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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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Sports Remain Undefeated

On March 11, 2020, as the world was grinding to a halt, I tuned in for the final minutes of the Knicks and Hawks on MSG, essentially the last game in town. I sucked up every remaining bounce of the basketball, understanding that there was about to be no more action of its kind televised into my living room or any room for who knew how long.

On March 11, 2021, as the world continued to come out of its COVID coma, I looked in on my alma mater, the University of South Florida Bulls, playing its first-round conference tournament game versus Temple. It was a noon start in front of an almost entirely empty arena. The setting was a public health precaution, though that’s also suggests my alma mater’s neutral-site crowd appeal. As for the early tipoff, the Bulls have to bull their way into prime time.

USF built a big lead it almost blew. This is roughly every other USF basketball game I’ve watched since graduating a very long time ago. The other half is USF not having a lead at all. That’s not entirely true, of course. I exaggerate because I root. Rooting is about being convinced your team will someday win but being more convinced that day isn’t today, or in this case, yesterday. But despite trying their damnedest to blow that big lead, the Bulls didn’t. They won by a bucket. I mean we won by a bucket. That’s my pronoun when it comes to my teams. I was pretty excited by the win, and then got back to concentrating on other things.

Later, after President Biden spoke to the nation about vaccinations gathering momentum and maybe our country accelerating its return to what we still consider normality, I tuned to the Islanders and Devils. I don’t think I’ve watched more than a few stray minutes of hockey since hockey decided it was safe to drop its pucks again, but I was curious to hear how Nassau Coliseum sounded with a thousand or so fans — health care professionals thanked for their service — reacting to professional sports, the first time the Uniondale barn opened a few of its front doors this season. It was a sound that a TV viewer dares to miss, as long as everybody in the building stays safely distant. Health care professionals probably didn’t need to be reminded to take care.

The Islanders were winning by four. Then they were winning by two, and I wondered what kind of horrible luck I was bringing them. Yet they held on, allowing them to raise their sticks to a chorus of YES-YES-YES-YES, which is the sweetest sound to come out of Long Island since Debbie Gibson first hit the charts.

I turned from the end of the Islanders to the conclusion of the Nets. I’ve been watching the Nets regularly if not religiously. That’s been the case since they moved back to geographic Long Island (OK, Brooklyn) in 2012. The Nets are enough a part of our winter nights that Stephanie knows from Ian Eagle, which is to say he’s not just some sports announcer to her often sports-indifferent ears. He’s part of our extended TV family the way Gary, Keith and Ron are, the way the Belchers from Bob’s Burgers are. The entire Nets telecast is. I’ve lately caught Stephanie blurting out “threeball!” and Googling Kevin Durant. When the NBA delayed its season, it didn’t occur to me to miss the NBA. The NBA is one of those things that seems to go on without the Nets as essential workers.

Ah, but the Nets of today are not the Nets I’ve stuck with never less than nominally since the demise of the ABA. The Nets of today are a superteam, in form and function. It’s shocking to me that when I watch them, I almost expect them to win, like I expected the Mets and Giants to win in 1986. I get nervous thinking like that. I still wait for every Nets lead to dissipate, but I’m doing it with less and less conviction. The Nets of Harden and Irving and, when he’s healthy, Durant, are not the Nets of impending doom, at least not to themselves necessarily. The Nets beat the Celtics going away.

Hopped up on sports satisfaction, I flipped to the final of the women’s conference tournament featuring my alma mater. The Lady Brahmans, as they were known in my day, were the No. 1 seed. They won the regular-season crown. It frankly surprised me that I was aware of this. It didn’t occur to me this happened only because UConn moved back to the Big East, but we’ll take it. USF built an enormous lead over archrival UCF, then went ice cold. This is the basketball I’m used to from the men’s team and the Nets. I tried not to descend into my usual lead-blowing snit. The more I watched, the more I saw college students who looked tired. Why were they playing so late at night, even in Central Time? Other than for television, I guess I just answered my own question.

The USF Bulls in women’s basketball are better than I’ve come to expect from USF Bulls in general. They didn’t fully blow their lead and they are now American Athletic Conference champions. This was one of those moments, like when the men’s team qualifies for the NIT or the USF football team wins a minor bowl game, I sort of want to don my green-and-gold hoodie, run into the street and celebrate in a socially distanced crowd, except nobody — nobody — in my New York suburbs, too far from Tampa geography ever seems to be watching USF. I’ve at least done the hoodie part while running errands after a big win, and nope, nothing. This makes sense, because USF’s big wins are way up the cable dial and USF is not anywhere around where I am. Hell, you wouldn’t find them in South Florida. There’s a reason they’re referred to as South Florida despite being located in the west central portion of their state, but it’s stupid, so I’ll skip it. I did see on social media that within their home region this victory was greeted under the umbrella of the #ChampaBay hashtag, which I have to say is even more stupid than the story behind South Florida not being in South Florida.

Oh, and the Mets won last night, in, as it happens, South Florida. It didn’t count, of course, and it wasn’t televised, and all I witnessed of it were tweeted clips of Jacob deGrom throwing an unhittable strike, Pete Alonso swatting a long home run and Albert Almora, Jr., making a difficult catch. Because this took place in West Palm Beach rather than Port St. Lucie, SNY was incapable of transmitting it. Perhaps they don’t have an extension cord long enough to reach down I-95.

Had it been televised, I might not have watched or thought about anything else. Had it been a regular-season affair, I might not have noticed anything else. It was just Spring Training, but it must be very effective training. Anything that readies deGrom, Alonso and everybody else for success, well, just keep doing that.

It was silly to feel sports-deprived a year ago. Once their absence sunk in, I can’t say I felt that way very much. The virus and how to avoid it was the only game in town. People staying alive was what mattered. Sports not being on TV was ancillary damage. When it trickled back in summer, it seemed unimportant to have it. Even when the Nets and Islanders played bubble playoffs. Even when the Mets played games that counted.

Yet here, last night, was sports again, not exactly in all its glory, surely not as it appeared more than a year ago, but it was entrenched in my life again, it was stoking my less harmful tribal instincts, it fulfilling my sense of identity and, I suppose, it was giving me something to be into and be happy about.

This afternoon, the Bulls had their next game in the men’s tournament. They built a big lead and blew it, losing by one. I was pretty pissed for about an hour. That’s also part of watching sports. Some days are better for having sports. Some days you forget that.

1 comment to Sports Remain Undefeated

  • Daniel Hall

    “It was silly to feel sports-deprived a year ago.” – I respectfully disagree. We were (and in many cases still are) deprived of many things. Baseball. Auto racing. (That’s already all the things I watch) Sitting down for lunch at a place. I went without a haircut for so long at one point I looked like Justin Turner on a bad hair day. I feel more mad at the people that let it come that far in the first place.

    I am also somewhat miffed with Keith for opining that he was against the vaccination, but had to do it because who knows what they’re gonna do with travel restrictions… while over here, our wholly shambolic government managed to torpedo the vaccination campaign by crushing it under a bureaucratic moloch of regulations, and now the third wave is already building up and will flush everybody into the Atlantic… Nope, did not appreciate Mr. Hernandez’ attitude.

    At least it looks like nothing undue will happen to Opening Day. That’s the hope I cling to now. Having baseball in somewhat orderly fashion in April.

    You know, as long as we can still have baseball in somewhat orderly fashion, given the flurry of stupid rule experiments they’re gonna force on the minor leagues.