By Dana Brand
Right now, in blogs and in columns, people are analyzing the upcoming season in the way that cable news analysts cover a political election. Baseball is being treated as if it were a horse race, a game, a mere competition between entities whose real and potential strengths and weaknesses can be analyzed 24 hours a day for the entertainment of everyone who is addicted to following its swings and reversals and triumphs and collapses and blunders and all the rest of it.
But just as politics is more than a game, we all know that baseball is more than a game. Every once in a while something like Senator Obama's recent speech on race reminds us that we're not watching a game, we're watching history. Baseball is history too. Like "real" history, it is a personal and communal narrative that involves our deepest emotions, our senses of ourselves and our world, our loyalties, prejudices, fears, and dreams. I want to try to step back for a moment and see if I can talk about the upcoming season with this in mind, without giving you my sense of the strength of our lineup or our starting rotation. Anything I said about that would just come from reading what other people have written anyway.
I am worried. I am fearful. Not about the Mets themselves. As far as I can tell, they're the best team in the National League. I'm worried about whether or not we are actually going to be able to enjoy this season.
In baseball as in history, context is everything. All baseball fans can really ask of a season is a "good rooting situation" and whether a situation is good or not depends entirely on context. 1984, 1997, and 2005 were not the most successful Mets seasons, but they were great rooting situations. After years of misery, an exciting and sympathetic team was performing above our expectations. The Mets won more games in 1987 than they did in 1984, but which season was more fun? The Mets won more games in 2007 than they did in 2005, but which season was more fun? It's all context, it's all in what you expect. Every new season is expected to complete the story of the previous couple of seasons. In a good way. Think about this. After 2006 and after 2007, what could possibly make you happy?
We all have different answers to this question, but here is a big part of the problem. Will you be happy to just make it to the postseason? How will you react if it looks, at ANY POINT in the coming season, that we may not? Will you cheer on this great bunch of guys to show that you have faith that they will make it, with our support? Or has your faith been so abused by what happened last season that you will boo or just stay home? I won't boo. I think that making it to the postseason is enough of an accomplishment in any season and can be expected to be difficult in all seasons. But as others are booing around me, I am going to be terribly torn. I will want to leap out of my seat and strangle my fellow fans. Yet I will know exactly where they are coming from. The same bile will churn in my stomach and the same screech of pain will rise from my gut, only to be stopped by the clenching of my teeth.
Well, let's say we win the division. Will you be satisfied with any postseason that does not at least take us further than we got in 2006? Hell, will you be satisfied with any postseason that does not take us further than we got in 2000? I've already said that I'll be satisfied with any postseason. But if you're not, and if I understand perfectly well why you're not, am I going to have to deal with the moral dilemma of wanting to strangle you again? As a way of wanting to strangle myself?
Brothers and sisters, this is not good. I wish I could say, on the verge of what I hope will be a happy and redemptive season that I am pumped and psyched and all that. I am. But I want to get it out on the table that I fear that 2006 and 2007 have done a real number on our heads. I'm not even talking about 2000 and everything that followed it, and well, maybe even 1973 and everything that followed it, or 1962 and everything - oh, forget it. I think that the Mets have a real good chance to have a really successful season this year. But I don't know what the chances are that we are going to have fun.
Dana Brand's book Mets Fan is out and available from Amazon and other booksellers as well. For more information, see metsfanbook.com.