I was reading Hardball Times while at work today, and saw a link to an article written there a year ago called “Five Questions: New York Mets.” It’s weird what you can take in from an article written a year ago. Following a baseball team day to day, week to week, month to month, you forget things as the season goes along, particularly things from spring training. Anyway, go back and read that article if you have a chance, and take note of the following:
- Last spring, Luis Castillo and Carlos Beltran had not taken the field before March 15th. This year, both were healthy and ready to go at the start of spring.
- Carlos Delgado was still recovering from a hip injury, and was having a dreadful start to spring which would carry over to the regular season. This year, Delgado has played well, including some nice hitting in the WBC.
- Ryan Church suffered his first concussion after the collision with Marlon Anderson early in spring training. Other than a minor knee injury, he has been healthy all spring this year.
- Brian Schneider didn’t have much of a chance to catch his new starting staff at the start of spring due to a sore hamstring. This year, he has been a regular in the lineup and has a year of catching this entire staff under his belt.
And so on. A lot of these seemingly minor issues, which you don’t think about at the time, let alone by season’s end, have not been problems this season. This year, other than an elbow scare with Johan Santana (which hopefully will not rear its head again), everybody is healthy. Not everybody has been in camp, of course, thanks to the WBC, but the guys who need to play every day are, and those who would be counted on to play key reserve spots are also getting work. Health-wise, everybody is doing well so far (knock on wood).
Another issue revolves around Johan Santana. Last year, he was the key news story for the team in spring training, as he had been acquired only a month beforehand. Every reporter, every camera, every fan was documenting his every move. This year, while he did become a story because of the elbow, he hasn’t been the overriding story. Now, he’s a true part of the team, his simply being a Met is no longer a story. Everything about his spring is more familiar than last year. The Mets don’t have a calibre of star who has had anything like that join the team this year, not even K-Rod. The story is on the team and how they can play better than last year.
I think we’re silently working our way into a good spot. Last year, we all had expectations, even as spring training sort of became something of a disaster. A rough spring spilled into the regular season, and after a bad start, Willie Randolph lost his job. Jerry Manuel righted the ship, brought the Mets back into playoff contention, but ultimately the bad start was too much to overcome. A lot was made of the way the Mets finished the season, but if the Mets hadn’t started the season so poorly, there is a good chance that the Mets would have made the playoffs.
This year? Spring is going well. Don’t pay attention to the record; most of those games have been played by second string hitters. Our hitters are healthy, they are just playing for scattered WBC teams across the country. Everybody is healthy, most of the players are doing OK, and if things continue to progress as they have, the Mets will have a full, healthy roster going into the season. The guy managing the team isn’t Willie Randolph, another plus. Things just feel like they are moving in a better direction this year.
Yet, most Mets fans will say that they are not optimistic. The collapses from the past two seasons definitely still linger in most people’s minds, and this offseason ultimately felt unfulfilling after a promising start. Last year, the Mets made their big move on the eve of spring training; this year, they made their big move in November. It changes the psychology of how the fans look at their team. There is optimism to be found on the 2009 Mets, just as there was reason for pessimism for the 2008 Mets that most Mets fans chose to overlook. Personally, I just hope that they can stay healthy and enter the year at 100%, because a good start could be what makes the difference for this team.