Tuesday, April 01, 2014

I Love The Mets. Help Me. by Mike Faloon

Dear Family and Friends,

I sit down on this chilly winter morning to ask your understanding and if you can find it in your hearts, your forgiveness. I recognize that this may be an unrealistic request. Given what I’m about to embark upon—willfully, joyfully—I may be asking too much.

I don’t want to mislead you. I’m not going into a witness protection program. I’m not going to take my own life. What I’m planning won’t be a quick, private act. It will drag on for months in a very public, likely very embarrassing, way.

I’m going to root for the 2014 Mets.

The Mets were a bad team last year. They will be worse this year. And yet I’m more amped about the
coming season than I have been in years. Granted, this long, ugly winter could be wreaking havoc on my melon, distorting my view of the coming season. But I know better. It’s the games themselves, Mets game in particular. I’ll be watching them every day. Ten games into the season I’ll be multiplying all of David Wright’s stats by sixteen, crunching the numbers to see if he’s on pace for thirty homers and a hundred RBI. I’ll be watching Jonathan Niese’s WHIP—can he keep it below 1.20? Finally reach 15+ wins? I’ll be doing the same for every hitter in the Mets line up and every pitcher in the rotation. I’ll be figuring out what Mets management means when they say that Bartolo Colon manages his weight well. Like everyone other fan of a cellar dweller, I’ll be redefining “success” for 162 games.

The Mets are six years removed from their last winning season. They’re doing everything possible to
continue this streak. For the third season in a row they’ll open the season without their best player from the previous year. First there was Jose Reyes, winner of the NL batting title in 2011. He left via free agency. Next, R.A. Dickey. He earned the NL Cy Young Award in 2012 before being traded north of the border. Then came Matt Harvey. The best Mets phenom since Doc Gooden.Harvey was positively Seaver-like all last year (less the tendency to marvel over himself). Now he’s out for all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. Maybe the Mets should consider adding Tommy John to the back end of the rotation. He was still pitching well at age 46. Admittedly, that was back in 1989, but how much worse could he be now? He could probably toss some decent long relief, make the occasional spot start. Someone’s going to have to fill in when Dillon Gee goes down. Maybe invite John to spring training rather than a guaranteed contract.

That’s what the Mets are doing with Daisuke Matsuzaka. He was about as effective as a seventy-year-old when he first came up last year. He could barely wobble through three innings. He was getting punched up for four or five runs every time. It was brutal. His ERA needed an oxygen tank. But then Dice K. turned it around. He was still giving out walks like Halloween candy—that’s always going to be part of his game—but he cut back on the hits, went deeper into games. His streak only consisted of four starts, but Dice K. returned with full force. And he’s on the periphery. He’s but one of the reasons I’m on board for 2014. Turning disaster into hope, redemption. Look at the Mets roster. Does any club have more guys angling for comeback player of the year?

The 2014 Mets won’t be in the running for a playoff spot. They probably won’t flirt with .500, but they’re long on potential. Look at the skies above Mets’ training camp—even now, in early March, at the outset of spring training—and you’ll likely see a flock of “What if”s circling overhead. The biggest free agent to swoop in was Bartolo Colon. He’s a hearty forty. He harkens back to the era of Luis Tiant and Fernando—hefty hurlers whose physiques make the people at Frito-Lay feel better about their products. And Colon’s just two years removed a PED suspension. But he has a quiet sense of character. You say, painfully out of shape and unlikely to duplicate his numbers from 2013; he signed with the Mets to collect a paycheck and avoid any sense of pressure that comes with playing for a winner. To your second point, I say touché, he may well, in fact, be in New York to coast. To your first point, I say, he’s comfortable with his body image and ready to roll. Anyone looking to cast Major League IV?

Then there’s fellow free agents Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. What if they approach their best numbers? Well, they’ll feel right at home with the Mets: Mendoza-line batting averages, big power numbers and strikeouts by the bushel. It reminds me of the first game I attended last season. Even though starter Shaun Marcum was 0-4, I thought the Mets might be able to sneak past Reds starter Johnny Cueto, just back from the D.L. Then I saw the Mets line up posted on the scoreboard:

Lucas Duda .214
Ike Davis .156
Rick Ankiel .220
John Buck .228

It was late May and each of those players was on pace for 20+ homers but hitting south of .230. Did the Mets clone Rob Deer? What do we get for leading the league in solo homeruns?

Buck and Ankiel have moved on but Davis and Duda remain. For now. They represent the closest thing to a controversy that the Mets can muster these days: who will start at first base? Will it be Ike “I don’t like to hit in April, May, or June” Davis? Or Lucas “Do I have to swing?” Duda? I’m hoping they both make the cut. I love rooting for them. Davis is the consummate professional. Says and does the right thing even when mired in a career-long slump. But when Ike gets a hold of one, man, there are few sights that are prettier to behold. Such a sweet swing. Duda, too. He may lack grace on defense. Speed and consistency, too, but no doubt that the dude is hustling. He wears his effort on his sleeves. Apparently he’s a big self-doubter, too, which is all the more reason to root for him.

I hear the counterargument: I’m being selective, focusing on the leaky glass that might actually be half full, if not in better shape than a year ago. What about Travis d’Arnaud, the young prospect the Mets received in exchange for R.A. Dickey? Forget his .202 average from last year. Overlook the painful absence of power. He’s our “hitter with big things to show” for 2014. (And he’s a step up from last year’s “kid with big promise” candidate, Ruben Tejada—he of that rare “hit like Belanger, field like Offerman” school.) How far will Zach Wheeler come without having to pitch in Matt Harvey’s shadow for a year?

And then there’s David Wright. Easily the most talented player on the roster. Ten years into a career that promises to be the best in Mets history. He’s coming off his best season ever (if you believe in the power of the adjust OPS) and signed through the next decade. He could have left for greener pastures a few years ago but reupped with the Mets. (If only he can reach 600 at-bats. He hasn’t hit those heights since 2008.) He says he’s excited about the Mets future. He always says stuff like that. And I think he means it.

Too bad he doesn’t run the team. The Wilpons certainly don’t share his enthusiasm for the franchise.
They don’t seem very fond of the fans who do. How else could you explain the naming of this winter’s first Queens Baseball Convention—a gathering of Mets fans at the Mets stadium in celebration of the Mets team bearing no official signs of support from the Mets themselves. Sounds like the 50th Anniversary of the Mets at Hofstra University in 2013. Three days of people talking about the Mets and not a team sanctioned logo in sight.

But I’m still on board for 2014. I’ll be hoping that every “he might” and “if they” comes to full fruition. I’ve already invited friends over to watch the first Saturday game of the season. I’ll be trying to convince people to attend games even when the team is plunging to the painful, bends-inducing depths of sub-.500 ball. Zisk co-publisher Steve Reynolds, a friend of over 25 years won’t pay to go to a Mets game. He refuses to give the Wilpons a nickel. My friend Pedro, same thing. Still, I’ll try.

Cynics—and realists, too—might liken my outlook to traveling to the North Atlantic and diving into the icy depths in the hopes of saving a few passengers of the Titanic. The band’s already played. The ships’s already sunk. This doomed group has met their fate. Accept it and move on.

The Mets are a mess, and I’ll be getting my hopes up every time they take two out of three from the
Marlins or pull within spitting distance of the Braves. To borrow a phrase from Mets historian Greg Prince I’ll be among the “long celebrating” fans.

I’ll also be moaning and groaning when the Mets fall short. I’ll be crushed and grumpy and defensive when they sink to the depths more rational prognosticators are predicting. I may not always be pleasant when all of this unravels. Forgive me.

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