If there was ever a question about the veracity of the adage “If your heart (and perhaps your wallet) is full, you don't feel that hungry,” a simple study of the New York Mets' 2012 season thus far has eliminated it.
The debate about long-term contracts for major league baseball players—and the inherent complacency it breeds—are well-documented. Although there is ample evidence to support both sides of the argument, in the wake of the inexplicable success the Mets have enjoyed during the first two months of this season, it’s hard to refute one assertion: The key to putting a winning team on the field does not lie in exorbitant long-term contracts and arbitrary, indiscriminate spending for marquee free agents during the off-season circus we describe with the euphemistic phrase “winter meetings.” No. It’s really much easier than that.
Let the kids play.
And when these young, starry-eyed hopefuls perform well for your team, igniting a firestorm of optimism and exhilaration that gets your entire fanbase bristling with fanciful thoughts of post-season glory, do NOT undermine your efforts by squelching your young talents’ unbridled desire with long-term contracts. Please do not do that.
Nothing kills desire more effectively than professional aplomb.
There is a reason why younger, less-established (and less-compensated) players play the game with the appropriate level of intensity and appreciation. Of course, there are some Ripken-esque exceptions—veterans who have managed to avert the trappings of self-indulgent laziness. But any fan of the game who is even remotely lucid realizes that the player who is forced to fight for his professional existence is going to perform at a much higher level, individual statistics notwithstanding. It’s common sense. The mantra these young baseball players live by is their life-sustaining force.
Perform or you’re out.
If one were to break down the Mets' season thus far, it is easy to ascertain just why the Metropolitans have proven all preseason prognosticators wrong. Naturally, the torrid start to David Wright’s season has a lot to do with the Mets' early success, although cynics would cite that Wright is in the last year of his contract and is essentially in a fight of his own. His focus and determination are easily discernible and unlike anything Mets fans have seen in quite some time. Hmmmm.
But it’s the other factors that have really buoyed the Mets' resolve this season.
And by factors, I mean young, talented players who play the game each night with the heart of a warrior and the love and exuberance of a child.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis is perhaps the poster boy for the Mets' infusion of youthful energy. Fortunately for Mets fans, he is not alone. Whitestone native Mike Baxter, Vinny Rottino, Mike Nickeas and most recently Omar Quintanilla and Jeremy Hefner have all provided some magical moments for the Amazins and in turn rejuvenated a moribund franchise and legions of faithful followers.
Hey folks. The Mets are fun again.
The pallor of perfunctory execution and brazen entitlement is gone, replaced by genuine zeal and a refreshing respect for the opportunity to play this game we all love so passionately. Dissension seems to be a thing of the past as well, giving way to camaraderie and a sense of shared purpose that has everyone in Queens believing that this baseball season is about more than just rebuilding.
Perhaps that’s because even the majority of veterans on the roster are still hungry themselves. R.A. Dickey is certainly no youngster, but his professional mien is a lot closer to a rookie’s than to a pampered, self-absorbed superstar’s. Names like Gee, Niese, Murphy, Thole and Duda are not new to Mets fans, but they are still fresh enough to possess that rookie glow that attenuates everything that they say and do.
And the poise and understated professionalism of true veteran Johan Santana doesn't hurt either.
As Jason Bay prepares for his return, Mets management should take notice: All that glitters is not gold.
The prudent expulsions of Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes have taught us that for sure. Let’s heed the lesson and continue to reward only those players who actually play, regardless of what is owed to some. I think it’s a sure recipe for Mets' success.
And if we’re lucky, maybe even the beginning for a new paradigm in Major League Baseball.