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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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One Last Caress, It’s Time to Dress for Fall

Four days earlier, I came home from a stadium sunburned. That’s how recently it felt like summer, even if it was technically already autumn on the calendar, even if for an afternoon I had moved on as many American sports fans do post-summer, to the NFL. The sun singed me in Section 144 at MetLife, where I’d forgotten that Ol’ Sol is capable of taking dead aim at the right side of one’s face and neck before the local gridders can be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. But it had been a while since I consented to venture to the Meadowlands while baseball was still in progress.

Sunday’s final was Falcons 17 Giants 14. Also, Brewers 8 Mets 4. And for what it’s worth, Islanders 4 Rangers 0. That last score wasn’t worth anything, actually, as it was preseason hockey, but hockey was already knocking on the door. I noticed the ice freezing beneath our feet because after I returned from the Giants loss via NJ Transit to Penn Station, and with some time to kill before I could take the LIRR home, I stepped back into the sunlight outside Penn Station (my first exposure to Manhattan since January 2020). I took a walk up Seventh Ave. and down 33rd St. with my radio in my ear, because, well, the Mets were playing. Never mind that the Mets were losing and had been losing for weeks and they were in Milwaukee playing a so-called meaningless game. Do you think I believe the Mets play meaningless games?

So I’m in my Giants garb; I’m listening to the Mets game; and entering my peripheral vision are folks in Rangers sweaters and Islanders sweaters streaming into the Garden. I’ve got a sunburn. It’s football season. It’s almost hockey season. But baseball — the summer game — hasn’t left me yet.

Four days later, however, it was getting set to take off. My sunburn, treated with moisturizing lotion, had all but faded. I was headed to Citi Field for Closing Night in a blue hoodie emblazoned with the promise that THE PENNANT WILL RISE. It did rise. The hoodie is from 2015. Its logo wasn’t renewable. A hoodie, I thought, will do the trick for the thirtieth night of September. We’ve had such beautiful weather lately. I know it’s Flushing in the fall, but the temperature appeared agreeable on my phone and it’s still early fall, isn’t it?

Not in Section 518 at Citi, where I’d forgotten that seasons change of their own volition. It wasn’t freaking cold. But it was chilly. It was chilly enough so that if the blue hoodie was a starting pitcher, it would need a jacket warming up behind it by the third. Too bad my bullpen full of warmer jackets was left cooling its heels in a closet on Long Island.

I didn’t really need the symbolism, but there it was. It was indisputably fall in Promenade. Nevertheless, what a heartwarming destination. It was indeed Closing Night, the darker-complexioned sibling of Closing Day. Officially, it was only the Home Closer, for three pointless (if not meaningless) games await in Atlanta, where a division has been blessedly clinched, ensuring we won’t serve as fodder for a Brave celebration or, somehow worse, act as spoilers on behalf of the Phillies. Finality will come this Sunday. The home version arrived on a Thursday.

Readers of this space know I maintain a whole shtick about going to Closing Day, an annual tradition planted in my head over the past quarter-century. It started in 1995. It paused only in 2020, when everything about going to ballgames paused. I watched last year’s final home game on television because there was no entry permitted for fans. The spell didn’t break, but I think some of the starch escaped my determination to be on the scene. I mean I wasn’t not going to go to Closing Night, but I did feel a bit perfunctory about it.

Until I arrived, underdressed and all. Then I knew I was in the right place at the right time. Lightly populated Promenade was where I had to be. Game 81 was when I had to be there. Except for a half-inning in the company of my fellow Closing Day aficionado Kevin Connell, who gets the Mets like nobody I know gets the Mets and understood the necessity of carrying a raccoon coat just in case it got cold, I soloed. That was also the right call. My wife is my +1 for Closing Day when it’s on a Sunday. Stephanie indeed joined me for the Final Sunday (it’s earned Upper Case status in our abode) a couple of Sundays ago. Thursday would be Neil Diamond territory and I’d be what I am — a solitary fan.

Going to a game by myself sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. Sometimes I dive into my earbuds for Howie and partner. Howie, as you know, isn’t on the air as this season ends. No offense to Wayne and Ed, but Closing Night with any other voice wasn’t gonna do it. I kept my radio off for nine innings. Really, I didn’t need narration. I felt this game in my bones. Sort of like the chill from the breeze blowing in from Flushing Bay. It was my purest Mets baseball experience since I don’t know when.

I attended eleven games in 2021. The first ten turned out to be practice for the eleventh. From June 23 through September 19, I never quite shook off that it was a little weird being at the ballpark after 2020. Maybe it was because I didn’t get there until June 23 and had to really think about whether it was where I wanted to be after not being in a crowd since earliest 2020. My June 23 return to Excelsior with my wife was, in fact, sublime. Same for our Final Sunday on September 19.

In between, there was a magnificent late-July homestand that encompassed three scintillating wins earned by a run apiece — 5-4 over Toronto; 2-1 over Atlanta; 5-4 over Cincinnati — made better because the aforementioned Kevin and the savvy Mark Simon were a part of them (I’ll forgive Kevin and Mark for each independently convincing me the Mets were a surefire playoff team). I saw, from the press box, Jon Matlack, Ron Darling and Edgardo Alfonzo inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame and Jerry Koosman have No. 36 retired. I spent a veritable rainout laughing with the Chasins and not terribly minding losses because during them I sat once next to Rob Emproto and once next to Dan Gold. I withstood a seven-inning defeat in a cushy seat adjacent to Brian Sokoloff and brushed the L off my shoulders. I watched one inning one night with the Chapmans, long enough to bump fists after a Kevin Pillar homer. I got a pregame reunion with world traveler Jason Fry of Faith and Fear in Flushing. I reveled in some solid “hi, how do ya do?” with an array of friendly faces besides.

What I’m saying is I was thrilled to be at Citi Field those previous ten times and more than thrilled to share my Mets experience as I was privileged to. Yet none of it quite hit the spot until I hit the spot of Closing Night. The spot required more coverage than I’d realized, and my hitting of it apparently needed more reps in the cage. I once asked Ike Davis what he meant when he said he’d lost “the rhythm of the game” after being out most of a season. Nearly a decade later, I think I get it.

I found my rhythm of the game on Closing Night. Walking into that Rotunda. Paying homage to Mr. Seaver in the Museum after gladly flashing my proof of vaccination. Browsing for 25%-off bargains in the team store. Jumping on the Pat LaFrieda line because it was short. Grabbing a vacated picnic table upstairs and not dripping any of the delightful steak sandwich on me. Having my choice of seats in Row 6 and choosing Seat 6, secure that nobody was going to ask me to move. Kibbitzing lightly with a mother and young son who wanted to know if “the coaches are better than the players,” which was actually a pretty good question from the kid. “It’s not that they’re better, but they’re older and have been around and can teach them things,” was my adequate answer.

I had plenty of clapping room, so I clapped a lot. I wasn’t going to bother anybody by yelling, so I yelled a lot. I yelled for the Mets, not at the Mets. I grumbled a little in isolated pockets of frustration, but I was mostly Chamber of Commerce supportive of the home team. I was all about getting Rich Hill a win. I didn’t know Rich Hill from a hill in the head when he showed up from Tampa Bay. I don’t know if I know him substantially better now, but I thought if you get twelve starts with a team, you deserve a win by your twelfth start. (I think that’s how the Subway Sub Club card worked.)

We got Rich Hill enough of a lead so he could bat in the bottom of the fourth. That was no incidental detail. Rich Hill, starting pitcher for the New York Mets, went up to the plate, because it was his turn in the batting order. We may never pass this way again, what with the designated hitter stretching in some cosmos-disturbing National League on-deck circle. Hill might have been pinch-hit for had James McCann not doubled in a pair of runs to furnish Rich a 5-3 lead. McCann has had, I believe, six hits all year, but every one of them has been enormous.

Hill bunted and sacrificed McCann to second, just as NL hurlers have been asked to do for all but one of the past 145 years, or since Rich Hill was a lad. He had done his pitcherly duty, and I leapt to my feet to applaud. Then, armed with a 6-3 lead, he went out to work the fifth, throw his “69 MPH UNKNOWN” (by the scoreboard’s reckoning) and qualify for the decision. He preserved that lead — his lead — and left as the pitcher of record on the winning side. I stood and applauded again. Like autumn’s chill, a generosity of spirit pervaded the air.

A fan who can get sentimental for a pitcher who’s trucked onto the lot for all of two months and likely won’t be seen again in these parts is surely gonna go over the top for a franchise-level player who’s given us seven seasons yet may not be invited back for an eighth. Bubbling under the rest of the Closing Night proceedings — the LaFrieda indulgence (I went back for midgame steak frites); the McCann clutchitude; the Alonso explosion (two homers, one off a catcher, a third robbed by a center fielder); the Lindor grand slam; the relievers bringing relief; the hearty singing or clapping along to everything Citi’s A/V squad offered up (very much including “Piano Man”) — was the knowledge that this was Michael Conforto’s last home game.

Last home game of his current contract? Or last home game as a New York Met? They wouldn’t tell us in advance. On the Season 46 finale of SNL, Cecily Strong and Pete Davidson each had a farewell showcase and soaked in years’ worth of applause. They’ll both be back this weekend for Season 47. You never know unless you do know. For David Wright three Septembers ago, we knew. For Edgardo Alfonzo in 2002, we didn’t know. For Jose Reyes in 2011, we didn’t know. I was at what became the final home games for Fonzie and Jose (though Jose would have a second act later). I knew their contracts were up. I knew there was a chance they’d be leaving. But I didn’t really think it would happen.

No, you never know unless you do know. Hence, you can’t dismiss the possibility you won’t see Michael Conforto in a Mets uniform again until Old Timers Day 2035, when the 20th anniversary of the 2015 Mets who Raised the Pennant will be saluted at the Cohen Dome. I applauded Conforto all night, for everything, beyond the three hits, the two RBIs and the shoestring catch, though by the shoestring catch in the ninth, everybody was on the Conforto trail. Michael understood what was up. I couldn’t see him be emotional from where I sat, but I definitely heard it listening to him on the postgame show.

How the hell is it seven seasons that Michael Conforto has been a Met? How the hell is it something I started doing one, two, three Closing Days in a row is now up to twenty-six consecutive (asterisk for 2020 implied)? How is it this season, which has dragged and dragged until it can drag no more, is done with home games and about to be done with all games? How is it one solitary resounding 12-3 victory over the crummy Marlins can briefly preempt all sound judgment over the larger almost-as-recent sample size of dismal Mets baseball? Or did I really believe what I was saying to anybody who’d listen as I departed Promenade, that “we’ll get ’em next year!”?

In 2019, the Never Day Die Mets finished the season on an incredible note, per Gary Cohen by way of Dom Smith. Tonight, the 2021 clinically dead Mets will return to their motions. I’m not expecting the season-sealing series at Truist Park to be particularly pretty let alone potentially portentous of getting ’em next year. The Mets were 75-83 before Closing Night. They’re 76-83 following Closing Night. Yet for one last time, in the aftermath of a summer when they lost their footing, I was there for them and they were there for me, all for the fees-included price of $10.52 on StubHub, plus whatever I funneled toward the LaFrieda organization for situational sustenance.

I had a whale of a time for a few hours, I transcended the unsubtle hint that autumn is upon us, and I managed to be upbeat rather than depressed about this thing of ours. Cripes, I sang out loud in public. Whatever the Mets do or don’t do in the offseason to redirect their competitive arc wasn’t going to hinge on somebody in the counting house gleefully wrapping their mitts around my ten-and-a-half bucks, villainously twirling a mustache, and only then extending Luis Rojas indefinitely, therefore condemning us to another five years of mediocrity. Call me a “sucker,” if you must; somebody in the comments section did the other day when I mentioned I looked forward to going to this game. I call myself glad I went.

Inevitably, there was the Super Express to catch in order to ensure making the 11:20 at Woodside, so I didn’t linger at Seat 6 in Row 6 as long as I might have on a more leisurely Closing Day. Yet I didn’t want to step away for winter without…something. I wasn’t sure what would suffice, but in the moment, I chose, inside the Rotunda, a few feet short of the exit, to pause; turn around; and wave my Superstripe cap (purchased on those very premises, July 12, 2009, and still going strong) up toward Field Level, the field, Promenade, the Mets…the Mets experience. My Mets experience, I suppose. Eleven games there this season. Two-hundred eighty-seven regular-season games since Citi Field opened. Four-hundred two regular-season games at Shea before Shea closed. Forty-eight seasons of going to Mets games. Four seasons prior to 1973 when I would have embraced going but was too young to instigate game-going agency. One season when a pandemic decided none of us could attend.

Getting back to the ballpark. Hoping for the best. Sometimes getting a taste. Not giving up. Not letting go. Ten times wonderful. Eleventh time the absolute charm.

Yeah, I think that’s worth tipping a cap to.

28 comments to One Last Caress, It’s Time to Dress for Fall

  • 9th string catcher

    Some really Angellic writing, Greg. Nicely done.

  • Greg – I have adopted your “Closing Day” terminology in recent years and had a great one.

    Our seats were in the first row just behind where the guy authenticates balls and bats for MLB. We sit in good seats usually, but are never that close.

    However, we spent an inning or two in Left Center (apparently missing a hell of a robbery happening right in front of us) as I caught up with an old high school friend. We then snuck him and his kid into our row for the remainder of the fireworks.

    I really hope we have not seen the end of Mssrs Conforto and Syndergaard, but Conforto’s catch was a wonderful moment and by Heath Hembree…just like that it’s over.

  • Gene Frey

    Always good to see you at the park. Closing Day has become part of our routine as well, and they gave us a fun game to watch.

  • Dave Singer

    The last two years have materially changed my feelings on the team, and not for the better. GKR aging, management in disarray, beloved homegrown talent leaving to become all-stars elsewhere, and no vision we can rally around.

    But at least we have each other….my biggest realization is it is not the Mets that bind us all, it is ourselves and our collective love of the team and the game…..well, and Jacob deGrom….and Noah…and Pete…and rooting for an old man to win a meaningless game….sigh….we are doing this again next year, aren’t we?

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Seemed odd to have a Closing Night, or for that matter it not even being on a Sunday. Also, whatever happened to Fan Appeciation Day? Still have my 1969 Key Chain.

    • They did send a Perks Patrol representative to our section multiple times to toss t-shirts at those willing to express desperation for one. If that doesn’t scream Fan Appreciation, I don’t know what does.

  • Roger Tusiani-Eng

    Greg, Thank you for the summation of our Metsian state of affairs, and for your undying love and devotion for the Orange and Blue. I always look forward to what you and Jason muse, win or lose. Often, it’s the same as what I am thinking and feeling, but I neither have the talent or the words to express it. Best part of my mornings. LGM! Always! Thank you for your service.

  • Seth

    Greg, having been at the game what’s your take on the GKR assertion that the crowd was lukewarm to Conforto and didn’t really acknowledge him until the great catch he made near the end of the game? Gary seemed perplexed at the initial lack of reaction.

  • Eric

    Cue James Earl Jones, except you’re talking Mets baseball for us on top of the National Pastime.

    It’s fitting that Rich Hill started and won on Closing Day. He too is a timeless baseball archetype, the crafty soft-tossing grizzled southpaw who can lay down a bunt like it’s his job and be counted on for 3 runs, 5 innings, give or take, every 5th day in an era of trendy fireballers who can’t bunt and are constantly hurt. There’s a place for him.

    Randazzo and Coleman’s nod to Closing Day was joking about a fan’s overflowing cheese nacho helmet bowl, that the food vendors were emptying their inventory because there’s no tomorrow.

    I respect how the Braves clinched in the face of the Phillies. Homegrown Rojas has failed as Mets manager. But then, Girardi, the World Series winner who many of us wanted for the Mets, has failed as Phillies manager.

    As much as I want to imagine different, I suspect had the Mets reached the season ender with the Phillies’ chance to catch up, the Braves would have done the same to the Mets. The Braves are the NLE version of the Cardinal Way. Thinking about a field and front office management shakeup, I want that kind of culture added to the Mets.

    It was sad when Flores left. It’ll be sad if another piece of the 2015 promise in Conforto breaks away, especially since he was the heir apparent to Wright. Sentimentally, I hope he and Syndergaard come back, too.

  • Joey G

    Love the Michel LeGrand song reference in the title. This season has been only slightly less melancholy than another of his titles, the theme to “Brian’s Song.” Let us all hope that next year, actual Closing Day will be a brisk late October or early November evening at home in Flushing closing out a successful Fall Classic appearance.

  • eric1973

    All true stories end in death…
    Well, this is a true story.

  • dmg

    I too have made a tradition of Closing Night and its last late-season chance to soak in all that the park offers — the game, the green, the goofy, and very much, the fans. As much as to thank the players, Closing Night is for saying goodbye to those others I don’t have to explain my choice of shirt or fedora; who share the joy and aggravation of rooting for this team; who also know what is mothballing for six months.

    I traipsed around Citi for much of the evening, checking in with friends in sections 404, 508, 129, etc. But I returned often enough to my home section of 103 to shout appreciation for the right fielder stationed nearby. Well before his ninth-inning catch, he’d gotten love all night from what one fan’s sign dubbed Conforto’s Corner. (How the heck has it been seven years?) Sure hope he’s back next year, even on a QO; definitely not counting on it.

    • On my visits to right field over the years, I’ve always enjoyed the interaction between the occupant and the nearby seatholders. Conforto’s has always seemed the most earnest.

  • Bob

    Glad you could go a Met victory with some special highlights/memories after this season.
    You deserve all the Orange & Blue Good Karma you could soak in.
    Thanks again to you & Jason for all your great writing!
    Let’s Go Mets –for ever and ever!

  • Stuart Cohn

    Great writing, Greg. As usual. What a schizo season. This was one of my favorite Mets teams ever– I’ve seen them all– until it wasn’t. Maybe they’ll start to get their act together in the off-season. Meanwhile, we in the Mets Universe have each other and may it ever be thus.

  • BlackCountryMet

    Great writing Greg, see you next season (at some point in person) CBA allowing