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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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Conviction of the Heart

A 7-1 win is, by nature, convincing. Thursday night at Citi Field, the Mets got the 7, the Pirates got the 1 — the Mets won by a lot, no doubt about it. Very convincing.

Very convincing for Thursday night, at least. Every win the Mets have racked up since September 2, within the parameters of the nine innings of those wins, could convince the hell out of even the most skeptical cynic or cynical skeptic that most everything is hunky-dory, and what isn’t rates as no less than okey-dokey. The Mets’ winning scores these past weeks have been 7-3, 5-1, 10-0, 11-3, 9-3 and now 7-1. Convinced?

Not if your conviction is those victories, no matter how they satisfy as they turn final, aren’t the end of the story. And how can you be convinced otherwise when those episodes of resounding triumph intermingle with the convincing losses that have piled up since September 3: 7-1, 7-1 again, 8-2, 6-3, 5-2, 4-1 and 6-3? Three six-run losses, three three-run losses, with the three-run losses feeling little different from the six-run losses when Ls were said and done.

I’ve heard myself think as we reached the mid-point of September, even after the completion of a resounding W like Thursday’s, that I’d sure like to win some close games, if only because that’s what the Mets were doing before the wildly uneven (allegedly easy) portion of the schedule took hold, back when I was absolutely convinced that everything was gonna turn out fine. The Mets’ six wins prior to lowering themselves to the depths of the National League only to discover how easily they fit in with the competition were accomplished by scores of 10-9, 3-1, 7-6, 3-0, 2-1 and 5-3. Close wins, one after the other, indicate a team constructed of uncommon mental toughness…or so we might convince ourselves because it sounds good in our head. It sounds great, actually, now that the Mets have lately ceased winning and even playing tight games. The Mets lost several heartbreakers, too, as August closed: 4-2, 4-2 again, 1-0 and 4-3. Maybe we were convinced we were rooting for one kind of team, a team that toughs it out every night and emerges ahead more often than not, only to have that conviction shattered when every game became either a lopsided win or a somnambulant loss.

The taking of one game at a time, still one of the best bromides baseball has ever produced, seems most advisable, though with 145 games already taken as a whole, it’s difficult to convince yourself that every day is an unknowable adventure. We see trends! We see patterns! We see games whose conclusions can be detected and projected before the games begin! (I see fertile terrain for the gambling entity that advertises you should place bets on your phone as you while away spare minutes on your toilet.)

The one game at a time we took Thursday night felt good as it built to 7-1, and it certainly felt spectacular to have won, 7-1, with the Met win column welcoming its first new member since Sunday, bringing its total for the season to a crisp 90. Amazing how lonely those first 89 were beginning to look. The Mets team that posted Win No. 90 resembled the Mets team that didn’t worry a person too much for the first five months of the season. Familiar figures Carlos Carrasco (6 IP, 1 ER, 11 SO) and Francisco Lindor (a two-run homer in the third) provided the foundation. Cleverly added newcomers Daniel Vogelbach (3 RBIs) and Mark Vientos (a run driven in on his first major league hit) contributed to the fortification. Everything you liked about the 2022 Mets was on display, especially the final score, even if you’ve reached the stage of September when even a perfectly desirable final score leaves you a tad shy of convinced.

The half of Faith and Fear in Flushing who hasn’t self-imposed a ban on attending Mets home games was at Citi Field Thursday night. I made it to my 700th regular-season Mets home game, to be precise. That’s 700 since July 11, 1973. It would have been hard to have squeezed them all into one night. The Mets’ record with me in attendance climbed to 388-312 lifetime, which works out to roughly 90 wins in a hypothetical 162-game season. Given that the 700th game coincided with the 90th win for these Mets, perhaps it was kismet that I was there.

I showed up less because I consider myself some kind of lucky charm (though in 2022, the Mets have gone 8-3 with me on hand) than because of the gesture the Mets and Pirates were making toward baseball history and extraordinary humanity. I wanted to be there on Roberto Clemente Night (having missed the first one in Queens in 1971). I wanted to be there to remember No. 21, which was going to be facilitated by every Met and every Pirate wearing No. 21. One Met wearing 21 is nothing new; we look forward to Max Scherzer wearing it again real soon. But any Pirate, let alone all of them, wearing it was stunning. We haven’t seen a Pirate wear 21 since 1972.

Roberto Clemente was one of the pillars of my youth. Mays. Aaron. Clemente. That was National League baseball at its finest, the National League baseball that offered the context around the team I fell in love with. Sometimes Tom Seaver or Jerry Koosman or Gary Gentry had to face an all-time great. It was hard to believe that somebody like Roberto Clemente with his slashing bat, lightning legs, cannon arm and unmatched determination strode the earth just like everybody else on a baseball card. One of my first cards, from 1967, was of “Bob” Clemente. When I started watching games, there was a Roberto Clemente. Same guy? Same guy, previously mislabeled. He was Roberto all the way. Topps’s Anglicization department didn’t know what it was talking about.

As I’ve continued to read about Clemente in the years since he went down in a plane crash while rushing to the aid of earthquake victims in Nicaragua on my tenth birthday, I’ve learned Topps wasn’t alone. Clemente was singular in his impact on the direction baseball took. He was the first dark-skinned Latin superstar but surely not the last who wouldn’t be fully understood by the English-speaking press. He surely wasn’t the last to encounter discrimination in the USA, but he absorbed a ton of it so maybe things would get a little easier for those players who’d follow in his wake from his part of the world. He was already an idol in Puerto Rico before he died. It’s fifty years since his tragic passing, and his legend has only grown stronger there and everywhere. MLB gives out an award annually to the player who performs with selflessness off the field in the spirit of Roberto Clemente. He rates a Day every year. His example rates a Day every day.

I applied for and received media credentials Thursday night because a long line of previous Roberto Clemente Award winners was going to unfurl at Citi Field and a subset of those gentlemen were going to speak to reporters before the game. I wanted to experience that first-hand. It was indeed an experience. Seven of them sat down at a podium flanking Luis Clemente, one of Roberto’s sons. On the left were three Mets who won the award: Al Leiter, Carlos Delgado and Curtis Granderson. On the right, four more players who needed no introduction: Jim Thome, Steve Garvey, Harold Reynolds and Dave Winfield. Talk about your packs of cards coming to life. Every one of them, regardless of when they played or where they called home, spoke to the meaningfulness of being honored by receiving the Roberto Clemente Award. “I’m not here if it’s not for community,” Grandy explained about wanting to do for others from the perch of MLB stardom. Only Garvey played as something of a contemporary of Clemente’s, but they all felt his impact and were compelled to carry on his legacy.

Every player in 21 for one night made quite the statement. Once I got past the “when did Lucas Duda come back?” reflex reaction to seeing No. 21 run out a ground ball (“oh right, that’s James McCann”), I thought it was beautiful. Same for the pregame ceremonies that included Roberto’s toddler grandson throwing out a first ball while displaying what could be best described as the family arm. Jose Feliciano stumbled a bit on the Star Spangled Banner, but his performance in his native tongue and mere presence added an unmistakable grace note to the proceedings. Former Clemente winner Carlos Beltran, whose Met managing career was snuffed before it could start, was cheered every bit as much as the other honored guests — save for Jimmy Rollins, whose good works may not have been appreciated by a Met crowd on any occasion. The movement spurred by Latin players to have 21 receive the 42 treatment and be retired leaguewide in recognition of Roberto’s transcendence didn’t culminate in any momentous announcement Thursday night, but I imagine it gained some traction. That, too, would be quite a gesture.

A moving night of baseball came to a close in the wee hours with word that John Stearns had died. We knew he’d been ill. He made it to Old Timers Day on August 29, traveling from Colorado in a condition that could best be described as frail. In a day crafted of feelgreat moments, Stearns’s may have felt best of all. The man wanted to be back in Queens one more time, wanted to wear the Mets uniform one more time, wanted to respond to the cheers of Mets fans one more time. He got all that less than three weeks before he passed away.

If you were a Mets fan during the heyday of John Stearns, one word comes to mind: indefatigable. John Stearns was not to be defeated. He might play on a bunch of losing teams, teams for whom six-run losses were the norm, but John Stearns wasn’t going to accept it as inevitable. John Stearns strove to play winning baseball. On one of those nights when I was notching one of my thus far 700 games in attendance, I clearly remember telling my friend Joel, just as we were stepping outside Shea Stadium, that everything there is to like about this team is embodied by John Stearns. I didn’t use those words exactly (the Mets had just lost), but I remember believing he was the best of us.

John Stearns was the player I wished every Met could be. Tough. Talented. Driven. Not taken down by anything that wasn’t physical, and even then he fought off aches and pains as he did onrushing baserunners (not to mention stray interlopers to his place of business). Stearns went to the All-Star Game four times as a Met. He set a league stolen base mark for catchers when he wasn’t cutting down attempted thievery. He wouldn’t take lose for an answer, even when the test wasn’t multiple choice. On the final weekend of his major league career, John planted himself behind the plate and caught the 90th win of the Mets’ renaissance season of 1984. By then the veteran who’d been in the bigs since 1974 and never sniffed the playoffs had been injured for most of two years. Yet here he was, if not turning back time, then definitely not allowing it to bowl him over or jar the ball from his mitt. We dreamed of rooting for a Mets team that would win that many games in a year. We dreamed that such a Mets team would include John Stearns.

If I could buy a ticket to Shea Stadium one more time, look up at the mighty scoreboard to learn the lineup, and find “12 C” listed within the heart of the order, I’d get my money’s worth. Of that I’m thoroughly convinced.

A new episode of National League Town is out. As always, I’d be honored if you’d listen.

14 comments to Conviction of the Heart

  • Seth

    At first I thought it was Cleon Jones night, then I realized. I remember clearly as a young Mets fan watching Roberto’s 3,000th hit, against the Mets. It was impressive at the time even though he was an opposing player.

  • Joey G

    Truly a shame that “Bad Dude” did not make it to the Promised Land of 1986, unlike his late ’70s and early ’80s compatriots, Maz and Mookie. I hope that the ovation he received on Old Timer’s Day warmed his heart one last time.

  • Curt Emanuel

    John Stearns. Another icon from my days of listening to Mets games on my cheap radio during the 70’s. Less after 1980 as college and then work took over. I don’t know why but he and Ed Kranepool were the two Mets of the 70’s I most gravitated towards, after Donald Grant cut my heart out one night.

    There was a mention on Fox – and I have ZERO idea if this is feasible. They said that Marte’s finger mainly bothered him when he threw and mused about him as a DH. In light of our, excepting last night, abysmal production from that spot, I can’t help hoping. Let Vientos and his hit & RBI head back to Syracuse for more ABs and see if that spot can start producing.

    And I had to check the box score again to be sure but 2 scoreless and zero walks from Joely? Gotta admit I had the feeling when he came in that the game was about to get competitive.

    For one day the sun shines again. Let’s see if we can get back to beating up weak teams again. But for all the good vibes, we still had bases loaded, nobody out, and didn’t score in the 3rd. At least it came after we put up 3 but still, it should have been 5 or 6.

  • eric1973

    “If I could buy a ticket to Shea Stadium one more time, look up at the mighty scoreboard to learn the lineup, and find “12 C” listed within the heart of the order, I’d get my money’s worth. Of that I’m thoroughly convinced.”

    Me too, Greg.

    My heart is broken, as John Stearns well earned his nickname. But actually, his nickname could just well have been ‘Good Dude.’

    He was the heart and soul in those years, and by all rights deserved better, though I’m sure he would not have traded a day of it.

    I will always remember him on Kiner’s Korner, after one of our rare Met wins, with his light blue T-shirt bearing the words, ‘YES WE CAN!’

    So glad he heard those final cheers 3 weeks ago, and only someone with his toughness could have made it here in that condition.

    Good bye, old friend.

  • Bob

    Congrats on your 700th W as a Met Fan!
    I recall when John Stearns was a young catcher for Mets and I recall how steady & what a good player he was.
    As for Roberto Clemente-I recall in late 60s at Shea, I was at game VS Bucs where he hit a pitch down around his ankles and whacked a 7-iron shot about 10 feet high over the 338 sign along RF line!
    Nice being able to exhale after Mets got a W last night!
    Instant Karma!
    Let’s Go Mets!!

  • Left Coast Jerry

    I don’t understand why MLB chose September 15 to honor Roberto Clemente. I don’t believe there is any significance to that particular date, and it makes no sense to do it on a day when 14 of 30 teams had the day off.

  • Paul from Brooklyn

    At the first game I ever attended Clemente hit a home run for a 2-1 win over Gary Gentry in May of ’70. He was a class act.
    R.I.P. Mr. John Stearns.It must have taken all his will to be there on Old Timer’s Day and we were happy to see him on the field one more time.
    In Buck we trust.
    Let’s Go Mets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Tom C.

    Great tribute to John Stearns, Greg. He WAS the late 70’s Mets to me and I always felt proud when he was introduced at his 4 All Star Games. Hard-nosed, determined and a flat-out gamer. I couldn’t believe I was seeing the same guy at Old Timer’s Day, but you could tell “Bad Dude” wouldn’t have missed it for the world. “The monster’s out of the cage!” Rest in peace, John.

  • Dave

    John Stearns consistently busted his butt playing for Mets teams whose seasons were spiritually over in April. A good friend who is a Mets Fantasy Camp veteran told me that no Met alum demanded and received more rapt attention than he did. Baseball has always needed more guys like John Stearns and now it has one less. RIP.

  • Eric

    I have attended Fantasy Camp twice and Stearns was our Commissioner both times. You would think he was Commissioner of Major League Baseball the way he ran our camp. He was everywhere always. Funny, cool, and he did his best to encourage each of us like we were about to get promoted to the bigs. He pitched against me in the game where we played against the pros and I hit a gapper double. I’ll never forget that. What a gift to have a personal story about one of our Metsiest of all Mets. We’ll miss you, Bad Dude.

  • Hi Greg. Been a while since I checked in, but I follow you always. It’s been some time since you posted my personal plea to get Ed Kranepool some help to get a kidney transplant. (Forever: A mighty long time; 2018). My health waxes and wains, but I remain encouraged by Mr. Kranepools appearances at Shea… Citi Field. (Old habit). I was particularly moved by John Stearns’ last appearance for Old-Timers day. Stearns embodied everything you would want in a baseball player. Tough, talented, fiery and without surcease. Ah, my late ’70’s Mets; A future Hall 0f Fame manager going up against howitzers with cap guns, and the mainstays, left after the hideous M. Donald Grant decimated the team; Stearns, Mazzilli, Henderson, Swan, Youngblood and yes, despite his reduced role, Ed Kranepool.
    Thank you again for your fabulous site. You bring joy to my life everyday. And honestly, who could ask for more?