2010 officially begins Thursday. We all know what the Mets face this season, and all eyes in the sports media most certainly will be on the boys from Queens, as they will be a big story this year.
Should they succeed, the press will treat it as a Cinderella story of redemption. Should they fail miserably, the media sharks will devour Omar and Jerry as if they were Brody and Quint with a SMALLER boat. Even should they play .500 ball, the press will have a field day trashing the Metsâ€™ wasted payroll, core and starpower.
2006â€™s success may have come too fast and too easily for this group. Jose, Wright, Ollie, Maine, Pelfâ€”they were all kids then. While the wise old heads residing on the shoulders of Cliff Floyd, Paul LoDuca, and Jose Valentin, and even Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford, clearly provided invaluable leadership, the nucleus of the team was very different the next two years.
Perhaps the success of the 2006 regular season led to overconfidence in 2007 and 2008; maybe the team felt that a playoff spot would be theirs, regardless. That did seem to be Willieâ€™s attitude.
2009 may have changed this. We see Wright in camp before pitchers and catchers. We see Jose in camp early. Murph has been working on fielding with Mex. Our friend Brian Costa says that Pelf and Maine, among others, have also arrived early. We have heard about Ollie spending much of his offseason in a serious program, conditioning his mind and body. If Ollie is healthy and his mind is solid, imagine what his arm might be capable of.
Wright, Reyes, and Ollie, clearly three of the most important cogs in any success the Mets hope to enjoy this year, are all apparently seriously chastised and humbled by 2009. They seem to feel that they have something to prove. This is something that should make us all extremely optimistic.
Yes, we have a platoon of stars and key players returning from injuries. But we are not talking about an aging Delgado trying to recover from several years of being hurt, nor are we dealing with players trying to overcome Dickie Thon or Nick Johnson-type injuries. There really is no reason to think that most, if not all, of these guys will return to past form.
This writer is a serious fan of the homegrown player. Yes, Lackey would have been great, but even greater would be another division title, and a trip to the postseason with Met farmhands Wright, Reyes, Murph, and Pelf, and virtual homeboys Ollie and Maine leading the way. Well, as a high-spending team, they will be joined by Johan, KRod, Beltran, and Bay, but seeing the largely homegrown core win would be incredibly satisfying after what the team and its fans went through last year.
In addition to the younger players, Johan and Beltran, all-stars and true professionals that they are, surely will be extra-eager to reclaim their places among the gameâ€™s best.
Jason Bay had a taste of winning in Boston, and will want to experience that again. Francoeur grew up in the Bravesâ€™ winning culture, and seemed to bring a welcome hustling, never-give-up attitude to the team. Frenchyâ€™s OPS and UZR might not be MVP-level, but his CGH rating annually supersedes even Orlando Hudsonâ€™s. Over a full season these two should contribute greatly to assuring that the periodic mental and physical lapses we unfortunately witnessed last year do not recur.
Spring is a time when we should all focus on the teamâ€™s strengths, and be happy to see the players reach opening day in a healthy fashion. It is possible that the very laid back Jerry Manuel might again lead a team which will play horrid fundamental baseball and be susceptible to countless injuries. But what has been seen thus far is the teamâ€™s young leaders arriving to camp early and taking charge in a very self-motivated manner, seemingly eager to show the fans that the perennial contenders of 2005â€”2008 did not self-destruct in 2009; they just hit a historically unforeseen anomalous year, and they are chomping at the bit to play ball and put 2009 behind them.
What will we see in 2010? Letâ€™s get to opening day fully healthy and weâ€™ll take it from there.
But, when looking at what we have already been seeing in Florida before pitchers and catchers even officially report is most definitely encouraging. Very encouraging. Davey Johnson knew how to set a serious and winning tone in his first few springs with the Mets. Jerry is not this kind of leader, so the early and ultra-healthy arrivals we have already seen in camp of key leaders have to bring a smile to the face of all but the most cynical fan.
We may have a sleeping giant on our hands, ready to charge back to what they began in 2006. Hereâ€™s hoping Wright, Jose, Ollie, Maine, Pelf and the rest of the guys are as eager as most of us are to right the wrongs of the last three years. If we see this attitude combined with good health and solid fundamentals, there might indeed be reason for people other than just us catatonic optimists to smile about their team.