The Mets and Their Fans: Building a Bridge of Hope

You do not have to go far to hear Met fans moaning about their team and its inability to sign free-agent Vladimir Guerrero. Logon to any Mets message board, flip to a local New York talk radio station, or simply ask a fan on the street and you'll find, for the most part, that Mets fans are confused, scorned and upset.

A few weeks ago, however, Mets general manager Jim Duquette was being treated as a hero by his team's followers. He brought in fast, young, defense-minded ball players to adhere to the club's new philosophy, which the fans generally supported. The fans' confidence, that their team would be playing meaningful games in September of next season, was at an off-season high following the club's singing of Mike Cameron and Kaz Matsui.

Guerrero, one of the games premier young players and who Met fans were led to believe could come to Shea, then signed with Anaheim. Consequently, the fans confidence plummeted, leaving behind, in the eyes of the fans, a Mets opening day lineup full of old, unproven and one-trick-pony players with an inexperienced general manager and a cheap owner.

Duquette and the team's upper brass were forced to ask themselves: Will our fans ever be happy? In the few months since his promotion, Duquette has made tremendous strides in convincing his team's principal owner, Fred Wilpon, that the Mets must win a war being played on a baseball field within the National League Eastern Division. A goal vastly different from the small, daily battle with the New York Yankees being played on the back pages of the New York newspapers.

Duquette, however, has not converted the team's fans of this mindset. Until he does, his loyal but worn-down followers will continue to react with one eyebrow raised and half a smile, regardless of how energized he may be about his team's future. What Duquette and the Mets executives fail to feel is that every day Met fans must face ridicule from Yankees fans in their homes, on the streets, at their offices and in their schools.

Every day, Met fans must deal with the humiliation incurred since the final out of the 2000 World Series; a day which saw the Yankees celebrating a World Championship, at the hands of the Mets, on the grass at Shea Stadium. This humiliation has been compounded by the unproven, yet heavily believed, correlation that spending equals winning.

Add to this the irrational, financial exuberance by which Yankees owner George Steinbrenner conducts his team's business affairs - a style that, over the last eight seasons, has produced six World Series appearances and four rings for the Yankees' faithful - and Met fans have no choice but to focus on winning the battle of the back page, or wishing for the ridiculously lopsided trade. For if their team could pull this form of acquisition off, they would at least have been able to fully smile and gloat for a day.

Though deep down inside they know it's just an acquisition on paper. It guarantees absolutely nothing and grants them the one nugget of emotion that Yankees fans, and the Mets' recent failures, rob them of daily: hope.

The Met fan feels hopeless when a player like Guerrero signs with the Angels. They feel hopeless when the Yankees blare "New York, New York" and celebrate another championship. What's more, they feel hopeless when their cross-town rivals make key blockbuster trades, for Kevin Brown or Javier Vasquez, and grant huge long-term contracts to All-Stars like Jason Giambi or Gary Sheffield. This while Duquette and Wilpon put blind faith in the non-tender scrap pile.

Duquette, however, is working a bigger picture as opposed to winning now. He is working on putting together a complete team, bound tightly for years to come, that adheres to a philosophy. A plan that, when implemented, has always succeeded at Shea Stadium. The general manager believes that pitching and defense come first followed by a consistent, athletic offense and a well-built bench.

He sees bringing in the best available player at any given moment as a way to draft a fantasy baseball team, not a consistent winner in the Major Leagues. This is far from a novel idea. And while it is true that many professional baseball teams have historically won in spite of pitching and defense, the Mets restricted to playing at Shea have not.

Therefore, if the club is to put its eggs into any one basket, based on this system, it will be for that of a premiere pitcher, and not a right fielder, regardless of his Hall of Fame potential. The Met fan views this philosophy in action and may even understand the logic behind it, as indicated by their early confidence.

But to truly get them on board, Duquette, with the help of an alternative public relations team, must help build a bridge between his actions and the hope of his fans by accomplishing the following:

1) Preach that the Yankees are no more of a roadblock in the Mets success than the Detroit Tigers or the Minnesota Twins, reminding them that their focus must be on matching up with the team's in the National League East and not a club in the opposite league.

2) He must rekindle within his supporters what it is to be a Met fan. Most Met fans can still feel the chills in their bones from Robin Ventura's grand-slam single. They can still hear the joyous roar that followed the ball-called-strike thrown by John Franco at the end of the 1999 season.

These emotions and memories, whether the fans realize it, are the fuel that fires their fanship and not rings. Being a Met fan is about coming from behind to shock baseball, it's about watching a team full of hard-working, fun overachievers attain a goal that most average folks never get a chance to do.

It is not about throwing tons of money at risky players in an effort to buy a championship or a headline. Duquette must remind his followers that these past, memorable, character-building moments happened because of their undying support. With that continued support he is confident that the team can eventually win the war against the National League East.

That goal, and not temporarily silencing an irrelevant Yankee fan, is what is most important. All a Mets fan truly wants right now is crystal clear hope.

This bridge will give them just that.

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