All over Florida and in Arizona we have what is known as spring training, that time of year where the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are brimming with hope and young prospects. Here in the frigid north, I get glimpses of palm trees and the Mets players stretching or running across the field in the sunshine. If nothing else, every year spring training starts and it makes me think that summer can’t be too far away.
Of course, all the boys of summer need to get through spring training. In all those camps the players are thinking about having a big year. Prospects start catching the manager’s eye, and sometime veterans are pushing themselves and hoping to get one more year of playing in. It’s an exciting time in early March because, despite the meaningless Cactus and Grapefruit standings (my Mets are 1-2 with one tie), every team’s real record is 0-0 and hope springs eternal.
Unless you are a Mets fan! I don’t know of any other team (except perhaps for the Chicago Cubs) for which there are such low expectations each year. Even when we had the best players in our history (1986 and 2000), the baseball writers never picked the Mets to finish higher than third or second place. The Mets have surely earned that reputation – they’re lovable losers and all that – but the fact is it is hard on the fans.
Still, if you look at the other team in the city (the hated New York Yankees), they have a different cross to bear. Each year the writers target them to be number one. Every year it is the same thing. What a burden for the team and its fans when that does not prove to be so. If you are a Yankees fan or player, anything less than first place is grounds for divorce. I’ve seen friends of mine literally ripping the hair out of their heads when the team comes in second or loses in the playoffs.
To be a fan of the orange and blue, you understand losing because we were born from it. The parents of the Mets were the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and they were also second and third fiddle to the Yankees in this town. This is the way it’s supposed to be, just as the Cubs are second to the White Sox or the LA Clippers are to the Lakers. Mets fans have never argued that point; in fact, we celebrate it. We like being the underdogs; it becomes us.
So spring training is here and the biggest name in Mets camp besides David Wright is Zack Wheeler. Everyone is talking about the young pitcher, but right now it seems he won’t be with the big club when they pack to go north. Otherwise, it is a pretty uneventful spring in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The players and their manager Terry Collins brim with positivity, but their lot is not to be in contention again this year. No one is saying it but everyone knows it.
None of this will stop the real Mets fans with orange and blue in their veins. We will go out to Citi Field, take our kids, and root for the home team. If they don’t win it’s not a shame, it’s business as usual. If they win, we got a little something extra for our ticket price. That’s the way it is for Mets fans.
We are all young again from the moment we hear “pitchers and catchers” until that first pitch on Opening Day. If you can get to a Cactus or Grapefruit League game go because the games don’t count and that is part of the fun in the sun, and tickets are really reasonable (general admission at Port St. Lucie is just eight bucks). Before we know it the boys of summer will be taking to fields all over the country, so let’s enjoy spring training for all it’s worth.
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