“When you’re dating,” Shrevie (Daniel Stern) advised Eddie (Steve Gutenberg) in 1982’s Diner, “everything is talking about sex. Where can we do it? Why can’t we do it? Are you parents gonna be out so we can do it?” I was having conversations like those in 1982, though my “it” was usually different from the movie’s. The “it” for me in 1982 and many, many other years was the Mets’ contending.
When can we do it?
What will it take for us to do it?
Who might we be doing it with?
How will we know for sure if we’re doing it?
Why can’t we do it NOW?
As a Mets fan during extended blue periods, I’ve maintained a notoriously one-track mind. We may not be very good yet, I’d think when things were rotten, but if this and this and this happen, we stand an excellent chance of being, dare I say it out loud…not bad!
Mind you, that’s all I was going for: not bad. Not bad equaled legitimacy. Legitimacy equaled the cusp of contention. Contention was the access road to happiness. If you could tell me the Mets were good enough to maybe win, then I was good for the next six months. Plausible truths and self-deceptions got me through a lot of blue.
Just not that much lately.
Sandy Alderson’s semi-bold pronouncement  Monday that “we’re not that far away” got my attention because at no sustained interval since the Mets stopped contending as a matter of course have I thought we were close enough to start thinking about being not that far away. Furthermore, I didn’t spend much time dreaming of getting closer because I’d become convinced that wasn’t something that interested either Mets management or ownership.
I watched contention slip away after 2008 and I grew surprisingly used to its absence fairly quickly. I didn’t like the concept of entering a season convinced we didn’t have a chance — or digging deep into a season unwilling to acknowledge those specks of shiny substance occasionally detectable in the cloud-linings were, in fact, silver — but unlike 1977-1983, 1991-1996 and 2002-2004, I found myself accepting non-contention as if it was the norm. I don’t know if it was the stream of ready-made financial excuses we’d been fed or the lack of urgency attached to the front office’s public demeanor or the determined non-competitiveness displayed on-field across four second halves played out under the auspices of two very different administrations. But wittingly or otherwise, I’d put the concept of contention almost out of my Met mind since 2009.
Carping for the construction of a better team as soon as possible seemed to border on ungrateful unsophistication. Wasn’t it enough that Alderson and his deputies were clearing out the excesses lingering on the books from the Minaya regime? Didn’t I understand the hit the Wilpons took away from baseball? Sell the team and we can talk; until then, stop expecting satisfaction from the thing you love.
So I stopped. I stopped having expectations. I stopped having dreams. I stopped having aspirations, short- or long-term. Rebuilding — payment of lip service notwithstanding — seemed like a crock, too, once we had to hunker down and actually do it.
Rebuilding with what? The minors? Every team has those. The draft? Every team’s in that. One trade of one expiring megacontract for one überprospect? OK, we’ve got Zack Wheeler. That left us with a system that hasn’t produced anybody outstanding in almost a decade plus one pitcher. Is this how rebuilding works?
Maybe so. Maybe it’s Wheeler plus d’Arnaud and Syndergaard, plus Harvey, who was actually a little something special during an extended glimpse. And could it be that Niese will outstrip my mistrust and dismay over his painfully gradual learning curve? Is that the bulk of a really promising long-term rotation, not to mention a battery, I see in there?
And how about that infield? Wright didn’t leave. He was never going to leave, but now we know for sure. Goodness knows Davis and Murphy and Tejada have their flaws — or at least have yet to prove fully formed — but all told that doesn’t project as a bad infield…does it?
The bullpen? I don’t know. It’s got to be better than it’s been, but I say that every year. Brandon Lyon could be a useful addition, never mind that’s what I was told about Ramon Ramirez and his myriad offseason upgrade predecessors; Ramirez, like Andres Torres, is suddenly a San Francisco Giant again, just like Angel Pagan. Still, Parnell almost seemed to have it together late last year. Edgin was darn effective until he ran out of gas. Carson wasn’t terrible, either. Relievers are always mix-and-match anyway. Maybe we really have a little better bunch to sort through.
The outfield is still the outfield, but if I stare at it long enough…
Didn’t we have high hopes for Duda? If he hits and they just leave him in left, isn’t it possible he could string together more than a few weeks when he’s as scary at the plate as he is in the field? Weren’t we psyched about Nieuwenhuis for about a month? The league figured him out and then he got hurt. He’s healed and, who knows, perhaps he’ll figure out the league. And Bourn…
Bourn’s not here, man. He’s a big-name free agent. The last big-name free agent we signed was Sandy Alderson. But what if Bourn somehow got here? What if Sandy sweet-talked some combination of Scott Boras and Bud Selig? What if the money and length weren’t prohibitive and the draft business would just take care of itself conceptually if not perfectly?
How about a legit center fielder to take some pressure off Lucas? How about getting a leg up on overall improvement with a guy who can actually run and has actually hit? Bourn’s a week younger than Wright and we’re (more or less) thrilled to have David on board for eight years. Is Michael Bourn really gonna evaporate at age 30? At age 32?
Santana’s his usual expensive functional question mark, but only for another year, and besides, who’s to say he won’t be fully refreshed once and for all after a winter of rest? Gee I don’t know about coming back in form, but if he does, I had all the confidence in the world in him. And Marcum: a real pitcher, not a trash heap find! Francisco, Parnell, Lyon, Edgin, the youngsters like Familia and Mejia, maybe an oldster like Feliciano or Hawkins…the lot of them can’t be any worse than whoever and whatever were here last year at this time. Besides, a good rotation tends to lean on the bullpen a lot less, and an unleaned-upon bullpen probably automatically makes for a better bullpen.
John Buck always killed us if nobody else. Maybe Justin Turner is even more versatile than we realized. Mike Baxter is faith personified. Collin Cowgill really hustles, somebody swore.
No, I don’t expect a lot in 2013. But I’m not resigned to it. I’m even finding myself a wee bit feisty about it. I watched an MLB Network show about the best first basemen in the game and was actually moderately insulted when Ike Davis’s name only came up once. Ike was noted as the first baseman who hit more home runs than every first baseman in 2012, save for Edwin Encarnacion and Adam LaRoche. I wasn’t insulted Davis didn’t supplant Votto, Pujols and Fielder in the hosts’ wide-ranging esteem — I was insulted that when Ike’s name came up for his 32 home runs, I could discern the slightest chuckle that they had to bother mentioning a Met.
I wonder when the last time was that I could feel myself angering at the underestimation of a New York Met. For that matter, I wonder when the last time was that I tuned into a show just so I could hear if they were going to mention a Met and therefore get excited about his and our progress. That’s the sort of thing I would have done between 1977 and 1983, 1991 and 1996, 2002 and 2004. That’s when I could dream of the Mets as contenders even if they weren’t quite there yet. Even if they weren’t remotely close to quite there yet.
It feels good to dream of “doing it” again, no matter the dream’s state of readiness as it relates to reality. After four losing seasons, dreaming it can be almost as satisfying as actually doing it.
Listen to a swell conversation that recalls the days when the Mets were doing plenty, as Jason joins Matthew Callan to dissect Game Two of the 2000 NLCS (featuring Rick Ankiel’s meltdown) on Matthew’s excellent podcast series Replacement Players .