The Mets, perhaps for the first time since 2015, will field a competitive and upbeat team which carries not only hope but talent…
The Mets season, even before it began, did a U-Turn in the space of 24-hours. From the depths of the discontent expressed from the team’s voice, Noah Syndergaard, all the way to the clock ticking on GM Brodie Van Wagenen’s iPhone as the hours and minutes wound down, with fading hopes that he and Fred Wilpon could come to an agreement with Jacob deGrom on a contract extension – the bumbling Mets looked ever so much like they would boot this one too.
DeGrom stayed behind Monday night as his teammates boarded a flight to Syracuse, New York – their new Triple-A affiliate, in hopes an agreement could be reached. For three hours, their plane sat on the tarmac awaiting clearance for takeoff. Card games, personal video games, ear-plugs tuning out the world, all would be normal behavior for major league teams during this kind of delay.
But not for this group of Mets. Instead of tuning out, they turned toward each other, forming impromptu meetings between the catchers and pitchers, whereupon they talked about their approach to pitching. And more significantly, they shared thoughts on their mentality and how they handle their job(s).
Arriving in Syracuse at around 11:00 PM, players slept in the next morning, the first time in six weeks there wasn’t a 5:30 AM wake-up call waiting for them. Instead, the Mets were greeted with the news that deGrom was locked up for the next five years with a $137.5 million deal. Whew – a sigh of relief for everyone.
More than 4,000 Mets fans, including this writer, were on their way at the same time to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse for a two-hour “workout” as it was termed. During the night and in keeping with the team theme, John Ricco, Senior Vice President of the Mets, was making sure all was right with the preparations. Even the Mets groundskeeping team got involved by constructing a make-shift pitcher’s mound made out of wood.
But the crowning moments of the day that turned the Mets around, ironically, came from the man who was insistent on putting the kibosh on the entire event. And so it was, perhaps, that Noah Syndergaard reminded himself that he was a young man playing a boys game and that it could be fun to be a kid again.
So there was Syndergaard prancing around the football field waving the flag of Syracuse University, the site of the Carrier Dome. Just a boy having fun, but it was contagious, not only for the fans but for his teammates as well.
Players joined in, taking “infield practice” with no bases. Others took “batting practice”, but only with underhand tosses in a makeshift cage. Hell, even Jeff Wilpon made the trip.
Team, team, team. Fans aren’t stupid, neither are owners. After all, why would Fred Wilpon sign on the dotted line granting a small fortune to deGrom if he didn’t believe and trust that deGrom has his head on straight? Burned many times before by long terms deals (think Bobby Bonilla, David Wright (injuries), Jason Bay, Johan Santana (injuries), etc.), and yet Wilpon took the plunge again – because that’s what the Mets needed.
In the same way, unlike Syndergaard being a real person by “getting into” the makeshift workout in Syracuse, even though he needed and wanted to be setting up his apartment for the next 162 games in New York – fans aren’t stupid either. For that reason, Mets fans, or at least this one, will never be fooled by the phony “enthusiasm” of Yoenis Cespedes.
Baseball is not golf, and it’s not tennis or racquetball. Baseball is a team game, and that, my friends is the one ingredient that’s been missing on the Mets.
Championship teams overcome distractions like the ones described above. And you always hear players and managers reciting the same mantra – “There are no distractions when we take the field”. Fine, but there are still 21 hours in a day to account for, and that’s where and when trouble sets in.
Whether it’s Tweets, an off-hand comment to a reporter, or a misread conversation with a teammate on a cross-country flight mid-season, winning teams find ways, just as the Mets did in the last few days, to overcome and resolve these distractions well before they take the field.
We know because Yogi Berra told us so that baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical. With that in mind, the Mets are showing sure signs of working out the mental part as a team. The physical part begins today in our nation’s capital.
Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball
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