jazz, movies and, of course, baseball.
And so spring and Spring Training could not come too soon.
Cue the Ken Burns music and read the next paragraph in a deep baritone voiceover.
Spring training, like spring itself, is a time of renewal and rebirth; a time when even the lowliest team has hope for the season ahead. Critical trades over the winter have bolstered the team's weaknesses. Players coming off injury-plagued seasons are returning in the best shape of their careers. Hitters have corrected the flaws in their swing and pitchers have discovered devastating new pitches.
It may be hackneyed and trite, but I buy it every year.
As a Met fan, for most of the last decade or three, after enduring yet another dismal season filled with heartbreaking losses, underachieving performances, devastating injuries, and mind-boggling player moves or non-moves, I would nevertheless approach Spring Training with a naïve optimism that would endure at least until Opening Day.
I would then delude myself through much of a hopeless baseball season that my team could pull it together and make a run for the playoffs down the stretch. I refused to face reality until sometime in August, when forced to accept the inevitability of a losing season, I would be stuck watching a team play uninspiring baseball for the last month or so, with little to root for other than spoiling another team's playoff run and the individual achievements of favorite players. With a team going nowhere, much of the luster and lyricism of the game was lost -- at least until the spring, when it all began again.
But the last couple of years have been different. I experienced how beautiful baseball can be when one's team is having a good year, when you get to revel in tension-filled, meaningful games in September, followed by the glorious excitement of the post-season. In 2015, after seven straight years with a losing record, preceded by two historic collapses, which were themselves preceded by a heartbreaking playoff loss and countless other frustrating seasons, the New York Mets made it to the World Series, transforming what looked to be another dismal year of mediocrity into a joyful one filled with magical, unforgettable moments. Last year, burdened with high expectations, the Mets came down to earth but they still managed to make it to the Wild Card game.
The Mets return with pretty much the same team that didn't quite have it last year. There is reason for skepticism but no room for it in springtime. And so at least for now, the fragile arms of the hard-throwing corps of incredible young pitchers are healed. Travis D'Arnaud, a promising catcher who lost his swing and knocked in an anemic 15 runs all year has a new batting stance. Jay Bruce, the Reds slugger who was leading the league in RBIs when he was traded to the Mets in August only to fall victim to the all-too-common Mets Transition Disease is back (because the Mets couldn't find a trade partner) and ready to rumble. David Wright, the all-time Met great, who missed most of the last two season to injury and has a chronic spinal condition, is in great shape. And there's Yoenis Cespedes, literally a game-changer, who is sure to live up to the hype and the big money the Mets notoriously penny-wise owners uncharacteristically coughed up to sign him.
If the younger players step up and the older players hang on, if the pitchers continue to blow away hitters and the manager doesn't blow a gasket, and if Yo plays like Yo can play, the Mets could have another magical year.
As for the fate of the country? If we protest, organize and mobilize, and if we continue to protect our precious institutions, as the late, great Joaquin Andujar described both America and baseball "in one word: you never know."