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Books | Sports

March 30, 2009

The Last Prince of Shea

Blogger Greg Prince is unabashed about his love for the Mets, but isn't jumping into a fling with the new ballpark.

Jim Chairusmi

Greg Prince co-writes a blog "for Mets fans who like to read." "Read Faith and Fear for a few weeks and you will have read a book about the Mets," Gelf wrote two years ago. His new book, Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, aims to be a book for any baseball fan who likes to read. In "Faith and Fear," Prince shares the highs and lows of his life as That Guy—"the biggest Mets fan" that you know—from becoming a Mets fan in the magical season of 1969 to believing in the team over the next four decades. "I love the Mets because I love the Mets," Prince writes. "I love the Mets because I love the Mets even though there is, at certain times, almost nothing on the surface about the Mets that I can stand."

Greg Prince holds down the fort for as long as he can, late September 2008. Photo by David G. Whitham.
"It's baseball. It's what we love. Why not care about it?"

Greg Prince holds down the fort for as long as he can, late September 2008. Photo by David G. Whitham.

In the following interview, edited for length and clarity, Prince discusses his thoughts on the upcoming season, whether Cow-Bell Man will be effective in Citi Field, and which players would be in his all-time Mets starting lineup. You can hear Prince and other baseball writers read from and talk about their work at Gelf's free Varsity Letters event on Thursday, April 2, in New York's Lower East Side.

Gelf Magazine: What's your gut feeling about the 2009 Mets? Does this team have the spunkiness that you loved in the 1999 Mets?

Greg Prince: The Mets are going to win the World Series this year and the Mets are going to suck. My gut feeling heading into a season generally straddles that line. I think this team can be a division winner, but I also think this team could decline rapidly. The starting pitching makes me nervous, the bullpen—somehow—less so. I would have liked another bat to protect Wright and Beltran. I hope Delgado stays motivated for his 500th homer. I wish Brian Schneider would return to the Expos. I'd arrange for the Expos to return to make it so.
The '99 team revealed its spunk pretty early on. They got off to a 17-9 start, which was crucial after 1998's sag to the finish (I'd call it a collapse, but let's save that word for years that really deserve it.) The Bobby V. Mets might have lost clumps of games at the worst possible junctures, but they never gave up and never gave you the sense they couldn't mount one more furious rally. I hope the '09 team emits that kind of emotion. Johan certainly did in Game 161 last year. We'll see if his teammates have it in them from Game 1.

Gelf Magazine: You attended 415 games at Shea Stadium, including 44 in 2008. But you never mention in the book what your lifetime record is.

Greg Prince: I didn't want to come off as any more of a weirdo than I had to, so I kept record talk to a minimum. That said, it was a healthy 228-187; 218-184 in the regular season and 10-3 in the postseason.

Gelf Magazine: You recently wrote on your blog that David Wright is the "best everyday player this organization has ever produced." Don't you think Darryl Strawberry still holds that mantle for a few more years?

Greg Prince: I might give it to Darryl on points if David's Met career were to end this very minute (perish the thought). But David hits for a higher average, has grown into a better fielder, is capable of stealing as many as Straw in an age when stolen bases aren't de rigueur, and then you've got that whole face-of-the-franchise thing he seems to embrace. Darryl had growing pains before putting up his best Met numbers. You might argue that Darryl's entire Mets career was a growing pain. David was doing his thing right out of the box, drove in more than a hundred runs his first full season, and has never looked back. Barring all that one cannot bar, the mantle will be indisputably David's before long.

Gelf Magazine: Are you truly sad to see Shea Stadium gone? It was extremely dirty and the bathrooms always seemed to be flooded.

Greg Prince: I don't dispute your observations, but yes, I am truly sad to see Shea Stadium gone. Shea Stadium was the home of the Mets, meaning it was home to me. Now that home isn't there anymore. That astounds me. Good luck to the new place, its literally 27 different price levels of seating, its unfortunate name, and its reliance on corporate clientele. I will enjoy the leg room. I'll enjoy the revolutionary Belgian frites, I imagine. I'll get up and walk around and not be patted down as I was when I tried to enter Field Level at Shea without a Field Level ticket and I'll enjoy that. It will be where the Mets play, but I'm not convinced it will be the home of the Mets. Not yet, not the way I understood Shea to be when I was growing up and not as it's been now that I've allegedly grown up.
That said, I'm willing to give it a chance. Mighty big of me, I know. To paraphrase the late, great Molly Ivins regarding the first George Bush when he was president, Citi Field is the only ballpark we've got.

Gelf Magazine: For some reason, I just can't picture Cow-Bell Man being quite as effective in Citi Field. Do you think some of the charm of going to a game will be lost for you in the new stadium? Do you anticipate attending at least 415 games at Citi Field?

Greg Prince: At these prices, I doubt it. I turned on the attendance the last few years of Shea because I knew the party was ending. The sense of urgency to pile up the games isn't there for the new place. I started on Shea when I was 10 and carried it forward for 36 seasons. I'm 46 now. It's not the same.
The new place will have to develop its own character. Cow-Bell Man will come because that's what Cow-Bell Man does, presumably. It's hard to imagine Mets fans will suddenly be replaced by high society. We're Mets fans, y'know? After the novelty wears off, who else is going to want to go these games?
Still, I keep thinking back to Wild Bill Hagy, the Orioles' self-appointed superfan from the late '70s. He was the shaggy cab driver who spelled out O-R-I and so on at Memorial Stadium. Camden Yards came and I read a quote that he didn't like it, which shocked me because everything I had seen from afar made me salivate over Camden Yards. "At Memorial Stadium," he said, "it was 'ain't the beer cold?' At Camden Yards, it's 'isn't the chardonnay chilled?' " I wrote him off as a crank until I visited there. I loved it to death but I peered up at the upper deck and thought, "Yeah, I kind of see what he's saying."
We'll see how many seats are filled in over time. The prices are no joke once you attempt to escape the Promenade—the new upper deck. My wife calls it the Cotillion and asked if she'll require a parasol to sit there. I bought my first "Value" game tickets the other day: the proverbial Monday night in April against the Marlins when I figured demand would be a little less stiff, thus I could sample a seat I might not get later in the year. The Value price was $45 for the equivalent of a nice Mezzanine-like spot. Or maybe it would be Loge. Who knows? It's just a seating chart right now. But $45 per ticket on a Value date? This is not how baseball became the national pastime and that's not how it's going to stay the national pastime in times like these.
No, I don't see myself at 415 games. I'll settle for one and then the next one and take it from there.

Gelf Magazine: Do you have any of the following songs on your iPod? "Lazy Mary"; "Who Let the Dogs Out?"; "L.A. Woman"; "Takin' Care of Business"; "Never Gonna Give You Up."

Greg Prince: God, yes. All of them. There's a 41-track playlist on there, as well, entitled "The End," dedicated to the final week and aftermath of Shea. It begins with "Funeral For A Friend" by Elton John and ends with "Keep Me In Your Heart" by Warren Zevon. I rarely get through it unmussed.

Gelf Magazine: The Mets enter this season without a slogan or tagline. If you had to come up with one, what would it be?

Greg Prince: Third Time's The Charm…Really It Is!

"$45 per ticket on a Value date? This is not how baseball became the national pastime and that's not how it's going to stay the national pastime in times like these."
Gelf Magazine: What's your all-time Mets starting lineup? And what Met year version of that player?

Greg Prince: If I were to construct a starting lineup from the standpoint of the book, you'd see a lot of Lee Mazzilli and Steve Henderson. But for the purposes of maybe winning a ballgame…
SS Jose Reyes 2006
CF Carlos Beltran 2006
1B Keith Hernandez 1984
C Mike Piazza 2000
RF Darryl Strawberry 1990
LF Kevin McReynolds 1988
3B Robin Ventura 1999
2B Edgardo Alfonzo 1999
P Dwight Gooden 1985
I don't really want to use McReynolds because the mere thought of him makes me drowsy, but I went through this exercise the first year of the blog and I can't quite take it away from him.
He had an incredible all-around season, trumping Cleon's '69 and Cliff's '05, to say nothing of Dave Kingman's inability to track a fly ball in '76. Robin's '99 was so transcendent, David has to take a back seat for a single season at third just as HoJo did when I first did this.
Look at that: two switch-hitters, then lefty, righty, lefty, righty, lefty, righty—and even Doc could switch-hit. I think Bobby Valentine would approve.

Gelf Magazine: You and your blog partner Jason Fry seem to "have the teamwork, to make the dream work." What makes Faith and Fear different than other sports blogs? Or more specifically, other Mets blogs?

Greg Prince: "Let's Go Mets" is also on my iPod.
We say out loud what our readers are thinking before they realize they're thinking it. One of the threads running through the feedback we get is, "I didn't know anybody else looked at it that way, took this so seriously—I thought I was the only one." That, I believe, is why we strike a chord. We're thinking it along with you except we bothered to state it for the record. Perhaps we're the Mets fan's id.
Our blog is as much about the lives of two Mets fans as it is about the team. You can go somewhere else for a game recap. We give you as much an "us" recap as anything. But let's not kid ourselves: Nobody cares about us without the Mets. Hell, we don't care about us without the Mets. So it's our lives as intertwined with the Mets and the Mets as intertwined with our lives. We don't make any apologies for it. I strenuously avoid phrases like, "I know I'm insane for caring about this as much as I do," because I don't think I am. If it's not illegal and it's not immoral, it's fine. It's baseball. It's what we love. Why not care about it?
We got into this as people who took two things seriously as death: writing and the Mets. It's who we are, it's what we do, blog or no blog. We were like this when it was just emails back and forth. We love the Mets so much that neither of us wants to let an opportunity to think about them pass. When you have the gift to express yourself as I think each of us does, you don't want to waste that, either. We get 162 chances a year to express ourselves about the Mets, and that's before trades and history and any other Mets rumination. We get to write about the Mets for an audience. What a sacred trust. I don't want to blow that and I'm sure Jason doesn't.

Related on the web

Read Prince's Faith and Fear recap of his previous Varsity Letters appearance.

Front-page photo of Citi Field by Jason Fry.

Jim Chairusmi

Jim Chairusmi is a journalist in New York.







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Article by Jim Chairusmi

Jim Chairusmi is a journalist in New York.

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