Behind The Highlights

It’s Hallmark Quarterly Profit Increase Day – sorry, Valentine’s Day – and that intangible, inexplicable phenomenon is in the air once again.  Not that you asked, but I think the impending baseball season has something to do with it.

There are barely two days until Pitchers and Catchers, although seeing as the important ones seem to have already reported, that date is mostly ceremonial. After that, it’s one date after another, and when all is said and done, we’ll look back on this whirlwind of information, discovery, and baseball in the sun, and be shocked that 50 days could pass so quickly.

Until then, however, we need to get some things straight, because a baseball season is fun only if everyone involved is working towards the same ends.

Valentine’s Day is about gaudy, tacky, bright red decorations and cards with ridiculous pre-written messages.  Looking at Valentine’s cards the other day, I texted a friend:

Valentine’s Cards are like presidential candidates — there aren’t any moderate ones anymore.

But even though the spirit of the day has been corrupted, its values remain, or at least, they should.  Honesty.  Trust.  Caring.  And above all, being open and forward about what we want from each other.

(And, by the way, the fact that I refer to my ball club as part of “each other” should give you a hint as to how exactly my Valentine’s Day is going.)

What do we want from our 2016 Mets?  We want a World Series.  Everyone does.  The fans, the players, the owners, the officials.  At that level, it’s not hard to see that we want the same things.

But beyond the general, simplistic purview that all we want is winning, it does get a little more complicated.

What if we don’t win?  What if Cespedes gets hurt and all our pitchers lose their stuff and Neil Walker bats .190 and Asdrubal Cabrera just doesn’t have it?  It’s dreadful to imagine, and I’m not for one second predicting that it will happen, but what if it does?  Devoid of a winning team, as we no doubt will be at some point, whether in two, ten, or twenty years, what do we want from this team?

And that’s where it starts to get complicated.  Because as much as we like to think we all want the same things, some people just don’t.

There are those people that just want winning.  The ones who boo when the team is bad, rather than when the team isn’t trying their hardest.  The people who start the wave when the game bores them, never mind the young super athlete down on the field throwing the ball towards the batter at speeds higher than their car has ever moved.

And then there are the real fans.  And they — or, we — want something else entirely.

To those fans, the real ones, the fans who are there for the good and remember the bad, the ones who loved that magical 2015 but loved watching Ronny Paulino in 2011 just as much, the ones who will head out to Citi Field in a heartbeat whether the Mets are pitching Matt Harvey or Matt Ginter, winning is a reward, but not the reward.  The reward, in fortunes fickle and fair, is watching a team as fun as the Mets we’re so fortunate to have.

So, speaking for the truest of fans, which I hope I have sufficient license to do, here’s what we want, whether we romp back to the World Series or trudge back down to the basement.

We want to keep the identity.  We want to see not just a ball club, but a Mets ball club.  We want the same kind of players we’ve been fortunate enough to have in the past, Nails and Mex and Teuf and Wally, who play the game the right way — not the Chase Utley right way, but the real, competitive but not mean-spirited right way — on the field and off it.

Michael Cuddyer’s 2015 season was quite possibly the most negative thing to come out of the year, but I never soured on Michael Cuddyer the man, if seeing him in left field day after day did get tiresome.  He never deflected blame.  He always answered questions openly and honestly, never tried to make excuses for his diminished play, and, to top it off, retired when he felt he could no longer give the team his best.

For the longest time, people said the Mets weren’t cool enough.  They weren’t the Yankees.  They weren’t the greatest in the world.  They weren’t the cool kids, doing whatever they want and damn the consequences.  Well, now we’re coming off a World Series run, and the coolness factor suddenly seems to matter a lot less.

So here, in the end, is all I want from the season.  By all means, be cool – have fun, celebrate wins, take the city by storm, and be the new guys, the ones that everyone is suddenly latching onto because they just got around to hearing that we were in the World Series.  Be the prototypical stars, the traditional Yankee way if you want.  Don’t be afraid to be noticed for being the best, because going to the World Series, even if we didn’t win, or, in fact, barely competed, is worth celebrating.

But while you’re busy being the cool kids, the toast of the town, the superstars, remember your identity.  Remember the history.  Remember that there’s more to a team than wins and losses, because a team is more than runs scored and prevented.  Remember that you’re people as well as players, and remember that we, the fans, know that.  Remember that, like Michael Cuddyer and his magic tricks or Jeurys Familia and his love of Step Brothers, it’s fine to be nerdy, or dorky, or whatever anyone who didn’t just go to the World Freaking Series wants to call it.  Just be authentic, genuine people.  We’re Mets fans: we loved Marvelous Marv and Choo Choo every bit as much as the Yankees adored Jorge Posada and His Lordship Tino Martinez.  All we ask is authenticity.

Yoenis Cespedes has a hoverboard.  David Wright loves his dogs.  Matt Harvey appeared on Watch What Happens Live.  None are stereotypical of the proverbial athletic superstar, but they’re what defines a season and a team, far more than wins, losses, and unfortunate back injuries that always seem to come at just the worst times.

So, to the Mets, know this.  Know that some of us, at least, care less about seeing robotic, focus-grouped players producing wins and polished interviews, and more about the real people behind the results.  We’d all love another World Series appearance, and even more than that, a win.  But to me — and for all I know, I’m in the minority — I’d like even better to see our players having fun on the field, enjoying being young and free, and being dorky or suave, ugly or David Wright, bad-haired or Noah Syndergaard, thin or Bartolo Colón.  They’re all awesome people, as countless interviews and off-the-field stories have shown.  They get the job done on the field.  Off of it, they’ve earned the right to live as they like.

Our guys, those 25 players who make up the team we’ve all resigned ourselves to following for the long haul, are human beings too.  We don’t — and most definitely should not — label them as attention seekers, dumb jocks, or dorky misfits.  Even with star athletes, there’s more to a person than a superficial glance can possibly show.  Having been exposed, through the magic of the 2015 season, to the human sides of all of these players, there’s nothing I’d rather see than respect for them as people before statistical producers, and allowance, on our part, for each and every one of them to conduct themselves just as they choose to, without judgement from the rest of us, none of whom could come close to doing anything resembling what these players do day in and day out.

The entire 25 man roster has earned my respect on the field, but that doesn’t even matter.  We have a team of human beings, and every player on our roster has long since earned the right to go about their life without being judged for nonsense.

Baseball player, in short, is a profession, not a lifestyle.  Our guys, off the field, can do anything and everything that they want.  It’s not our job to judge.  Instead, it’s our job to accept, respect, and appreciate the human beings behind the highlight reels.


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