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Double Vision

A few weeks ago today was a new entry on my Google Calendar: 2/26 Mets WPIX 1p. A couple of days ago I saw it waiting there, suddenly not so far away. Thursday night, as plans unfolded for the weekend, I raised it as an item in the mix.

And then today, there I was coming back from brunch navigating the uncertainties of the F and A and E and C, scrambled as usual for the weekend. Through some uncharacteristic subway luck — which I took as a sign of personal virtue, as New Yorkers are wont to do — I was able to walk into my apartment, plop down on the couch and get the volume up just in time to see Jenrry Mejia throw the first pitch of 2011 — with Gary, Keith and Ron noting it as such. I was glad to see all concerned, and felt a huge smile spreading across my face.

As always with the first spring-training games, I was tremendously excited for about 20 minutes and then found my attention drifting — hence this blog post. But that’s OK — it’s as much a part of the process as dead-arm periods, waiting for the last-minute cat-for-dog trade that scrambles the roster, and, frankly, getting good and sick of spring training. (This seems to happen earlier and earlier each year.)

Where my blog partner has (blue-)blurred vision [1], I have double vision. I think the Mets are being constructed and run much better than they have been in years. Their offseason moves have been mostly low-risk, high-reward moves, taken amid discussions of actual statistics instead of sunnily vacuous Omarisms about Veteran Leadership and Having Been Here Before. Sandy Alderson seems disinclined to bid against himself for players or hand out ruinous options. And Alderson’s very presence seems to suggest that owners with a reputation for meddling have been convinced — at least temporarily — to change their ways.

But it’s with ownership that the double vision comes in, and I start getting a headache. I find myself in an unhappily familiar position: When it comes to the team’s finances, I don’t believe anything the Mets say.

From the minute the name “Madoff” became attached to the New York Mets, I’ve felt terrible for Fred and Jeff Wilpon. The pain of personal betrayal and the sense of violation must have been and still be agonizing. I have trouble believing the Wilpons were crooked — it seems to me like they were too trusting, and fell prey to the all-too-human impulse to let good news speak for itself rather than digging into it. (This is, granted, based on very little beyond a gut feeling at a distance.) And it must be awful to have all that get dragged into the public eye again and again.

Yet for all that, the Wilpons’ business is unavoidably my business. At my most detached I probably spend an hour a day worrying about the Mets; at full throttle, the Mets are top of mind to a worrisome degree. Not to mention the games I go to, the stuff I buy that’s slathered with Mets logos, and everything else. For obvious reasons, I’ve wanted to believe the Wilpons’ attempts to be variously reassuring, insistent and defiant in proclaiming that the Madoff mess wouldn’t impact the Mets’ operations. But believing that has gone from difficult to impossible. The team borrowed $25 million [2] through MLB in November, a back-channel loan that club officials attempted to explain away with a curt acknowledgment and a haughty warning that “beyond that, we will not discuss the matter any further.”

I don’t believe that’s the extent of it, or that the issue won’t come back. The Mets have trained me not to.

I think the Wilpons will ultimately be forced to surrender majority ownership of the Mets — I’d call that a when, not an if. And given word of that loan, I think that “when” may be approaching more quickly than we’d thought: The Rangers were pushed onto the block pretty quickly as their own financial problems mounted, and Bud Selig’s friendship with Fred Wilpon can only go so far in comparison with his duty to have one of the National League’s highest-profile franchises on stable financial ground.

However critical I’ve been of the Wilpons over the years, I don’t welcome this: It’s cruel that the Wilpons may see Citi Field and everything else taken away without a season of glory. And those of us who want the Wilpons out should remember that there are individuals they’d probably like a lot less as owners — to say nothing of having your baseball team become a line item in a corporate earnings report.

Still, this will take a while. And that brings me back to double vision.

The Mets are retrenching this year, getting out from under a few contractual Omar Specials. It’s quite possible they’ll be doing the same next year. (I’m going to avoid talking about K-Rod’s option in an effort to not descend into sputtering rage.) And if the Mets continuing making smart deals and rebuild the farm system, this could all be fine. I’m willing to wait while the team is rebuilt according to a smart plan.

This rebuilding might even coincide with a resolution of the Madoff mess and the uncertainties around the team’s finances and ownership. In which case the Mets could be just fine, emerging from financial shadows in much better shape than when they went into them. But it feels like everything would have to break right for the timing to work out. And it’s been years since the Mets have had that kind of luck.

It’s a sunny day in Florida. The Mets have just tied the score. Everything on the field looks fine. But then it usually does. That’s the beauty of baseball. But it’s also what can blind you to the rest.

On a Happier Note: Greg and I teamed up to contribute an essay to the 2011 Amazin’ Avenue Annual about how the Mets can continue turning Citi Field from bland to grand and further embrace all things Metsian. AA is one of the finest Mets blogs in the land, and their folks assembled a Murderers Row of smart writers whose essays will help you see the Mets and baseball differently — and enjoy both even more than you do already. Besides AA’s crack staff, you can read the likes of Ted Berg, Tommy Bennett, Will Leitch and Joe Posnanski, for my money the best sportswriter on the continent right now. We’re enormously pleased to be in such, well, amazin’ company. Check out the book here [3] — and, if you’re somehow not already a regular, Amazin’ Avenue itself [4].