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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 Right Ending, Somehow

The Mets were supposed to be off Thursday, which would have been fitting given the sad news Wednesday night that Tom Seaver — No. 41, the Franchise, the most essential and irreplaceable figure in team history — had died Monday at 75. Thursday would have been a day to mourn and reflect on the memory and legacy of player and man alike, a day appropriately empty of anything else.

But it was not to be — not with COVID forcing a makeup game against the Yankees — the same Yankees who, hollowed out by injuries as they are, yanked the Mets’ momentum to a halt last weekend and put a hole below the waterline of their season. Was this really necessary? Yes, it was, and so out they went to Citi Field, with Seaver’s retired No. 41 looking down on them from atop the stadium.

Before the hostilities commenced, the Mets remembered their ace with grace, holding a moment of silence, hanging a 41 uniform in the dugout, tipping their caps to his number and — in a truly inspired touch — adorning their right knees with dirt in imitation of Seaver’s drop-and-drive mechanics. (Seriously, I’d like to know who came up with that — it’s worthy of a genius grant.)

And then they went out to play the Yankees and for some time I was grimly certain that my post would be an elaboration on “they did everything right and then blew it by playing baseball.”

Robert Gsellman took the mound without his breaking stuff and got knocked around, departing before the second inning was done after surrendering four runs. The Mets clawed back, however, and against J.A. Happ, no less — he’d looked untouchable in their last meeting (also against Gsellman) but was decidedly mortal this time. Recidivist Met Todd Frazier started the comeback with a home run, with a Jake Marisnick double and singles from Amed Rosario and Jeff McNeil evening the score. Meanwhile, the bullpen held the line valiantly, at least until Miguel Castro proved shaky in the seventh, allowing a pair of two-out hits that created a two-run deficit. (On Wednesday afternoon I was in a kayak on the East River, so I heard Castro pitch but didn’t see him; my conclusion after actually viewing him is that someone should buy him a cheeseburger.)

The last hit against Castro could have just as easily been called an error on Pete Alonso, as he was in position to field it but watched it scoot under his glove and go down the right-field line. It’s been a miserable season for Alonso both at the plate and in the field — in fact, it’s pretty much been the season we were warned to expect in 2019, with homers punctuating stretches with far too many strikeouts and shaky defense at first. Frazier’s reacquisition, I’m half-convinced, was less about getting a bat to employ against lefties than about giving the Polar Bear a cheerful veteran voice that might lift him out of his sophomore doldrums.

Justin Wilson — so reliable last year, not so much now — gave up another run and things looked truly dire. But the Mets, once again, fought back. A Rosario single brought them within a run, they survived letting Edwin Diaz anywhere near the ninth, and then watched as McNeil led off the bottom of the inning with a walk off Aroldis Chapman.

Enter Billy Hamilton, who took second on a balk, promptly tried to steal third and was gunned down while J.D. Davis stood there glumly watching. Seriously? Hamilton seems like a good teammate, and it isn’t his fault he can’t hit — major-league baseball is full of at least marginally useful players who couldn’t hit. But he also seems to have no feel for the game — that was a moment for patience, for seeing if Davis could move the runner in any number of ways, or at least to size up Chapman and choose the ideal pitch to make a break on a soggy track. Instead, Hamilton removed himself from the equation.

So of course Davis hit the next pitch — an 0-2 pitch, nonetheless — over the center-field fence. I never recall being angry about a game-tying homer in the ninth before, but somehow I was this time, because it should have been yet another walkoff against Chapman, and administered by the guy he’d recently nailed in the hip, no less.

The Mets sent Diaz back out for the 10th, survived that with a little help from automatic runner Tyler Wade, who somehow thought a humpbacked liner to Michael Conforto would drop in, and sent Dom Smith to second as their own automatic runner. I prepared myself for a long and futile siege or some other imminent embarrassment, but Alonso hit Albert Abreu‘s second pitch over the left-field fence, one of those drives that’s immediately and obviously gone before the bat is dropped. Alonso floated around the bases to celebrate his first career walkoff homer (a leadoff two-run shot, because 2020), and despite fits and starts and their own missteps, the Mets had ended the day with their heads held high.

* * *

In remembering Tom Seaver, you should of course start with my blog partner, who was on the case yesterday. I’ll limit myself to a couple of words and links. First off, a tip of the cap to Mets owner-in-waiting Steve Cohen, whose tribute to Seaver was a welcome departure from the usual PR-massaged vagaries. This is a fan talking, with humorous rue and real feeling, and while none of us knows anything substantive about Cohen yet, it’s a pretty good first impression.

I also highly recommend this Tom Verducci article on Seaver in his twilight — it’s a wonderful story, shifting ably between his glorious youth and a visit to Calistoga, Calif., by his Miracle Met teammates late in his life. Beautiful, heartbreaking and awfully close to definitive. And don’t miss this tweet, from Keith Olbermann, about Seaver’s place in history. You may be speechless too.

One of my favorite Seaver stories gets to the heart of how competitive and cerebral he was: One day, the Mets were playing the Pirates in the rain, Manny Sanguillen was at the plate, and Seaver was taking an inordinate amount of time between pitches. A wet and puzzled Jerry Grote finally went out to the mound to ask his pitcher what was taking so long. Seaver’s response? He was watching the water pool on the bill of Sanguillen’s helmet, and waiting to start his delivery until the water was ready to form a droplet that would hang and quiver right in Sanguillen’s view. Who notices that in the first place? Who then decides to leverage it for an extra bit of advantage? Tom Seaver, of course.

But there are so many such stories — Seaver and Bob Gibson trading HBPs during a testy spring-training game, his contempt at the idea of celebrating a .500 record, the 1978 day where he reported for duty with his fastball MIA and so out-thought the Cardinals all the way to his lone career no-hitter. Seaver’s death wasn’t a surprise, exactly — we’d known of his retreat from public life, his mind cruelly plundered by dementia — and yet it still seems impossible. How can the New York Mets still exist without Tom Seaver in the world? No nickname was ever more perfect than The Franchise. He was that and still is and always will be.

7 comments to The Right Ending, Somehow

  • open the gates

    A few thoughts –

    1) The Toddfather is back! (Your comment about Frazier being acquired to help Pete out of his sophomore slump is an astute one. Mssrs. McNeil and Rosario may also benefit similarly.)

    2) Whenever I hear of Miguel Castro pitching, my first thought is, OMG, the game is so far gone they’re putting the backup catcher on the mound. (Big fan of Ramon C, BTW.)

    3) Billy Hamilton’s biggest Met moment to date is still as an opponent being picked off by Juan Centeno. (Seriously, dude, we got you for your running game. If you don’t run well, what good are you?)

    4) It’s hard to believe, with all the homers he crushed last year, that this one was the Polar Bear’s first walkoff. May it be the first of many.

    5) … and finally, my compliments to you and Greg on your epitaphs for Tom Seaver. The most beloved (and greatest) player in Mets’ history deserved a heartfelt and nuanced sendoff, and you both stepped up to the plate in a big way. Kudos.

  • chuck

    Thank you, Jason.

    I’d like to think Paul Lukas came up with the dirty knee idea, or just wished he had.

    In retrospect, was Hamilton getting thrown out ultimately a good thing? It was very Roger Cedeno-without-Rickey-coaching-him dumb, but we wouldn’t have had the Polar Bear walkoff without it. The look on Pete’s face after every strikeout says he needed this more than Davis did.

  • Seth

    Once a decade or so, the Mets seem to sign a player that makes you wonder how they ever got to the major league level because they seem to have no talent, grace, or feel for the game at all. Last decade it was Andres Torres. Now it’s Billy Hamilton.

    I will never understand this strategy of replacing a hot hitter (McNeil) with a light hitting substitute who isn’t that good at running either. Rojas does it all the time. Must be a Covid thing.

  • Linda Cohen

    I am so impressed with the maturity of some of our young players…J.D. Davis, Dom Smith, etc. I think this team has a lot of leaders. Alonso post-game yesterday was a case in point. He could have been all goofy and over-the-top, but he knew the moment he was in. And I am delighted with two of his statements:

    “He was a baseball legend and now he’s a baseball god.”

    “To really understand about Tom Seaver you have to be in New York.”

    I don’t really subscribe to the sentiment “Tom’s looking down on us.” It doesn’t conform to my world view. But to understand immediately that what Mets fans longed to hear in that moment was a recognition that our players, who can’t feel what we feel, understood how we feel right now was everything.

    I’ve seen people dissing the Mets organization (unfairly in my opinion) for all kinds of things since word broke Wednesday night:

    “Everyone should wear 41 for the rest of the year.”(Good luck with that – MLB won’t even let our players wear the FDNY/NYPD etc. caps on 9/11!).

    “Why isn’t every player wearing a memorial patch NOW?”(Well, they have to have time to make them up; my work involves getting some of this stuff printed/sewn up and there are not a bunch of elves available who can work overnight).

    “Fred and Jeff’s statement was lame and predictable.” (I loved Steve Cohen’s statement, but he had some time to think about it. The organization had to have something out immediately.)

    “Where’s the statue?” (OK, I don’t have an answer for that one – the Mets took far too long to do this – but the situation isn’t any different than it was last June, for the 50th anniversary of the Miracle Mets. Tom was never going to see it, as by the point it was announced, he had withdrawn from public life. So what difference would it have made if it was up right now, except perhaps to serve as a makeshift memorial, which appears to have happened without it?)

    All this griping was evidence of our primal need to be heard, to be understood, to make sure that no one forgets who Tom Seaver was and what he means to Mets fans. Given the news coverage in the last 36 hours, I don’t think that’s something we need to worry about. And I agree with Jason – the Mets did what they could with less than 24 hours turnaround, and I thought it was haunting and meaningful. I am sure there will be more to come. But Tom’s legacy belongs to us – the Mets fans – now, and it’s our responsibility to hold it close, and to share it.

    Ours…and the players. What a beautiful gesture to smudge that dirt on their knees. We can’t be at the games right now. But instantly, when I saw those dirty knees, I felt a connection with these players, and this team. I’m convinced the idea came from somewhere in the clubhouse, or maybe during a hastily-called meeting of the “Cookie Club.” They get it. All of it. #41’s legacy is in good hands.

  • Dave

    Read this morning that in an upcoming game, the Pirates will all wear #21 in honor of Roberto Clemente. Clemente’s significance to the franchise and the game is different than that of Seaver, more comparable to everyone wearing 42. I would be surprised if MLB allowed the Mets to all wear 41 for a game, their response likely being “but then we’d have to let every team wear a number in honor of a former player” yada yada yada, as if that’s a big problem. And of course we have no indication that ownership would even request this. But being that there are only 20-ish games left to play/endure, I hope the Mets have a patch on their sleeves for the entire 2021 season, hoping that there is a real 162 game entire season in 2021.

    Thank you both, Greg and Jason, for this virtual gathering place the past 2 days as we collectively mourn and remember The Franchise. It obviously would have been more fitting for yesterday’s game to honor his memory by deGrom delivering a complete game shutout, but twas not to be. A leadoff two-run homer…well, that’s different at least.

  • Ed Rising

    Beautiful post Jason. It’s a very sad time indeed. It just doesn’t seem right that the Mets should exist without Tom Seaver – but of course they and all of us must do that. I suppose it was a mercy ending that the dementia issue didn’t drag out any longer. Peace for the Franchise and his family.

  • Daniel Hall

    I saw this game the day after and braced for the worst, because Yankees, because Mets, and because Seaver tributes. I didn’t expect to cry within five minutes because Keith Hernandez cried.

    Cried a bit, raged a bit (mostly about Hamilton, since DFA’ed, good riddance), but at least Pete hit the mother of all walkoffs to make it all whole again…