“Ya gotta believe”.
Tug McGraw, former Mets pitcher introduced that now famous slogan which has become as recognizable to Mets fans as the colors blue and orange, have never really rang so true until this afternoon.
It was this afternoon that The New York Mets and pitcher Johan Santana finalized a record breaking 7 year, $150.75 million dollar package which will keep him in Flushing until 2014. The process was stressful for all Mets fans, mainly because anybody who has spent a significant amount of time rooting for the Mets knows that it’s only matter of time until that proverbial ‘other shoe’ drops. The Mets haven’t won a World Championship since 1986 (ironically enough the year before I was born) and since then, for better or worse, that other shoe has already dropped.
However today, for the first time since I’ve been following the team, there is a sense of hope and a sense of potential I’ve never experienced.
Flash back to last September, when the Mets sat with a 7 game lead in the division with only 17 games left to play. It was essentially a foregone conclusion that the Mets were going be playing post season baseball, the only question was whether or not they would be able to take it a step further than the previous season, which ended with a game 7 loss at home to the eventual World Series Champion Cardinals.
However the next 17 games made those final 3 weeks feel like an eternity. Game after game, loss after loss, the feeling worsened to the point where I lost faith in them before it even came down to that fateful final Sunday against Florida.
Each loss somehow managed to be worse and more heartbreaking than the loss before it, as the team from top to bottom seemed to collectively break down and stumble to the finish line.
Of course we all remember how things finally ended, with 300 game winner and future hall of famer Tom Glavine on the mound with a chance to at the least force a one game playoff game with a Mets win. However Tom was unable to escape the first inning, and 7 runs later, the Mets were going home, their fans were left devastated and management left to figure out a way to pick up the pieces.
I stayed quiet once I started my blog when it came to the Mets. After the collapse and with the way the season ended, I had gotten to a point where I felt let down for the last time. I took all of my jerseys and hats and clothes and put them away, hoping they would disappear. Thats how down I was, and thats how little I cared about my favorite baseball team.
Into the off-season, I tired to forget about them. I concentrated on football and basketball and just about anything else going on in the world to keep the Mets off my mind.
Normally I start getting excited for the upcoming season and spring training before the new year, however after the Mets did I was in no rush to start another baseball season I was at the time certain would end in some form of failure.
After some initial flirting with the idea of trading for him, the Mets seemed to be nothing more than bait the Twins were using to lure the big fish that are the Yankees and Red Sox into the bidding for the superstar southpaw.
Having grown up with the Yankees dominating nearly ever facet of my sports upbringing to this point, I was expecting it was merely a matter of time before Johan Santana would be donning Pinstripes. And if by some crazy chance they couldn’t get a deal done, the defending champs in Boston would snag him.
I don’t know why, but I was causally roaming the internet and I went to see if there any Mets rumors floating around (this was probably in early January) and I saw a report that said Mets management was still hopeful that they would have a chance to land Santana. I had heard rumors during the winter meetings in December, but when nothing materialized, I figured the Mets were going to move on and look elsewhere for help.
However things started to heat up a bit as the month went on, and 2 weeks ago the rumors picked up some steam, and so the optimist inside of me which I usually do a great job of suppressing got excited at the idea that maybe, someway somehow the Mets were going to shock the world and acquire Santana.
Finally, last weekend I was talking to some people and reading stuff online when it started to be clear the Mets were now not only a player in the bidding for Johan, but were the favorites to land him. I had to hold myself back from really getting excited because this is the New York Mets we’re talking about. Good things don’t happen to this team. When something potentially good happens or comes along, something twice as bad usually follows. We make the playoffs- great. We then lose, in the World Series, at home, to of all teams, the Yankees.
We finally win the division from Atlanta. Awesome. We then go on to lose game 7, at home, to a far inferior St. Louis ball club.
It was never a question of if, but when that other shoe was going to drop for Mets fans. And it always did.
That of course, was until today.
Tuesday, around 4:15 in the afternoon I was on Metsblog.com when the announcement first came out. The New York Mets had acquired Johan Santana for 4 prospects. The team has 72 hours to negotiate a contract extension to finalize the deal.
I had to pinch myself. I could not believe that my Mets, who had never given me anything but disappointment and heartbreak were finally stepping up to the plate and doing something about all the misery which has seemed to plague this franchise for more than 20 years now, even more if you exclude the 2 championship years and take into consideration the fact that this is the same franchsie which traded THE franchise (Tom Seaver), Nolan Ryan and to a slightly lesser degree Scott Kazmir in 3 of the more boneheaded moves in team history.
But now all that was standing in the way of adding the best pitcher on the planet to a ball club that desperately needed him was a contract extention, because Santana was set to become a free agent following the upcoming 2008 season.
In true Mets fashion, they made us sweat and wonder if the negotiations were going to collapse much the same way the team itself did at the end of last season.
However, after 74 hours (because 72 were not enough), Johan Santana, with his 2 Cy Young awards and golden left arm were headed to New York.
And despite my initial guesses, he wasn’t heading to that OTHER New York team. That’s right, I referred to THEM as the other New York team because even for a day, the Mets were able to accomplish something the Yankees had become so successful at over the last decade.
These sort of players usually found their way to the house that Ruth built. The Alex Rodriguez’s and Roger Clemens’ of the world. If you were a big name player and you were on your way out of town, the most likely destination on your suitcase was the Bronx.
Today, after passing his physical, Johan Santana is a New York Met.
I have not felt this much pure joy about anything sports related in a long, long time.
I know that this means nothing, because championships are not won in January. And for the last 20 years the Mets haven’t been able to win them in October.
But even more so then in 2006, when they were favored to at least represent the National League in the fall classic they were within a basehit of at least peeting expectations, yet as usual, fell short (and right before my eyes, as I was there).
Fact of the matter is, even though its still a good 2 months away from the start of the season, for the first time since I’ve been a Mets fan, the season will begin the expectations which have never been higher.
Getting to back to the playoffs is no longer the goal, nor is getting to the League Championship Series.
This year, with the team they have, the expectations are no less than a National League pennant, while it would be crazy to count the Mets out from contending for a championship.
The team was mediocre as of this morning, however with the addition of a front line Ace like Johan Santana, to go along with Pedro, El Duque, John Maine and Ollie Perez, the rotation is set.
The bullpen isn’t great but should be good enough.
The offense will score runs.
The pressure now rests solely on the shoulders of manager Willie Randolph, who some (myself included) felt should have been fired after the unacceptable end to last season.
Expectations and pressure aside, at the very least, Mets fans can start to leave the bad taste of last year behind us, as there is new, revitalized optimism surrounding a ballclub which went from pretender to contender, all thanks to the left arm of Johan Santana (not to mention the wallet of owner Fred Wilpon and the wheeling and deeling of GM Omar Minaya).
So while it’s still too early to make predictions or guarentees, there is one thing Mets fans can do and should do:
Ya gotta believe.
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