The birds are chirping, winter coats are tucked away in their closets and I got my first sunburn of 2015. That can only mean one thing: it’s time for baseball! Gone are the plethora of perennial all-stars smacking 45 home runs a year. All of those names you remember from your childhood are either retired or limping to a .269 average (I’m looking at you, David Wright). When adults talk baseball to their work pals around the water cooler, the discussion is more likely to revolve around who has an unusually high WAR (wins above replacement) rather than who’s winning the home run race. Baseball has changed. As Keith Olberman observed, it has become more of a regional sport. Fans are flocking to see their teams play, but seem to have become disenchanted with the sport itself. You don’t go to watch baseball, you go to watch the Angels, the Mariners, the A’s, etc. You get the picture. It is in this spirit that I will shamelessly plug my team, the New York Metropolitans.
Over the past 20 years, the New York Yankees have been by far the most consistently dominant franchise in all of Major League Baseball. They have made the playoffs 16 times since 1995. This includes their absences over the past three seasons. The Yankees are old. Their strategy of out-bidding everyone for the biggest names in baseball is no longer working. Overpaying a 38 year-old Carlos Beltran and washed up 39 year-old Alex Rodriguez is not a winning blueprint. Baseball is changing. The Yankees are not. Their farm system is depleted, their players are old and fragile and their heir is that of mediocrity. Sure they occupy the largest market in the majors, so things could very well turn around, but baseball is no longer dependent on traditional “stat guys” who smack homeruns at unprecedented rates. Most teams who win, I’m thinking Royals here, do it organically. Home runs are on the decline in this age of the pitcher and small ball, you know stealing that extra base, executing a hit and run every now and then, are in. Enter the Mets.
New York is a big city. When the Dodgers and Giants left for the West Coast in the 1950s, many fans were left with a void to fill. When the Mets came about in 1962, combining that beautiful Dodger Blue with the Giants’ orange NY emblem, they brought a laughable, yet lovable presence to New York City baseball. For those tri-staters who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s, New York may have seemed like a Yankee town. There was Derek Jeter and his crew of homegrown and store-bought Bombers who took the city by storm. People are quick to forget the 1969 Miracle Mets who came out of nowhere to win the World Series. When casual fans talk about the 1986 Mets, a team who dominated baseball both on and off the field with its edgy personalities, they think of them as an isolated team whose place in baseball lore is essentially reduced to Mookie Wilson’s slow roller that went through Bill Buckner’s legs in game six of the World Series. Yet these Mets dominated the latter half of the 1980s and owned the city of New York. Back then, there was a mural of pitcher Doc Gooden in Times Square reading “How does it feel to look down the barrel of a loaded gun?” This isn’t to say that the Yankees were terrible in those years, but the Mets had the flair, the personalities and the winning pedigree to back it all up.
Aside from 2000 and 2006, the Mets have been nothing short of a disappointment in my lifetime. Since their move to Citi Field in 2009 the Mets have been abysmal. They have not finished above .500 since 2008 and their ownership was even involved in Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme a few years ago. They’re an easy punch line. Growing up I was constantly reminded that Mets stood for “My Entire Team Sucks.” Having nothing to say in response, I could do nothing but lower my head in shame. After sitting through four years of Sandy Alderson’s rebuilding plan, these Mets are ready to play, and their swagger shows it.
The past few seasons have yielded some bright spots. Centerfielder Juan Lagares has developed into one of the best defensive players in the game, winning the Gold Glove last season. Jacob DeGrom won the rookie of the year award and his hair is spectacular. Curtis Granderson underperformed in his first year as a Met but he hit the cover off of the ball in spring training this year and has been reunited with former Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long. Surely these improvements warrant a better record, but they don’t necessarily translate into a NYC takeover.
Enter Matt Harvey. Harvey’s legacy was cemented in 2013 when he got off to an 8-2 start and started the All-Star game at Citi Field. He has pitched with a bloody nose and posed naked for ESPN the Magazine. He was dubbed “The Dark Knight of Gotham” in Sports Illustrated that year, despite having less than 15 career wins to his name. Harvey went down in August and needed Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss the entire 2014 season. During that time, he fought with coaches, made appearances throughout the City (including Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium) and made it known to the world that above all else, he wanted to win. In a game increasingly absent of stars, Matt Harvey has the potential to be an icon. He, along with David Wright, the 2014 “Face of the MLB” (Yeah I don’t know either), DeGrom, Lagares and a host of young fireballers waiting in the minors for their chance to mow down major league batters make the Mets more than just competitive. They make them exciting.
With the Yankees old and irrelevant, now is the Mets’ chance. They are young, electric and represent the flair of present day baseball to a tee. The Mets have players who can transcend these “regional sport” connotations. Harvey is one of those guys who gets a lead on Sportscenter. Wright is an established vet whose name will forever be linked with New York Met baseball. Someone posted a photo outside Citi Field ten minutes after game time last Tuesday and there were lines, long long lines. So what? You might say. But take it from me, a devoted fan, the vibe is a bit different this year. I mean, the Yankees will always be “the Yankees,” but it’s times like these when I don’t feel bad about getting ahead of myself. As we Met fans say, “You gotta believe!”