By Jason Keidel
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The scene was so incongruous. I sat 50 feet from first base, practically in Mr. Met’s pocket, under an impeccable spring sky in a perfect stadium, while thousands gazed in horror as the Mets were swept like pebbles across the infield dirt during a doubleheader against the Colorado Rockies.
They couldn’t pitch, hit, or field. I watched two fly balls drop meekly in front of professional fielders. I was flanked by fans ready to set fire to their tickets, if not their team.
On that day, the New York Mets were not just the worst team in baseball; they may have been the worst team I’ve ever seen. After losing that four-game set to Colorado, they lost a doubleheader to the Braves, making the Metropolitans 4-11.
And had you told me after the final out on that silent cloudless night in Citi Field that the Mets would be the surprise story of the National League, over .500 with several players poised to play in the All-Star Game, I would have (justifiably) demanded a urine sample.
Yet here we are. The Mets have been more than decent, going 37-29 since. Even with a walking triage they call their club, losing David Wright, Ike Davis, and perhaps their ace (Johan Santana) for the entire season, they are actually in a pennant race, no longer gasping toward a finish line that can’t arrive soon enough, ready to plop their primary players on the conveyer belt to the highest bidder.
With Lorenzo Charles dying way too young this week, we reach back into those folds of our brain where memories are stored, pondering miracles, like his NC State squad being that behemoth from Houston, which perhaps spawned Villanova’s stunning upset over Georgetown a couple years later. It gave the underdog hope.
Though the current Mets don’t match those miracles, they have coined the countenance or miracle-makers since 1969, with a talent for failing or far exceeding expectations. Call them the latter for the moment.
Aside from Jose Reyes playing like Honus Wagner, the Mets are festooned with players whom you didn’t know last year and won’t know next year, but are making solid contributions. Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson, with over two decades combined since their last gigs in their current roles, rode the volcanic waves of bad play and impatient fans who don’t buy into quaint mantras like rebuilding or remolding. You can’t charge Porsche prices and deliver a Prius, which was precisely what the Mets did the first month of this season.
I’m always the first to call myself out. I wanted Wally Backman, not Collins, who fell prey to a very public mutiny during his last managerial job in Los Angeles. Collins was the prototypical washout, the regurgitated reject whose inflexible ways greased his way out of every job. Yet it seems he learned a lesson during his decade-long exile, loosening the leash on his players, picking his fights rather than contriving them.
Sandy Alderson, whose resume is longer than the Magna Carta, has all the bona fides corporate command, from Marine officer to Harvard Law to leading the Athletics, though he won just one title in Oakland, back in 1989, when we all were much younger and perhaps much better. His hiring reeked of backroom deals, of insider trading, with Bud Selig sneaking his boy in the back door under the guise of prescience, knowing that the Mets were under Madoff’s crooked thumb.
But, for the moment, it’s all roses in Flushing Meadows. Enjoy it. Why not? Surprises like this are always welcome. Hop onto StubHub and grab some cheap seats and watch these free treats. It’s all house money now, when just two months ago the Mets looked like a house of cards ready to crumble under the financial hammer of lawsuits and payroll cuts. Now there’s no way the Mets move Reyes without a revolt of Ruthian contours.
As the Yankee molars munch on inferior clubs, it feels perfunctory and superficial after being b%$#& slapped by Boston this season (1-8 against the Red Sox). The Bronx Bombers, true to their moniker, lay waste to all teams west of the Hudson, making their inexorable march to October, the only month when they’re truly measured.
As you bake at your barbecue under the July 4th sun with a cold one in your sweaty hand, toast to the transitory but titillating run the Mets are on, to America’s birthday, and her pastime. There’s a reason to smile in all five boroughs and beyond.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
What do you think of the Mets’ new brand of baseball? Let Keidel know in the comments below…