Back in the 90s, the Olive Garden restaurant chain ran commercials featuring the Italian word "abbondanza." Translated to English, the word means plenty. For Olive Garden, the philosophy seemed to be, "sure, the food is inauthentic and mediocre at best, but we serve you a lot of it!" They even had a dish dubbed "Chicken Pasta Abbondanza." I ate at an Olive Garden once in my life, and that was only because it was the favorite restaurant of the family of a young lady who I was quite smitten with. I'm sure my beloved Italian grandmother rolled over in her grave over my blasphemous transgression, but that young lady more than made it up to me later that night. Priorities, you know?
Olive Garden has moved on to new slogans, but the spirit of "Abbondanza!" lives on in the borough of Queens and the neighborhood of Flushing. Are you disappointed that your ace pitcher has fled to the southwest without even offering up a half-sincere goodbye message? Fear not, because in the land of "Abbondanza!" he'll be quickly replaced by a future Hall of Famer who is still driven to be the best. Steve Cohen has continued to show a willingness to invest in players and the infrastructure of his organization in a way that I still struggle a bit to get used to.
After all, it hasn't been all that long since the old days. You remember them, right? You'd eat those couple of spoonfuls of weak gruel you were served. Still desperately hungry, you'd leave the table with your empty porridge bowl in hand, shuffle over to Fred and Jeff standing at the front of the room, and plead, "please, sir, I want some more." Inevitably you left disappointed. The Wilpons didn't do "Abbondanza!"
When I heard the news that the Mets had signed Justin Verlander mere days after Jacob deGrom's shocking exit, I realized that the bad old days were just a memory. But what a wretched, loathsome memory it was. My mind flashed back to the winter of 2010-2011, just after Sandy Alderson had been hired as the Mets' GM. Reportedly, Alderson didn't realize how bad the club's finances really were until he took on the job.
Tasked with trying to build a competitor after the Mets had fallen to a sub-500 team in the last two years of Omar Minaya's stewardship, Alderson was hardly given carte blanche to fix what ailed that club. In that first winter, the free agent signings were Boof Bonser, Taylor Buchholz, Chris Capuano, Taylor Tankersley, Willie Harris, Scott Hairston, Tim Byrdak, Jason Isringhausen, and some doofus named Chris, who's now the GM of that club that just signed deGrom (no bitterness here). When Sandy trudged up to the club's owners with that empty bowl in hand, he walked away with no "Abbondanza!" to sate his hunger. All he was given was thin gruel and a firm command not to come back. It would take five more seasons for the Mets to post a winning record.
For as much as all of that deeply sucked, that's what I've been used to as a Mets fan for so long. It almost feels wrong to receive so much these days. Almost — but I'm getting used to it. At Steve Cohen's restaurant, the food is not only abundant, but it's also gourmet quality. When Billy Eppler walks up front with that bowl in his hand, he never leaves unsatisfied. Hard to complain about the new Mets reality, even if complaining is part of the DNA of baseball fans.
Nothing is a given in baseball. It's a challenge to keep any players healthy, much less older players with a lot of mileage on them. Eppler and his front office still have a lot of work ahead of them. They not only have to fill out this roster, but they have to continue the behind-the-scene changes that are transforming this organization from mediocre to one that will someday be able to contend with more than just Steve Cohen's checkbook. But, until that system can provide substantial fuel for the major league roster, it's great that no one has to leave the table unsatisfied. "Abbondanza!", indeed.
Please be well and take care.
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