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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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Chills & Blahs

I got chills several times on Saturday afternoon. The weather was beautiful, but there was something else in the air. A distinct hint of Strawberry.

Darryl Strawberry’s No. 18 was retired by the New York Mets, the sixth time in the past nine seasons that the franchise has raised a number to the rafters. In the first decade of this blog, we bemoaned the Mets’ inaction when it came to honoring their own history and the greats who made it memorable. In our second decade, we grab a seat for festivities and jump out of it to applaud this streaming acknowledgement of the past and discern what it might say about the present.

The present will give a Mets fan a case of the blahs. Saturday’s game, the one that followed 18’s rise high toward the sky (an area once crowded by Darryl’s home runs), brought the Mets down to earth from their modest two-game winning streak over their erstwhile Flushing patsies the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was the kind of game when the Mets starter, Sean Manaea, could strike out ten over five-and-two-thirds, and two fans ii particular — my pal and podcast co-host Jeff and me, ensconced in the first row of Promenade boxes in left field — didn’t even notice, because what are ten strikeouts against ten runs? Manaea didn’t surrender all of them, but you might say he contracted a bit of the Steve Carlton bug by way of Arizona’s version of Ron Swoboda. In 1969, it was Swoboda’s two home runs that blotted out Carlton’s 19 K’s in a legendary Mets win. Saturday, it was Christian Walker belting a third-inning grand slam that made Sean’s striking out of the side in that frame glow not so much.

The Diamondbacks wound up winning, 10-5, with the Mets posting four ninth-inning runs the way their opponents did the night before: for show. The best part about the Met offense was Mark Vientos and Pete Alonso each raised the Home Run Strawberry. Kudos to whoever decided to transform the Apple’s identity for an afternoon. A nice touch in a day defined by making a Mets fan feel something.

Darryl did most of the reaching out and touching, and not like he did to National League pitchers when doing damage to their self-esteem and earned run averages. He spoke to us — and he really did address his audience — about realizing he never should have left New York as a free agent. It’s easy to say now, and he’s said it a lot, but his words had the impact of a confessional. We, certainly those of us who came to Shea to cheer him and maybe hint to him he could be doing a few things a little more effectively when he played, were the best part of his Metsdom, he said. We got him going, kept him going, made him, albeit after the fact, wish he hadn’t gone.

The Straw Man kept bringing us back into his talk. When he turned his attention to the current Mets, progenitor of all the blahs, he didn’t simply encourage them to play better. He told them that we, the people in the stands, were the best fans they were every going to play in front of, and they should appreciate that. We were outstanding as fans in the Strawberry Era because his team gave us something to get behind, but, yes, we did bring a certain spark to Shea that I can’t imagine other NL ballparks were quite as electrified by. We still do it, if more modestly. Darryl slipped something in there toward the end about making us great again (a loaded phrase in these times). Yes, we were, are and will forever be “faithful,” to use the pastor’s word, but the whole enterprise requires lifting. You can’t look at the standings and not realize that.

Still, Darryl wouldn’t have us singing the blahs. He praised Steve and Alex Cohen, namechecked David Stearns, and declared better days were coming. He should know from better times on the field, just as he knows from bottoming out off it. Darryl was the first undisputed sign that there would be a promised land. He wouldn’t take the credit for powering us there. A slew of his 1986 teammates surrounded him as he spoke, and he was grateful for their support, then and now. Keith Hernandez, Straw said, was the best and most intense player he ever played with, teaching him to hit lefties. Gary Carter (represented, as he was in April for Doc Gooden’s day, by his wife Sandy) and Mookie Wilson were the men modeling the life he realized he needed to live if he wanted to keep living and do it righteously. He had love for everybody, and we who stood for him tried our best to return it.

My chills came from realizing how glorious it is that so many world champion Mets from 38 years ago continue to come around. On Saturday it was Darryl, Keith, Doc, Mookie, Hojo, Ronnie, Raffy, Jesse, Mitch, Gibby, Lyons, El Sid plus Mrs. Carter (they were joined by later Met addition John Franco and Straw’s childhood chum Eric Davis). We do see some combination of these guys a lot, and it might be tempting to be blasé about it. We shouldn’t be. For decades, the 1969 Mets were regulars at Shea Stadium, so regular that maybe it didn’t seem special to realize they were down on the field being introduced one more time. Suddenly, you’re inside Citi Field and you don’t see too many 1969 Mets too often. Two years from now, we’ll reach the 40th anniversary of 1986, with 2026 marking what 2009 did for 1969. When our first world champions came back for that reunion, their appearance took on a little extra emotional oomph. “Oh, them again” transformed into “look — it’s them!” When their 50th-anniversary meeting arrived in 2019, fewer of them were available for our adulation.

So I had chills from understanding that. I had chills from a shot on the enormous video board of the 1986 banner, the marker for what remains our most recent world championship. Damn. I’d really like another one, as would anybody reading this with a home book bias, but taking in the Metscape that had emerged on this day, I was reminded a world championship is not easy. If it was, we’d have a third by now. We haven’t had Doc and Keith and Gary and Darryl and everybody else as active Mets for a very long time. They only made it look readily attainable. I got chills not just for the gratification that 1986 brought me as a Mets fan who’d already been at it quite a while by then, but also because I remembered watching Darryl Strawberry swing successfully for the fences in the company of my mother and father, temporarily diehard Mets fans in that age of miracle and wonder. We, like Mets fans all over the Metropolitan Area, talked about what Darryl had done or what Darryl had said or what Darryl might do next practically every day of our right fielder’s seasons. My father died in 2016. I miss him most every day. My mother died in 1990, a few months before Darryl departed for the West Coast. For a moment in my mind Saturday, we were all together again, with no tension evident, except wondering what the score in the Cardinals game was, and that was tension I could embrace.

Because I’m a fan of a team and the players therein, I mostly had chills for Darryl Strawberry, an individual whose existence was unknown to me before Sports Illustrated informed me he was ripe for the picking as he was finishing high school in Los Angeles, which coincided with the Mets holding the No. 1 pick in the nation. When the Mets selected accordingly, this young man from Crenshaw High (he’s the reason we know what Crenshaw High is) became my cause. Every Mets fan’s cause, I suppose, but I felt an affinity based on the shared year of our birth. Darryl was born in 1962. I was born in 1962. The Mets were born in 1962. We had a chance to collectively forge a path in the years ahead. My way of looking at it was Darryl Strawberry would be a great baseball player, the Mets would become a great baseball team, and I, their fan, would be happy as a result. That’s pinning a lot on factors out of your control, yet somehow it worked.

Now, in 2024, with 18 secured next to 16, just two doors over from 17, I listened to a man who is 62 and aware of how fortunate he is to have made it there. In his voice, I heard not an “old man,” but someone who has aged and, I was convinced, picked up the wisdom said to gather from aging. Me, I’m 61 and still seeking happiness from baseball players and baseball teams, with much of the outcome of the rest of my life as up for grabs as it was when I saw “Strawberry” in SI and hoped the Mets wouldn’t choose anybody else first.

They didn’t. The happiness where the Mets were concerned proceeded to pour over me. Me and wisdom as I approach 62? If I’m lucky, I still have time to garner some. In between, I’ll keep watching the Mets. Like Darryl said, I’m faithful.

3 comments to Chills & Blahs

  • Seth

    It was a great day. But reliving past glories would be easier if the present day wasn’t so depressing Mets-wise. It’s been a really, really long time since Darryl’s Met glory days.

  • I remember Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner gushing about the Mets’ prospective #1 draft pick of 1980. Kiner, in particular, of course an outfielder and power hitter from the L.A. Basin himself, took an uncanny interest and thrill in Darryl. One could hear it in the way he described the young man’s potential even before he was drafted, and we of a certain age all heard it in the raised volume and proud inflection of Ralph’s voice when Strawberry took another pitch deep. To quote Ralph: “…and there it goes! It’s gone, goodbye!” But we’re all glad Straw is not gone but here with us, forever the biggest threat in the formidable ’80s lineups and the biggest boost to our collective confidence as Mets fans that our team was likely to win.

  • Orange and blue through and through

    Darryl and Mex in ’83. Doc and Davey Johnson in ’84, and the Kid in ’85. They may have been the “bad guys” in ’86, but they lifted the city and brought us our last truly great season. I truly pray for Doc and Straw and their continuance of good health and good things.