No number crunching.
No stupid projections.
No empty promises.
Clearly the biggest news of the Mets 2009 season is the new stadium. The auld "Come Up With Your Best, Derisive Name Symbolising the Whorish Embarrassment Suffered By The Stadium's Sponsor" Field.
Sure, every one from suicidal stockbrokers to unemployed car salesman are whingeing about tradition, dimensions, food, queues to the toilets, ticket costs, angle of the sunshine, decibel level of La Guardia take offs, absence of great pubs in the vicinity of the stadium, the 7 train, and the quality of the infield dirt of the new stadium. But it's a new stadium. Shea was destroyed. Move on. And bring a bigger wallet.
Like all of you, I will be watching the inaugural rain outs on today and tomorrow against the Red Sox for clues; hitter's park or pitcher's park? Scene of much happiness and joy or another venue for misery and pain? Workshop of the Devil or HappyLand? According to mlb.com, authors of broadcasting evil:
Citi Field's dimensions are roughly similar to those of Shea. Slightly shallower down the lines and in straightaway center field, the new stadium is noticeably deeper in the gaps. And what it lacks in depth in some areas, it makes up for in height. The left-field wall at Citi Field stands at 15 feet, roughly twice the height of its counterpart at Shea Stadium. And that figure rises and falls like a city skyline from one side of the park to the other, peaking at 18 feet in right field and there, an overhang juts out over the warning track, throwing another quirk into the mix.
Translation: Doubles, doubles, doubles. And perhaps explaining why Jerry had the Mets practising hitting to the opposite field, finding the gaps.
Eat your Food! All of it! There's badminton fans in North Korea eating dirt and making motions about starving to death.
But let's be honest. Who CARES about the baseball when the most exciting thing about Citi Field is the FOOD.
The way I see it, the new renaissance of culinary greatness at the new Citi Field is paramount to the success of the Mets.
In fact, why even bother playing baseball at Citi Field? Who needs the headaches and disappointment?
It would be great if they just covered the field with buffet tables and instead of playing or watching baseball, players and fans alike can just stand around eating food all night. And then when they tire of that, Mo Vaughn can be brought out of retirement and baseball scores be replaced by Felix Pie eating contests and then Mo Vaughn can be named MVE (Most Valuable Eater) and jaysus, just think of the interest in a Vaughn v Vinny Castillo Fat Pig Contest, the loser gets a round metal bar about 70 inches long shoved via the rear and frontal orafices, gets put over a fire and spit roasted. I think we'd win. I really do. Your 2009 Mets, World Champions of Food Eating. Isn't that a banner you want to see unfurled in a global warming mid-April 2010 Home Opener?
And speaking of baseball food:
More disturbing still, news that not only is there a 4,800 calorie burger out there, but a vegan advocacy group calling it a "dietary disaster". I reckon $20 for a burger that weighs only 4 pounds is a bit of a rip off, especially one being sold at a Class A minor league baseball stadium where everything should be as cheap as the players.
As for the season itself, following SI's prediction that the Mets will WIN the World Series one can only shudder to thing about the ramifications.
Jerry Manuel on the other hand, as always, puts things into perspective. "That's all right with me," he chortles. "I'm sure that my kids and dogs and all them folks would pick me, too."
Is the hidden implication by the always-cagey Manuel that SI employ only children and dogs as sports writers or that the opinions of Sports Illustrated sport writers should be given the same consideration as the opinions of children and dogs?
Perhaps not even that much.
There's no need to hyperventilate into your 2009 Mets paper bags just yet, kids.
The Mets aren't on the cover.
The Yankees and Big, Fat, Waiting To Become a Permanent Resident On the DL Due To A Blown Out Arm CC Sabathia are on the cover. Let them sweat it.
In the meantime, the only real question about the NL East is who is going to finish second behind the Mets, a fading Phillies team who have used up all their good karma for the decade already, a Braves team that, after a decade and a half of rule, finally saw the Valley and are nearing the halfway mark of their rebuilding process or the Marlins, who have great, young pitching but shite defence, a rubbish bullpen and no decent catching?
That's right, I'm not going to hide behind trivial fears about our starting rotation or not enough short relief left arms in the bullpen or Marlon Anderson earning a spot on the final roster, (the baseball equivalent of dating your neighbour's grandmother) or Luis Castillo's 80 year old knees combined with the three years remaining on his 4 year $25 million deal, or a repeat of the two consecutive Septembers we will all keep stum about.
In case you haven't noticed, there aren't any flawless teams out there. It's a myth, like airbrushed cover models.
So Spring is nearly over, it's time to stop worrying and start believing. At least until the first stumble out of the blocks.
From April to the end of August, on paper and even by virtue of a position by position breakdown, the Mets are one of the least flawed teams in baseball. In some ways we could just close our eyes, plug our ears going nahnahnahnah to drown out the radio broadcasts and just reawaken on September 1, 2009:
The Mets will be in Colorado and will probably be leading the NL East by at least a half dozen games.
If you can wait that long you will be rewarded with the highest drama of the season because even if the Mets sweep the Rockies in Colorado and the Cubs at Citi Field to open the month thereafter, they'll still be looking at an 18 game stretch thereafter where they will face a combination of Marlins, Braves and Phillies in 15 of those games. The perfect recipe for another September collapse.
And yes, the Mets have this uncharming little penchant for being jinxed against teams in their own division, allow teams in their own division to treat them like kerbside rubbish.
Remember their performances against the Braves season after season in the 90s and into the 21st century? Remember the last two seasons getting knocked out of the post season by clearly inferior Marlins teams? You think the Phillies aren't next? That the Phillies won't find some magic elixir allowing them to beat the Mets nearly every time they face them this season?
So don't worry about setting your hopes too high. Strut with a sense of false bravado. Now is the time to do it. Before September. Before the lustre wears off, before everyone is pointing and laughing and saying "I told you so" yet again.
*****SPRING TRAINING ALLUVION*****
1. Which, if we allow ourselves the luxury of optimism, will come first: Carlos Delgado's 500th homer, (he needs 31) or Daniel Murphy's 200th career hit (he needs 159)?
2. Inevitably, there will be an injury or disappointing performances which cannot be alleviated by the bench or bullpen and which will require outside help. Jon Niese is of course the logical reply to this given his potential, experience and room for growth. Personally, I confess an urge to see Tobi Stoner make the magical leap from Double AA Binghamton to Citi Field.
3. Big Pelf was named the 5th starter at the end of March last Spring Training, earning a win against the Phillies in his first start of the season. He ended up throwing more innings last season than any other season in his brief career. The ramifications of this are yet to be experienced but irrespective of Pelf's strength or fragility, is Livan Hernandez capable of having a similar impact on the Mets rotation this season? The answer is yes. Not only capable but it is highly likely he will be REQUIRED to give more than 200 innings. So it's good we've got an innings eater in Livan. Let him eat innings at Citi Park. Let him open his own concession stand in the precious gourmand's food paradise alley called Livan's Innings Eatery.
4. Whilst the team's Achilles Heel is likely to be the starting pitching, what is likely to be the team's unpassed kidney stone? No doubt, hands down, Oliver Perez.
5. We've waited a long time but this is the year for Carlos Beltran to put it all together. Why? Certainly not because he's only entering the 5th year of his 7 year contract. Not because last season he played in more games than any other season in his career other than 2002. Not because he is healthy and happy and mature and NY-wise. Just because it's time. It's Carlos Beltran's perfect storm.
6. Jose Reyes. Obviously, September. September and idiot lapses in concentration on the field. But triples and stolen bases and excitement and baseball's lowest IQ and perhaps most mangled English. The days of hypersensitive hamstrings appear to be over and this funny little man can only blossom from here. Or choke like a dog again and cause us September aneurysms yet again. And everyone, unless this guy is the World Series MVP, will be thinking about this past off season and the cries to trade this guy whilst he was still worth something.
7. Frankly, Reyes and David Wright have been like two puppies chewing up the household furniture since 2005 when they became the starting shortstop and third baseman respectively for the Mets. They're fun to watch, they demonstrate natural joy in what they do, women probably think they're cute and neither of them have been worth a damned thing. Frankly, these two little puppies have to become hunting dogs. Not rolling on their backs in the infield with joyous expressions on their faces. We've had enough. We get it. Baseball is fun and you're pretty good at it. Now how about some results-based criteria? They need to become like foxhounds. They need to pick up the scent of the World Championship, track it and then bring down the World Championship by a series of bites and tears to the its sides and hind quarters, tearing it to pieces so we Mets fans can smear the blood of the World Championship on our faces.
8. Now for those of you who were repulsed by the imagery above, think about Jerry Manuel. This is Jerry's team, more or less. He isn't inheriting a dysfunctional collective handicapped by the absence of a closer and being forced into bizarre decisions this season. He's got a full pen, he's had time to shape the team (even if half the team was away at the WBC) and this team will have his stamp on it, for better or worse. Whilst his contract would suggest otherwise, he should be gone if the Mets don't firstly skip the September choke this season and secondly, make it deep deep into the post season.
9. Injuries: yes, this is the unpredictable. If let's say Carlos Beltran goes down for the season or Wright or Reyes or god forbid, Johan Santana, the Mets will be very close to being what we like to call in the local venacular, "fecked". So if you are the praying type, you might want to pray for injuries to hit the Phillies and completely miss the Mets, like one of those inexplicable tornado routes that destroy one house and leave the one next to it completely unscathed.
10. And look, if all this doesn't get you excited about the season ahead, doesn't get the blood pressure rising, have a gander at this: (little hint, wait for it. even after the intermission...)