Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Funny Ball

Amazingly, the Giants have won the Super Bowl. Lin-sanity has lifted the once woebegone Knicks along with the city and the entire country. The Yankees have shipped Burnett and millions to the Pirates and added two new strong arms to the rotation as Spring Training arrives and hope prevails for so many.

And then, there are the Mets.

Name one really good thing about the Mets? Well, how about this: Sandy Alderson, the team’s GM drove all the way to Florida recently without mistakenly strapping his dog, Buddy, to the top of his car. If that isn’t enough, there is the fact that nobody, including Alderson and perhaps even the tenacious field-manager Terry Collins expects much from the Mets this season.

This season marks the Mets’ 50th Anniversary. One of the stars of the team’s 1986 Series team, Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, died recently. It was Carter who got a hit in the tenth inning of Game Six with the Mets down to their last Series’ out, and the Red Sox poised in the field to rid themselves of their long curse. What resulted is the stuff of legend in Mets-dom, and infamy among the Fenway Faithful, who will always see the ball that dribbled by Bill Buckner into the foulest of territories down right field.

That error also provided me with an opportunity me to witness Game Seven from high up behind home plate, where I had to duck down to see a dramatic Carter home run among other hits. The Mets came from behind to finally and completely break Red Sox hearts once more.

At the time, I worked in New York for a company based in Cambridge, MA. My colleagues had been pounding me after the Sox won the first two Series’ games, as only Boston fans could do. After the Mets won, I kept that ticket in my wallet for a long time, just to be able to take it out and show it to the same guys when they tried to bully the Rangers, Knicks, Yankees, or the same Mets.

The ticket was still in my wallet, when I met Gary Carter a few years later at a CYO dinner. People lined up to have him sign their program, but he smiled a huge Carter smile at me as I pulled my ticket out of my wallet and handed it to him. “Do you just carry this around all the time?” he asked. Well, yeah, I did.

Ever the contrarian, my 2012 pre-season baseball thoughts have drifted towards the Mets. Why? Maybe because I learned early on about the role that the improbable plays each season. The first game I saw was in 1955, when the then New York Giants played the Milwaukee Braves at the Polo Grounds. The Giants were reigning World Champs. Willie Mays was their young center fielder. How was I to know that it would be fifty-five more years before the Giants would reign again from another city?

When my baseball thoughts drift to the 2012 Mets, these improbable names keep popping into my head: Jeremy Lin and Victor Cruz. I’ll bet that Alderson and Collins are wondering about those guys as well, as they contemplate how they might dare to contend, while the legally and financially besieged owners, Wilpon & Katz, continue to battle the Madoff forces in the courts. But, where will the Mets find their own Lin and or Cruz, for whom they will not be able to pay very much? Or, are they hiding on the current roster somewhere?

Talk about improbable!

The Mets were born in 1962, five years after the Dodgers and Giants slipped out of town. The new team borrowed their orange and blue team colors from their departed cousins; and their first home was my beloved Polo Grounds. Just for good measure they added Casey Stengel, late of the Yanks. Their co-founder and majority owner was Joan Whitney Payson, who had been a minority Giants owner. This at least gave the team a social pedigree off the field if not on it. (Mets faithful will recall that the other co-founder, one M. Donald Grant, infamously traded Tom Seaver, the best Met ever)

The Mets proceeded to astound us with lows, forty wins in that first season, and with highs, the 1969 Miracle. In between, they have often been mediocre, an afterthought, based in an afterthought borough, in a Yankee town. Instead of Money Ball, they often dabbled in a weird brand of Funny Ball.

Fortune (and politics) brought the Mets a new home in 1964, Shea Stadium. I attended the first game played there on April 17, along with 50,311 other hearty souls (Pirates 4, Mets 3), while on a one-day hiatus from high school with a serious Opening Day fever.

The Mets have suddenly become attractive to me. There’s something so drastically wrong with the Mets that they cannot help reminding me of the 2011 mid-season NY Giants, and the pre-Lin NY Knicks. Media and fans alike wanted new players, new coaches, new GM’s and new owners for those teams not so very long ago.

I can’t help wondering if the Mets have what it takes to somehow rise above their recent near total ineptitude on the field and off to become the real story of this new season. Alderson and Collins are a great one-two punch who compliment each other well. They will need the owners and their families to stay distracted, while they whittle away at the team. They will also need some new heroes and a series of improbable events to go their way

And, of course, there is always prayer.

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