On paper, this is what the 2016 New York Mets look like. They’re just numbers, sure, but in the era of sabermetrics, these are some damn good numbers. These numbers represent the skills and know-how that, we hope, will bring us glory this fall. These are the players who carry the promise of greatness, the clubhouse that could win it all. All of our hopes and dreams, summed up in two innocuous spreadsheets – fourteen players, nine positions, 140 statistics.
Do you feel the tables mocking you? Those perfectly ordered, neatly typed grids? Those consistently high batting averages and promising ERAs?
Do you have nightmares about Daniel Murphy in a Nats jersey? Is Chase Utley’s arrogant smirk burned into your retinas? Do you shudder when you think about having to watch Royals players receive their rings – while our team stands just yards away?
No? Okay, maybe it’s just me.
But we can all have a good laugh at these projected lineups and rosters, right? Even a baseball novice could point to the futility of prognosticating at this level. There are just too many variables, too many games to play. We all know what happens when the first pitch is thrown, and by that, I mean we all know that we have no fucking clue what will happen once the first pitch is thrown. Ask Wilmer Flores. He can explain.
Baseball, perhaps more than most other professional sports, has a flare for the dramatic. Our players are divas, villains, or heroes. Our coaches are underdogs, comedians or field generals. Our owners are stingy, profligate or confused. For the Mets, it’s especially so: 2015, you may recall, involved Murph-tober, a magic yellow parakeet, Big Sexy, a particularly great bat flip and the “slide” that crushed our star on the field of battle.
We curse, we cry, we plead, we beg. We take every win, every loss, every trade and every error personally. And while most of us won’t readily admit it, we actually believe that we are, in some inherent way, crucial to the success of our team. The socks we wear, the seats we sit in, the way we eat our peanuts, the orientation of the hats on our heads – any or all of these factors could decide whether the Mets win or lose. No, we’re not lunatics. No, you may not wear my socks – or wash them for that matter. And yes, mom, “we” won today.
Baseball fans are not crazy. Rather, we are – most of the time – losers. And not just Mets fans. In every sense of the word, baseball fans, and baseball players, are losers. As Ted Williams once said, “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” Every team and every player loses. They lose during each game, each series, each season. The sport demands it. Even if you’re dressed in those ungodly navy blue and white pinstripes across town – you’re going to lose sometimes.
So why be a Mets fan? A team that loses more than most, in a sport already filled with days upon days of losses? I could walk you through each player on that spreadsheet, explain how acquiring Walker and Cabrera fixes our problems up the middle, show you why losing Murphy isn’t the end of the world. I could spend all of opening day unraveling the ways in which Cespedes will be our savior. You’d have to tell me to shut up once you got me started on our bullpen. In all honesty, though, that’s not why I’m a Mets fan. And that’s not why I’m counting down the hours to opening day.
Early last season, the 7 Line Army° made a t-shirt that said, “I’m a Mets Fan. You’ll be one soon.” It flew off the shelves. Whenever I see someone wearing one, I give them a knowing smile, and a “Let’s Go Mets!” It’s like we have our own little secret. We’ve solved the riddle, found the Holy Grail. And, unlike the Bronx Bombers, we’re willing – even eager – to share our riches. We know it’s not about winning, it’s about something much more important.
What’s this profound truth? If it has nothing to do with winning, why don’t I take up knitting, or learn to cook¹? If winning isn’t the key, then why do we fight so hard in each 9-inning contest?
The secret – the one that all Mets fans cling to on the darkest of days² – is that winning is neither imperative nor sufficient to achieve true greatness.
Understanding the distinction between winning and achieving greatness is crucial. Unlike a win, greatness is always possible. So we root for great teams and great players, instead of getting caught up in dynasties and displays of arrogance. How we win matters. What we stand for matters. The game transcends the diamond, as we learn lessons of grace and virtue. We demand more than just a game, and in return it is given to us.
It’s not when our team loses, but when our team fails to live up to its human potential, that we fail. It’s not when Daniel Murphy drops a ball; it’s when he makes a homophobic comment. It’s not when Jerry Mejia has a bad inning; it’s when he tests positive for PEDs and is banned from the game for life. The Mets, and their fans, find their baseball heroes not in what they do, but in who they are – both on and off the field.
I am more than happy to talk about the Mets chances of winning it all in 2016. I’ll debate dumb trades and lineups ‘til the cows come home. I’ll defend Colon’s weight and Matz’s youth, Duda’s place in the batting order, and Terry Collins’ managerial decisions. But when I’m trying to explain why I’m a Mets fan, or trying to get people to come root for the good guys of New York baseball, I almost never point to acts of physical prowess or moments of athletic acumen. Instead, I look for greatness.
The Projected 2016 Mets Lineup and Roster, in terms of greatness:
In 2008, Curtis Granderson started a charity, the Grand Kids Foundation. The charity provides funding for organized baseball clinics as well as initiatives to help teach kids about the importance of fitness, nutrition and education. Granderson’s 5-million-dollar donation to the University of Illinois at Chicago to help build Les Miller Field at Granderson Stadium is the largest one-time gift from a pro athlete to his or her alma mater in history. Granderson is a representative of the players’ union and a baseball ambassador overseas. He also wears his pants tucked into his socks, a practice the young kids at his camps have started to mimic, as a way to honor players from the Negro League.
In 2013, Neil Walker’s childhood best friend Clint Seymour died tragically and unexpectedly at the age of 27. They had played ball together since they were 10, when several Pittsburgh-area fathers formed the Steel City Wildcats. The core group of kids stuck together for years, traveling all the way to Florida. The day the Pirates made Walker the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft, he and his Steel City Wildcats pals had a party at PNC Park. Seymour’s parents and Walker founded the non-profit Clint Seymour Play Ball Fund in Clint’s honor. The fund allows children to experience the positive impact that the game of baseball had on the development of Clint’s character and personality by funding facilities for safe and enjoyable youth baseball experiences.
“This isn’t a team,” Wright said. “This is a family. A lot of teams say that and don’t mean it. This team means it.”
Cespedes rejected a reported five-year offer worth $110 million from the Nationals to stay with the Mets this season. “It’s important to keep in mind, it’s not always about the amount of money being offered,” Cespedes said. “It’s about wanting to be in a place that you want to play in that you’re happy in, and as you can see that is just what happened in this case. It was very important to me, for me as well as my teammates and the whole Mets organization, we really wanted to finish what we started last year, so that really factored in.”
A shy, “gentle giant” from Riverside, California. Duda is a reserved, private person. His father explains that it’s not that he’s disinterested or has a false sense of confidence, but rather, he just doesn’t understand all the fame. The game, he says, is enough. Today, Duda makes regular trips to his California high school during the offseason. The kids flock to him as he hugs the special-education students who serve as team managers and provides the group with signed balls and shirts.
When d’Arnaud fractured a bone in his pinkie finger on April 19, 2015, Kevin Plawecki was brought up from Triple-A to take his place as catcher. d’Arnaud took Plawecki to dinner his first night in town to help him to prepare for Tuesday’s game. “To show what kind of guy Travis is, he was probably one of the first texts I got when I got the news I was coming up here,” Plawecki said. “He just told me that I was ready, and just to play my game and trust myself.”
“You find comfort in knowing that we’ve got another shot tomorrow. I get another chance to go out there and play. It’s a tough loss, definitely, but there’s no quit in this team. As long as we have an out, we’re going to keep fighting, so we’re excited to come out tomorrow.”
On July 29, 2015, Wilmer Flores became a household name. After learning that he had been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, he began crying. On the field. In the middle of a game. The trade fell apart and he’s still a Met, but those tears resonated with Mets fans everywhere.
Flores has been a Met since he signed as a 16-year-old in 2007. It’s the only baseball family he’s ever known. “I’m very proud to be a Met,’’ Flores said. “If it ever happens again, if I get traded, I will be sad. I will probably cry again.”
“On a typical offseason day, now that it’s getting close to spring training, I’ll normally get up and go to the gym. I’ll do my workout, then hang out at my house until my dad gets home from work. Then I drive over to my parents’ and play catch with him.”
“There were a lot of upset feelings,” Harvey said, referring to Chase Utley’s slide, Ruben Tejada’s broken leg, and the response in New York. “And we’ve got to go out and kind of do our talking by going out there and doing our best to beat them.”
Syndergaard auctions off his gloves to help raise money and awareness for Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease from which his mother suffers. “She’s a little trooper,’’ Syndergaard said. “She came to visit me in Lansing in 2012 and started to get sick. She later found out she has this disease called Sjögren’s, and she’s been coping with that now for about three years. She’s fighting every day and is in high spirits, which is good. Look closely and you will see that Syndergaard wears a blue and white Sjögren’s awareness band on his wrist every time he pitches.
This past winter, Matz donned the Santa suit in order to visit with hundreds of kids from several Queens schools during the Mets’ kids Christmas party. Not to mention he’s got the most televised and enthusiastic grandpa in the major leagues.
“It makes me so happy and fills me with so much pride that they are constantly speaking so highly of me,” Colon said. “I just always want to be there for them — I always will in my free time. Whenever I was coming up and I was maybe their age, I didn’t always have someone to look to, so I always will be there for those guys.”
“You have the surgery, that’s hard enough as it is,” Wheeler said. “And then you got to spend all summer not playing baseball. It’s a different part of it. I enjoyed watching for once. I don’t know if it necessarily grounds you, but it makes you realize, hey, be grateful for what you have.”
°A group of Mets super fans
¹It’s been suggested
²Days like November 1st, 2015, for instance