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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 Shot Heard Through the Spring

Welcome to A Met for All Seasons, a series in which we consider a given Met who played in a given season and…well, we’ll see.

The New York Mets will, in all likelihood, play baseball again on Friday.

I say “in all likelihood” because it might rain.

But I also say it, of course, because there’s a pandemic going on, one that New York City has a grip on but large swathes of the rest of the country have fumbled, despite our city’s experience being a traumatic object lesson a couple of months back.

Unless you’ve been under a spectacularly large rock, you knew that. (And if you didn’t know, hey, got any room in your subterranean lair?) But that’s the thing about 2020 — so much we thought we knew has been blotted out and blurred. This has been the year of writing plans in pencil, of saying “we’ll see” about next week, of next month being an undiscovered country about which speculation is reckless.

The Mets will play baseball on Friday … in all likelihood. We’re close enough to say that with reasonable certainty. Which is the best 2020 offers.

But will the Mets be playing baseball two Fridays from now? On a Friday in September? In Game 60 of this improv sprint of a schedule? No certainty whatsoever there. Write it in pencil. If you write it at all.

It’s a strange state of affairs, which comes with a certain queasiness. Not just because playing baseball may turn out to be a tragically ill-advised idea — for players, their families, coaches, stadium workers, people any of those people know, and so on out in concentric rings — but also because what normally feels sound and structural about the calendar is so flimsy this time around. 1:10p, 7:10p, even 4:10p and that occasional unwelcome 8:05p — these times are instantly recognizable and full of meaning between April and September. They’re my framework for those six months when the world’s on its proper axis, a blissful underpinning of whatever else fills up my days and weeks. I know when the next game’s coming. I can look at the series ahead and size it up. I can look all the way down to the end of the calendar and think about strength of opponents, distance of travel, off-days or their absence, and hope, worry or do some of both.

Not this year. This year will be about daily tests and measurements of community spread, and every next game’s going to be written in pencil.

Here at Faith and Fear we’ll do our best — chronicling the games as we always do, and hoping that baseball is a respite and a solace, as it has been so reliably before. We’ll also continue this series, hopefully alongside the new games.

Which means it’s my turn to go back a little ways.

How far back? Well, to 2019. But how far back is that? Depends on how you measure things.

In Met Time, it’s a whisper of a fraction of a sliver of a nanosecond, the kind of chronology best left to your friendly neighborhood quantum physicist.

In Actual Time, it’s nearly 10 months.

In Pandemic Time, it’s … a decade? A century? Forever?

The Mets last played a baseball game that counted on Sept. 29, 2019, which unfortunately isn’t the same as saying they played a baseball game that mattered: They’d been eliminated, and were closing up Citi Field against the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves. I was there, sitting in the right-field bleachers with Emily, near the gap that extends across to the Citi pavilion, the fake truck and the Shea Bridge.

I’m ambivalent about Closing Day. On the one hand, it’s the last chance to see more Mets baseball in person, and even in bad seasons I’d rather have a little more of that than face the winter. On the other hand, it’s a melancholy appearance — win or lose, it’s the end, and you walk out of the stadium into nothing. To that, add in the likelihood that Citi Field’s maroon-jacketed security guys will behave in their usual asshole fashion, sending you home with a bad taste in your mouth, and I often figure I’m better off not going.

(If you think I’m kidding about the asshole part, several years ago the maroons started shooing us out of the stands during the thank-you video. They were an impediment to enjoying games at Shea and they’re no better at Citi Field. I tried to raise this point during the brief period when people connected to the Mets bothered with blogs, but a) the maroons know all the club execs and mind their manners when they spot one; and b) as far as I can tell no club exec actually cares.)

Anyway, 2019 left me wanting more, so there we were, for a Closing Day that turned into a Closing Night, with the Mets and Braves trudging into extra innings. Free baseball, hooray! Except the baseball was free because the detestable Adeiny Hechavarria had hit a ninth-inning homer off the perpetually doomed Paul Sewald, and who knew how long we’d be there. Maybe the maroons would decide the hell with it and roust us despite the game not being over? Maybe the Mets would run out of pitchers and reacquire Oliver Perez to walk in a fatal run?

Such are the perils of Closing Day.

Except the plucky 2019 Mets had one last trick up their sleeve.

I actually remember the moment the Mets drafted Dom Smith in 2013, but that’s because it was one of the first MLB drafts to be televised, or at least one of the first televised drafts I bothered watching, since nobody except the truly obsessed knows anything about baseball draft picks. I tweeted out a joke that I was incensed because I’d wanted some other guy I’d never heard of, looked up a couple of Smith’s scouting reports — which basically said “live bat, bad body” — and forgot about him.

But Smith did OK, reaching the majors in 2017 alongside Amed Rosario. That first season was ugly — he hit .198 and his glovework at first was lacking, perhaps because he was frankly rotund and so not particularly mobile. 2018 wasn’t much better, despite Smith coming to camp looking more trim. In 2019 he had a great spring, but Pete Alonso had arrived, and Smith became an afterthought — a late-inning replacement, pinch-hitter and part of the farcical attempt to find anyone who could play left field without injuring himself.

All that had to be a brutal comedown for a young player, particularly when a stress fracture sent Smith to the injured list in late July. But he dealt with it well. He hit when given the opportunity, his defense looked much improved at first base, and he was a terrific teammate even on one leg. After the Mets gleefully stripped Michael Conforto of his uniform top post-victory, SNY cameras caught a beaming Smith gamely chasing down the hero of the hour on a convalescent’s scooter — one with a little #LFGM license plate, no less. You’d constantly find Dom at or near the dugout railing, cheering for his mates — and often in the company of Alonso, the man who’d taken the job he’d wanted.

That was admirable, but it didn’t change the fact that Smith was a young man with no real role, one likely headed for some other team’s roster in 2020. The games dwindled to few and then to one without Smith returning to action, and then that one ground along in extra innings. In the 11th inning of Closing Day Night, Hechavarria connected for another homer, this time off the hapless Walker Lockett. I slumped in my seat, thinking about the cruelty of everything. Really? The Met Jonah I’d loathed all year, at first for inexplicable reasons and then for thoroughly explicable ones, had to homer off pitiable Met relievers not once but twice? That was how the baseball gods chose to tell us it was time to go home? Getting the bum’s rush from the maroons might have been kinder.

Lockett immediately gave up another homer and, mercifully, was sent away to think about what he’d done. Chris Mazza came on and threw one pitch, retiring Francisco Cervelli on an inning-ending double play. Down by two in the bottom of the 11th, the Mets launched a fitful, most likely pretend uprising: Luis Guillorme singled off old friend Jerry Blevins, but Tomas Nido struck out. On came Anthony Swarzak, once a singularly useless Met reliever and now an annoyingly useful Brave. Swarzak yielded a single to Wilson Ramos, but then caught Rene Rivera looking. (Had the Mets ever sent three catchers in a row to the plate before? I was mildly curious. I suppose I still am.)

Because Braves manager Brian Snitker was also determined to torture us, he switched pitchers yet again, bringing on someone named Grant Dayton. The Mets countered with none other than Dom Smith — the same Dom Smith who hadn’t had a plate appearance since late July. This seemed cruel, to say the least. It all seemed cruel by that point.

And then Smith hit the ball over the fucking fence.

It sounded good off the bat, but that’s happened before. It looked better. There was air under it, and the ball describing a promising arc heading in our direction. I sprang up and hurried to edge of our section, daring to hope and chiding myself for being a sucker, but by then here was no doubt — it was gone. Smith had hit a three-run homer that had simultaneously walked off the game, the 2019 season and the 2010s.

Rounding first, Smith pointed back at the dugout in jubilation as the Braves tramped off for their dugout. (And for the playoffs, which probably softened the blow.) After hitting third base, Smith flung off his helmet and then performed a funny, shuffling little hop-dance the rest of the way down the line, vanishing into a sea of blue-clad teammates, with Alonso first in line. Out in right, I hugged Emily and yelled and said stupid amazed things.

And the maroons kept their distance.

Smith is 25 and just finished his first full(ish) year in the big leagues. He’s blocked at his natural position and doesn’t have another one readily available to him — he’ll get to DH this season, but the Mets have a lot of guys best suited to that role. I don’t know what he’ll be, or if he’ll wind up being that for us or for somebody else.

But I do know this: Even though Smith’s triple walkoff didn’t win anything for the Mets except a baseball game that no longer much mattered, it made me happy all winter. At odd times in December or January I’d catch myself smiling and realize I was thinking about seeing Smith connect and the way the ball kept coming towards us, as if this were the one time that inexhaustible, silly hope — Met fan hope, no less! — actually served as a jet stream. Even with no baseball this spring and a whole lot of misery around us, that memory was always good for a smile.

And isn’t that what baseball’s about? You learn the hard way when things aren’t particularly likely, and to calibrate your expectations accordingly — you’ll go crazy if you don’t. But once in a while, expectations go out the window. Someone — maybe even a bench guy who hasn’t seen enemy pitching in two months — does something extraordinary, and in a second or two your gloom gets transmuted into wild, incoherent, sunshine joy.

And that joy is sustaining. It might get you through an entire winter. It might even help you through a fearful spring, and prepare you for an uncertain summer.

1962Richie Ashburn
1964Rod Kanehl
1966Shaun Fitzmaurice
1969Donn Clendenon
1970Tommie Agee
1972Gary Gentry
1973Willie Mays
1977Lenny Randle
1978Craig Swan
1981Mookie Wilson
1982Rusty Staub
1990Gregg Jefferies
1991Rich Sauveur
1992: Todd Hundley
1994Rico Brogna
1995Jason Isringhausen
1996: Rey Ordoñez
1998: Todd Pratt
2000: Melvin Mora
2002: Al Leiter
2003David Cone
2005Pedro Martinez
2008Johan Santana
2009Angel Pagan
2012R.A. Dickey
2013Wilmer Flores

7 comments to The Shot Heard Through the Spring

  • Daniel Hall

    Doomed Dom, Old Man Cano, Solar Bear, Ces if he can walk – that’s four DHs already, and I have yet to put in any effort. Yes, from playing with it for four months in OOTP I can confirm that this roster is badly constructed. (No I am not paid by OOTP Developments to continually endorse the product. I’m just a fan. :-P … and it was the only way for me to survive this long.)

    A trade to an AL Team would be great for Dom, but knowing Brodie van Clueless he’d only bring back another 37-year old has-been with $79m left on his contract.

    I see Jed Lowrie is already off to the DL, so that continues to be A Thing.

    I don’t see Zamora on the roster. Well, yes, why would we want a second lefty…

    I am also already in mid-season grumpy form!

  • TJ

    I was at Closing Day, as well. Early in the day I ran into friends (well, drinking buddies) who came with The 7 Line and had promised to get me into the afterparty. And that’s how I found myself in the 140s in the bottom of the 11th tracking Smith’s fly ball heading toward right field, but unable to discern if it had enough. Seconds later the screaming clues me in, and suddenly I was hugging strangers and shredding my vocal cords in delight.

    And true to your words, that memory has carried me all these months. And may carry me further pending the outcome of Friday’s game (and all hypothetical subsequent ones).

  • open the gates

    I kept saying this throughout the Covid madness. If there had to be a final Met moment of all time (or at least for the foreseeable future), we could have done a helluva lot worse than the Dom Dance. I still smile every time I see that video. And when the baseball season just refused to start, it was good to know that at least our last official Met memory was a sweet one. I mean, imagine going through Covid with your last memory being the Kenny Rogers game. (Talk about knowing when to hold ’em, knowing when to fold ’em…)

  • eric1973

    Starting to get really excited for Friday at 4pm, rain be damned. Hey Daniel, maybe they’ll allow everybody 2 or more DH’s this season…..

    And definitely rooting for Washington to go 3-0 this weekend. Hate to root for the Yanks against our rivals, but sometimes do, later in the season…… Oh shit, it IS later in the season!

  • Lenny65

    Something weird always happens on Closing Day. I make it a point to never miss it, no matter how meaningless it may be. Dom’s walk-off was pure magic, one of the most just plain joyous moments ever. Can’t help but root for Dom, wherever he eventually ends up.

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  • […] Martinez 2008: Johan Santana 2009: Angel Pagan 2012: R.A. Dickey 2013: Wilmer Flores : Jacob deGrom 2019: Dom […]