Although baseball season is long, the wait from the last pitch of the season to the first game of the spring seems almost interminable. The leaves begin to fall from the trees, winter edges closer, and then it sets in. There are no trips to the ballpark, no incessant score checking while you’re out for dinner, no Howie Rose echoing through your ears while you barbecue. After baseball season ends, the days get colder and the nights get longer.
Aside from the Mets, I’m a football Giants fan, a Knicks fan, and a Rangers fan. I love watching each of them play. I look forward to the games. But it’s not baseball, and they’re not the Mets. Each winter, I find myself doing the same things when I start to miss baseball a little too much. Lately, that includes watching the MLB Network and hoping to catch a classic Mets game. I’m often fine with just watching one of their “20 Greatest Games” shows. Even if it’s not the Mets, it helps. There’s always random classic games on SNY, and it’s great to get a glimpse of Damion Easley tying the game in 2007 with a homer in the 9th inning at Shea. To watch as the team celebrates division titles in 1986, 1988, and 2006
Even better than the above, though, is daydreaming about the next season while watching films like “The Natural” or “Field of Dreams.” As you watch Roy Hobbs emerge from obscurity to hit the ball so hard the cover comes off, or watch Ray Kinsella have a catch with his dad at the conclusion of “Field of Dreams”, it helps to pass the time. It also reminds you why you fell in love with the game in the first place, and who it was that passed the passion down to you. You remember why it means so much to you and so many others.
There are certain things that make the game of baseball innocent, youthful, and poetic. It’s men playing a children’s game, but it also jars memories from your youth. With the start of each season, you might again recall the first game you watched, the first one you went to. How massive Shea (or Ebbets Field, or the Polo Grounds) was the first time you set foot in it. It’s the stinging in your hand after a ball is fired into your glove, the crack of the bat, the aroma of the grass.
No matter what the expectations are for the season, when pictures start rolling in from Port St. Lucie, the juices start flowing and the excitement starts to build. This is when it finally feels as if the return of baseball is near. After the full squad arrives, there’s the first game of spring. The next month flies, and you find yourself counting down the hours to opening day. If you’re a baseball fan, this should be one of your favorite times of the year regardless of whether you’re an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist.
For the Mets, expectations are low. Even though they’ve made improvements, they probably haven’t made enough. The team is likely to fall somewhere between slightly below average and slightly above average. No one is expecting a playoff appearance or a World Series title. For every team, though, each new season could be “the” year. For 29 teams, it won’t be. But it’s acceptable to dream.
Once the first pitch of the spring is thrown, daydreaming about baseball will morph into a hope that every Met stays healthy. Soon after, everyone will start to obsess over the stats that are mostly meaningless. If the Mets go 9-21 during the spring, people will predict 100 losses. If they go 21-9, people will say it’s a fluke. If they play average ball, no one will really notice.
No matter how the Mets play during spring training, the energy you felt as pitchers and catchers reported will be replicated on opening day. Johan Santana will likely be on the mound, and perhaps that start will be the first of 30 for him. He likely won’t be the guy who made opposing hitters dread him, but he may just be able to replicate last year’s first half for a full season. Maybe this is the year Ike Davis is able to stay on the field, in turn putting the rest of the league on notice as he launches majestic shot after majestic shot over the fence. We may watch as Zack Wheeler forces his way to the big leagues in mid-May, joining with Matt Harvey to give the Mets two young potential aces. None of those maybe’s should be classified as crazy. They can all happen. Perhaps this can be a fun season, or even a magical season.
It’s important to remember that every team has “maybes,” not just the Mets. Some teams have more questions than others, but there’s no such thing as a sure thing in baseball. For reference, see the ’69 Mets, or the ’87 Twins, or the ’91 Braves, or the ’08 Rays. Sometimes, magical seasons come out of nowhere. For some teams, things will fall apart. For others, they’ll come together. It’s why the games are played. The 2013 Mets will hit the field in 17 days for their first spring game. The slate is wiped clean. Finally, baseball is almost back.