To say the Mets fan base has been struggling the last two seasons is like saying it hurts breaking your collar bone. Both are ridiculous understatements.
If Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS forced Mets faithful into a transitory comatose state, the last three weeks of the 2007 season turned them permanently despondent. In the weeks and months following The Collapse, I had one friend who may or may not have burned all of his Mets attire (I was too scared to inquire whether or not he had followed through on his pledge). I had another buddy who quit on sports all together, assuming a “f— baseball, f— sports, f— it all” state of mind for longer than I care to remember. And one more still who would literally lose the color in his face when any Mets-related topic was raised.
It was that bad.
It was as if in October of ’06, Metropolitan nation had collectively proposed to the woman they loved, only to be rejected in the most heart wrenching of fashions. Then, the next April she changed her mind, said yes, spent five and a half months making wedding preparations only to bail from the altar on the big day. That’s despondent. That was the state of the Mets.
That was all before Johan.
Before Johan, Mets fans were dreading the 2008 season more than a root canal. There’s the difference between 2007 and pre-Johan 2008. In ’07 the Mets–while still wounded from Game 7–began spring training with a cold sense of determination; a purpose of finishing what they had started the October before. After establishing themselves as the team to beat in the National League, that silent confidence slowly started to turn into a careless swagger. And yadda yadda yadda. Seven games up with 17 to play became dust, and just like that 2007, the year of Mets redemption, was bygones.
It was the proverbial knockout blow, and no one–not even Pedro–could pull the Mets off the mat. For once, the offseason couldn’t be long enough. To add insult to injury, when the Twins made it known they were trying to trade Johan Santana, the Yankees-Red Sox arms race reconstituted itself, which to the rest of baseball meant either the Yankees or Red Sox would land the best pitcher on the planet, if they so chose.
Then came a play even more implausible than Yadier Molina’s mind-boggling home run in Game 7: both superpowers abstained from pulling the trigger on Johan. That opened the door for the Mets to enter stage left and steal Santana from a Twins organization beginning to fear that in a year they would lose Johan and have nothing to show for him except an empty locker.
And poof! For the world according to Flushing, tempestuous night had at last given way to sunny day.
Suddenly Mets gear was popping up around New York again. Many shirts read “Santana” on the backs, but that was as much a slap in the face to hated-Yankees fans as it was a revival of Mets-fandom. The real indicator of the awakening was in each “Reyes”, “Wright” and “Beltran” jersey that started to reappear. They had all been on long hiatus in the back of the closet.
Now the jerseys are back in rotation, and the players whose names grace the fabric have been given new life as well. Wright is ready to assume more of a vocal leadership role. Reyes has vowed to be more disciplined and mature on the base paths. Pedro says he feels better than he has in years. And that guy named Johan should be able to pitch in his two cents.
Needless to say, apprehension remains a product of Mets-syndrome, newfound confidence or not. Santana started his first game as a Met on February 29, and promptly gave up a first inning three-run blast to Juan Gonzalez (yes, the same former MVP, “Juan Gone”, who has been long gone from baseball the last half decade). Simultaneously, Metsblog.com, the haven for Met-chatter, started filling up with ominous postings:
“Ah Spring!! Where the dreams of all Mets fans go to die!” (Sheahey81)
“Some start…did the Wilpons ask for their money back yet?” (jtcuse44)
“We can trade him to the Yankees with the contract for Hughes and Kennedy.” (FBones24)
“The sky is clearly falling.” (ginsengbomb)
Humor can be a remedy for pain. It can also serve as a mechanism to prevent serious attachment to something. Mets fans are dealing with elements of both. However, there’s a reason they’re even able to joke about their team again without wincing. It’s because they know in the back of their heads that they already had a good team before it self-destructed last year. Now they have the best pitcher of the generation paired with one of the greatest of all-time. Whether Pedro starts 18 games or 30, he will bring out the best in Johan, and he will bring out the best in the Mets. The guy does know a thing or two about saving lost franchises in the last year of his contract.
Pedro could be back next year, but Shea Stadium will not. The final bell will toll on the hideous hunk of steel at the end of this season, and the Mets will move to newly-constructed Citi Field in 2009. With Johan now aboard, the team and its fans can finally stop looking at the move as an escape from misery, and instead concentrate on making Shea’s swan song a tune to remember.