There was a baseball team that played many years ago. Their statistics were less than stellar to say the least. The # 2 and # 3 starters were both under .500 for the season. The right fielder led the team in RBI’s with a mere 79. The power came from a first baseman who led the club with an insignificant 23 home runs while hitting a lowly .239. No one else on the team had over 20 dingers. Speed was provided by the third baseman who led the team–with an unbelievable SIX all season. Or in other words, he averaged one stolen base per month! This unassuming bunch of ballplayers went all the way to the World Series, before losing in 7 games.
The team was the Mets. The year was 1973. And led by the rallying cry of Tug McGraw who roared "Ya Gotta Believe," the Mets came ever so close to yet another miracle. Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack were 14-15 and 14-16 respectively. Rusty Staub led the team in RBI’s despite playing injured much of the year. John Milner, The Hammer, worked at first base while hitting his 23 round trippers and Wayne Garrett’s 6 stolen bases were not exactly Jose Reyes territory.
As an interesting side note, the skipper of the 73 Mets was Yogi Berra. Berra was not initially well liked or well received by the Mets faithful. The job of manager fell into his lap one year earlier with the untimely death of the much loved and much revered Gil Hodges. Berra, as you know, was best known for being a Yankee. (Sound familiar?)
I look at the 2008 Mets and am proud to announce that "I Still Believe." The ghosts of the 07 collapse still haunt our minds and remain at the forefront of our conscious. Since it is difficult, if not impossible, for us, as fans, to eradicate the horror of last September, we should not expect anything different from the players. We watched our lead crumble before our eyes but the players lived it. September 2007 was almost nine months ago. But in baseball time only 50 games have passed since we handed the division to the Phillies. It is not fair for us to expect the players to come out Opening Day and be completely healed from the left over scars, pain and heartbreak.
Yes, we are off to a slow start. The first third of this season has been filled with turmoil, bone head plays, dissension in the clubhouse, rumors of racism, players-only meetings, finger pointing and everyone from fans and the local media calling for the head of Randolph on a plate as if his first name was Osama.
I look at this season and feel the best is yet to come. This past week the Mets have played with heart and soul, fire and passion, not seen since 2006. In spite of the despair in the dugout, the Mets remain close to first place. Pedro Martinez, our number 2 starter, was injured in the second game of the season. Our number 5 starter, El Duque, has been injured forcing the Mets to bring up Mike Pelfrey sooner than desired. We have already had to deal with injuries to catcher Brian Schneider and Ryan Church who, thus far, has been the team MVP. And, of course, Moises Alou, but that goes without saying.
Things can only get better. David Wright is hitting 25 points below his career batting average of 309. Jose Reyes has struggled and is below his career batting average as well but he has shown some fire in the belly of late. Carlos Beltran is hitting 16 points below his career batting average but has hit 305 for the last month. And Carlos Delgado, who has suffered the scorn of Mets fans all year, can only get better. Plagued by injuries in 2007 and suffering a wrist injury the final game of the 2007 season, Delgado is still on pace to hit 26 HR’s and 81 RBI’s. Add this to the fact that our first baseman is hitting nearly 60 points below his career batting average and slugging at only 389 rather than his career 594, things can–and will-only get better.
April and May will not be remembered by Mets fans for early struggles. Instead, it will be remembered by the Phillies and Braves and Marlins as a blown opportunity. They’ve had their chance to put us away, to bury us. But we are still here, still alive. We are still within striking distance of the top of the National League East.
I look at the stats of our hitters and I am hopeful. I see the spirit returning to this team and I am cautiously optimistic that it remains. I look at the talent we have, from Johan Santana, the best lefty in the league since Sandy Koufax, to future Hall of Famer Billy Wagner and I feel confident. I look at the 2008 Mets and can proudly state that I Still Believe.