All those guys—Reyes, Wright, Delgado, Beltran—are still there. But they’re older now, and less innocent. Their names are no longer attached to discovery and goofy bliss. Their names are now attached to The Collapses.
Oh, yes. Those Collapses.
According to the stat gurus at Baseball Prospectus, the odds of the Mets blowing their National League East lead in 2007 were 500-to-1. Last year, they were a more reasonable, but no less baffling, 12½-to-1. According to the pain gurus that are Flushing fans, such odds were merely “unfathomable.” It’s difficult to come up with an ending to any season worse than what has happened to the Mets—it would likely require a player striking out in the ninth inning, then bursting into flames—and they went through it twice. No fan should have to endure such punishment.
Understandably, the Mets have been eager to erase the memory of the last two seasons, which is probably why, fear of injury aside, they like having the distraction of the World Baseball Classic and the quiet camp. (Though expect, in the wake of his performance in the WBC, the calls for Pedro Martinez to reach deafening decibels in the next week.) But eventually the season’s going to start, and the Mets are going to lose a game they probably should have won, and The Fear will return. It’s never been a more perilous time to be a Mets fan. Though sometimes I wonder if they like it that way.
At a certain level, Mets fans’ love of their underdog status in New York has never made sense. The Mets had the second-highest payroll in baseball last year and employ three of the most expensive players in the game. When they wanted Johan Santana, they just went out and got him. This will never happen for the Kansas City Royals or, for that matter, any team that doesn’t play in New York, Chicago, Boston, or Los Angeles. The Mets fans have embraced their status as the Other team in New York, because it salves their wounds with meaning: Watching the Mets continuously fail to push the rock up the hill gives cheering for the franchise gravitas and depth, as opposed to the arrogance they perceive in their Yankee-fan counterparts.
But it’s a fallacy, and one wonders, with a shiny new ballpark, how long they’ll be able to keep up the illusion. It’s a lot easier to pretend to be the scrappy overachievers when you’re playing in a rotting Robert Moses relic with an upper deck so high you could wave to the people in planes passing overhead. Can Mets fans keep this up when their team is selling Belgian frites in the cheap seats and offering “multiple sit-down, climate-controlled restaurants, bars, clubs, and lounges”? I posit that this center cannot hold. What if the Mets aren’t the cursed underdogs their fans believe them to be? What if they’re simply disappointing millionaires holding out for new contracts while the rest of us watch our retirement plans evaporate? What if the warm fuzzies fade? What if enough is enough? What then?
That’s the scary question this year might answer. Can the Mets, as a franchise, possibly survive another collapse, or even a frustrating, listless season? Will fans, already staying away from spring-training games like never before, decide that a flailing Mets team isn’t worth their shrinking entertainment dollar? It was just five years ago that the Mets were averaging 28,979 fans a game. It won’t go that low this year unless we all relive the Dust Bowl, but if it so much as approaches that number in the next couple of seasons—which, if the Mets don’t finally break through, very well might happen—it will be a disaster for the Mets organization.
Which makes this season so much more vital to the Mets than it is to the Yankees, or any other Mets team in recent memory. Right now is the calm. But as many a cinematic soldier has been known to say: “It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.”