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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 Conversation

Having ten days earlier properly commemorated the 50th anniversary of making Flushing my recurring personal destination, I opened my second half-century of going to Mets games Sunday afternoon by taking a left field Promenade Box eye’s view of The Great Justin Verlander proving effective enough to a) quell the Washington Nationals by a score of 5-2, and b) restore a grain of dignity to the entire New York Mets enterprise after the actions of the night before. The night before, the Mets on the field shambled to an 11-6 loss that would have been embarrassing had this season been capable of any longer generating on-field embarrassment…though it’s not like many will remember the night before for the loss on the field.

Saturday night, the Mets traded The Great Max Scherzer to Texas for, technically, a highly rated prospect, but mostly to put a bizarre relationship behind them. Whether Luisangel Acuña emerges as one of the great time-release trade deadline gets or ultimately has us coupling his name with Dilson Herrera (rather than Luisangel’s older brother), the key to the deal, beyond the involvement of lots of money, was the sense that something was over. What it was I’m not quite sure.

Scher, why not?

If the Max Scherzer Appreciation Society had a Metropolitan Area chapter, I wasn’t its president, and I neglected to remit any dues. For a while I felt I felt a tad guilty that I never exactly vibed with Max as a Met. I welcomed his arrival as one would have been silly not to, and I definitely didn’t feel the orange and blue was disgraced by his presence in the colors. This was Max Scherzer, multiple Cy Young winner, world champion, competitor of competitors, and he wanted to be a Met! Or he took the Mets’ owner’s megabucks, but he could have gotten paid handsomely by anybody. Scherzer stood as a validating figure on the eve of the 2021-22 lockout. This is a serious team that attracts serious players with serious money. This could be some kind of era we’re heading into.

It was. It just didn’t last as long as we might have liked. We should probably learn to expect that.

The Scherzer who merits generous dollops of appreciation, no matter how it ended, flickered in and out of sight. Some starts were markedly better than others. Some streams of his consciouness were more agreeable than others. He took care of his minor league teammates when on injury rehab assignments. He hosted impromptu graduate seminars for his fellow starters after he took a dugout seat upon completing his best sets of innings. That was in 2022. As Steve Gelbs noted Saturday night (and I had been thinking in the days before), Scherzer U. seemed to have shut down in 2023. Maybe the old professor didn’t feel he had any lessons to share once his outings stopped earning high grades.

The Scherzer who positioned himself to go unmissed was the one who didn’t come through in the two biggest games he pitched as a Met. That’s a pretty transactional way to process a future Hall of Famer, but Max was here for the bottom line, and so are we sometimes. What bugged me more than his sliders flying over fences versus the Braves and Padres was his insistence, after the latter occasion, that he’d figured out what he’d done wrong and it was gonna be or would have been fine in the next playoff start that never came, as if it were that easy (which it wouldn’t be when 2023, the pitch clock and sweat and rosin came along). A friend of mine remarked Scherzer’s Met stay replicated T#m Gl@v!ne’s. Nah, I replied, retaining my utter disdain for the Manchurian Brave ever donning Met duds — at least Gl@v!ne won a couple of playoff games.

Now and then, Scherzer would conduct his postgame media scrums while wearing his Mets cap, yet as hard as I’d stare into the TV and want to see Max Scherzer, co-ace of the New York Mets, he came across as Pedro Borbon in the aftermath of the Pete Rose-Buddy Harrelson brawl. Borbon was the Reds reliever who got into it with Buzz Capra, and was in such a rage when it was over, that he mindlessly picked up and put on a Mets cap (before realizing his faux pas and taking a bite out of it). Free agency has made player/team identities far more malleable, but some guys can make the hats and the jerseys fit better than other guys. Scherzer always looked like he should be wearing one of those obviously fake uniforms in a commercial whose sponsor hires the player but can’t license his accoutrement. A script “Max” across his chest would have fit Scherzer perfectly.

When Max told reporters, after a refreshingly splendid start Friday night, that the deletion of David Robertson from the Mets’ plans meant he needed to have “a conversation” with those determining the construction of the roster, that should have been a signal that a Lyft had been summoned. During the winter, Kevin Durant nodded upstairs in a similar direction when the Nets rid themselves of mercurial (to put it too kindly) Kyrie Irving. Shorn of Irving and reunited with Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets were going to be a more pleasant bunch to live and die with, but probably not an immediate title contender. The fan in me thought maybe Durant would internalize the challenge of leading a different, pluckier kind of squad, and…nah, KD wanted to chase another ring ASAP. One of the best players I ever rooted for on a regular basis couldn’t bail fast enough. Now I root for Mikail Bridges and Cam Johnson, the guys the Nets got from Phoenix for Durant. Fandom goes on like that.

If you listen in, you probably won’t hear any mention of the fans.

Fandom went on Sunday minus Scherzer, who the Mets were reportedly in the process of trying to move to Arlington anyway before Max cleared his throat, but still with Verlander. Whether Verlander is here by Tuesday at 6 PM is part of the remains-to-be-scenery that serves as backdrop to the trade deadline runup. Four months ago, conventional wisdom wouldn’t have dreamed the Mets and the trade deadline would have anything more to do with one another than the fetching of some bench or bullpen reinforcement for the drive to October. The drive to October now clearly has a U-Haul trailer hitched to the Porsche. A dozen teams will go to the postseason. Maybe Verlander will pitch for one of them. On Sunday, as my LIRR train pulled into Jamaica, a voice called out, “anyone know if Verlander’s been traded yet?” It wasn’t asked with the tone of someone rushing to Flushing to wish Justin a bon voyage.

When I stepped onto Mets Plaza Sunday afternoon, I half-expected to be overcome by the aroma of season tickets burning in the adjacent parking lot. That’s what Giants fans infamously did in the Meadowlands to express their disgust as 1978, the 15th year of continuously lousy football, wound down. In virtual corners of Metsopotamia, we’ve been holding bonfires since April, lighting them on our keyboards rather than with matches. In real life, you’re not going to see people show up at Citi Field on a bright, sunny Sunday to set fire to their season tickets. For one thing, are season tickets even flammable anymore? Wouldn’t you have to set your phone ablaze to register your protest these days? For another, if you’ve trekked to a Mets game, no matter what the Mets didn’t build and how they’re compelled to disassemble it, you’re not there to register a protest. You’re voting in favor of baseball.

It was a beautiful day for a ballgame, all those pesky rain delays from the past week having led to clear skies and cooler temperatures. The Promenade Box location I chose averted the beating sun from the second through the ninth inning. Save for an audible grumble directed at a Daniel Vogelbach groundout, I heard no boos while seated Sunday. When the NOISE METER was activated, I heard nothing neither my friend Mark nor I was saying, but that sort of interruption was held to a blessed minimum. If the crowd GOT LOUD, it was to convey enthusiasm for Francisco Lindor homering and collecting three hits; for Jeff McNeil legging out a triple; for Pete Alonso knocking in two runs; for Omar Narvaez knocking in one; and for Met for the rest of his contractual days or until his conversation with the front office/ownership has its intended effect Justin Verlander.

The prevailing “thrilled to be here even if Max apparently wasn’t” mood enabled us to enable the Mets. If the Mets didn’t make us regret our mood, all the better. I learned twice in 1999, once in September and once in October, that no matter how mad “everybody” is at the Mets — in those cases for having lost in piercing fashion the days and nights before and thereby endangering the thread-hanging season — most everybody who actually attends the game will give the Mets the benefit of the doubt before the game starts. The two episodes I’m thinking of involved the 1999 Braves as opponents. Of course we cheered our heads off for those Mets despite cursing out those same Mets on our way to Shea. If you couldn’t bring yourself to root for those Mets against those Braves, you might as well have burned your tickets.

JV has continued to traverse his comeback from ordinary to extraordinary, definitely tilting in the desired direction Sunday. If five-and-a-third innings of one-run ball versus the one team in the division certifiably worse than yours isn’t a Cooperstown signifier, Verlander did that thing a person loves to see from a starting pitcher. He worked out of trouble in the first (one run) and got stronger as the day went on. The Mets hit Old Friend™ Trevor Williams enough to give Justin breathing room, and when Verlander left the mound in favor of David Peterson, most of us rose to applaud the starter. Maybe it was for the five-and-a-third; maybe it was for the 250th career win that three-and-two-thirds of adequate relief would secure; maybe it really was for a Justin-case fare-thee-well now that we were in an even better mood.

Much as I was excited at the beginning of July when I realized I was going to see the Justin Verlander pitch in person, Mark was similarly delighted when he checked the probables a few days earlier. As we shared in this rare treat of witnessing a 249-game winner striving to reach an even more exalted plane, we got to talking about Great Pitchers We Have Seen and found ourselves not watching Verlander all that closely. Mark and I don’t meander from the action when we go to football games together. Football games demand your attention. Baseball games gently suggest we invoke “ancient names out of thin air,” to use Mark’s phrase. Soon enough, the phones we didn’t burn were out, and we were scrolling the list of the 200+ Win Club.

Mark, whose baseball fandom goes back to the waning days of the Giants calling the Polo Grounds home and the Dodgers hosting visitors at Ebbets Field (even if his grandfather refused to take him to Brooklyn), personally witnessed a lot of the greats and damn goods. Mark saw Warren Spahn pitch for the Mets (before Spahn, like Scherzer, made it known he couldn’t take the losing anymore). Mark is pretty sure he saw Billy Pierce pitch for the White Sox against the Yankees. Luis Tiant? Check. Steve Carlton? Absolutely. Mark wasn’t as certain if he ever saw Juan Marichal, though we both claimed Gaylord Perry. I got my glimpses of Frank Tanana in a Mets uniform. Mark had plenty of looks at Bob Gibson; I hope he ducked. He didn’t see Pedro Martinez, he doesn’t think, but I sure did. Our Seaver sightings culminated in No. 299 at Fenway (me) and No. 300 in the wrong New York stadium (Mark). Neither of us caught Max Scherzer pitching for the Mets, but together we saw him toy with our side as a Nat in 2016.

And so on and so on. There was Justin Verlander doing his thing very well in a Mets uniform, but we didn’t direct the bulk of our concentration toward him, or Peterson, Adam Ottavino and Brooks Raley preserving that thing he did. We went to a game and talked about other games. We talked about the Mets as much in the abstract as we did in concrete terms. As Mark will in lesser Met seasons, he tries to discern that one good push that will somehow inject them into the race. Neither of us really believes it’s a possibility right now, but Mark measured the distance from .500 (five games) and I appraised the overall strength of the current Wild Card contenders (“none of them is that great”) and concluded absolutely nothing that would truly ignite our dormant optimism. But it really was a beautiful day for a ballgame.

On the train ride home, I caught up on Verlander’s desire for a Scherzerian conversation about the club’s trajectory and whether he sees himself as a part of the “repurposing” Billy Eppler has begun talking up after studying hard for the euphemism portion of the SAT. I honestly don’t blame employees for flexing their empowerment muscles, even if there’s a piece of me that wishes everybody first and foremost felt they were a part of our team. It is our team, you know, even if we don’t compose it or own it. We’re the only ones who care about it ’til death do us part. That gets overlooked in the trade deadline conversations. Scherzer and Verlander aren’t going to bring up the fans. Eppler and Cohen aren’t going to bring up the fans. It is left to the fans to bring up the fans, but all the fans want, mostly, is a team whose season will extend deep into October.

That would be swell, but you know what I find myself wanting most? I want an era of Mets baseball. A very good era of Mets baseball. I want to feel as if everything isn’t going to change just because 6 PM Tuesday is fast approaching. I want to get to an offseason and not click refresh incessantly in search of the next multiple Cy Young winner being satisfied enough with an enormous monetary offer to model our clothes for the cameras. I’d like trades that aren’t clever in theory though we’ll have to wait for history’s final verdict, but trades that fill the lone need we have immediately because, except for that one missing piece, we have everything we need in this era. I want to know my team and experience my team and not have to acquaint myself with a wholly new version of my team just when I’ve gotten to know the one I thought was gonna stick around for a while.

Plus they should be very good. It’s obviously not a dealbreaker, but if I’m having a conversation and I’m listing my needs, that would be near the top. But stability — not to be confused with stagnation — would be most ideal. When the Mets were stumbling in June and the manager was making some questionable bullpen decisions, a murmur of FIRE BUCK began to be heard over the noise meters. Such resolution was never a serious possibility in the moment, but man, did I not want to hear it in any case, less out of personal loyalty to or affection for Showalter, but because, geez, haven’t we done this already? Haven’t we cycled through hapless managers and yearned for a steady hand attached to a mind that seemed to know what it was doing more often than not? Didn’t 2022 land us in that place to stay, at least for a few years? Are we really ready, I asked myself, to toss Buck Showalter overboard because it’s been a weird year and a horrid month? And wasn’t Steve Cohen supposed to represent the end of all this?

Maybe 2024, if Buck’s still here and the floundering continues unabated, will indicate the hair-trigger types had the right instinct, so why did we wait? Or maybe 2024 will shake out the insipidness that has enveloped Mets baseball in 2023 and we’ll have returned to the right track, led by Lindor who’s gonna be here for years, and Nimmo who’s gonna be here for years, and McNeil who’s gonna be here for some years, and Alonso, unless he has a conversation with somebody in which he shares his long-term doubts and free agency desires. Sometimes Lindor overswings or Nimmo slumps and I calculate how much of their probably immovable contracts (though never say never with Uncle Steve) are left, but generally, it’s nice to know some guys aren’t going anywhere. We finally got a beautiful team to cheer toward a World Series in 2015, and the gutsy 2016 bunch who strove to a Wild Card was already tangibly different. I reveled in the hot finish to 2019, thinking we were young and set for years to come, and the years came, and much of the core of that team was steadily peeled away

The Fab Five, before they broke up.

The 2022 Mets of exactly one year ago were the team I was prepared to grow a little older with. I’ve aged plenty watching the 2023 Mets, but I recognize them less and less. As the Max Clock ticked, I thought not only of those dugout seminars that were no longer in session, but of a clubhouse picture that circulated after the Mets clinched their playoff spot in Milwaukee. The starting rotation of Scherzer, deGrom, Carrasco, Bassitt and Walker came together and posed as one. It could have been the Beatles on the roof of Apple Corps, never again to publicly get back to where they once belonged.

If Scherzer had to go, he had to go. If Verlander has to go, he has to go. As I’ve entered my second half-century of game-going, it’s apparent I’m not going anywhere besides 41 Seaver Way. More than ever, I appreciate the company of those friends and those Mets who also wish to stick around for a while.

10 comments to The Conversation

  • Dave

    I imagine enrollment at Scherzer University took a hit when prospective students took a look at and found out that the faculty was thought to be of no real use to students’ career paths. I suspect there won’t be any student loan repayment problems, because the school only enrolls rich kids, but it’s in danger of losing its accreditation.

    To me the parallel is Pedro. Gave us one good season, even if not one that punched the ticket to Cooperstown, followed by “here’s where he became not the pitcher he used to be.” I’d never be so cruel as to compare anyone to G|@v¡n€.

  • Eric

    Scherzer has always pitched aggressively in the strike zone and beat hitters with his savvy and stuff. I recall his no-hitter against the Mets at the end of the 2015 regular season. I assume the savvy is still there, but the stuff has degraded. As is, he’s a decent 4th starter aside from the home runs, which is pretty much the salary amount the Rangers are paying him. The Rangers want him for the play-offs just like the Dodgers and Mets did. Let’s see if he delivers for them what he failed to do for us. I wonder if Scherzer can remake his style to a ‘crafty’ veteran who works around the strike zone instead of in it so much.

  • ljcmets

    I was at that no-hitter, too! As I recall, it was absolutely frigid but Max and Matt Harvey had a memorable pitcher’s duel (I think Harvey only gave up one hit) and the Nats won 1-0. The winning run was unearned ( some things never change). It was my first game ever at CitiField.

    One last thought re Verlander. He seems to be as easy a personality ( although like all great athletes very driven in his own unique way) as Max is difficult. I liked Max a lot last season but he never seemed the same this year and I had heard reports of tension between the two in Detroit. Sometimes you can’t have two alphas at once, especially if they have any kind of negative history.

    One of the sad things about this deadline is that Verlander, Pham and Canha are all very easy to like, and I want to like the players on the Mets as I spend so much time with them every summer. One thing that made a big impression on me a couple weeks ago was when the camera focused on Brett Baty in the immediate aftermath of the Popup from Hell (either the same game or the very next one) sitting on the bench next to Verlander. No one else was within the camera’s view. What was interesting is not that JV had moved over to support Baty but that it was Brett doing the talking, not Justin, who was only listening. Sometimes that’s what leadership requires – just being present in the moment. If Baty goes on to any kind of significant career with the Mets, I’ll bet one day he’ll bring up that moment.

    It seems to me that while both Scherzer and Verlander related well to others on the pitching staff, JV made a conscious effort, once off the IL, to offer encouragement to other players, especially the Baby Mets(I’ve noticed him with Alvarez, too). And I thought yesterday was a great moment and I’m so glad you got to experience it, Greg. All the angst of the past few weeks got washed away by the rain, and the literal and figurative sun was out again over Citi. I was so heartened ( but not surprised) that the fans rose and applauded as Verlander left the mound, and that he spoke so movingly of that moment after the game. Whatever happens next, and if Justin never throws another pitch for the Mets, that sweet memory is a good one to finish on.

  • Curt Emanuel

    What I liked about Verlander’s comments is that he has stressed that for him, whether we plan to contend in 2024 is key. I don’t know what Scherzer said to the higher-ups. Maybe he said the same thing or maybe his point was they were giving up on 2023 too soon.

    There are so many reasons this season has gone the way it has so far and it isn’t just the underwhelming pitching staff. It’s Nimmo and Lindor losing 20-30 points off their averages, McNeil going from a batting champ to just another guy, Pete Alonso spending a month looking like the second coming of Dave Kingman, Starling Marte having the sort of season he’s having after all those years hitting near or above .300.

    But these guys are all a year removed from winning 101. Throw in the towel on 2023? Sure, if management says (though 37-20 from this points gets us to 87 which is what the Phillies won last year so . . .). But doing the same for 2024 would be ridiculous. And I hope JV is part of it.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I’ve somehow gotten it into my head that McNeil is one of those Good Year/Bad Year guys. So, for 2024, we’ll see.

  • Mark Mehler

    A New Era in Mets baseball doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Here’s hoping it arrives soon.

  • Seth

    Yeah, Max always had a bit of a bolt-on, Frankenstein monster feel to him. Couldn’t even get both eyeballs consistent.

  • eric1973

    If nobody liked Scherzer, why is everyone so sad/mad he was traded. I think they got a really good prospect in return.

    There are 20 starting pitchers toeing the slab tonite. Of those, 5 are:
    Noah S.

    No opinions here, just facts.

  • Totally agreed Greg. Well at least he’s the first 15/15/15 million dollar man meaning 15 from 3 different clubs in the same year. One day his name will appear on the Cooperstown Hall of Fame Met t-shirt with names of HOFers whom have played at one time or another on the NY Met baseball club as Spanny’s name appears with others. Those two big losses at end of ’22 season will live with him forever along with his two mismatched pupils. Good luck and I’m sure you’ll be gunning for another team to try another uniform on during your path to the upstate little village where it all began, or was it Hoboken?