There was a time, not too long ago in fact, that every team in Major League Baseball could consider themselves a contender for a World Series crown.
It was a time of unbridled optimism for every fan of every team. A time where those fans could argue that this was the year that their team surprised everybody (or lived up to lofty expectations), without sounding the least bit ridiculous (except for Nationals fans, of course).
That time was spring training. And while chronologically it is only a few months back, in terms of a baseball season, it may as well be light years ago.
After all, it's now the middle of June, a time when most optimism is crushed to death by the powerfully cruel hands of reality. This is where the men begin to be separated from the boys.
As a Mets
fan, I have dealt with that cruel reality each of the past two Septembers. Two consecutive Septembers where anything that could go wrong for my beloved team in Flushing did go wrong.
Two straight collapses. Two straight seasons of missed post-seasons. All this despite having arguably the most talented team in the National League.
This spring training, however, was supposed to be different. The Mets had a gorgeous, state-of-the-art new ballpark. The roster still included the best starter in the game and a great lineup.
The team also shored up the bullpen, there most glaring deficiency, acquiring both a former All-Star closer to use as a set-up man in JJ Putz, and the most consistently dominant closer in the American League (not named Mariano, of course) in Francisco Rodriguez.
I mean, even Sports Illustrated picked the Amazin's to win it all. This was feeling like it may be the year the magic was brought back to Queens.
Now that mid-June reality is starting to sink in, and my Mets are getting hit hard.
Whether it's silent bats when Johan Santana is on the mound, a lack of power in the lineup, base running blunders that Little Leaguers don't even make, a GM who questions the toughness of his superstar players, Daniel Murphy's defense, JJ Putz not adjusting well to his new role, or Oliver Perez, well, being Oliver Perez, it has seemed that nothing has gone right for the Mets so far in 2009.
Not to mention that serious injuries have hit the team hard. In fact, Billy Wagner, Oliver Perez, JJ Putz, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, and John Maine have all missed time with injuries, some more extensive than others.
Needless to say, it's been a bit of a tough season so far for fans of New York NL baseball. But I'm here to pull my fellow Mets fans off of the ledge.
Sure things have not been great, but if you stop, take a deep breath, and look at the situation rationally, it's really not that bad. In fact, things in Queens could be much worse.
Think about it for a minute. As much as players like JJ Putz and Oliver Perez have been major disappointments, guys like Omir Santos, Livan Hernandez, and Bobby Parnell have played well above expectations. Luis Castillo, even with that terrible error against the Yankees
(can we please catch pop-ups with two hands?!?!), is healthy and finally contributing.
The Gary Sheffield gamble is paying off tenfold, and Francisco Rodriguez has been so good, he is easily in the argument with Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez for best free agent signing in 2009.
The Mets record is still over .500. In fact, they have the same record this season as they had this time last year.
The major difference being, while the 2008 Mets seemed to lay down for Willie Randolph, this season's team as played their hearts out for manager Jerry Manuel.
The biggest bright spot of all, however, is right in the standings. Despite the misfortunes, the Mets are still only four games back of the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies
, and are still leading the wild card race.
True, they still having a losing record this year against their rivals down the Turnpike, but they have played well in all of those games, and maybe if the team is healthy and at full strength, those results are different.
Maybe the past two Septembers have left a bad taste in the mouths of Mets fans. Maybe as a whole, Mets fans suffer from an inferiority complex from being in the same city as the Yankees, and now a 90-minute drive from the world champions.
Maybe, as many New Yorkers are, we're just cynical and pessimistic. Whatever the reason may be, so far this 2009 Mets season has been viewed from the proverbial glass-is-half-empty perspective.
Maybe it's time to look at the bright side of this season thus far. Maybe this season the Mets early struggles will lead to late season success.
Maybe Mets fans should feel lucky that their team is not worse off than it is. It could be much, much worse.
Besides, all this pessimism is starting to make us sound like Cubs
fans, and nobody wants that.