My brother is younger, wiser and more mature than I am. I know, I can hear those of you who know me thinking â€œHmm, not a tough trifecta to achieve!â€
He coined the phrase â€œThe Nightly Burdenâ€ to describe the bittersweet addiction which being a serious Met fan can be.
Baseball is different than the other sports; far different in the sense that the players come into our homes just about every day from late winter into the fall. Football is great and hugely popular, but it is one day a week for barely five months for non-playoff teams. Basketball and hockey are also great, but the ridiculously excessive playoffs have rendered the regular seasons much less meaningful than baseball. College football has become similar, as just about every winning team gets to a bowl game, and March Madnessâ€™ recent greed-infested comedy about expanding the field to 96 teams will render another regular season as meaningless; soon half of the Division 1 teams will make a tournament.
Baseball alone has protected and retained the sanctity of the regular season. The longest season, but also one where every darn one of those 162 games really does count for playoff hopefuls. Fans of no other team can understand this as well as Met fans, after the disastrous finishes of 2007 and 2008.
So another Opening Day is upon us, and even for those of us whose optimism has been severely tested by the spring training hitting festival hosted by all of our pitchers aside from KRod and Feliciano, it is a very exciting time.
Tomorrow brings the beginning of another marathon year, as every baseball season is. Another year where the more unreasonable among us will clamor for Ike Davis after Jacobsâ€™ first strikeout with men on base, and another year where the more patient will enthusiastically follow the development of the very promising Junior Core in Buffalo. Indeed, this September should see the best crop of callups since the incredibly now three-decade-old month when Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman, and Hubie Brooks all made the final month of 1980 for first true bright spot for longtime fans since the nightmare day of June 15, 1977.
The only Opening Day I have attended was 1983, and I remember it vividly. It was a nice contrast to the 1977 Day of Infamy, as it marked the return of Tom Terrific, who along with returning NL HR (and strikeout) champ Dave Kingman, received by far the loudest ovations in the pregame introductions. Want to hear a crazy stat? In 1982, Kingman led the NL with 37 HR in 607 plate appearances; he also had 62 singles, an incredible 9 doubles, and 1 triple for a .204 BAâ€”even with a respectable 59 walks, his OBP was .285. A HR champ with an OPS of .717? Only the Mets. His OPS was .956 when he won his other HR crown with the Cubs.
But I digress. Even after 6 consecutive 5th or 6th place finishes, opening day 1983 was crowded and raucous, and the Mets and Seaver beat the eventual NL champ Phils (sound familiar?) and Steve Carlton 2-0. Doug Sisk, who along with Luis Castillo and Armando Benitez probably are the three most unfairly abused players in team history, threw three shutout innings for the win. 7th inning RBI singles by Mike Howard and Brian (not THAT Brian Giles) Giles were the margin of victory.
1983 turned out to be much like the previous six years, but was different in that Mookie, Hubie, Wally, and soon-to-be-called-up Strawberry, the impressive young minor league fireballer Dwight Gooden, and other farmhands such as Lenny Dykstra and Ron Darling all combined to give the fans the sense that while 1983 might be another disappointment, the future surely would be worth waiting for.
To this longtime fan, while the parallel is not perfect, and the 2010 Mets have a lot of talented players, there is some serious similarity.
We greet another opener with great enthusiasm (after all, the Mets do better on Opening Day than almost any other team; it is the other 161 games that are often the problem) despite three consecutive years of great disappointment, all intensified by how close the 2006 team came, and how that group gave us a sense that we would be watching playoff baseball every year for a while.
I think we might be soon, starting in 2011. There is every reason to feel that among Jennry Mejia, Jon Niese, Brad Holt, Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and others, that several seriously good major league players are brewing just beneath the surface. Adding these guys over the next couple of years to what will still be a young David Wright and Jose Reyes, as well as Johan Santana and Jason Bay, makes the future for this team look extremely bright.
While I do not at this moment share the optimism many feel for this teamâ€™s current chances to win 90+ games and play in those pesky and elusive meaningful October games, I most definitely vehemently disagree with those who assert that we need a â€œrebuildingâ€ year, or the even more unreasonable folk who claim that the â€œwindowâ€ for this group is closed or closing.
Maybe it is just Opening Day optimism infecting me, but I canâ€™t wait for the Nightly Burden to again inject itself into my life, and to again feel as though DRod, Jose, Beltran, Johan, and the rest are practically members of my family. I seriously hope I am soon writing pieces saying how wrong I was to doubt what I once thought was a potentially super 2-3-4 in Pelf, Ollie, and Maine.
Even if that fails to materialize this year, the next Met era of sustained playoff competition is coming, courtesy of the Junior Core which Chef Omar has quietly assembled while being routinely pilloried.
Letâ€™s Go Mets, tomorrow and every day, and whatever 2010 does hold in store for us, the future is bright, just as it was on Opening Day 1983.