After six years of struggle, Citi Field, the Mets’ evocative ballpark, is finally a portal to exciting baseball, a hub of burning dreams. Whether by luck or judgement, New York’s forgotten team has emerged from its prolonged slumber with a cast of fresh-faced phenoms electrifying huge crowds and daring people to forget the past.
In recent years, the Mets have been painful to watch; a seemingly parochial club swamped by the thriving market it calls home. A lack of investment matched a lack of talent, as losing seasons mounted and fans became disillusioned. Once a colourful and intriguing team, the Mets became boring, irrelevant, an afterthought even to diehard baseball aficionados. They simply weren’t worth the time.
However, this year, management’s vague and meandering plan for this franchise has finally come to fruition, delivering from the depths of indifference a highly energetic, greatly talented and thoroughly likeable team that romantics cannot help but root for. Now, the Mets have an ace taking the mound almost every night, sending a jolt of adrenaline through baseball, which is once again relying on the Amazins’ for a fresh, unique and vibrant story. We can’t look away.
On a most basic level, aside from the minutiae of statistics and records, the Mets are just aesthetically pleasing again. Citi Field is packed with fans, whose excitement courses through the stands, creating a playoff atmosphere beneath the summer lights. These fans, so frequently tortured, are among the very best baseball has to offer. Their passion is incredible; their yearning tangible. They scream and holler and yell encouragement, genuineencouragement, like few fanbases in the game. They care, but they’re not too serious. Attending a ballgame is supposed to be enjoyable, and Mets fans get that.
This summer, Citi Field has rocked and gyrated in a manner redolent of Shea Stadium, that crumbly old park we loved so well. After all, Mets fans have been starved of success, with no postseason appearance since 2006 and just one taste of October baseball in the past fifteen years. Moreover, during that time, this organisation, and those fans, have been the target of vitriol, the butt of jokes, the doormat of the National League. Sure, sometimes they deserved it, when refusing to spend any money in the nation’s biggest market. But, at other times, people have lost sight of what a great franchise this can be during moments of peak excitement. When they’re going good, the Mets are just plain fun, and it’s fantastic that, now, an entirely new generation of baseball fans are able to experience that firsthand.
The Mets seem to form one brilliant team to befit and describe each passing era of Major League Baseball. The team’s brushes with success have been fleeting and far between, but they’ve always been hugely emblematic of the epoch. In 1969, for instance, the Miracle Mets blazed a trail with Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, winning the World Series against all odds. In ’86, Daryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden captured the free-flowing spirit of the time, pitching and hitting and running the Mets to victory at tender ages. And, more recently, in 2006, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and David Wright were leading products of the modern age, bashing New York to within smelling distance of another pennant.
In much the same way, this current Mets team is incredibly expressive of a new baseball age, where homegrown stars are priceless and where pitching dominates. After much toil and criticism, Sandy Alderson has built the consummate pitching staff of the generation; his starting rotation quickly becoming the envy of baseball executives from Fenway to Chavez Ravine. There’s Matt Harvey, the dark knight of Gotham with a rocket arm and a warrior’s guile. There’s Jacob deGrom, the reigning Rookie of the Year with a blistering fastball and remarkable poise. There’s Noah Syndergaard, the twenty-two year old with a crackling speedball and a juggernaut’s physique. There’s Steven Matz, the uber-prospect with an easy delivery and exceptional athleticism. Then there’s Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese, two elder statesmen who round out a phenomenal corps.
In a pitching rich era, the Mets have a 3.24 team ERA, third best in baseball, while the team WHIP, my preferred measurement, is an infinitesimal 1.160, tops in the Majors. Naturally, this group of brilliant starters has elicited comparisons to the great Atlanta Braves under Bobby Cox. However, I truly believe that, collectively, the Mets’ rotation has the potential to outperform even Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.
Just think about it. Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz have a combined age of 24 and a combined 2015 WHIP of 0.977. This is an outstanding building block that allows the Mets tremendous flexibility moving forward, with Alderson basically only needing to recruit position players for the next four seasons at least. Accordingly, it’s very reasonable to suggest the Mets have created for themselves a window of sustainable opportunity, and that a deep World Series run cannot be too far away.
For all the invective directed at Alderson and ownership during the recent lean years, the Mets have emerged stronger and braver. In many respects, they’re now a model twenty-first century franchise, built on a foundation of young, cost-controlled, power arms that could pitch their way to the Promised Land. So often decried as anachronistic and myopic, the Mets front office has actually been very perceptive in understanding the changing climate of baseball business, away from brash expenditure on ageing free agents and towards a wiser and more organic investment in sustainable assets.
The journey was often treacherous, but Alderson weathered the storm and believed in his convictions. He knew that, in order to be successful for a prolonged period, the Mets would have to endure some darker times, as their safeguarded prospects matured into genuine superstars. Sure, that philosophy often tested the patience of fans, who want instantaneous success, but, now, the merits of such an ethos are clear to see. So frequently beleaguered, the Mets have a nimble framework of cheap and gifted players, around which more expensive imports can be accommodated, in the prudent quest for repeatable glory.