By Mike Steffanos
In 2006 the Mets won 50 games at Shea Stadium and 47 on the road en route to a 97 win season.
The following year, the Mets road record was 47-34 -- identical to the previous season. The difference between going to the playoffs and watching them at home was the 41-40 record at Shea.
Last year the Mets managed a 48-33 home record, which was certainly an improvement. Unfortunately, though, they only managed to win 7 of 15 September home games with the season on the line, and wound up out of the playoff hunt for a second straight season.
While other teams fatten up in their home ballpark, the Mets just don't thrive when they play before their own fans. The hope with the newly-opened Citi Field was that the phenomenon of struggling at home would have been left behind with the old ball park.
While I refuse to fall into the trap of making definitive judgments a week into the season, I have to admit that the Mets 6-5 loss to the Padres in their new home looked a lot like some of the desultory home losses I've witnessed over the past two seasons. One game into the Citi Field era, we once again wonder if the Mets will continue to underperform at home.
The Post's Joel Sherman had an interesting take on the atmosphere in Flushing in his Hardball blog:
I understand that Met fans are angry, particularly over how the past two seasons have ended, and it is possible that some of the fury is being further fanned by higher costs that come with watching a game in a new stadium. But it seems to me strange that so many would come to games to be so miserable so quickly and easily. There is a Legion of Gloom atmosphere that now pervades Met home games, as if near everyone in the place is just waiting for something bad to happen.
It felt last year at Shea that booing had become the in thing, and as if fans were trying to outdo one another by doing it earlier and earlier in games and with more bile. And now that seems to have come across the parking lot to Citi. Heck, I sensed that Daniel Murphy had become a quick fan favorite for being a homegrown player who obviously is working hard. Yet, after his dropped flyball Sunday in Florida helped cost a game, a bunch of fans greeted his first catch of a fly on Monday at Citi with mocking cheers. Is that really the way that Met fans want to tell one of their own how much they like and support him? Now the sarcastic applause was ultimately drowned out by what sounded like encouraging cheers, but this was not just one or two fans being drowned out. This was a large contingent who thought the right way to acknowledge Murphy was to mock him in the first-ever game at the Mets' new home.
There is a quick-trigger bitterness that now exists at Met home games that is part of their season, a kind of home-field disadvantage. The negativity is palpable. It feels like another obstacle to the Mets, and an obstacle that could become more and more oppressive as we head to, perhaps, another defining September.
Now we've covered the booing at home many times, and I don't feel like going into it again. Nobody's mind is going to be changed at this point, and the debate just becomes a tiresome rehashing of the same old bullet points. I go back to a time when the only reasons fans would boo one of their own was a perceived lack of effort, but I realize that time is long gone.
It's a fairly safe bet that there will be a significant minority of fans that will be booing at home games this season. They will be booing early and often, and will irretrievably affect the atmosphere in the ballpark because, as I have so often pointed out, those who are not booing make a lot less noise.
The only way to lighten up the atmosphere in the place would be for the Mets to perform well and win. You can argue that the negativity in the ballpark might work against that, but that's really beside the point. It is what it is.
I really do believe that the vast majority of the people who come to the ballpark, even some of those who are currently booing, would like nothing better than to cheer on a good team that played fundamentally sound, winning baseball. Certainly there is enough talent here for that.
I'm sure that the boos and the negativity bothers the players who, after all, are only human. I'm sure at times it makes it tough to perform -- particularly for a Luis Castillo or Oliver Perez who have a very short leash with the most vocal of the unhappy fans.
I think Sherman is dead on that the negativity is palpable and has become an obstacle to this team winning. However, since it's not going to go away until, paradoxically, the team does win, someone is going to have to find a way to turn lemons into lemonade.
The only way to do this, really, would be to embrace the challenge presented by this "home field disadvantage." Face the fact that it's not going to go away any time soon and get over it. Take an "us against them" mentality if you need to, maybe that makes the team a tighter bunch. Play better and the atmosphere will lighten.
Here's a few other suggestions:
Stop telling us in interviews that you have a "great team". (I have heard David Wright say this on several occasions.) You weren't great in 2006, but you were tough and resilient -- strive to be that again. Greatness is earned over time through success and hard work.
Taking tough at bats and working pitchers is a full-time commitment -- not just something you do when things are going well. At times when this team struggles offensively it looks like everyone is in a hurry to get back to the dugout. Successful teams work their offense even when things aren't going well, which is why they tend to come from behind time and time again. The Mets had that to a great extent in 2006, but not really since.
The Mets organization has made quite a few public relations blunders over the last couple of years that have magnified the fan base's dissatisfaction with the failures on the field. Why don't they just try actually acknowledging that some times? The club's philosophy seems to be that if they ignore everything negative that happens it will eventually go away. If I was them, I'd acknowledge that mistakes were made and make a small gesture every once in a while to win back some of the fans' goodwill.
Whatever we think of it, the atmosphere at the park will continue to be an obstacle to this team's success. Either they find a way past that obstacle this year or they will most certainly shed a manager, some coaches, more players and perhaps even some front office personnel. That's just how it is.