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Face of Mets PR for 40 years wouldn’t have it any other way.

The autograph requests resume every season. The photo requests, too. A fan is never far. On an early July afternoon, the former bobblehead model sits in Citi Field’s home dugout. As Adam Stern, 34, arrives to watch batting practice, he spots the 72-year-old fiddling with his phone on the bench, and excitedly points out to...
Time: 23:34     Date: 16.07.2018
Last US Sport News: Face of Mets PR for 40 years wouldn’t have it any other way. NY Post 24 - US News

A fan is never far.

On an early July afternoon, the former bobblehead model sits in Citi Field’s home dugout. As Adam Stern, 34, arrives to watch batting practice, he spots the 72-year-old fiddling with his phone on the bench, and excitedly points out to his family:

“That’s Jay Horwitz!” Stern said.

For 39 years, Horwitz has been the Mets’ vice president of media relations, the constant on a carousel of chaos and crisis and celebration.

“For true Mets fans, Jay holds a kind of iconic status,” Stern said. “It’s almost mythical.”

It’s almost unfathomable, for someone who never played or coached.

“You naturally think of players or managers when you think of Mets history, but in my opinion he’s right up there on that Mount Rushmore of the organization,” captain David Wright said.

And right up there with the franchise’s most recognizable face.

“I don’t want to say he’s Mr. Met,” interim co-general manger Omar Minaya said, “but he’s as close to Mr. Met as possible.”

Jay HorwitzPaul J. Bereswill

Aside from being sidelined with a broken ankle in September 2011 — ending a 21-year Ripken-esque streak without missing a Mets game, which began after a two-day absence following his mother’s death — Horwitz has been at every home game since arriving in 1980.

“When he had the [ankle] surgery, he still came to the ballpark in a wheelchair, so he could still be a part of it,” former Mets manager Terry Collins said. “That’s just him. He’s always there.”

For four decades, Horwitz has built a Hall of Fame win percentage against the George Washington Bridge, and still leaves his childhood home in Clifton, N.J., in darkness to arrive at the stadium as much as 13 hours before the first pitch. Despite cutting back on road trips in recent years, Horwitz’s routine is only altered by racing home to watch on TV.

“If I don’t get to the bridge by 7 [a.m.], I’m screwed,” Horwitz said. “Three, four hours a night’s sleep, and I’m good.”

On occasion, Horwitz’s mind wanders to his long-imagined life in Washington, nudged by the numerous John and Robert Kennedy pictures throughout the home of the once-aspiring press secretary.

Horwitz’s three cats and dog, the canine gifted by Anna Benson —who famously threatened to sleep with the entire team if former husband/pitcher, Kris, was unfaithful, prompting Horwitz to crack, “Anna, you forgot about the P.R. department” — sometimes remind him of his sacrifice; how a pair of potential relationships stood a worse chance of winning than Anthony Young, when presenting Horwitz with ultimatums of her or the job.

“Honestly, it wasn’t that close of a decision,” Horwitz said with a laugh. “I married my job. I never really gave anything else a chance. I love what I’m doing, but if I had to do it over again, I might’ve made some different choices along the way, and pursued relationships better, and stuff like that.

“But I’m happy with my life. I’m really fortunate to be at the same place for 40 years.”

Milton and Gertrude’s only child followed his father into dual-Giants fandom, idolizing Willie Mays at the Polo Grounds, and first securing season tickets for Big Blue in 1958. When California stole the National League from New York, Horwitz’s heart followed to San Francisco, with father and son traveling to Philadelphia to see them before the Mets were born.

“I really wish my dad could’ve seen me here,” said Horwitz, whose father died of cancer in 1970. “He really would’ve been so proud knowing I worked in professional sports.”

Jay Horwitz, with Jacob deGromAnthony J. Causi

Horwitz’s awkward playing days ended as a pre-pubescent second baseman at Clifton Jewish Center. His career began in high school, serving as the student manager of multiple teams.

He majored in journalism at NYU, covered the Jets for the Herald News, then became the sports information director at NYU. By 1972, he accepted the same position at Fairleigh Dickinson, where Horwitz artfully swiped headlines with stories of one-armed fencers and hockey-playing priests.

After seven years, Horwitz was debating taking a job as a “stats guy” at NBC, when Mets vice president Jim Nagourney proposed.

“He said, ‘I’ve heard some good things about you, and we’re looking for a P.R. guy. Are you interested? I said, ‘Bob, quit f—— around,’ and I hung up on him,” said Horwitz, thinking it was a friend playing a prank on him.

Horwitz assured his mother he blew it again when he spilled orange juice onto general manager Frank Cashen’s pants during his job interview, which lasted no more than six minutes.

But, on April 1, 1980, Horwitz was called up.

“I was so nervous,” Horwitz said. “I was a 33-year-old kid going to the major leagues. I had no clue what was coming.”

On the eve of another All-Star break, Horwitz shrugs off the latest rain delay. He then straps on his binoculars and watches the latest chapter of the latest losing season.

In his first four seasons, the Mets never won more than 68 games. For the 21st time, Horwitz will likely witness another sub-.500 season.

“I try and not let my job be affected by the standings. If you do that, you can’t exist,” Horwitz said. “One good thing about being here so long … is it runs in cycles. I think I have perspective of that. Nothing stays forever. While things are bad now, there’s no doubt in my mind that things are gonna turn around.”

Seasons don’t end. They overlap. While grass wilts, the work continues. While the team slept in Tokyo in 2000, Horwitz stayed up to check in with the New York office.

“A lot of P.R. guys are dedicated, but Jay is someone that lives and sleeps and eats it,” longtime WFAN reporter Ed Coleman said. “I honestly don’t know how he’s done it this long. He’s one of a kind.”

Ownership learned it long ago.

Paul J. Bereswill

“He does his job in such a great way, and has such a feel for it after doing it for all these years,” Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said. “We joke around, sometimes, and talk about what tomorrow’s headline is gonna be, and he’s usually right.”

New players learn every season.

“It could take all day to say everything that Jay has meant to me,” Wright said. “Early on, he was a calming influence and a teacher and a guy that I leaned on, trying to learn how to respectfully deal with the media attention, while learning how to manage my time as a 21-year-old kid with lofty expectations.

“Sometimes he may not always look the part, but he has such a sharp mind … and he has so much passion. We come in after a loss and you can see it on his face. He feels it like the players feel it, and sometimes even more so.”

It is why players gave Horwitz a World Series share in 2000, why Dave Kingman stayed at his house, why Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard still ask him to join in fungo-hitting contests.

“Jay was part of the team,” Keith Hernandez said. “He was with us every day. He was always welcome in our circles. There was a separation between the front office and the players. With Jay, there was no separation. He was one of us.

“Jay really loved the players and he looked out for them in a motherly kind of way. New York’s a tough place. There’s a lot of media, and Jay took his job very seriously.”

If sometimes too protective, it was instinct. Family came first.

“I know he’s been accused now and then of having gone overboard for being a valet for the players, but I’ve been in this business for well over 40 years, and I’ve never seen that kind of connection between a media relations director and the players,” longtime Mets radio announcer Howie Rose said. “It’s been a marriage that’s endured, and has been as loving as any other that you can imagine.”

The players’ pranks — largely masterminded by John Franco — are summarized like sitcom episodes: When Horwitz was tied up and covered in bread crumbs for birds to feast. When he awoke to severed ties and blacked out glasses. When a rat was thrown in his bag. When ice cream sandwiches were put in his jacket pockets. When he was handcuffed to his luggage. When his hotel room was filled with canaries. When his hotel bed was filled with ketchup and a fake horse’s head. When a hooker stood outside his hotel door.

“I told her I couldn’t because my knee hurt,” Horwitz laughed. “I’ve learned, if they don’t like you, they won’t [mess] with you. I’m OK with being the butt of jokes. I think I have a good sense of humor. The guys have been great to me, and it helps me assimilate with them.

“In this job, there’s a different mentality. If you can’t accept kidding, you’re not gonna survive.”

Getty Images

Horwitz wrote his own playbook, in illegible, doctor-style script.

“It used to mystify me, but he would take out a scrap of paper and write down something you need with 8,000 other things,” Coleman said. “But he never forgot. He’d figure it out and get it done.”

Even if it meant taking detours through Queens from John Franco’s Staten Island house before going home to New Jersey.

“That’s how he knew to go. He has his routines,” Franco said. “He does his own thing.”

Even if the technologically challenged borderline baby boomer has cut back on butt-dialing, communication can still be challenging.

“I’ll be on the phone saying hello and there’s no one there. Or an email supposed to go to someone else is in my inbox. Or because he’s trying to do a million things at a time, and he’s got these short, little stubby fingers, he hits two or three buttons at the same time, so none of his texts make sense,” Wright said. “It takes time to learn the Jay language.”

Describing him is more difficult.

“The best comedy writers in the history of television could not have created Jay Horwitz,” Rose said. “Jay is an American original.”

Shannon Forde began as an intern with the Mets in 1994, and worked her way up, under Horwitz, to become the team’s senior director of media relations before passing away of breast cancer in March 2016.

“Shannon was so close to him,” Coleman said. “She was really like his daughter. That took a lot out of him.”

Jay Horwitz, with Jose ReyesPaul J. Bereswill

Horwitz repeatedly chokes up when discussing Forde, then always powers through because her legacy means more than his pain.

“She was the most courageous person I ever met,” said Horwitz, who recently helped dedicate a field in her honor and raised money for her foundation with his 2013 bobblehead night. “Anything we’re able to do for her….”

Horwitz tears up again. He keeps a picture of her on his desk and one on his phone screen, with his arm around her during a Christmas party at her house.

“You could tell how much pride he took in Shannon becoming who she became,” Wright said. “You can just sense that as opposed to having children of his own, or having a significant other of his own, he treats us like he would have treated his immediate family.”

Four decades can’t be free of regret. In the beginning, Horwitz wishes he would’ve been tougher with Darryl Strawberry, and later Dwight Gooden.

“Maybe some of that stuff might not have happened later on,” said Horwitz, who went to drug rehabilitation centers with players so often he was mistaken for a patient.

But the young stars helped bring the 1986 World Series title home. Only the aftermath of 9/11 — and Mike Piazza’s legendary home run — rank higher in Horwitz’s professional memory.

“Guys got what it was to be a New Yorker, and I was really proud to be a part of that,” Horwitz said. “We did some good. More than just baseball games.”

The passion has never faded. Horwitz knows he’s “past the supposed retirement age,” but envisions his career continuing well into extra innings.

Jay Horwitz, with Howie RosePaul J. Bereswill

“I think a little bit of the Mets’ soul will be missing when Jay is gone,” Coleman said. “Players come and go, but Jay has always been there.”

And will remain there as long as he likes.

“You know how they say you have to rip the uniform off the back of a player that’s over the hill, well, Jay’s not getting that uniform ripped off,” Wilpon said. “There will always be a place for him to do whatever he wants with the organization.”

“That’s my boring life,” Horwitz said with a straight face, before heading to Washington for his 30-something All-Star Game.

He’s lost count by now. He just remembers the moments: Gooden starting in Houston. Wright homering in Pittsburgh. DeGrom striking out the side in Cincinnati.

Where else would he want to be this week?

“Two days at the Shore?” Horwitz said. “That’s not gonna happen.”

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