After a dreadful road trip immediately following the All-Star break, the New York Mets returned to Citi Field and proceeded to take two out of three against the St. Louis Cardinals. This series win not only stabilized the team to a certain degree, but it also created a very important series—as far as July goes—against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In order for the Mets to sniff any sort of playoff berth this year, it seems to be they need to win every single series at home and pray for rain on the road. Does this remind anyone else of 2005?
I attended the game on Friday night with a friend, and we had great seats—first row, right next to the third base dugout—so here's a tip of the cap to the person who made that happen. Thank you.
The game was exciting enough; plenty of runs were scored and there were high levels of drama on the field throughout the game. Sure, the Mets let it slip away, but what disappointed me most was a conversation I had with my friend. It had a strange effect on me, one that is the inspiration for this piece.
Friend: For about two seconds, I let my mind wander into thinking this is what a playoff baseball atmosphere would look like.
Dashing, Talented Writer: I was thinking the exact same thing. Pathetic, isn't it?
This conversation took place not in the middle of a Mets rally, with the Mets faithful rising as one in support of the home team. Nor did we let our minds stray as Mike Pelfrey had two strikes on a batter with two outs in an inning, the fans willing him to shut the door.
Instead, we dreamed of a playoff atmosphere when over the P.A. everyone was asked to wave their white t-shirts in the air—the night's free giveaway—so that a picture could be taken.
This happened between the fifth and sixth innings.
In the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a runner on second, Angel Pagan put together an eleven pitch at-bat, hoping to get on base in order to bring up David Wright—who had already hit two home runs earlier in the contest—as the tying run.
As this at-bat was taking place, I voiced my frustrations that the P.A. was blasting noise into the stadium, pleading for the fans to cheer. It's the bottom of the ninth, I said. You cannot be playing this crap in the bottom of the ninth! Let us make our own noise.
Then it hit me. I wasn't standing up or cheering. No one was, except for some drunk guys behind me yelling more at Aaron Heilman than anything else. The fans reacted to what they saw on the video screens, but as soon as the catalyst for noise disappeared, so did the enthusiasm.
No t-shirts were waving, no one was cheering Pagan, who was putting together an impressive turn at the plate, searching for any way to get on base. The vast majority of fans throughout the park sat in their seats, expecting the worst, and those standing were doing so simply in the hope that they would be ready to run up the stairs in order to beat some traffic to the parking lot.
Walking out of the stadium after Pagan hit one sharply, but directly into the glove of right fielder Justin Upton, I couldn't shake what I'd experienced during the game. The stadium was relatively full, yet no one really seemed to put any effort into doing our part as fans. The greatest buzz ran through the stadium when everyone realized Aaron Heilman was in to close out the game in the ninth.
Perhaps it was Heilman's presence that got to me, but before I left the parking lot I knew the answer to my own question of what happened.
Mets fans are truly jaded, scarred from the most recent bit of history—a four year stretch ranging from October 19, 2006 through today. Fans were willing to come back from 2006, bruised but ready to fight on another year.
Then September, 2007 happened.
I really don't know how I made any new friends in my dorm that semester when people on every floor could hear me cursing Tom Glavine, et al to the heavens. I was a mess. And my roommate (rightfully) feared for his safety as a Phillies fan. Now bloodied as well as bruised, Mets supporters meekly came back in 2008, but we talked ourselves into the fact that the team had to succeed, given it was the last year at Shea.
Then the season happened.
I remember hearing Gary Cohen's heart breaking when he delivered the immediate post-game comments on the final day of the campaign. I had to turn off the television before Shea's Final Ceremony, knowing that even the best announcer in baseball couldn't make me feel any better.
But as fans we stayed true to our team, knowing that a new stadium and a new era were both coming, with success surely to follow.
Then the bottom dropped out in 2009. Was it injuries, or did management mistakenly think the window for the 2006 Mets was still open? I personally go with the latter. I believed before 2007 that the window had closed, which was strange because that meant the team only had a one year window to win a championship. A scary thought at the time, and unfortunately one that turned out to be accurate.
Simply put, 2006 was the year, and management and fans alike held to the notion that the team was getting better in 2007, 2008, and 2009.
In 2006, the veterans weren't quite yet over the hill (Pedro, Glavine, Delgado, Floyd, El Duque, etc.) and they carried the youngsters further than they should have been able to go. Injuries to those veterans ultimately derailed the opportunity for a World Series, but many thought the team would be right back there the next year.
In 2007, the team became both too old and too young. The aforementioned veterans were either gone or could no longer carry the team on their backs, and the youth movement wasn't quite ready to take over. A hot start was followed by .500 baseball for four months, and when the final push was needed, there weren't enough able bodies to provide it.
In 2008, we signed Santana but ignored the major problem of the bullpen. We all know what happened there.
In 2009, we signed Putz and K-Rod but ignored the glaring problem that the lineup had gotten old and was ripe with potential for injury. Again, we all know what happened.
So that's how we arrived at where we stand in 2010. But where do we go from here? The team is talented, but most likely not talented enough to earn a playoff spot. But not bad enough to authorize a complete overhaul.
Mets history shows that the club has limited windows of opportunity, preceded and followed by much longer stretches of disaster. I'd go through these windows step-by-step, but this article is already long enough.
Just go through your memory banks and nod your head when you agree that the Mets hold on too long to what they perceive are talented rosters and pay for that belief mightily in the proceeding years.
The Mets are clearly in danger of falling completely off the table again in a year or so, and perhaps more importantly are in severe danger of losing what was once their greatest strength.
Sure the fans will cheer at the most basic times, when the Mets score runs and make great defensive plays, but the in-game passion is gone. No longer do fans make noise without prodding from video screens, and frankly no longer can they will their team to victory.
If the fans don't believe in the team anymore, what exactly do the Mets have?
There is of course the new stadium.
Also, the Mets have young stars who cannot be a part of a rebuilding process if the franchise has any chance of holding onto them when free agency comes along in Wright, Reyes, and perhaps Ike Davis and Angel Pagan. With that in mind, I am of the belief that the Mets should not overhaul the team.
With the decisions made since 2005, the Mets organization has put itself in this precarious place, one where band-aids instead of stitches have been used to fix gaping problems. I believe there is only one move the franchise can make if it has any chance of being relevant for the first half of this decade—and it does not involve players.
The Mets need to hire Bobby Valentine. It doesn't matter how much money it takes (he'll be the biggest free agent signing of the winter) or how much butt-kissing Valentine would need to come on board (the people he fought with have left the organization).
Valentine guided teams that in all honesty never should have reached the heights of the NLCS and World Series in 1999 and 2000. He will already arguably have more talent in 2011 than he did in his first full year with the Mets in 1997.
The rap against Valentine is that he is a short-term solution, that players and management alike can only handle him for at most a five or six year stretch. My question in response would be: how long did Willie Randolph last? Assuming the Mets miss the playoffs this season and Jerry's contract is not renewed, how long will Jerry Manuel have lasted?
For those of us who struggle with math, the answers are 3.5 and 2.5 years, respectively, which equals a total of six years. Now imagine if Bobby V was the manager guiding the Mets through the tough instances from 2005-2010. Would the Mets be in the same spot now? If his reputation held, then perhaps, but the Mets would more than likely be coming off of a six-year stretch that included four playoff berths and at least one World Series trip.
Think the fans would be passionless in 2010 if that were the case? Me neither.
If the Mets want any hope of keeping the fans and getting an immediate return on their enormous investment that is Citi Field in the coming years, there is only one choice.
Goodness knows, I'd stand up and cheer if I got the chance to to see the fake nose and glasses in the dugout come April, 2011.