Featured Post: A Day Without Juan Lagares

An article by posted on May 19, 2014 0 Comments

With age comes a growing understanding of the importance of letting go of things that you can’t control. Looking in the rear view mirror its easy to recognize how much worry and energy I have expended in the past over things where I had little or no influence. Moving forward I’m trying hard to direct my interests and energies towards pursuits where I have at least some measure of impact.

That philosophy extends to my passion for the Mets. Repeatedly, over the years I’ve come to feel more and more powerless as a Met fan. The corporate lock on baseball is a fact of life and nowhere is that more prominent than in New York City.

Ticket prices for a quality seat at the ball park to watch a major league game have more than quadrupled since the arrival of Citi Field, and the associated costs involved in attending a game follow a similar pattern. The cost of watching major league baseball in NYC has simply become prohibitive for folks of middle class means or retirees on fixed incomes.

tom-seaver-says-pitchers-babied

But, your passion for a professional sports team isn’t governed by how many times you can afford to go to the park. In a recent interview on WFAN, I heard Tom Seaver say he never watches a baseball game, live or on television. Never. But, every morning Seaver spends extended time studying the box scores in the newspaper. The legendary Met pitcher stays abreast with what’s going on in the world of baseball in his own special way. Seaver shapes his use of time around the medium he chooses to keep in touch with the game he loves.

As my life curve moves into the senior side, I’m finding the allure of baseball only grows. Having more time at my disposal and growing autonomy in choosing how I use that time, adds value to the power that time commands, especially when you realize that time comes with no guarantee with regard to its supply.

So, this year my customary 30 ticket pack at Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium grew to a season’s ticket. I coach a high school baseball team. My time writing for Metsmerized and MetsMinors.net has taken an uptick, and I spend more energy researching baseball related topics for my weekly radio show.

Ironically, my spike in baseball interest and the reshaping of how I utilize time has seen a severe dip in my willingness to watch the Mets on television. That’s part of my trying to spend more time involved with things I where have at least a negligible modicum of control.

There is a growing and ominous disconnect between the Mets and their fan base. When it comes to cheering for the Mets, over and over again, Met fans are made to feel as if they have no control over the direction of their team.

As a former public school administrator, I always felt credibility was determined by how narrow you could keep the gap between what you said you would do and what you actually did. A huge part of your success as a school leader was shaping a common vision that charted where the organization was going and how you planned to move it there. That vision wasn’t exclusive to the folks who worked in the school. To realize your best results you had to get buy-in from the school board, the parents, the business leaders, the taxpayers and beyond. To some extent similar parameters govern running a baseball franchise.

That kind of credibility seems to be poorly lacking with the Mets. We’re told again and again, the Mets are under no financial restrictions, that ownership has weathered the Madoff financial crisis, and Sandy Alderson is free to make the decisions needed to field a competitive baseball team. Then the Mets actual roster expenditures fall in or near the lower third of all teams in baseball.

Credibility, the gap between what you say and what you do.

When the 2013 season ends we are told publicly by management that we sorely need upgrades at different positions on the roster, with shortstop and first base topping their list of priorities.

Yet, come April we opened a new season with the exact same personnel we closed the 2013 season with at both positions. Even when Stephen Drew was and still is available to play shortstop, and when for bucks and not prospects we could have made a play to sign Jose Abreu.

Credibility, the gap between what you say and what you do.

For four years, we’ve watched the Mets slowly and laboriously rebuild their team with a strong emphasis on developing pitching. Most Met fans are on board with that line of thinking and excited to see just where this rebuild leads. Yet, most Met fans understand that teams built around good pitching demand teams built around solid defense.

juan lagares Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Then, almost out of nowhere, a kid named Juan Lagares falls in our lap from our own player development system.

Lagares quickly establishes himself as one of the best defensive outfielders in all of professional baseball. And, the kid starts the current 2014 campaign with a batting average some 60 points higher than any of our other outfielders. Yet, at the start of four of our last five games Lagares is awarded with a spot on the bench.

“Juan is our center fielder. His defense is something we need very much. But, right now, even though I’m a big believer in defense and the importance of defense, we’re not scoring, says the Met manager Terry Collins when explaining why he is not playing his center fielder.

Credibility, the gap between what you say and what you do.

As a Met fan, against that backdrop, you have almost no control to shape the forward movement of the team you love. But, your decisions about what you do with your time is entirely under you’re control. Proof of that fact were the SNY television ratings when Matt Harvey started games for the Mets last season. Those ratings spiked every time the young Met pitching phenom took the mound.

So, as I prepared to watch yet, another Met game this week and discovered Juan Lagares was not in the starting line-up, I had to make a decision on how to use my time. To help guide that decision, I’ve inserted my own viewing litmus test. If I turn on the Met game only to learn Juan Lagares is not in the starting line-up, I now turn off the television set.

Even an elementary knowledge of the game tells me in not choosing to play Lagares the Mets, as they are currently constructed, are forfeiting their best opportunity to win that game.

I don’t care what they told Chris Young when they signed him. He’s earning $7.5 million dollars for one year. That’s reward enough for being a Met. I don’t care what we’re paying Curtis Granderson. I love the Grandy Man and root hard for him every day. But so, far this season he is no Juan Lagares. And, I don’t care how fast Eric Young Jr. runs or what streaky energy he brings to the top of the lineup. It’s a simple formula. Play Juan Lagares or I don’t watch.

Snapping off the television does not mean I’ve given up on the Mets. I’ll be hoping the Mets do well and checking in to SNY before I head to bed to see how they fared. It only means I’ve made a better decision of how to limit my stress and spend my available time rather than try to lumber through another Met game when we fail to maximize the best of our available resources. I’ll choose to momentarily direct my passion and energy to something that has a bigger impact and I have at least a modicum of control.

By, the way. Discovering Lagares was once again on the bench and snapping off the Mets, gave me time this week to read John Grisham’s baseball novel, “Calico Joe.” What a great read. Met fans will love it.

Grisham sets his story in 1973 in the midst of a National League East pennant chase between our New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs. The story is not historically accurate but is told with enough baseball authenticity and with a powerful an emotional plot line that held my attention from first page to last. In fact, in an interview about his book, Grisham said all baseball stories have to be sad, stories about unfilled potential and broken dreams, stories with will break your heart. “Calico Joe” hammered mine.

Grisham’s story is told by the son of a fictional starting pitcher in the 1973 Met rotation, Warren Tracey, a veteran journeyman who joins Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, George Stone and Jon Matlack. Warren Tracey is a man with problems, a hard to like guy with issues that stretch beyond a Shea Stadium pitching mound.

And, Grisham introduces readers to a fictional Cub rookie they won’t soon forget, Joe Castle, a baseball force of the sort unique to the grand old game. The story revolves around the intersection of life story’s between the three; major league father, his son, and rookie outfield sensation the son adores.

In case you‘ve never read the book, I won’t say more. I don’t want to spoil the fun It’s a riveting read, a soon to be movie and proof positive that, for me, a day without Juan Lagares in the Met lineup can be become a day without Met baseball, yet, a rich and meaningful baseball day all the same. The choice is yours.

MMO

About the Author ()

MMO Minor League Analyst John Bernhardt is a retired public school teacher and administrator, who still coaches high school baseball. Growing up in a Yankees household, Bernhardt was an ardent Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra fan. When the Yankees fired Yogi in his first season as the Bomber manager, curiosity turned to passion when the Mets signed Berra as a player/coach and he has pulled for the Mets ever since. In retirement, John writes the sports for a local weekly, The Catskill Mountain News and hosts Tip-Off, a Friday morning sports hour, from 8:00-9:00 on WIOX, 91.3 F.M.