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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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The Really Big Engine That Couldn't

The Mets, all $430-odd million of them, are a mess.

The hitting is anemic. The starting pitching is mediocre. The record is the literal definition of mediocracy. The vibe, not an official stat but readily detectable, is a lot worse than that, with fans increasingly fuming before taking their seats, looking for someone to blame and finding no shortage of targets.

It ain’t good, folks.

It ain’t good, and after you’ve shelled out approaching half a billion, fixes probably aren’t coming from outside. Brett Baty and Francisco Alvarez are already here. Justin Verlander is back. Expecting poor Mark Vientos to be a savior seems cruel; ditto for Ronny Mauricio. Improvement will have to come from within.

And you know what? It probably will — the gremlins of sequencing will afflict some other team, guys will play more to the back of their baseball cards than they have in a month and change, and buzzards’ luck will turn to whatever the opposite of buzzards’ luck is. (I’m imagining those cheerful little bluebirds that help out Snow White.)

Or maybe none of that will happen, and 2023 will go down in the annals as one of those years when Too Much Went Wrong, a bump on the road to future glory or a flashing warning sign to the downturn that in retrospect we’ll of course all have seen coming. Baseball in the moment is a strange beast, doing what it does attended by a swarm of observers’ stories zooming this way and that; we impose the rules of narrative on it when looking back, which baseball shrugs off because it’s moved on to a new present formlessness.

That’s a wordy-ass way of saying nobody knows. Right now the Mets are not good and not fun, something that unfortunately everybody knows.

* * *

Bill Pulsipher threw out the first pitch in Saturday’s game — the same Bill Pulsipher who a million years ago was part of Generation K, arriving alongside Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson to form a triumvirate of arms that were going to be the rock upon which rose a new Fortress Mets.

That never happened — the trio combined for less than 100 Met starts, and were never on the roster at the same time. At the time we argued equivalents, discussing who was Seaver and Koosman and Matlack; as it turned out all three guys were Gary Gentry, Exhibit A for the caution that ought to attend each and every young flamethrower.

A couple of baseball generations later, the memories of Generation K are almost entirely sad or bad. There’s Pulse and Izzy hurling balls around the field with reckless abandon, ignoring John Franco‘s prescient warning that they’d hurt their arms. There was the day the Mets caught a rehabbing Isringhausen playing co-ed softball for a team sponsored by a strip club. There was Wilson getting left in too long by Dallas Green against the Cubs and surrendering a Sammy Sosa homer that turned his imminent first triumph to ashes. And most of all there were injuries and reversals, self-inflicted and team-negligent and simply random. Pulse went from prospect to suspect, hanging on for a variety of teams as a spare part. Injuries reduced Wilson to ordinary with cruel speed. Only Isringhausen forged a notable career, and that was as a reliever. (Look back here, if you dare.)

Pulse was at Citi Field on Saturday for Mental Health Awareness Day, a concept whose mere acknowledgment by MLB would have been unthinkable in the days when Generation K stumbled across the earth. Between innings, he talked about his struggles with Steve Gelbs, offering an admission that struck me for its honesty: He’d felt anxiety bubble up for the ceremonial pitch. (I saw that later; at the time I was listening on radio, and Howie Rose did a nice job discussing not only Pulse but also the work of Allan Lans as the Mets’ long-ago team psychiatrist.)

Pulsipher and Lans were pioneers of a sort; these days baseball specifically and all of us in general are wiser and kinder about acknowledging mental health issues and treating them as real things to be dealt with like any other injury, instead of dismissed as weaknesses or failures. Pulse threw out the first pitch; the Rockies’ Austin Gomber and Daniel Bard have been open about anxiety and seeking treatment. That’s progress, though more is needed — no family or circle of friends is untouched by mental health, and the sooner we remove the stigma from such discussions, the easier it will be for those we love to open up, reach out and get help.

And there’s another context for Bill Pulsipher: His June 17, 1995 debut was the first meeting for a pair of Mets fans who’d become friendly while working through their Met-related angst on an America Online message board. I’d just moved from Maryland to Brooklyn and the Mets’ prized prospect was coming up to the big leagues, so Greg and I made plans to meet at Shea. (Trivia time: In some alternate universe this blog is called Meet Me at Gate E.)

Pulse’s first pitch went to the backstop and he gave up five in the first as the Mets bowed to the not-yet-exiled Astros. Not exactly the starting point of a glittering career, but it did cement a friendship, which led, a decade later, to the blog you’re reading today.

3 comments to The Really Big Engine That Couldn’t

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I don’t think I ever saw the Back Story post before. Wonderful, and Thanks.

  • eric1973

    Jason, thank goodness you two guys ‘Met,’ as you have each given all of us so much intelligent pleasure throughout the years.

    As Dick Cavett might retort:
    “I didn’t realize that Pulsipher had so many struggles with Steve Gelbs.”

    And as for this current team, we have the right hitters, they just stink right now. Alonso, Marte, McNeill, and our 40 million dollar shortstop better start hitting, or it will not matter how good our pitching is.

    Sounds like the Hitting Coach, Assistant Hitting Coach, and the Assistant to the Assistant Hitting Coach could all be in trouble, and if not them, then maybe the Sous-Chef has got to go.

    BTW, introducing all those extra folks on opening day was a farce, and a ridiculous waste of time, while not showing the tribute to John Stearns and Joan Hodges on SNY was inexcusable.

  • Seth

    Well at this point we know we’re not fair-weather fans…