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Let’s Try This Again, Shall We?

“Sure we’ll be better. How in hell could we be worse?”

As Spring Training prognostications coming off losing seasons go, no Met ever nailed it any better than Roger Craig did in 1963. Following a grand total of 40 wins in 1962, a pledge to not make that inaugural year look good by comparison was all a Mets fan could ask to hear. Of course the Mets are coming off only 26 wins in 2020, so the Mets of 2021 could just crib Craig and be done with it when somebody asks them about the season ahead. Just playing a full-sized season probably gets them more than 26 wins.

But they have their own thoughts.

• “For now, it’s great for me to just come in and be able to get my feet wet, meet the guys, see everybody again.”

• “The lineup from top to bottom is pretty incredible.”

• “Ultimately, the team goal is to win the World Series. The pieces we added, it’s going to be a huge plus.”

Those sanguine sentiments — from, respectively, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil and Jacob deGrom — will suffice for building enthusiasm among all us Whos back in Whoville grasping for reasons to believe in general and the Mets in particular. It’s the happy horsespit springs are made of. The lineup does project as potentially sensational. The Mets who weren’t Mets last year probably can’t be worse than the Mets who were Mets last year, though let’s not make that a challenge. And just seeing everybody again is not to be underestimated.

[1]

This man knew how to set our sights.

Seeing, hearing and experiencing the Mets from Port St. Lucie always makes for a splendid dose of dopamine, at least until the novelty fades a minute later. Yet we might come back around for a second injection of good spring vibes this March, provided we can get an appointment. It’s been winter for about a year now. Actual winter since December, winter in the baseball soul since October, but really just one long barren season of dismay since those moments in March of ’20 when we began to understand a pandemic was moving in and, other than taking precautions to personally ward it off, there was nothing we could do to shoo it away altogether.

Spring Training was going on then, perfectly normal in its comforting meaninglessness: games that didn’t count [2] featuring players in cognitively dissonant numbers [3] while the mind wandered to previous springs prologuing previous seasons [4]. It was all working as it was supposed to, until it all stopped [5].

Not just Spring Training. Not just baseball.

There was a long-ass lull. There was a second version of Spring Training called Summer Camp. There was a hastily arranged mini-campaign consisting of 60 contests when winning 40 games made you not the ’62 Mets but a postseason favorite. There were two-dimensional figures sitting in the seats high-rollers normally use to look down at their phones while the games they pay a bundle to see live are in progress, though during the World Series, some people were allowed to enter a ballpark that was home to neither league champion. Watching the 2020 World Series highlight film on MLB Network the other night reminded me that after a while it almost began to feel like baseball last year.

But not that much. What begins for the Mets this week — the games that don’t count featuring the players in cognitively dissonant numbers while the mind wanders to previous springs prologuing previous seasons…this will feel more like baseball if nothing much goes awry. We no longer assume it won’t and we build in wiggle room via phrasing like “nothing much”. To count on nothing at all going awry seems like another dare fate doesn’t need to hear.

It’s the runup to a new year, one with vaccines and a little more knowledge than we collectively held in our heads last March. It’s a year about to include Mets on a field on the east coast of Florida with the idea that about a month later they’ll be on a field in the borough of Queens and maybe everybody watching them won’t be corrugated. I don’t know with any degree of certainty how our lineup will produce, where our record will end up or what our championship chances are. But sure we’ll be better. How in hell could we be worse?