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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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No. 25, No. 26, No. 27...

On July 22, 1995, the no-name, no-hope New York Mets were hot, having emerged from the All-Star break winning seven of nine. On the soundstage where they shot Star Trek: Voyager, Jeri Ryan presumably looked up, thinking her character was written into a new scene as SportsCenter blared in the background.

Seven of nine! The Mets had spent the first half of that strike-delayed season stashed in last place, as if on the lam, figuring no one would find them if they lodged themselves far down enough down the cellar. But now, having shaken off those April-to-June doldrums, they were, reliable sources could have sworn, ready to start climbing in earnest. Instead, on July 22, a Saturday, they lost. Then they lost again on Sunday. They’d go on to lose every day clear through Wednesday.

Happy Swanniversary!

Was this any way to start a marriage? Maybe not the marriage of the Mets and post-1993 respectability, but it worked for Susan Laney and Garry Spector, who were engaging in marriage to each other somewhere in Oklahoma, Susan’s home state as well as that of 1995 Mets Kelly Stinnett and Butch Huskey, along with Mets voice for all seasons Bob Murphy. I didn’t know either Garry or Susan then, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and imagine some time before the first pitch of that Saturday ceremony, Garry checked the box score of the Mets-Rockies game in Colorado from the night before.

I’ll also take the liberty of deciding their honeymoon was perfectly lovely despite the five-game losing streak that probably crossed Garry’s field of vision at some point in the first throes of wedded bliss. I made sure to get married in November so I wouldn’t have to sweat such details. But this isn’t about me. It’s about Garry and Susan getting married when they did and life continuing on for them back in the Northeast, she a world-class oboist (or have you not heard of the Metropolitan Opera?), he a top-flight chemist, if I have his science credentials correct. I’ve rarely seen better chemistry between two people than that which exists between Susan and Garry, so I’m gonna assume I do.

As implied above, Garry’s been a Mets fan for a long time, long before winning seven of nine ranked as an unparalleled achievement for the mid-1995 Mets. Garry’s been a Mets fan long enough to inspect a roster of early-1970s Mets and decide somewhere on there was a defending world champion who’d love to come to his Bar Mitzvah. The act of addressing invitations transcends whether any of them showed. I’m not sure how long Susan has loved the Mets. Perhaps it had something to do at first with loving Garry. She’s her own fan, however. Read her blog Perfect Pitch for confirmation.

They lived as Mets fans, they raised a Mets fan daughter and they invested in the Mets, holding prime season tickets since before Shea went away and after Citi Field opened. You might know them as “the Spectors” of Section 318 — directly in front of the radio booth — if you listen to the games over WCBS with any frequency. Howie knows Susan and Garry are there practically every night. When a foul ball is heading directly back into the crowd, Howie from time to time estimates, “That might reach our friends the Spectors in Section 318.” When your team’s play-by-play announcer has conferred ground rule status upon your presence, you indeed get to a lot of games.

I don’t know who’ll be sitting in those seats tonight for the Mets and Phillies. None among Susan, Garry or daughter Melanie (a Resident Artist with Detroit Opera herself) will be. They’ll be a level below, having taken a suite for the evening. It’s a big suite. It’s a big night. DeGrom is pitching against Nola, but it’s bigger even than that. The Spectors are celebrating an amalgam of their 25th, 26th and 27th anniversaries tonight at Citi Field. If the Mets are at home, where else would the Spectors be?

Your math skills don’t elude you. No. 25 — the Del Unser anniversary, to my thinking — was two years plus a few weeks ago. They planned their Unser down to the D-E-L, or the letter. The only thing the Spectors couldn’t plan on was what 2020 had in store for all of us. No, nobody was going to a ballpark in 2020. Nobody was going much of anywhere. Thus, Del Unser would be double-switched out of the anniversary game for…

That’s right, Dave Kingman, No. 26. They were gonna do in 2021 what they intended do in 2020. But you know how Sky King could be about striking out. The COVID situation was still capable of diving for fly balls and doing something unspeakable to its thumb. Alas, the Kingman anniversary had to take a seat next to the Unser.

It’s a new year, a better year where the Mets are concerned, which is nice. It has a new anniversary going for it: No. 27, Craig Swan. Perfect. Swannie led the league in ERA once. So has Jake. Officially, the Spectors have dubbed the evening “Twenty-Five Plus Two,” which encompasses Swan and Kingman and Unser as I see it. They’ve been kind enough to invite Stephanie and me to join them and their friends and family at Citi Field tonight. We carry the credentials of neither Art Shamsky nor Ron Swoboda nor anybody Garry sought for his Bar Mitzvah, but we are honored to attend.

The best thing I can think to give them is the game of April 28, 1976. It’s not really mine to give them, but it’s not like it’s doing anything else right now but gathering dust in the archives. On that Wednesday afternoon at Shea Stadium, Craig Swan — 27 in your scorecard, folks — took the start against the Atlanta Braves. The game began at 4:05. That was intentional. It’s also probably irrelevant, but the Mets experimenting with 4:05 weekday afternoon starts early in the 1976 seasons sticks with me (M. Donald Grant, what an innovator). Attendance spiked all the way to 7,602 from the day before, which also started at 4:05 PM. On Tuesday April 27, the Mets and Braves drew 4,002. Bruce Boisclair ended that game with a double that drove in Jerry Grote and John Milner with the tying and winning runs. Perhaps the residual Boisclair-generated excitement is what nearly doubled the gate. Maybe young Garry Spector dropped everything he was doing up in Albany, hopped a bus and joined in the fun (probably too long a commute for young Susan Laney out in Oklahoma).

So Swan started and threw a shutout inning. One zero on the board. Versus three-time All-Star Andy Messersmith, a celebrated acquisition for Ted Turner’s Braves (he was the first active pitcher specifically freed from the reserve clause, a remnant of baseball’s moldy past about to be completely consigned to the ash heap of history, and granted the agency to seek employment where he chose — in other words, the majors’ first true free agent), Boisclair led off the first by looking at strike three. I guess Bruce tired of heroics quickly. Felix Millan came up next, choked up on his bat and flied to the shortstop. Two outs, nobody on…but wait! Who’s that coming up to bat?

Why, it’s No. 25, Del Unser. No. 25 is what Susan and Garry set out to celebrate two years ago until COVID walked away with the party. Del retroactively makes it up to us here by walking against Messersmith. Unser’s on first. Batting cleanup for these 1976 Mets? It’s Ed Kranepool. He wears No. 7 and he’s perennial. You can put him in most any Met story between September 1962 and September 1979, and Eddie fits. Eddie singles. Del zips to third.

Which means the five-hole hitter will have a turn at bat in the bottom of the first, and batting fifth, at manager Joe Frazier’s behest, is the holder of the New York Mets’ single-season home run record, established one year earlier and already appearing in danger of extinction in the year ahead. It’s No. 26, Dave Kingman. Kingman has hit eight home runs in the Mets’ first seventeen games. He’s hit them out of Shea, out of Three Rivers, especially out of Wrigley, onto Waveland Avenue, a.k.a. the Cubs’ backyard. One of Kingman’s dingers was reported to have cleared “everything on Waveland Avenue but a treetop”. Another was said to have “hit the porch roof of the third house up the block on Kenmore Street”. Viewers in New York learned so much about Chicago geography from Dave Kingman batting.

Nothing much lurked directly beyond Shea Stadium’s left field fence except the parking lot. After a bunt attempt went for naught — Kingman was a slugger more infatuated with the element of surprise than he was his own raw power — Dave turned his focus to the general direction of the fans’ cars. BAM! (sound effect added), the score was 3-0, Mets. “It wasn’t a home run cut,” the reticent Kingman appraised. Some hitters don’t need to swing as hard as they can. Sky King left the Chryslers and Plymouths undented, reaching only the Braves bullpen, but it was a long enough shot. He now had nine homers in eighteen games, which could be extrapolated to 81 in 162 games. If you don’t think there was a kid on Long Island calculating the record-shattering pace Kingman was on, then you didn’t know me then and don’t me now.

But again, this isn’t about me. This is a celebration of No. 25, who scored the Mets’ first run, and No. 26, who drove in the Mets’ first and only three runs of April 28, and, mostly, No. 27. Craig Swan took his three-run lead and guarded it with his life. Swannie pitched nine innings, the distance. He struck out eleven Braves, allowing only five singles and one walk. No runs. It became the first complete game of Swannie’s career and, of course, his first shutout. Messersmith, whose free agent availability attracted interest in the offseason from owners who wished there was no such thing as free agency, tipped his cap to his mound opponent:

“I was running into Walter Johnson That kid pitched a hell of a game.”

Even if Swannie never quite lived up to that kind of hype (Walter Johnson won 417 games, Craig won 59), No. 27 seized the day, with a big boost from No. 26 and a little help at the outset from No. 25. I really don’t need much of an excuse to invoke the likes of Craig Swan, Dave Kingman and Del Unser. Nice of Garry and Susan Spector to provide one. Everything about them is nice, actually. They truly deserve the best tonight. It’s appropriate they’re getting Jacob deGrom.

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