While the Super Bowl tends to be the hot topic surrounding the sports world this time of year, it is very hard not to think about the fact that in about two weeks, the New York Mets will report back to Port St. Lucie, Florida and begin their 2011 campaign.
When I think of the upcoming Mets season, I am reminded of Matthew Cerrone, creator of MetsBlog.com, who tweeted this several months ago following the Frankie Rodriguez scandal: "To be a Mets fan, you don't need to just know baseball, you must also be an economist, doctor, drama teacher and legal expert." As amusing as this tweet was at the time, I have to say, it really is not much of an exaggeration. With a $130 million payroll, a new front office, countless injuries over the past twelve months, and two absolutely useless players in Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez accounting for close to $20 million, the New York Mets have to be one of the most complicated teams in Major League Baseball. Oh, and did I mention that Bobby Bonilla's 24-year, $30 million deal kicks in this year?
Given all this information, however, I still find reason to be optimistic. Despite the horrific results over the past four seasons, I am still going to be waking up on that first day of pitchers and catchers as excited as ever that baseball is coming back. The Mets right now are in a position very similar to after the 2004 season. Art Howe had just been fired after two very embarrassing seasons, and Fred Wilpon went out and hired what seemed to be godsends at the time in Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph. Of course, Bernie Madoff wasn't there to steal all of the money from the front office, but that's another issue. The Mets then went on to have a very respectable season in 2005, preceding what is still one of the best years of my life in 2006 as they fell one game short of the World Series.
With the new additions of Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins, Mets fans really do have reason to be excited. With a budget that was originally presented as very close to nothing, Alderson brought in an abundance of new, inexpensive players who can potentially compete well in the National League, including Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Scott Hairston, Blaine Boyer and Tim Byrdak. The thought being of course that if you throw enough stuff at a wall, something is bound to stick, a similar situation that led to the incredibly successful emergence of R.A. Dickey in 2010.
With Collins, it is very clear from all his interviews this offseason that he has a strict plan to bring the Mets back to the success they experienced in 2006. How so? Fundamentals. In nearly every interview Collins has given this winter, he keeps stressing, and rightly so, the importance of fundamentals. And while it may seem obvious, that is something the Mets have severely lacked over the past four seasons. Moving the runners over, making routine plays, hitting the ball to the opposite field, I could go on and on. And while it is impossible to predict what kind of results Collins will bring to New York, I think not having Jerry Manuel back in the dugout is reason alone to be optimistic.
I am eager to see the new acquisitions Chris Young and Chris Capuano fight it out with Dillon Gee for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. I am looking forward to seeing Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Jason Bay enter the season injury-free, and win or lose, I'm really just excited to see baseball again. Don't get me wrong, it could potentially be a very tough season. In an interview on KWUR's Brad and Brad program in St. Louis, MO, I was asked if any team had a realistic chance of beating out the Philadelphia Phillies for the National League Pennant, and even as I sit here today, I'm still struggling to come up with an answer. In fact, provided that they stay healthy, I would be very surprised if the Phillies do not have the division clinched by the middle of September and lose more than a handful games in the postseason. But that's not a reason to come into the new season with a negative attitude, as many Mets fans often do. Spring training is a time for new beginnings and a fresh start. So instead of handing the division to the Phillies before February, let alone the wildcard to a National League team of your choosing, just relax and wait and see what the 2011 New York Mets have in store for us. As we see year after year, it is almost never what we expect.