If portions of the Mets’ essence belong to its individual members, the soul should be divided equally between Terry Collins and the utility man Wilmer Flores. The former, a 66-year-old baseball lifer, has helmed three Major League teams for a total of 10 seasons, never reaching the postseason; the Mets’ current postseason drought stands at eight years, nearly a mirroring decade. The latter wept on the field one night in July, using his sleeve to dry his eyes so as not to disturb his glove, when he heard he was about to be traded. He had been a part of the Mets organization since he was 16 years old, when the team signed the young Venezuelan to a minor-league contract. The rumor turned out to be unfounded, or the trade rescinded, and Flores has since become a cult hero in Queens, the rare athlete whose care fans can be sure isn’t just a projection of their own.
Hanging over everything is the pall of persistent trouble, the cloudy skies that lend noble tales heft. One part of the trouble comes from lore—these are the Mets, after all, kid brothers to the dapper and well-funded club a borough over, seemingly fated to receive forever the bad breaks balancing the Yankees’ good fortune. Their champions dissolve instead of calcifying into dynasties; their fallow periods span decades. Another part of the trouble comes from that rough luck’s latest iteration. The Mets owner Fred Wilpon invested with Bernie Madoff a few years back; since then, his hamstrung ballclub has spent sparely. The young pitchers may soon age out of affordability, and there’s no telling if Céspedes, a free agent at year’s end, will receive enough of an offer to convince him to stay in New York.
With all this—the franchise’s financial straits, its sorry history, the knowledge that whatever gains are accrued this year may evaporate with the season’s final out—it would take a robotic temperament to resist viewing this season through the lens of narrative, to consider it anything other than evidence of baseball’s sub-statistical, human pulse. Successes, in the Mets’ current climate, seem to owe less to sheer compiled talent than to interplays of experience and optimism and gravity. Failures become sustenance, morsels of worldliness stocked for the next time around.
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Can Wright’s return homer, Céspedes’s timely line drives and heat-seeking throws, and Colón’s jolly dugout counseling signal anything other than the efficacy of this team’s mix of tabloid fervor, clubhouse guidance, youthful fearlessness, and hard-earned aspiration? Of course they can. The Mets’ run from afterthought to contender is unusual but, in the long history of professional baseball, hardly unprecedented. It fits neatly within the game’s tradition of aberration and has many of the common causes, for those looking for them. There were injuries and regression on the Nationals’ side; undervalued talent, timely acquisitions, and some fortuitous bounces on their own.