I want you dig deep into the recesses of your mind. Remember what it was like to watch a team develop in front of your eyes from a heap of trash in 2004 into the powerhouse of the National League, tearing apart any team who stood in its way nearly from wire to wire in 2006. If you've been paying attention over the past five seasons now, you have realized that that team has seemingly disintegrated into the swirling cloud of turmoil and pessimism that we currently know to be our beloved New York Mets. I don't know about you, but I find the constant negativity surrounding the team to be exhausting. Day after day, reading about the #LOLMets' greatest hits from beat writers and bloggers alike has become grating. You probably could recite every joke delivered by the amateur comedians of the fanbase by heart now. And yet, there's nothing you can do about it until the circumstances change. Where can a Mets fan go to find something positive? To find something to be optimistic about?
In the movie Happy Gilmore, the title character (played by Adam Sandler) is a failing amateur hockey player with a crazy streak who discovers almost by accident that he may have a career in golf, due to an incredible ability to hit the ball really, really far. After a chance meeting with golf teacher Chubbs Peterson (played by Carl Weathers), Happy reluctantly joins the professional golf tour in order to raise money to buy back his grandmothers' house, from which she is being evicted. While tutoring Happy for the tour, Peterson instructs Gilmore to "Find His Happy Place", a technique that's supposed to help him relax on the green. After initially working, the stresses of the tour (namely Chubbs' untimely death and rival Shooter McGavin calling a friend to hit Happy with a Volkswagen) catch up with Happy and as such, his "Happy Place" becomes tainted. At this point, I equate the Met fan's plight to being stuck in the "tainted Happy Place".
As another long, mostly deflating year for Mets fans comes to an end in a matter of mere hours, let's find our own Mets' Happy Place. And not a tainted, pessimistic one. A place of optimism and happiness. Sure, the outlook for 2012 may seem bleak at the moment, both based on the makeup of the team that will grace Citi Field with its presence 81 times, as well as the four division rivals that the Mets will face 18 times. But let's face it: there's a lot for Mets fans to appreciate and look forward to as we head into 2012 and life just isn't fun when we're negative all of the time. Here are some bulletpoints, that would be a part of my own personal 2012 New York Mets Happy Place:
A Smart, Competent Front Office
This, first and foremost, is why I'm optimistic about the future. As bad as this team's ownership is, may have been, has been and may very will be in the future, we finally have a front office that has a clue with regards to building a team. They know how to build a big league organization and they realize that stabilizing the foundation is the most important part of the process. A house built on a crumbling foundation is not a house but instead, a death trap ready to cave in at any moment. We've seen prior regimes have the house crumble on top of them and it's not pretty. This regime is going to build up a minor league system stocked with talent, they're going to take calculated risks on minor and major leaguers alike and they're going to ride out the storm with the big league club until the ownership situation is settled (or until the farm system begins bearing fruit). Will it take time? Of course it will. Undoing the damage of prior regimes is a tough task but when the cream begins to rise to the top, there's a great chance it'll be worth it.
Young Talent (In the Majors and In the Minors) + High Draft Picks
Directly connected to the abilities of the front office is the amount young talent the Mets currently have in the majors and reaching the upper levels of the minor leagues. Remnants of the prior regime such as Ike Davis, Jon Niese, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada, among others, have begun to form a young core of solid regular types who could be average to above average big league contributors at their positions. Are these players stars? Probably not, unless somebody takes a huge leap forward. But good teams need to have solid regulars to support the stars. Without the solid regulars, you end up in a scenario the Mets were all too familiar with in 2007 and 2008. Most important of all, is the fact that young players can and often do improve. As Mets fans we've been in the spot where an old player suddenly craps out after years of productivity for another team. With young talent, there's a much better chance to be positively surprised as players develop and reach their peak seasons.
So where do the stars come from, you ask? Some are hopefully already in the minors and you likely know who they are. But the Mets certainly don't have all future holes filled. That's where trades and high draft picks will come in. I always find the double standard kind of funny that people want young, talented players but when it comes to the draft, the best way to accumulate young, high level talent, they talk about it like the plague. "Hush hush! We can't talk about that! Talking about the draft is a loser mentality! Who wants to wait for prospects, anyway?". Obviously, the ultimate goal is to win a lot of games. However, some years it's just not going to happen. Landing a high draft pick is a nice consolation to a losing season, especially when you're lucky enough to land a franchise anchor. Is the draft a crapshoot? Of course it is. Many guys don't work out. But if they do, the payout is enormous. I'm sure the fans of the Colorado Rockies were disappointed to finish with the seventh worst record in baseball in 2004. At the same time, I'm sure they're pretty happy now to have a stud like '05 7th overall pick Troy Tulowitzki starting at shortstop for them for the foreseeable future. The same with Justin Verlander and the Tigers, Ryan Braun and the Brewers, the Giants with Tim Lincecum, among others. It takes great scouting and it takes a lot of luck and a little patience but the potential dividends if a team hits on a blue chip prospect are huge.
I'm very confident that our front office will do an excellent job in improving this area over the next year and beyond.
Sir Robert Allen Dickey & David Wright
Oh that's right. We've still got big league ballplayers. Jose Reyes may be wearing a rainbow colored hat for the next six years, but we've still got R.A. Dickey and David Wright to watch and enjoy. As we all know, Dickey is an awesome story. A 35 year old journeyman pitcher who had picked up the knuckleball in a last ditch attempt to save his fledgling career, he defied the odds to not only make big league starts with the Mets but to pitch well enough to garner a multi-year contract extension. He also gained the distinction of being the best pitcher on the staff and a leader in the clubhouse. Aside from that, I think we all know about Dickey's other attributes: his well thought-out answers to media questions, his love of reading, writing and Star Wars, the fact that he's climbing a mountain in the offseason and of course, his famous Dickey Face. All in all, R.A. Dickey is a pleasure to watch and easily deserves a spot in my Mets' Happy Place.
Who could forget David Wright. The past three seasons have been disappointing for his standards, which translates to merely average as opposed to the Hall of Fame track he was on from 2005-08. But David Wright is the Mets' homegrown face of the franchise. The bonafide offensive star this organization had never developed. I have hope that we will see a resurgence from him in 2012 and once the financial issues are straightened out, we will see David locked up for years to come (and eventually see #5 immortalized on the left field wall next along with "14", "37", "41", "42" and "Shea" (and "31")).
Gary, Keith and Ron (and Ralph, too!)
This one doesn't really fit the optimism category but Gary, Keith and Ron do make me happy. Though we sometimes cringe at Gary's viewpoints on advanced stats and steroids, the trio is most often a joy to listen to as they are informative and genuinely funny. They are easily one of the top booths in the game. We don't know what the team on the field will look like but Gary, Keith and Ron are always consistent and they do a great job making every broadcast worthwhile, even when the game on the field is less so.
Finally, we come to the home of the Mets, Citi Field. The stadium seems to take a lot of undeserved flack from Mets fans, mainly due to the fact that the Wilpons seemingly "forgot" to put Mets stuff in it upon opening in 2009 and that the front of it slightly resembles Ebbets Field and leads into the Jackie Robinson rotunda. If those are your big issues, I think you're grasping at straws. Citi Field is a beautiful, charming ballpark with (mostly) excellent sight lines, plenty of places to walk and a lot to look at. Compared to the tackiness of Shea Stadium, Citi Field is a paradise. People don't seem to appreciate what they have with this stadium, which is unfortunate. It's a beauty and one of the few things the Wilpons have gotten right (ignoring the dimensions and the lack of Mets stuff, which honestly wasn't an issue for me anyway and has since been remedied).
So that's my Mets' Happy Place. What else do we have to look forward to in 2012? Go ahead and add positive things in the comments below (and please, no negativity allowed. This is a post intended for blind optimism and some emotional rehabilitation for our bludgeoned fanbase). And of course, Happy New Year and Let's Go Mets!