Despite no longer having any papers to put off writing, or any tests to put off studying for, I’ve still been re-reading Now I Can Die In Peace by Bill Simmons. The book was a collection of Red Sox related columns written by Simmons from around 1998 until after they won the World Series in 2004. Last night I opened it up to where I left off and found that I was reading emails that were sent to Simmons by fans after Aaron Boone’s home run in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. When I first read the book at the end of 2005 these emails had no affect on me, but now, they make me think; they make me think of Game Seven in the 2006 NLCS when the Mets lost to the Cardinals.
Obviously the magnitude of these games was significantly different. The long-suffering Red Sox, finally thinking they would overcome the Yankees, only to have their manager ruin it for them. What really caught my attention was in his next column, when he talked about how there was a weird vibe of optimism in Boston that winter, coming after their worst heartbreak yet. He described the optimism coming after the team acquired Curt Schilling, and thinking, this team is coming back next year, we should have beaten the Yankees, we can beat the Yankees, next year we will actually beat the Yankees. Then I saw another email from a reader, talking about how after Game Seven he saw a group of 17 year olds totally in shock, with a “this was our year, how could this happen” look on their face. That email seemed way to have too many personal connections with me.
Those 17 year olds were me in 2006. I was 17 years old in October of 2006; I watched that team all season long, that team took over life to the point that one of my Mets fan teachers re-scheduled a test because it would have been the night after Game Two of the World Series. You know, because there was no reason not to expect the Mets in the World Series. We were the best, we dominated every team we played against. This was our year. We were by far the best team in the National League, the Yankees were having a down year (though somehow managed to finish with the same record as us), the World Series representative for the American League were the used to be awful Detroit Tigers. How could we not win the World Series?
It was literally a state of shock that fell over me after Game Seven. How could we lose? But later, I felt that same sense of optimism come over me though, we were the best this year, and were going to be even better next year. We would be back to win it next year.
Fast-forward to 2010, where we can look back on back to back September collapses, followed by a disastrous season in 2009, and then to now, where my tipping point has finally been reached. They say in Baseball that when you lay the foundation for a team that team has five years to win a championship. Well the foundation was laid in 2005, which is why in 2010 it is time for the Mets to blow this thing up and start over. The problem is they in no way can build another contender like that 2006 team.
2006 was the coming of a perfect storm for the Mets. They had Jose Reyes who was finally healthy, ready to be healthy for a full season. They had David Wright, about to enter his third season in the big leagues and was ready to make “the leap.” Furthermore they put the other pieces in place, a great center fielder in Carlos Beltran ready to prove something, and a new power hitting first baseman. We keep entering a new season thinking this year we’ll get back to the way we were in 2006, but really Reyes, Wright, and Pedro Feliciano are the only people who are playing now that played for the Mets in 2006. (There are two others that pitched for that team that are still with the Mets now, John Maine and Oliver Perez. Look at how that has turned out for the Mets).Gone are the ever important role players, guys like Cliff Floyd, who took David Wright under his wing as a rookie, and Jose Valentine who mentored Jose Reyes.
The 2006 Mets were made up of a core group of players as well as veteran role players who you knew what you were going to get from them. Paul Lo Duca behind the plate, you knew he would work the count and let Reyes steal bases and get into scoring position, something that was incredibly valuable for those Mets. Now we have Luis Castillo bunting Reyes over to second. Steve Trachsel was our #3 starter, you knew he would take forever to pitch and would give up a lot of runs, but knowing this, he got run support, and led the team in wins that year. The Mets were lead by a young core who in their early years were being mentioned in the same sentence as the words “Hall of Fame.” Now the Mets are lead by a core that people question if they will ever be good enough, surrounded by a bunch of question marks. The moment has passed this team. There is no more “we’ll be back next year” feeling like the 2003 Red Sox had, there is no “wait till next year” cry that was made famous with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the late 40’s and early 50’s. The team needs to be completely rebuilt.
This is not an easy task; there is no Jose Reyes or David Wright waiting in the wings. There is no third year potential superstar ready to make the “leap.” Look at where the team is where this team is now, and lets look ahead by two years. Ike Davis will be a third year player ready to make “the leap,” but who will be around him. Reyes and Wright will be at the tail end of their prime, there will be no more Beltran, Johan Santana will be near the end of his contract and that’s working on the assumption that he doesn’t kill himself for never getting any run support or killing the Mets bullpen for being unable to hold a lead for him. Jason Bay will be old and not able to hit the ball out of CitiField as opposed to the Jason Bay of today who can’t hit the ball out of CitiField.
When I read the Red Sox fan reaction after 2003 I compared it to my reaction after 2006. However I then came to realize that those fans were rewarded with a World Series win the following year, but for me, I realized it would be much worse. There was no next year for the Mets, or the year after, and now it will be a long time. The Mets are battling mediocrity this year in a very mediocre National League, but they are unable to pull away. Furthermore in the years coming there is really nothing bright to look foreword too. The Mets will continue to float around mediocrity for years to come, and that chance to win the World Series has come and gone for the foreseeable future.