Technically, you don’t gotta believe if you can’t find a reason to believe. In September 1973, ground zero for unbridled faith in the face of daunting odds, it didn’t require blind faith to believe. The Mets were close enough to dream and hot enough to make up gobs of ground in a division where none of the other teams seemed to notice all the leapfrogging going on above their heads until the frog had turned into a first-place prince. You had to believe then. You had to believe on all kinds of other Met occasions, even if the belief didn’t necessarily lead where you wanted. The important thing is you truly believed it would.
You can’t believe on command. If you can honestly believe the 2012 season will amount to something worth getting caught up in — the kind of campaign during which you’re cross-referencing Games Behind with Games Remaining and divining a vital short-term future — then you’re onto something. Those seasons are the best seasons of all. The rest have their moments, but not nearly enough of them.
This one, coming to a ballpark near you almost any hour now? It’s probably not going to be one of those bated-breath seasons. But it hasn’t begun yet, so there’s no use writing it off with zero percent of precincts reporting. Gil Hodges, born 88 years ago today (and lost to us 40 years ago this past Monday), would not have allowed any team he managed to think an unplayed season couldn’t be conquered. Might as well follow Gil’s lead to some extent and prepare for the eventuality of winning more than we lose.
The Mets seem lacking in depth and banking on best-case scenarios to compensate for their shortfalls. I totally understand why they are being picked almost universally for fifth place in the five-team National League East. The angel of talent has been more generous to the four other teams, though between you and me, none of them seem like impenetrable worldbeaters. The Phillies are aging en masse. The Braves wouldn’t be human if they weren’t disturbed to the point of distraction by their utter September evaporation (which was fricking awesome in that it happened to them and not us). The Nationals and the Marlins…let’s just say I’ve got to see the Nationals and Marlins do something besides appear impressive on paper before I’m overly impressed by them in live competition.
The Mets really can’t be better than one if not some let alone all of the above? The so-called toughest division in baseball seems just a bit hollow in its allegedly creamy center. The Mets may not have the goods to swoop in and take advantage if the humpty-dumpties take a great fall, but at least the Mets, perceived as they are, figure to have a shorter distance to plunge if things go wrong for them.
You can only tell yourself this so many springs, but this year is probably not about this year. It’s a terrible marketing slogan — and it’s not an impetus to spend a hundred bucks to sit a few feet from Jason Bay and resist the temptation to explain aloud to him how he personifies underachievement — but all but the flightiest among us aren’t going to be let down by this not being the year. We told ourselves last spring that last year wasn’t about last year, and it sure as hell wasn’t, but we knew turning these Mets around was going to be a long-term project.
It still is. It’s not one of those things that’s good to know, but it’s probably helpful to be aware of prevailing likelihoods.
So what can make us believe or, failing that, tolerate a season that doesn’t manage to delightfully surprise us? Oh, I’m sure we’ll find something. My first instinct is to talk up the development of the youngsters who are either the core of our next core or the reincarnation of my dashed hopes, circa 1979.
With Johnny Murphy Award winner Josh Edgin deemed not yet ready for prime time, no pure rookies will be joining us for Opening Day. Nor will anybody who made a major league debut as a Met in 2011. But those who broke in as Mets in 2010 (Davis, Duda, Tejada, Gee), 2009 (Thole) and 2008 (Parnell, Murphy and the recently enriched Niese) all have the chance of a lifetime in 2012. If there are multiple incidences of stepping up — or getting back on track, in Ike’s case — we could enjoy this season some now and a ton in retrospect. We have in our midst a passel of homegrown Mets between 22 and 27 years old. This is the scenario most of us have been crying out for since we turned around one day in the mid-2000s and noticed nobody was taking root in the wake of Reyes in 2003 and Wright in 2004. It’s not immediately stimulating in the contention sense but it sure could be (could be) promising.
If most of these kids don’t step up, well, never mind. But you can’t see a few of them improving? A little progress would go a long way in making this 50th anniversary season genuinely golden.
And if they all crap out, there is at least one start coming from Johan Santana. There but for the grace of the four guys we gave up to get him never amounting to much goes an acquisition that looks almost Baylike in total return on investment. That’s if you forget what Johan was like down the stretch in 2008 and coming out of the gate in 2009 and periodically as late as the summer of 2010. Still, he was a lot of money and there haven’t been a lot of starts. But on Opening Day, there will be one. The odds may have been against it, but I can picture Johan burning a hole through the odds with his glare if not his fastball.
If the kids don’t entice you, and Johan’s potential revival doesn’t give you chills, there’s…well, that’s the thing. We don’t know. We didn’t know from R.A. Dickey at this time in 2010. Now he’s our guy. We love when that happens. We love to be taken aback by unexpected good news. “You never know” won’t sell tickets, but it’s what keeps us interested until we can be kept captivated.
Here I am, not really optimistic about the Mets’ imminent chances, still vaguely dismayed at the mere thought of who owns the team and how it’s run in a dozen little ways along the edges, yet damn, I’m upbeat on the eve of the Opener. Trust me, I’m not one of those fans/bloggers who will tell you “don’t be negative.” Be as “negative” as you like. Let the Mets earn your positivity. You have free will and they have 162 opportunities to influence it. But for all the dark clouds that instinctively hang over my head as if to remind me almost everything has amounted to an uninterrupted kick in the groin since T#m Gl@v!ne and the world’s most infamous third of an inning, I’m enormously stoked that the Mets…my Mets might not be so bad. Not “won’t be so bad,” but “might not be so bad”.
If that’s not love, what is?