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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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Acquaintance Renewed

The last time I saw Citi Field, Dom Smith was bringing down the curtain on the 2019 season, connecting for a walkoff homer in Game 162. That happy memory sustained me through the winter, but nothing could sustain me once our lives ground to a halt in a surreal spring. I saw Citi Field in 2020, but it was on my TV, or off to the side of the highway heading to or from the Whitestone. It was close but also closed, a strange disconnection — a short subway ride somehow turned into an unbridgeable distance.

So with a second jab in my arm and the calendar having advanced two weeks beyond that, you can imagine where my thoughts turned — and Saturday, as it happened, was both two weeks after my wife’s second shot and my birthday. Sometimes the universe isn’t particularly subtle about giving you a hint about where you belong.

So there we went, through once-familiar paces: rattling around in the 2/3 to Times Square and then trekking with the 7 out to Citi Field, underground until Queens, then a long slog on the elevated line, forgetting as usual that there are approximately 53,912 stops on this line, until finally we could see the tennis complex and the lights and the parking lot and the park, culminating with the sigh of the opening doors at Willets Point.

OK, this was pretty.

For those worried about the new protocols, I can report with a certain pleased surprise that the Mets made everything about as easy as it could be — checking vaccine cards/tests and temperatures was brisk and efficient, and the socially distanced seating worked well, in part because the Mets have literally zip-tied seats that aren’t in use. To my even greater surprise, our fellow Met fans were cool about everything — I think a year has taught all of us to instinctively give each other a little wider berth than normal, and we witnessed nary a mask-related tantrum nor act of disobedience, whether performative or merely careless. I can’t speak to your risk tolerance, obviously, but if you’re wary of the idea of a ballgame, it may go better than you think.

Problems? There were a couple: Citi Field’s food options have been greatly curtailed, I hope temporarily, and most of our favorite ballpark haunts were lamentably dark and shuttered. The outposts that offered pricey but palatable craft beers seem to be no more, replaced by invitations to try Coors hard seltzer, because I guess someone in this great land needed a Coors product that’s even closer to water. And this one’s on the MTA, but the main exit from the subway was inexplicably closed, forcing everyone through a far narrower gate and an awkward interval of mandatory social converging.

The reduced crowd also meant an odd vibe: The population was what you normally see for games when the team’s 30 games out and autumn’s chugging towards you, but it was made up of fans far more invested in the outcome than the usual garbage-time spectators. That meant plenty of cheers and complaints and rolling Let’s Go Metses, but they lacked the fuel needed for ignition — there’s an R number we didn’t want to dip below one. The result was something you might call ambient baseball.

(The game was also glacial — both in terms of pace and temperature, the latter of which I made worse by insisting that yes, lighthouse-keeper conditions were suitable for a cup of vanilla soft-serve. Nice to know that even in my graybeard dotage I can come up with bad ideas.)

But ambient noise or not, cold or not, I was still surrounded by baseball — and oh my how I’d missed it, from the old Shea apple in its bed of tulips and the dopey between-inning contests to marveling anew that nine guys can cover a huge expanse of green grass, appearing out of nowhere to snatch balls out of the air and off the ground. (OK, I was wrong about Kevin Pillar being useless.)

One thing I did recall quite quickly was how different a night in the park is compared with the close study allowed by TV: I can’t tell you anything about Joey Lucchesi‘s curve or the home-plate ump’s strike zone or what happened to Jeurys Familia in an inning of flukey ground balls, because it was happening in another area code. What did translate was that various Mets we’ve worried about — Michael Conforto, James McCann and Francisco Lindor — struck several balls solidly, though only Lindor saw that turn into statistical bragging rights. Lindor is also an on-field presence even from afar, a wellspring of chatter and gestures aimed at his fellow fielders. I can see how that might annoy a colleague on occasion, even if zoology isn’t actually involved, but mostly it seems like a positive, a way to keep all concerned on their toes. Watching Lindor, in fact, I was reminded of Keith Hernandez and how he made his entire infield embed more deeply into pitches and at-bats — and how Hernandez was praised for playing first base like a shortstop.

After a not so tidy three and a half hours, Trevor May coaxed a harmless fly ball from David Peralta and the Mets had won. That’s always a nice birthday present; so’s feeling like you’ve been given a much-missed piece of your life back, and finding it a little different but fundamentally the same, in every way that’s truly important, as when you had to put it aside.

7 comments to Acquaintance Renewed

  • Seth

    Great summary. Is it safe to say that the fake crowd noise is also gone this year? It’s hard to tell from watching on TV.

  • Michael in CT

    It must have been cool to see, in person, Lindor stealing second and then racing all the way to home.

  • Paul from Brooklyn

    Beautifully put Jason! Poetry. Happy Birthday.
    Yes, fans are even more polite and more interested in the games since things have opened up this year.The staff are gracious as always and things are looking up for those Metsies.
    Let’s Go Mets!

  • open the gates

    …aaaaand cue the theme song from “Welcome Back Kotter”.

  • JM

    Did you need to show your physical vaccine card or can you show a photo on your phone?

    • My Excelsior Pass isn’t working, so I used the physical card. Next up: trying laminated copy, with actual card as backup. Of course routines will probably change over the next few weeks too, so [shrug]. But easy process at least for the first go-round.