By Rich Coutinho
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The year was 1968 — Tom Seaver’s second year in the majors and the best player to ever wear the Mets uniform remembers it as the most important conversation he ever had in his brilliant career. “Gil Hodges told me that every single moment you step on a baseball field you must act professionally and simply stated that means no matter where you are in the standings, no matter how few people are in the stands, understand you must hold yourself to the highest standard possible. That is only way you become great”, says Seaver.

Now, in those days when Gil Hodges spoke people listened. And the fact that both Seaver and Gil were ex-Marines made the conversation resonate, but I thought a lot about that this weekend and somebody needs to relay that message to the New York Mets. For most of this season, the Mets have responded with fight and determination and, for the most part, acted professional. But I got the sense for the first time this week the Mets began to feel sorry for themselves and they have to fight through that feeling.

In Seaver’s case when he had the conversation with Hodges, he was about to embark on that magical 1969 season making the jump from All-Star pitcher to New York sports icon. But to make that leap, Seaver had to prepare better, study hitters, and fine tune his game. And the only way to do that was to approach every start like it was Game 7 of the World Series even though the ’68 Mets were headed for a 73-89 season.

The Mets playoff hopes were extinguished last week when Reyes and Murphy went down on a day the Mets lost a tough one to the Braves. But in a sense, the Mets have a golden opportunity to learn a lot about themselves in the next six weeks. They can fade into the sunset or they can fight through games even though so much is going wrong right now. It will also afford Terry Collins the chance to figure out who are the players he wants here next year and whom are the ones he does not. From a team perspective, finishing the year at .500 would be a symbolic gesture that this team is moving forward. They spent so much of the season hovering around that mark that 81 wins would be a realistic goal for them to shoot for.

But how this team plays down the stretch is crucial to the success of this organization. Jose Reyes should be back by Labor Day and getting him the batting title is very possible at this stage which would make him the first Met to ever accomplish that feat. The pitchers, who performed so well for most of the year, need to bring it every night especially guys like Dillon Gee and Jonathan Niese who are very much in the plans for 2012. Getting Johan Santana a start or two could also do wonders for the team heading into 2012.

I look at it this way–if the greatest player in team history could excel in a year where the ’68 Mets finished 73-89, then I expect it from every single player inside the Met locker room. Back in 2005, the Mets started to slump in early September but Willie Randolph refused to let them quit and I do think it set the tone for 2006. Instilling that type of pride in the next 6 weeks could have far-reaching implications for Terry Collins come 2012.

Will the Mets close out the season with their heads up? Make your prediction below…

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