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2023 New York Mets - Season Preview

Welcome to a preview that finally defends a millionaire that doesn’t need it - Brodie Van Wagenen or BVW as he’s known on comment boards and Twitter feeds that follow the day to day in Blue and Orange that is New York Mets’ fandom.

Van Wagenen was Mets general manager from Oct. 2020 to Nov. 2022, overseeing the final days of a dying empire. One that we now can surmise had absolutely nothing in the bank when BVW moved a highly rated minor league outfielder and other pieces for the league’s top closer, a serviceable starting pitcher and a bad contractBVW and the Wilpon family, the last ownership group, had to know the team was moments away from a huge fall, but still needed to portray the vision of a professional sports franchise in the biggest market in the country.

Steve Cohen mentioned market size in his introductory press conference after purchasing the Mets in 2020. It’s a moment that has become Pandora and will never go back in the box.

"If there was ever one thing I'd like to get back, it's that one, OK," Cohen said. "But all kidding aside, there's nothing wrong with putting out really stretch goals, right? You may get there, you may not. But it's important to set goals that are high and then try to achieve them. If we get there, we get there, if not, we'll keep trying."

For those unaware of what the multi-billionaire is referring to, here’s the full quote from three years ago.

“If I don't win the World Series in the next 3-5 years, I’d like to make it sooner, I would consider that slightly disappointing.”

It’s disappointing that headlines are strategically shifting opinion since that quote has been used to turn the upcoming Mets’ season into an all-or-nothing delusion of the truth.

The ignored first sentence shows Cohen understands this is not an instant fix. That it could take five years and that if it can’t be done that soon, it would be ‘slightly disappointing.’ To avoid that disappointment, he’s spent countless dollars in places not mentioned loudly like minor league development, scouting and in-house talent.

However according to the recent news cycle, one wonders if his original quote was given by Montgomery Burns, playing with his fingers and laughing mercilessly.

Maybe it’s the formation of the Economic Reform Committee to offset the complaints of billionaires; headed by a Los Angeles Dodgers exec whose team did something similar in 2015. Or am I just afraid this group won't focus on the collapsing Regional Sports Network (RSN) issue and try to turn this into a discussion about market sizes and money being spent?

RSNs isn’t an issue in the Tri-State area since it’s been decades since the New York Yankees were on channel 11 WPIX and the Mets filled the channel 9 WWOR schedule. That’s when a wire hanger was enough to see your local team, and few could afford that expensive black cable cord.

Eventually, locals would need that cord for Cablevison and MSG, then YES and SNY. They are fully functioning RSNs that remain profitable. The same can’t be said for more than a dozen other entities around the country.

The probable bankruptcy of Rally Sports could mean Major League Baseball is forced to take over broadcasting those teams, making the MLB app populated with more games and fewer overall blackouts. That means little to those in Freehold or River Edge; but thousands west of the Mississippi River shouldn’t have to worry about ticket sales in Chicago, Kansas City or Houston to determine which game they can watch.

That’s the big issue that the Reform committee of billionaires is dealing with. Not the economic moves of one billionaire within their club of 30. If so, shouldn’t they take up arms against the owner of the San Diego Padres and his inflammatory words?

Here’s some actual inflammatory words - It’s shameful that media headlines can drive a wedge between the players and those willingly rooting for billionaires’ laundry; similar to plantation owners in the 19th century driving a wedge between their slaves and overseers, despite the latter two being much closer in everything across the board.

I may have crossed the line with that last paragraph, but that’s what I’m left with for a season preview after reviewing their positions. The Mets are coming off a 101-win season, swapped Cy Young Award winners, resigned the MLB batting champion and kept the heart of last year’s lineup, one that led the National League in batting average and hits.

Darin Ruf and the proverbial black hole that was the Designated Hitter (DH) and whichever catcher at the bottom of the lineup is one of the few questions without a legitimate and/or positive answer. Yet the preseason focus has been on Cohen, a member of the organization who will never take the field. Lazy television voices and commentors tend to mimic the quote from earlier, but cut it short to just 'win a World Series in three years.' Cohen’s stated goal is lofty and ambitious; but the truly American part is ignoring everything else said at that initial press conference.

Quotes like, “I’m not in this to be mediocre…New York fans have high expectations, and I want to exceed them.” And “You build champions, you don’t buy them. I don’t want to be good one year and bad three years. I want to be good every year.”

I used Major League as a foundation because it’s a feel-good movie that runs the same “underdog about face to the title” plot behind countless classic sports films. 

Buttermaker recruits an Academy Award winner selling maps to tourists and a juvenile delinquent to get the Bears good enough to face the Yankees in the league championship. The Rockford Peaches sober up manager Jimmy Dugan, survive after losing their top power hitter Marla Hooch to marriage bells and watch Dottie Henson, the league’s top catcher, lead the team to the Series, where they eventually face younger sister Kit Henson in Game 7.

The sobering fact from each film is our heroes lose. When Kit ignores a stop signal from the third-base coach and barrels home; Dottie drops the ball and Racine wins. After watching a grown man walk to the mound and strike his son in the middle of the game, Kelly Leak’s late inning bomb isn’t enough. And while Jake Taylor beats out the bunt and Willie Mays Hayes slides home to win the one-game playoff; that’s all it is. 

I’ll ignore the sequel and spin-offs to all three classics; but Major League II does emphasize that while last year’s team won the division; they lost in the ALCS to the White Sox. But since no one likes leaving the cinema without a smile; I’ll end my cinema/season comparison with a true classic filled with happiness - Dazed and Confused. 30 years ago; this ensemble cast full of memorable faces depicted the final day of school in 1976 suburban Texas. Not a parallel for the Mets’ players, but the perfect fit for the fan base in the form of Mitch Kramer, the long-haired 8th grader singled out by his sister and targeted for the rest of the film.

There are plenty of other eighth-graders on the field when Kramer finishes off a complete game victory and leaves via the right field exit to draw the seniors awaiting with their paddles. Are the Mets’ spending actions noticed because they play in the same city as the Yankees? Are teams and media pundits purposely not questioning the Texas Rangers and their richly paid and over-30 starting rotation?

The film features a city-legislated beating of middle schoolers with upperclassmen stopping a couple blocks away with a bullhorn, beating students in the school parking lot and driving pickups through the car wash with incoming freshmen in the back. All prompting one teacher to startle students with this quote.

"It's like our sergeant told us before one trip into the jungle. Men! Fifty of you are leaving on a mission. Twenty-five of you ain't coming back."

Mitch Kramer is never coming back. This is his come up, completing one of the greatest days of adolescence ever. It’s not just hanging out at the pool hall with a 20-year-old still sniffing around high schoolers. All right, all right, all right. Kramer sets up Fred O'Bannion, the fifth-year senior played by Ben Affleck, and gets paint dumped on him. He attends the impromptu party at the moonlight tower, gets ‘left behind’ and catches a ride with a female sophomore. The two watch the sun rise and despite getting caught by his mom upon returning home, Mitch falls into bed with nothing more than a threat for possible future punishments.

I’d almost forgotten the Mets’ stumble to start last year because starting the season with a healthy Jacob deGrom isn’t something a true Met fan ever counted on. It was a beating to start, but everything else after that went down smooth; like Mitch telling the convenience store clerk he’s 16 and buying a six-pack.

Yes, the 2022 Mets were swept in Atlanta in September and lost the NL East. Yes, they lost a heart-wrenching three-game series to the San Diego Padres in the opening round of the postseason. Yes, they didn’t sign Carlos Correa and yes, Cohen was famously quoted saying, “We needed one more hitter. This puts us over the top.”

Does it matter that he was time zones away in Hawaii when he said it? Or that he sounds like a fan who’s had a few too many during and after dinner? Guess what? It doesn’t make a difference because it didn’t happen. What did happen is every Met fan has gotten exactly what they’ve wanted for decades - an ownership group that’s as desperate for success as we are.

But we’re not billionaires; at least I’m not. I’m just hopeful for a Foghat summer like Mitch Kramer - taking it easy on a ‘Slow Ride’ where it’s starting to come together, Pepper. It’s starting to come together.

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