By Ernie Palladino
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While so many eyes focus on Alex Rodriguez and his journey through comeback-land in Tampa, something interesting is fermenting across the state.
The Mets are showing signs of becoming a real baseball team.
Though things can go downhill awfully fast in Fred and Jeff Wilpon’s fiefdom, their servants have begun to exhibit a singularity of purpose. And it has nothing to do with the nice pitching rotation or the two new faces that arrived to bolster the offense.
It’s about David Wright acting like a real captain and straightening out a young, immature Noah Syndergaard. It’s about Zack Wheeler setting the Washington Nationals firmly in his team’s crosshairs.
It’s about an overall “It’s finally time to win” atmosphere permeating Port St. Lucie.
If tone were the ultimate barometer for success, the Mets would appear a lot closer to making a run at the postseason than the Yanks. It isn’t, of course. On-field performance will determine that.
But as fans erect billboards along I-95 in Florida and, soon, along Roosevelt Ave. in Queens begging the Wilpons-Saul Katz ownership to sell to someone more into wins than profit margin, those who actually play the game look ready to turn those signs into a monetary waste more senseless than the outlay for club seats at Citi Field.
They have the right attitude. Around this franchise, that represents a huge step in the right direction.
Wright’s upbraiding of the Mets’ top pitching prospect a couple of days ago was entirely the right thing to do, and probably much needed. The Mets haven’t exactly shown a lot of discipline at the plate, on the base paths or in the field. All that must come, of course, if the Mets are to be successful. But at least Wright told Syndergaard in no uncertain terms that he is working out with the major league team for a reason, and that reason does not include grabbing lunch in the middle of a scrimmage.
Perhaps Syndergaard didn’t know any better. Probably not. Twenty-two-year-olds make mistakes, and someone should correct them. The fact that the team captain did it, and that Bobby Parnell helped emphasize the message by busing Syndergaard’s locker room table for the kid, offered some idea where this team’s head resides at this early juncture.
Wright’s only mistake came Wednesday, when he apologized for embarrassing the kid with the media close by. He should not have. The issue begged immediate attention. Wright tended to it, as a captain should. Sometimes, a good kid making a dumb mistake needs a slap across the nose. If Wright’s words add just a smidgeon of discipline to Syndergaard’s day-to-day routine, he’ll be that much better for it when the Mets do call him up from Triple-A Las Vegas later this season.
As for Wheeler, he publicly laughed at Bryce Harper’s assumption that a World Series title was coming Washington’s way once Max Scherzer signed up with the Nationals.
“He said, ‘Give me my ring,’ “ Wheeler said. “We’re going to make it hard for him to get that ring, I’ll tell you that.”
That might seem brazen for any member of a team that lost 15 of 19 games to the NL East power last year. It might seem insane to anyone who watched the Nationals roll up a 41-15 record against Wheeler’s squad the past three years.
And yet, Wheeler never qualified his statements.
“Obviously, they’re a good team, but that’s baseball,” he told the Daily News. “We’ve got a good pitching staff, so do they. We’ve got good athletes, so do they. Who cares? Let’s go.”
No doubt, the Mets have plenty of questions about how well their injured ace will come back, how an unheralded shortstop will perform, and how a lineup that still looks too much like last year’s will hit. But at least they have the right attitude.
They can’t wait to get to it.
Let’s go, indeed.