By Jason Keidel
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Spring made a formal appearance yesterday, after days of cold mist and miserable rain, and splashed our suddenly verdant city with sun, as a rainbow of flora bloomed around the town. A perfect day for my first trip to a Mets game since wrecking balls pummeled Shea to rubble.
Citi Field is a gorgeous park. It has an antique feel, from the lights the retro-cursive of the Pepsi Porch to David Wright’s baggy pants and knee-high socks. Of course, it can’t end there with the Mets, because their home was designed after and dedicated to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Fittingly, they play every home game like a road game. Just ask the Colorado Rockies and Troy Tulowitzki, who made Citi Field his personal playground, gobbling a month’s worth of stats in a few games. The Mets just concluded a stellar, 1-6 home stand.
We can break down the series they just surrendered to the Rockies, a clean sweep, a four-game flush in Flushing, but the stats are academic. What you saw on television – and I saw from the first base line – was a collective flat line, a club lacking talent and toughness.
Manager Terry Collins has developed a disturbing mantra over the last week – the assertion that his team is “in every game” they play – which implies that moral victories are measured in the standings. Maybe that tactic appeased the more sedate pockets of America’s populous, but it won’t fly in the five boroughs.
They made countless mental gaffes yesterday, entirely antithetical to the ethic Collins allegedly burned into the team’s conscience. The new Zen didn’t stop easy fly balls from bouncing next to befuddled outfielders Angel Pagan and Lenny Harris, costing them runs, games, and customers.
The most excitement came from the mascot, the famed Mr. Met, who skipped around the park clutching a plastic grenade launcher, blasting free t-shirts into the audience. It was the only time the crowd was aroused until the final inning.
I get the growing sense that Collins is in over his head, which can be measured by a confluence of things. He hasn’t managed in over a decade; he’s never won a championship, or even come close; he’s never managed in a major market; his oblong insult of the prior regime when he asserted that his Mets will “play the right way,” which implies the old Mets didn’t; and his stunned look at the podium every night, his wide-eyed contempt for his team’s play and for having to explain it to us.
His colloquialisms don’t fit here. He doesn’t seem to understand New York’s cadence or calculus. We measure success with success. Everything beyond and below winning is peripheral.
Yes, it’s only 13 games, but 13 games is an adequate sample. Indeed, is there anything in or around the Mets that leaves you to think they’ll finish over 500 this year?
There’s a growing sentiment that Collins is Sandy Alderson’s puppet, and that Alderson was handpicked by Bud Selig to run the Mets to ease the blow of Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme and subsequent billion-dollar lawsuit led by Irving Picard, who wants his pound of legal flesh and a suitcase filled with cash. We don’t know. We don’t care. We want wins.
If Alderson endeavored to endear himself to New Yorkers, his opening pitch should not have been a promise to pare the team’s payroll. He’s making you pay for a Porsche while you leave the lot with a Prius.
A front office front-loaded with brain cells knows you can’t have it all. They can’t ask the fan to claw deeper into his wallet while they refuse to do the same. Not only did the team not spend a dime on free agents this year, they also promise not to do it next year.
Maybe this is the bad before the good. Maybe it’s Alderson’s vision of building a baseball club. Maybe it’s Madoff and the reality that Fred Wilpon will have to write a hefty check to Irving Picard. Maybe Alderson is rusty, 13 years removed from his last gig as GM. Maybe Alderson’s best days were with the Bash Brothers back in 1989 – the last and lone time he won a title.
As the Mets huff and puff on the treadmill toward mediocrity, you wonder when the fire sale is in order. Not just dumping Reyes and whatever salaries another team will absorb in the haste of a pennant chase, but also when they rip the cover off ticket prices and get some butts in the ballpark. Until they swallow their pride and some of the money they thought they’d make, there will be many a fine summer day freckled with empty seats.
“The right way” still feels like the wrong way, which is the old way, which is the Mets way.
The Mets are littered with contradictions. After the first game yesterday, Collins said “you’ve gotta be excited” with the team’s comeback, which was “pretty impressive.” He really said it. He will soon learn he can’t patronize his patrons. New Yorkers are imbued with B.S. detectors, and Collins is slinging it right now.
The Phillies have already lapped the Mets, dealing from a deck of aces, consecutive complete games by Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, and will likely be ready to set their playoff rotation in June.
No doubt Alderson’s task was titanic, on the order of Donnie Walsh, another lifer charged with remolding a moribund team bearing orange and blue which also has just two titles since Woodstock. But that’s why he’s paid the big bucks. Really big bucks. Couldn’t the Mets have saved the quid and kept Omar and Jerry? They can go 4-9 just as easily as Alderson & Co.
My pal, who paid for my ticket, spent $120 before the season started. The man sitting in front of me paid $30 on StubHub for what should be prime real estate. Instead, it’s an alley leading to last place.
You could tolerate the tottering if the cavalry were coming, if the 2012 equivalent of Doc and Darryl were honing their skills in Double-A. Instead, we have a plunge toward baseball’s abyss.
We didn’t stick around for Game 2. Judging by SNY’s cameras, neither did anyone else, with a sprinkling of fans better suited for a little league game. Perhaps we all knew Game 2 would be the echo of Game 1. And it was, except there were no late-inning theatrics, no comebacks, just the same refrain, watching the other team laugh on your lawn.
The announced attendance was around 26,000, another deception from a franchise that has lied to its fans for decades. At this rate, Citi Field will steal the byline of Tropicana Field: Home of the bottom of the ninth inning.
With the bases loaded, with two outs in the ninth, with crowd by his side and the wind at his back…David Wright belted the ball 385 feet when he needed 390 feet. The symbolism is endless, as is the pall over the park, as fans try to identify with a team with no identity.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
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