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Hope is in the air as Mets meet in Florida

metslogo051910_optBY FRANK VERDE
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY

A father and son go into a movie theater. The father is wearing a Mets sweat shirt. At the concession stand, a clerk tells the one serving them, “Don’t take that man’s money, he’s a Mets fan. He’s already suffered enough.”

What’s a Mets fan to do? Besides grab the popcorn and skulk away, I mean.

Just grin and bear it, the man tells his son. Just grin and bear it.

These are tough times for Mets fans, with hard days and nights ahead. But today is not one of those days. Today is a good day; one of the best, actually.

Pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., today. Johan Santana, the injured ace, has been there for a while already. He’s working hard to be ready for opening day after missing the entire 2011 season.

On Friday, Santana threw off the mound for the first time since late September. Twenty-five pitches later, he reported being able to throw all his pitches and feeling fine afterward. Manager Terry Collins, a very interested bystander, was impressed by Santana’s command and called it “a huge first step for us.”

I’ve got a feeling there will be more “first steps” this season. Some might even call them “baby steps.”

Matt Harvey, the Mets’ top pick in the 2010 draft, and Zack Wheeler, acquired from the Giants in the Carlos Beltran deal, are the team’s best pitching prospects. The club has said it’s unlikely that either will make their major league debut this season, but you never know.

It has been said that fans in this market will never support a team that is in rebuilding mode, so much so that club executives avoid using the “R” word at any cost.

I’ve never understood that line of thought. If your club has sunk so low that rebuilding becomes the best alternative, then let’s get started. But do it right.

Fans just need a couple of things to keep their interest. First, give them a young team that busts its butt for nine innings. Second, make them believe that there is some glimmer of hope ahead. If a club can do these two things while rebuilding, a trip to the ballpark will remain worthwhile.

The core fans will always be there. The Mets’ bandwagon fans jumped off long ago; they’ll be back later. Now it’s about the ones who fall in the middle. While their loyalties remain with the Mets, their dollars may not. They could elect to stay closer to home and find alternatives for their entertainment dollars. Television ratings may drop, too.

That’s the side of rebuilding that strikes fear into sports executives. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Put a team on the field that plays like its baseball life is at stake. Then back it up by sending down or shipping out the first player not to run out a groundball or loaf after a ball in the outfield. Play an aggressive brand of baseball that forgives errors made out of youthful exuberance – as long as the offenders learn from their mistakes. Send a message to the players and the fans will respond.

The second part of the equation is not as simple, but it’s nearly as important.

If Harvey and Wheeler show that they can get minor-league hitters out consistently, then challenge them. Bring them to Citi Field and don’t be afraid to let them take their lumps. Allow them to figure it out for themselves under the watchful eye of your major-league staff.

Show everyone that hope is on the way.

Beltran was the first to go, if you don’t count Carlos Delgado.

Jose Reyes was not re-signed.

There’s talk that David Wright could be traded if the price is right.

And that’s the way it should be. If the Mets believe that two or three prospects would present more value than Wright does now, then they should do what’s best for the club.

Whatever it takes. Spring will be here soon. It’s a time of rebirth, a time of hope.

Everyone should have hope. Even Mets fans.

Frank Verde’s website frankverde.com features his sports blog and information about his current and soon to arrive e-books. He is the author of the family saga “One Christmas Knight,” detective mystery “Devil’s Hollow” and children's adventure tale "Star Camp," now available at amazon.com.

 

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