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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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We Got Back to Him

The alchemy of desperation works in mysterious ways. The Mets…

say their murky goodbye to Jorge Lopez;

have an accountability meeting; decide they can do better for part-time catching and hitting with Luis Torrens than they any longer will with Omar Narváez;

opt to provide regular reps for Christian Scott at Syracuse rather than let the rookie’s momentum stall amid a flurry of off days before and after London;

squeeze out Opening Day third baseman Brett Baty in the name of bench flexibility;

make up some new base hit gesture;

collect oodles of base hits allowing them to demonstrate the slapping or whapping or whatever it is they do to celebrate themselves;

and win two games in a row at the end of a month when they hadn’t done any such thing in more than weeks.

“Go figure” will work as a nutshell summation here.

The Mets of backup infielder Jose Iglesias (a little rusty with the glove in his start at second base, assuringly frisky with the bat), Chief Accountability Officer Francisco Lindor (two hits to go with the four from the night before), looking-alive Starling Marte (a three-run triple that will have you jumping out of bed seven mornings of every seven), plug-in professional hitter J.D. Martinez (another no-doubter over another fence) and new full-time third baseman Mark Vientos (three hits and two ribbies while not splitting a position with his bud Brett) brought an onslaught upon the Arizona Diamondbacks that suggests Whacking Day is a federal holiday. The D’Backs are defending National League champions, though the mere sight of Citi Field rattles them to their core. That old chestnut about calling your team meetings when your ace is pitching could also apply to the eve of a series versus the one opponent you’ve been handling in your ballpark for years on end.

The Mets have taken 17 of 19 from Los Serpientes in the borough of Queens since May 18, 2018. Little besides Brandon Nimmo connects the Mets from then to now, so let’s not bother trying to figure what’s up with this. Let’s just be glad the Mets poured on ten runs and built a sturdy enough fortress to protect themselves from Snakebites. Four of those nipped at their seemingly impenetrable lead in the ninth, vaulting a semi-laugher into Damn Thing territory. Yet the Mets held on, 10-9. First they ripped, then they gripped, albeit barely. Whatever nervousness rippling through our anxiety receptors as Reed Garrett did not smoothly pick up for Sean Reid-Foley (who had succeeded an adequate Luis Severino and sharpies Dedniel Nuñez and Jake Diekman) didn’t match the frustration D’Back boosters felt in falling short in Flushing yet again.

Even the black uniforms didn’t quite get in the way of a Friday night victory. Go figure, indeed.

***

A proposal was put on the table more than four decades ago. “Here,” it was said, “is the deal — you be the best player we’ve ever come up with, because we’d really, really like that to happen. Just be mind-bogglingly great from the first day of your career and then get better all the time. It will make us extremely happy and possibly satisfied. Sound good?”

The counterproposal: “Well, I don’t know if I can do all of that, certainly not right away. What if I’m far above average most of the time with bursts of the spectacular sprinkled within? I might sort of stop and start in terms of my progress, but I’m going to be worth watching, and definitely more productive than just about anybody you’ve seen from the beginning. I’ll frustrate you now and then, and it will take me a while to mature, given how young I am and all, but you’ll look up one day and realize I’ve put up numbers hardly anybody else wearing this logo can touch and given you memories you’ll always cherish. Does that sound good?”

Negotiations broke off with, “We’ll get back to you.”

We’ve gotten back to Darryl Strawberry by putting up the number from his jersey where those associated with the cream of this franchise’s legends reside. It sounds good and I believe it will look splendid this afternoon when we see 18 slide in next to 16, 24, 17, 36, 31, 41, 14 and 37. The annals of New York Mets baseball at its best are uniquely Strawberry-flavored. Might as well adorn the rafters to reflect reality.

The stupendous presence and production of Straw from 1983 to 1990 was rarely quite enough to sate those who watched him. “More, please” was what we implored from the time he broke in at age 21 to the time he packed his stuff and took what was left of his prime home to Los Angeles. Darryl has said over and over going home to the Dodgers was a mistake, that Shea Stadium was really home. I don’t know how much of this is revisionist people-pleasing, given that the people who ask Darryl to retrace his path are generally coming at him from a Met perspective, and how much of it was arrived at organically. He says it now, though, and we’ll take him at his word. He did enough as a Met and has been through enough as a person that he can say what he wants.

Leaving the Mets was a mistake, of course. I say that from a Met perspective. The Mets were never the same after Darryl left in November of 1990. Of course, they were never the same as they’d been once Darryl arrived in May of 1983. The man was a difference-maker. You knew you were watching somebody making a difference when you watched him do anything on a field, even if it was just standing in deep right field (when maybe he should have come in a few steps). What he did at the plate is most of what we remember. I can think of 252 baseballs that were never the same.

One element of Darryl Strawberry’s reign as all-time Met lightning rod and power source that I think gets overlooked is how much of a winning player this guy was. Darryl showed up on a team that had been stuck in losing forever. Darryl settled in, and the team began to win chronically. Darryl left, and the team essentially disintegrated. Darryl didn’t do the winning alone, but the team didn’t win without Darryl.

Straw homered in 221 games as a Met, sometimes twice in a game, once thrice. The Mets’ record in those games was 156-65. How good is that? It factors out to a winning percentage of .706. In 162-game season terms, that’s equivalent to a mark of 114-48, or six games better than 1986. Difference-making at its finest. Again, you had Keith, you had Doc, you had Kid, you had so many Mets doing so many Amazin’ things while Strawberry was in full bloom. But let’s not deceive ourselves. You had Darryl Strawberry homering, and when that was happening, you had the Mets winning a lot.

You had those first-inning homers that notified the opposing pitcher it was going to be a long night.

You had those second-at-bat homers that had the manager in the other dugout turning his head toward the bullpen phone.

You had those midgame homers that broke ties and put leads out of reach.

You had those late-and-close homers that alerted one and all it was later than they thought and it was no longer that close. The Mets were winning, and the Mets were about to win.

Maybe Darryl lashed a double or stole a bag or leapt a little to rob a would-be version of himself or gunned down an ambitious baserunner who would have been wise to stop at third. Maybe just the sight of Strawberry was enough to rattle a reliever into four balls. The next Met in the lineup automatically got more dangerous. The Straw Man contributed in small ways, too.

But, oh, the big ways. Every home run Darryl Strawberry blasted, launched and/or sent into orbit was big because it was a Darryl Strawberry home run. If you saw him hit one, it was like you got to show everybody you knew the next day that you’d caught a foul ball. This was better, though. Nobody got the ball when Darryl hit it a mile. We all got the thrill.

That cliché about a superstar carrying a team on his back may never have been invoked in these parts as much as it was when Darryl lifted the Mets. He would tear through National League pitching staffs for a couple of weeks and we’d jump on for the ride. He’d do damage. We’d win games. We’d rise in the standings. We’d be sure we were unbeatable. For a couple of weeks, maybe a month, we would be. One year we absolutely were. Another couple of years Darryl could have used a little help.

The career as a Met didn’t last forever. The impact from his Met career lives on. The number being retired reminds us, in case never fully grasped it, that Darryl Strawberrys don’t grow on trees.

4 comments to We Got Back to Him

  • Orange and blue through and through

    I was deflated when Doc and Straw departed. They were our Hall of Fame duo. They were OURS! When the Yankees signed both, I nearly had to be hospitalized. But, both have been through life’s wringer. I hope their days are filled with joy and good health. They, like me, have grown through adversity. I’m thrilled to see that you can go home again.

    • Curt Emanuel

      Yes. Of course his problems might have come up if he stayed here but I’ve always wondered if Straw might have finished off a HOF career if he’d stayed.

      Baseball’s a funny game. Severino can take no-hitters late into two games with nothing to show for it. Gets knocked around a bit yesterday and has a W.

  • Seth

    I remember Darryl standing in right field at Fenway in the 86 series, being heckled by the Boston fans (ha ha Boston fans). It clearly bothered him on some level but he just acted with such poise and grace – tipping his hat to the crowd but otherwise cool and collected. Yet you could see it bugged him. Then he hit a homer in game 7 to put the icing on the cake. Great memories of the Straw…

  • open the gates

    He was, indeed, the Straw that stirred the drink.

    I remember when he left, there was a slight whiff of “good riddance.” There was the attitude, the personal issues, the impression that he was a bit of a slacker at times. (Me, I’ll take Straw slacking over almost anyone else giving 100%.) He was the ultimate example of not knowing a good thing until he is gone.

    I keep hearing that he’s a minister now, he’s got his life together, he’s an inspiration for young players in Met camps every year. I hope it’s true – he’s given Met fans enough joy, he deserves some himself.

    Congratulations to Straw on the number retirement. Way, way overdue.