Baseball is back, thank God! Spring is here. Optimism has returned everywhere.
Well, almost everywhere. Not quite in The Bronx, where the Yankees live, in the post-Derek Jeter era of baseball.
But in Queens, home of the Mets, smiles are everywhere. The Mets have great pitching, maturing players, and a winning attitude (despite missing the playoffs every year since 2006).
So, who owns New York baseball, the brawny Yankees or the brainy Mets?
My vote is: the Mets. I’m a lifelong Yankees fan so this is tantamount to treason.
Matt Harvey, the young Mets ace, has returned from elbow surgery. Lucas Duda — don’t you love that name? — is rounding hits to be a feared slugger, and the team has more depth than in past seasons.
The answer is the Mets, too, because, the Yankees don’t inspire fear, much less confidence. The team is creaky, and the pitching is not exactly airtight. The bullpen is not yet tested. Alex Rodriguez is likely to break down during the season and he doesn’t frighten any American League pitcher, anyway.
This is an amazing sea change in New York life. The Mets were traditionally the also-ran in this discussion, and the Yankees the kingpins. It was as predictable as death and taxes.
Then came Harvey. He changed it all almost by himself. He has a swagger, a winner’s confidence, and maybe the best stuff among any pitcher. Plus, he is as competitive as hell.
Harvey may be the new Tom Seaver, a Mets pitcher from the 1960s and 1970s who was among the most durable and reliable pitchers in baseball history. They still call Tom Terrific “The Franchise” in Queens.
Harvey may just emerge as his heir. (Yes, I know Dwight Gooden was phenomenal in the 1980s, but he flamed out far too quickly.) Harvey reminds me of Seaver, too. He is a big guy. He wants to win so badly, he’d knock down any batter and smirk about it.
The Mets have additional strong arms, too. The team is due for glory.
The Mets have the benefit of playing in a rather weak division, save for the mighty Washington Nationals. Look for the Mets to beat up on Philadelphia, Miami, and Philly all season long. They play those weak teams 19 times each, which means that the victories can pile up.
If the Mets can stay injury-free — never a sure thing — they can win 90 ballgames. That should spell a trip to the playoffs for the first time in nine years. And then they’ll own the town.
And the Yankees? Well, they play in a competitive division. They have a recent history of suffering key injuries and having sub-par players step in. Nobody on the team now has the stature of Derek Jeter in his prime — or even in his declining years.
The Yankees are a team in search of wins and character and leadership. Without those elements in place, the team is not likely to capture New York’s imagination and heart.
Say it ain’t so. But it is.