admits, “but when I went to a Mets away game and saw the Nationals red, it felt like a regular season game.” Jeff’s adherence to ethics forbids him from saying anything inaccurate about the collective baseball IQ he encounters every summer at Nationals Park…or pointing out the pocket schedule he picked up at FitTeam identifies “Sherzer” as the Nationals’ pitching ace.

It doesn’t matter where he takes in a Spring Training game. Jeff believes there are some rules fans of all stripe should be legally required to uphold. Like not “yelling ‘I got it’ at a foul ball that is many sections away”; like not saying “can of corn” on a fly ball, “a cliché that makes you sound stupid”; like not “clapping when the PA commands, ‘everybody clap your hands!’ Please stop,” Jeff begs. “You’re just encouraging them.”

This is lowbrow big league behavior at Spring Training prices, which Jeff regrets is also bordering ever more on big league. “It’s getting more and more expensive” to get them not to neglect you, Jeff reports. “Tickets are at least $25” for games that don’t and never did count. “Roger Dean has a ‘day of game’ surcharge, parking is ten bucks and all three places inspect you like you’re boarding an airplane” when it comes to potentially smuggling a sandwich past the turnstile. “I hope that the towns in Florida and Arizona are not pricing out their customers in an effort to recoup the money that they are paying to keep teams when greedy owners threaten to leave.”

For someone who can and will volunteer a list of what’s wrong around the edges of Spring Training, Jeff is just as quick to tell you the whole thing “is a delight. Everyone should be able to experience the joy of baseball in March.” He’ll even share a secret with you: the best spot to “experience the Mets in a way that you can’t during the regular season” is whichever corner they’re assigned to set up their bullpen at Roger Dean on a given day, where you can get so close, you’re surprised you don’t have to whip out extra to cover the proximity fee. Wilson Ramos stood right next to Jeff one fine day. Jacob deGrom practically loosened up inside his camera. “I didn’t need to zoom in,” he marvels. “What a thrill to be that close to the Mets.”

Jeff’s been thrilled by the Mets even when he’s been disgusted by them during most of his sixty years. He grew up near them in Great Neck and suffered the distance from Shea as he built his career and family outside Washington. The names change, the loyalty doesn’t. Nor does his discernment. Jeff didn’t come to Florida merely to lounge in the shade, snap photographs and kvetch purposefully. He’s done some scouting.

Jason Vargas has impressed him so far (“I can’t believe I just said that”). He’s also high on Seth Lugo, Pete Alonso, Dom Smith and J.D. Davis “as a hitter.” He insists Robinson Cano “is going to be fun to watch,” observes a young catcher named Ali Sanchez “has a great arm” and praises Rajai Davis for “his instincts as a runner. It’s not something that the Mets are good at. He is smart and can help the team off the bench.”

Less of a thrill: Corey Oswalt (“the press likes him, but I don’t”); Jacob Rhame (“the only uniform that I want to see Jacob Rhame wearing is a Nationals uniform”); J.D. Davis “as a fielder”; and, deGrom’s preferences notwithstanding, Devin Mesoraco, who, Jeff suggests, “seems to have trouble catching the ball, which is part of his job description.”

With less than two weeks remaining to Opening Day, Jeff describes his ownself “as optimistic as a Mets fan can be. I think they can finish anywhere from first to fourth,” which doesn’t speak bountifully for optimism. “Brodie made many good moves that could pay off, but I’m not sure if he did enough with starting pitching depth and the outfield. Plus, the Phillies, Nationals and Braves improved as well. They could finish first but they could stay in fourth.” Regardless, he says, “I’m excited about the season and can’t wait to see what happens.”

In the meantime, he’s not done in Florida. Is he really going to Jupiter for Mets-Marlins again?

Jeff Hysen looks offended. “They’re playin’, aren’t they?”

Thanks to Jeff for providing the information. Thanks to Dan Jenkins for providing the inspiration.

2 comments to Spring Its Ownself

  • Daniel Hall

    I sympathize with hiding from the sun under any circumstances!

    “…or pointing out the pocket schedule he picked up at FitTeam identifies “Sherzer” as the Nationals’ pitching ace.” – Well, seems like the Gnats had to terminate their proof reader to pay “Sherzer”‘s salary…

    Then again, I am genuinely surprised the Mets managed to cope with all their players’ names starting with a small “d” the last few years…

  • BlackCountryMet

    I wanna be….Jeff Hysen :-)