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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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Empathy for the Devil

A funny thing happened midway through the Mets’ laugher of a victory over the Marlins.

The Mets were leading 7-1 at the halfway point of the game, having undressed poor Pablo Lopez in Soilmaster Stadium, and every hitter was on point, from Francisco Lindor continuing to beat all available Marlins like a drum to Patrick Mazeika slug-bunting singles around the shift.

And then Taijuan Walker lost a little focus, or a little steam, or maybe a bit of both. It was 7-1 after five, and Walker went back out for the sixth, and after a double and an RBI groundout and a home run (the first for the Marlins in the last 567 home games, if I heard correctly) it was 7-3 Mets, and so Tommy Hunter came on and his third pitch became a double and the Marlins were a hit away from being within three and all of sudden it sure seemed like there were a lot of outs yet to get.

The laughs, in other words, came with some pauses and then stopped.

And then Hunter struck out Joey Wendle and the Mets came to bat again and almost before you blinked they had two more runs. The first came when the Marlins somehow turned Luis Guillorme straying too far past second into an opportunity for Mark Canha to hurry home. The second came when Lindor smacked a bad-hop grounder that left Wendle starring in his own Jar Jar Binks deleted scene, with the ball caroming far enough away from the luckless second baseman that Brandon Nimmo was able to score all the way from first.

Just like that, the Marlins’ sixth-inning gains had been erased. The air came out of the teal and pink and black and white balloon, and from that point on the Miami hitters were no more than an occasional bother as the back of the Mets’ bullpen cleaned up the mess. It ended with the Mets winners by six runs, having pounded out 19 hits. Every member of the starting lineup ended the day with a hit. All but Mazeika scored a run. As for July, it goes in the books with the Mets having posted a 17-8 record and sitting 27 games over .500.

I don’t know how this season ends for the Mets. I don’t know if the statistical and spiritual antecedents being celebrated are heralds of something special or will become cruel pointers to what might have been. All of that will play out and we’ll chronicle it and it will make sense when it’s over, or at least when it’s over we’ll start telling the stories that we think feel the closest to summing it up.

That will be fun and exciting and anxious and lots of other good baseball things — and I was thinking of them on Sunday afternoon as the Mets rolled over the Marlins and beamed and slapped hands and said the right things in the clubhouse before catching a plane to D.C.

But I was also thinking of the other team. Not with pity or even particularly with charity, because the Marlins have bedeviled both me and baseball too often to deserve either.

But empathy? I could muster a little of that.

I’ve rooted for Mets teams that are on the wrong end of a laugher and start clawing and biting and somehow manage to make you believe again, or at least start trying on the idea that you might believe. And I’ve seen those same teams quash that flickering hope by returning tragically and instantly to themselves, turning spunk into slapstick and making you hate yourself for getting suckered again.

The AP recap linked to above notes that the Marlins entered this series on the periphery of the wild-card hunt, but that says a lot more about how watered down the playoffs are about to become than it does about Miami. Because the Marlins are bad — one of those teams that goes into battle with the rifle aimed at its own feet, so that every martial maneuver makes you cringe until the inevitable happens.

(And though it’s a borderline sin to point it out, what with Don Mattingly all but canonized as a mid-80s New York baseball saint, the Marlins also look badly led. They make mental mistakes and drag themselves around the field and fail to tamp down clubhouse dramas and the only apparent reaction from leadership is a slightly more steely look from above the dugout rail.)

I’ve rooted for those teams. Stubbornly and foolishly because I had no choice. I’ve done so while grimly aware my only reward would be that eventually the season would end and the bad team would get reconstituted into a different form. Heads would roll, justly and perhaps not, and I’d get a new team to assess.

The 2022 Mets promise rather different rewards. But in daydreaming of what those might be, I can’t shake entirely the shadow of those other seasons, the ones that became object lessons in patience. This year I’m lucky enough to root for a very good team — one that might be considered great before all is said and done. But I know I’ll find myself rooting for one of those other teams again. And I know it will be sooner than I’d like to think.

7 comments to Empathy for the Devil

  • open the gates

    Better them than us.

    Hey, I get the empathy. I remember the Mets of the mid-’80’s playing the really bad teams of those years – the Pirates and Braves come to mind. That Met team was the first really good team that I had ever had a chance to root for; and I would look at the Pirates and the Braves, and I would say, hey, that was our team a few years ago. And I’d say, I know what those poor fans must be going through because I lived it for seven years. But it always came back to the same four words: Better them than us.

    As for us rooting for a loser again, yeah, it’ll probably happen, because baseball. But I’d like to think that this team has a nice long run in it, maybe like that mid-’80’s team. I don’t think Steve Cohen assembled this team with a quick fix in mind. I think he and Billy Eppler are in it for the long haul. I think these guys are going to be winners for a long time. At least I hope so.

  • Eric

    Well said. This year’s team isn’t up and coming so that we can pretend to foresee a 3-5 year run like we did in 2015. It’s a veteran roster of 30-somethings and pending free agents. The team will be different next season, maybe very different. Enjoy these Mets in the moment.

    As much as I root for the Braves to lose every game, I enjoy that their keeping pace with the Mets is enhancing the season. The Phillies are sticking around, too.

  • Joey G

    Empathy is part of our Mets DNA. “To err is human, to forgive is a Mets fan.” As we hopefully enter a sustainable period of continued success, there is a sincere hope here that we retain our cultural bonhomie and not turn like Lon Chaney, Jr. into blood-thirsty wolves similar to many folks who root for the team on River Ave. I take no special pleasure in placing our collective heels on the throat of a downtrodden franchise like the Fish. The Braves with their offensive, idiotic, culturally-appropriated chants are another story altogether.

  • Dave

    Soilmaster Stadium? I thought it was Predatory Reverse Mortgage Field. Or is that their spring training site?

  • Jonathan Wynne

    This team is indeed pretty old. Amazingly, of the 45 or so players who have played for the Mets this year, only one, Khalil Lee, was born after 1996.

    • Eric

      It’s a reason that the platooning strategy makes sense. Besides production reasons, better to rest the older players more through the dog days to have them ready for the post-season.