The truth is this season’s beginning does not loom promisingly. Daniel Murphy starts the season on the DL , which we were not expecting. Jose Reyes starts the season on the DL , which we were expecting but were also beginning to believe was just a bad dream. Carlos Beltran will spend at least a month on the DL , possibly more; I say possibly more because reports of his progress have been generally optimistic, and if we’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s to not take seriously generally optimistic prognostications regarding Mets and their healing.
None of the starting pitchers  is outwardly ill, though I might want to rush their spring ERAs to an emergency room near St. Lucie.
For happier truths, I’ve looked closer to home, to where the games will be played, which I must say is a nice change from 2009. All the sprucing up of Citi Field has been getting me excited for my return to the scene of the ’09 crime because the Mets seemed to have gotten the message that their ballpark should look like their ballpark. In the last several weeks we’ve heard about a new museum , a dozen “great moments” commemorative brick plaques (many of them accurate ), VIP entrances  that live up to the designation , player banner  after player banner …all the stuff that — as the cliché goes — makes a house feel like a home.
Best of all, I thought, there was the Apple. The real Apple. The Apple that bobbed up and down in right center field at Shea from 1981 to 2008. The Apple that seemed destined for the scrap heap with the destruction of Shea Stadium. The Apple that Mets management, in its ever wavering commitment to team history, shoved in the Citi Field basement known as Bullpen Plaza when the new joint opened.
Yes, that Apple. That Apple remained a shrine in spite of management’s ambivalence toward it. They wanted us to forget the past and stare at the big, shiny, electromagnetic replacement they installed just beyond the unreachable center field wall of Citi Field. It was supposed to rise for home runs in 2009, which meant it wasn’t seen doing anything very often (and, memorably, missed its calling when the Mets shocked its system by homering in consecutive at-bats last July ). That apple was not the one we loved. The one we loved was down in that basement, attracting thousands of visitors, serving as backdrop for countless pictures, keeping the Mets fan faith when all around us was otherwise going bad.
Thus, when eyewitnesses with cameras caught the image of the Apple — and its trusty top hat — being hauled from the desolate Bullpen Plaza to smack in the middle of what they were proudly calling Mets Plaza , I decided this was it…the Mets really get it. They’re not hiding our history anymore. They’re letting everybody who comes off the subway and is headed toward the Rotunda see what we’re all about. We’re a little kitschy, we’re a little sentimental, maybe we’re kind of silly, but we’re open about it. We have our Apple  and we’re proud of it, damn it, let the fiberglass fall where it may.
Dave Howard, head of Met business operations, was properly ebullient in explaining the respositioning to Newsday :
“It’ll be a very iconic meeting point. It’s something we were happy to do . . . It’s going to be great, and very visible.”
I had judged the Mets too hastily. Twice. First I judged them too hastily in thinking they’d never show any pride in something as Metsian as the Apple. Then, apparently, I judged them too kindly.
It turns out no Met deed goes unpunished.
You know why the Apple is suddenly out front? Because the Mets made a deal. They made a deal for all of Mets Plaza, and the Apple is only the beginning.
Nobody said commerce isn’t part of the Major League Baseball equation. We understand that. We started the spring watching Angel Pagan warily circle fly balls at Tradition Field  (which had nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with a land investment company) and we end it watching him do the same at Digital Domain Park . We know about the dollar signs attached to the Citi Field sign as well as the strings attached to the Citigroup name . And yes, I know the Apple was never a pure act of whimsy, that rather it was the byproduct of a Della Femina ad campaign designed to convince New Yorkers that The Magic was Back  at Shea. But at least that was rooted in genuine Metsdom. Mets magic was dormant going into 1980, but it was real enough in 1969 and 1973. When the Mets constructed a top hat in ’81 and inscribed it with the words Mets Magic, daring sluggers like Kingman and Mazzilli to pull an Apple from its depths…well, like I said, it was silly, but it spoke to us.
What they’re doing on the eve of Opening Day merely insults us.
It was easy to miss in the flurry of dispatches about the Mets offering gluten-free foods via Kozy Shack  and crabcake sandwiches at Catch of the Day , but the Mets, per usual, are stepping all over their own menu of good news by selling the naming rights to Mets Plaza.
What am I saying? There is no more Mets Plaza. It will instead be known by the mellifluous moniker of Metropolitan Gardens Brought to You by FreshDirect®, the Smartest Way to Shop for Food.
FreshDirect  may be a fine company. I see their trucks  around. Some dicey labor issues  aside, they are generally spoken of in positive terms . But that doesn’t mean I want them all over my baseball experience. Do I scatter my spare baseball cards all over their broccoli?
I don’t get it. I really don’t. I’m as much a fan of capitalism as the next American, but aren’t there any parameters for good taste? Did Jeff Wilpon really mean it a year ago when he told the New York Times , “In this economy, you don’t turn down sponsors. Anyone who’s willing to pay…” He didn’t have to finish the thought. Noting the presence of the Delta Sky360 Club, the Acela Club and the Caesars Club, the Times promised in March 2009, “The name game is not done, either.”
No, it wasn’t. Now it’s enveloping Citi Field in the form of a creeping sensory terror clunkily called Metropolitan Gardens Brought to You by FreshDirect®, the Smartest Way to Shop for Food. And the first thing it’s devouring is our Apple.
Is it even our Apple anymore? No, not really. It belongs to MGBTYBFDTSWTSFF. Think that’s a mouthful? You haven’t tasted anything yet.
One of the appealing elements of the Mets moving the Apple to what I thought was our courtyard was they were installing it in one of those planters that dot the plaza. An Apple, a planter…cute, right? But that’s the insidious part. It’s just the first step in covering the entire plaza…I mean Metropolitan Gardens Brought to You by Fresh Direct®, the Smartest Way to Shop for Food…with a field full of produce. Instead of one innocent Apple, we will be assaulted by a barrage of overgrown fruits and vegetables as we make our way to the ballgame. It’ll be like that episode of Gilligan’s Island  when mutated beets and carrots start sprouting from radioactive seeds, except not nearly as hilarious.
This is what we’re down to: Mets marketing as ’60s sitcom. Same people must be writing the scripts, too, because the first thing the FreshDirect folks are insisting on, besides inflicting twenty-foot fruits and vegetables all over Metropolitan Gardens Brought to You by Fresh Direct®, the Smartest Way to Shop for Food, is giving everything an adorable Mets name keyed to the current roster/Disabled List. I guess they think if they put a blue and orange smiley face on their propaganda, we’re supposed to rush to our digital devices and sign up for their service.
First, though, you’ll find yourself fighting the urge to regurgitate the language they’re serving up.
According to the press release, we are going to meet “an exciting and nutritious cast of characters that Mets fans of all ages will want to embrace and ingest before and after games in Metropolitan Gardens Brought to You by Fresh Direct®, the Smartest Way to Shop for Food.” It may all being done in the name of encouraging us to eat our five vital servings of fruits and veggies daily , but honestly, I think I’m gonna be sick.
Might as well get the stepping up and meeting out of the way here:
• “The Captain of our FreshDirect® team is David Ripe, always looking out for his teammates with the Freshest, most Direct fruits and vegetables in the Metropolitan Gardens®!”
• “Nobody’s more appealing than Johan Banana, whose blazing PotassiumBall® is sure to strike out irritability, fatigue and boring breakfasts!”
• “Looking to speed up your salads? Insert Jose Radish at the top of your crispy lineup — or add him after the first two ingredients when he’s ready!”
• “Think brightening up that tuna sandwich is a ‘tall order’? Try a stalk of Mike Celery!”
• “The FreshDirect® Van may be the most efficient delivery vehicle imaginable, but a close second is the Sean Green Pepper submarine, racing to the surface with necessary nutrients and unpredictable fun for all!”
• “Get into a thick and hearty soup with a healthy helping of Oliver Pea Rez — your family will wonder what exactly is in there!”
• “A side dish that will take center stage more than you’d dream, Fernando Po Tatis can be a great source of fiber when sweet, mashed or boiled and served in the proper portions!”
• “You may not be thinking about him, but at some point, you’ll find yourself smacking your lips for the tasty treat that is Nelson Fig, an overlooked staple of smart eating for generations!”
• “Need a cabbage to get you through those middle-inning doldrums? Call Kiko Kale Hero and you’ll be the hero!”
• “There’s no telling what you’ll get when you bring Ryota Asparagashi to your table, but you just know it will be delicious!”
• “Is there a better way to fill in between meals than a slice of Frank Cantaloupenotto? We think not-oh!”
• “You don’t need your local grocer when you’ve got FreshDirect®, but if you have questions, you can always contact Gary Produce, Jr. — he’s got the experience to address your concerns!”
Oh, and the Apple? No longer the Apple, per se. Instead, it’s “our handy utility player Apple Cora!” They’re already taking HOME RUN off the hat to replace the name with the new one, which seems appropriate, since Alex Cora and home runs have never been seen together.
Of course they’ll all have hats now. Big top hats will be coming out of every planter in Metropolitan Gardens Brought to You by Fresh Direct®, the Smartest Way to Shop for Food, each identified by name, each containing a nightmarishly gargantuan fruit or vegetable. The top hat thing kind of lost its meaning when “Mets Magic” faded as an advertising device, but the Mets have never been stopped cold by logic before, have they?
All told, I have a feeling we’ll be longing for the Shea days of running a gauntlet of credit card hawkers  and Newsday subscription come-ons just to get to Gate E more than we can imagine.
Will this overbearing sponsorship arrangement bring the Mets so much extra money that they’ll go out an sign a No. 2, 3, 4 or 5 starter next year if not this? Will the not-so-subliminal messages regarding nutrition sink into our Shake Shack-addled heads  and bellies, thereby allowing us to live longer even if we’ll be cringing into our old age knowing this is the sort of thing the Wilpons will bringing us for decades to come? Are the Mets, in their own way, being patriotic by enthusiastically supporting the First Lady’s admirable Let’s Move  campaign? Is this really not so bad if the Mets, as has been suggested by informed sources, win baseball games ?
Who knows with this team and this ownership? I was looking forward to 2010. I guess I still am. Opening Day is April 5. Today is April 1. Even Metropolitan Gardens Brought to You by Fresh Direct®, the Smartest Way to Shop for Food, because it’s attached to baseball — no matter how perversely — is beginning to look good to me from here.
Heartbreaking photo of top hat with “HOME” already removed courtesy of Metsies and Other Musings .
A nice non-corporate baseball evening comes your way tonight at 7:30 at JLA Studios in Brooklyn when Gelf’s Varsity Letters series presents authors Lee Lowenfish, Emma Span and Christopher McDougall. Details here . FYI, JLA is in DUMBO, which is a geographic acronym and not a description of how the Mets run their organization.