The Mets are coming into spring training refreshed, confident and basking in the glow of the warm Florida sun. In fact they’re so confident they’re talking about playing in the World Series. They haven’t declared themselves the team to beat yet, though, but there’s still plenty of time left for that. Having confidence and setting high goals are great – no team, no matter how bad, is going to announce that they think they’ll finish in fourth place for the coming season – but you have to learn to walk before you can run. We’ve heard all the grand pronouncements and proclamations before, but it’s gotten them nowhere.
Jerry Manuel and the Mets have been talking about fundamentals here and there, and turning over a new leaf and wiping the slate clean, but mainly what we’ve heard so far in Port St. Lucie is: “We have enough talent to go the World Series.” Or “I’m the best pitcher in the division.” Or “We have the same core that won the division in 2006” (wasn’t that four years and three disasters ago?).
What we haven’t heard is this: “We’re going to start hustling and playing harder. We can’t just throw our gloves onto the field and expect to win, no matter how much talent we may have on paper. We have to start playing fundamental baseball, do all the little things that need to be done to win games. We need to play harder, bowl over catchers, break up double plays. We embarrassed ourselves, the franchise and our fans the last three years, so we before we talk about expectations and guarantees, we need to concentrate on what’s going on between the lines in order to play winning baseball. There’s no need to talk about winning the division or going to the World Series until we learn how to play the game the right way. Sure, we had a lot of injuries, but our lack of hustle, fundamentals and focus has been a big issue the last three years, so we need to fix those areas first before we worry about predictions, goofy handshakes, smiling more and other needless distractions.”
Over the last few years, the Mets refuse to hustle. They refuse to play a tough brand of baseball – they don’t knock over catchers, they don’t throw at batters when the situation calls for it and they consistently get pushed around. Their lack of fundamentals has now moved into the category of legend. But they still seem to be in denial. Do they even know that they don’t run hard to first? That they don’t hustle? That they consistently make the minimal effort on the field? That they lack mental toughness?
Maybe Jason Bay and a full year of Jeff Francoeur, along with bench veterans Alex Cora and Frank Catalanotto and the absence of Carlos Delgado, will help end the Mets malaise. An overhaul of the franchise was called for after last season, but for whatever reason – money? an unwillingness to make tough decisions? – that didn’t happen. But the same old, same old isn’t going to work again. The Mets have a laundry list of issues that needs to be confronted honestly by each player and coach. They need to take the sunglasses off, stop with the business as usual, “we look good on paper” nonsense and change their mindset and realize where they’ve gone wrong and how to fix it. In other words, the Mets need to stop being the same old Mets while hoping that all their problems will magically disappear because Oliver Perez had a good bullpen session. It may be sunny now in Port St. Lucie, but come April, there always seems to be a dark cloud hovering over Queens. If they want the sun to shine on them all season long, the Mets will need to change their attitude and approach to the game.