NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A group of New York Mets fans has its own slogan this season, a message directed at the club’s owners. When the team arrived at Citi Field for Monday’s home opener, it was greeted by two new billboards just outside the ballpark.
“FRED, JEFF & SAUL,” one reads, “Ya gotta leave.”
And the other one: “Sell the Team.”
The billboards on Roosevelt Avenue, both 10 1/2 feet by 22 3/4 feet, stand alongside the elevated No. 7 subway line — a spot where thousands of fans are sure to see them. They are scheduled to be removed on May 3.
The one with a blue background, which faces the stadium and is visible from a parking lot, plays off the “Ya gotta believe!” phrase Tug McGraw coined for the Mets as they chased and won the 1973 NL pennant.
The sign in orange is visible from the east and implores owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz to sell. Next to the words are a caricature of a person with a baseball for a head, furrowed brow and scowl, a fella who resembles an angry relative of the Mr. Met mascot.
Gary Palumbo, a 39-year-old Mets fan who lives in New London, New Hampshire, raised $6,700 on Kickstarter to pay for the placards. He was frustrated when the owners cut spending as they dealt with the fallout from the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. Now he’s angry the Mets maintain a payroll similar to those of middle-market teams, even though they say they hope to contend with a club buoyed by the return of star pitcher Matt Harvey from elbow surgery.
“They asked us to be patient through the Madoff issue and to let them go through their rebuilding process, and then they said when the time was ready, they were going to reinvest back into the team and get it ready for competitiveness,” Palumbo said. “That was supposed to be last year, but with the Harvey injury, that kind of set everything back. And so once we went into this offseason and they signed (Michael) Cuddyer and then did nothing else, that was really the tipping point for me. That demonstrated that the Wilpons are still not financially capable of doing what needs to be done for the long-term best of the team.”
Fred Wilpon became a minority owner of the team in 1980, co-owner in 1986 and sole controlling owner in 2002. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006 and has finished with a losing record in six straight seasons.
Jeff Wilpon, the team’s chief operating officer and Fred Wilpon’s son, declined to discuss the signs. Mets manager Terry Collins considers the money poorly spent.
“I think it’s a waste of time, but that’s just my own opinion,” he said. “You want to spend $6,000? Go feed the homeless.”
Palumbo, a project manager for a technology firm, grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut, and started following the Mets just before the franchise’s most recent World Series title in 1986. He launched the Kickstarter campaign in December and said he received contributions from 250 people ranging from $1 to $350.
David Restiano, who attended Marist in Poughkeepsie at the same time as Palumbo, volunteered to be his graphic designer. The two had not spoken in years before Restiano noticed the campaign and sent Palumbo a Facebook message.
“This is not anti-Mets. This is pro player,” said Restiano, a 39-year-old from, Brick, New Jersey, who works as a designer for a financial-services company. “The Wilpons are not responsible stewards. They’re not doing what we need them to do to be successful. They’re not supporting the team like us.”
Restiano drew his inspiration from McGraw and said he was careful to allude to Mr. Met without copying him exactly.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to do anything that is even close to treading litigious grounds because the Wilpons will hammer us,'” he recalled. “I drew it from scratch, and I changed it enough where we put a different characterization to it. We call him Flushing Frank. At first I said to Gary we could call him Mr. Matt, but it was just too close.”
Palumbo at first hoped to raise $5,000 and used the excess for a billboard put up in Florida along Interstate 95, about 8 miles north of the Mets’ spring training complex in Port St. Lucie. Much of the money came in after former Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez talked about New York’s teams at the Hall of Fame news conference in January.
“Queens is a little bit different than the Yankees fans. Queens, they’re wild; they’re happy. They settle for what they have,” Martinez said. “Yankees fans cannot. Win or nothing.”
Palumbo last week began another Kickstarter campaign to raise $7,000, which would extend the signs for four weeks and add one on Queens Boulevard. T-shirts ($16.50) and stickers ($4) of each billboard’s image also are being sold.
Mets captain David Wright, focused on playing Philadelphia, didn’t notice the signs on his way in.
“Obviously I care about the fans and I want to put on a good show for the fans, but the last thing I need to think about before the home opener is some banner that’s up in front of the stadium,” he said. “It’s irrelevant to me, and it doesn’t help me get ready for a game.”
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