Mets have come together to regain spring training momentum
It felt so very Metsian, if extremely insensitive to share the observation, that their spring training of great positivity — their showcase of promise and hope — ended suddenly and prematurely due to a pandemic.
Yet to watch these same Mets do their work at spring training 2.0 is to conclude their strong vibe seems to have survived their offseason 2.0 and all the anguish it inflicted upon the world. Shoot, even their most important missing player, Robinson Cano, re-emerged at Citi Field on Tuesday following the sort of unexplained absence that has become an industry norm.
“Some of that momentum we were starting to build in spring training is starting to come back,” Rick Porcello said, as the team reconvened after taking Monday off, their eyes focused on their July 24 opener against the Braves at home.
“I think we kept that vibe throughout the pandemic,” Luis Rojas said. “The same camaraderie that we had in the first camp, it’s going on right now.”
Despite the Astros sign-stealing scandal seeming like it took place a year or two after a meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs, it can’t be underestimated how crucial a decision it turned out to be for the Mets to eject Carlos Beltran from their manager’s seat the very week that Rob Manfred’s Astros report indicted Beltran. For all of the short-term embarrassment the decision and its disclosures caused the franchise, it also instantly liberated them from the sign-stealing shackles.
That first camp at Clover Field, under the leadership of Beltran’s replacement Rojas, proceeded jovially and relatively injury-free; Michael Conforto strained his right oblique in March and is back, whereas Noah Syndergaard appeared fine when camp stopped in March, only to wind up undergoing Tommy John surgery. They remain a high-ceiling group and to date have not seen anyone opt out; with Cano back, only reliever Brad Brach is missing.
“This team is such a close-knit group,” Dom Smith said. “We’re all definitely relieved and happy that we’re back here together and we’re just having fun.”
The downtime featured of course not only the tragic deaths of so many due to the coronavirus, but also the civil unrest and social change sparked by a Minneapolis police officer’s alleged murder of George Floyd that was caught on video. Smith conducted an interview with SNY’s Steve Gelbs last month in which he opened up about some of his encounters with racism. From that, Smith said, “A bunch of guys on the team reached out and just showed their love and support for me, for my community, for the things that I’ve gone through, for the things that we’ve gone through.”
Communication during the downtime was paramount, Rojas said, and it helped them navigate their return when the guys didn’t get to see much of each other, thanks to the social distancing rules that divided them into smaller groups. With Opening Day approaching, however, the entire group gets to interact more.
“On the field we’re having fun,” Rojas said, accurately. “They’re yelling at each other. They’re getting on each other. They get excited when one of them does something great out there.”
Smith said they’re deriving joy and humor just from wearing masks on the field.
Having Cano rejoin the club, “Just to see him today is obviously heartening and fun,” Smith said. “He’s definitely a big part of this team, a big part of this clubhouse and a big part of what we want to do. He’s helped so many of us young guys with the mental side of the game. Just to have him is a big uplift for us. We’re happy to have him, and we’re glad he’s here.”
The coronavirus could of course end things quickly once again, which would be unfortunate for reasons well beyond the Mets’ pennant chances. So here’s a suggestion to Mets fans: Enjoy this moment of prolonged optimism, this great vibe 2.0, no matter where it goes from here. If it doesn’t turn into something memorable, it remains something to admire as we witness it in real time.
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