PORT ST. LUCIE — It was 9:30 in the morning and Mets fans were lined up, anxiously awaiting the gate to open so they could watch pitchers practice covering first base, among the many mundane drills that define early spring training workouts.
Riveting it’s not, especially since Mets’ pitchers throw their bullpens at the far end of the facility, where fans can see Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey tune up their golden arms only from a distance.
But the workouts do offer an up-close look at the players, which apparently is plenty enticing in the afterglow of last October.
The Mets said some 1,600 fans, more than double the size of any previous turnout for a first-day workout, showed up. And given the narrow pathways and close quarters surrounding the back fields, it felt practically claustrophobic out there.
Welcome to high expectations in 2016, in case there was any doubt.
“We’re gonna win it all this year, Terry,” was a line that followed Terry Collins from one field to another, as he made his way through the crowds, often stopping for pictures.
Occasionally the line was posed in the form of a question. More often it sounded like a command.
This feels very new, of course, to an organization that had suffered through six straight losing seasons, hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2006 and is still waiting for its first championship since 1986.
And everyone seems to be doing their best to embrace the expectations, though for most, including the manager, it’s uncharted territory. Collins has already talked about wanting to see his team play with a swagger, while also warning of the need to buckle down because teams will be gunning for the Mets.
In truth, the best way for any team to handle high expectations is to be true to its personality. In 1986, after his team had come close to a division title in’85, Davey Johnson declared that the Mets weren’t just going to be playing in October but would dominate the rest of the National League along the way.
That was the right message coming from the cocksure manager of a fearless ballclub full of big personalities who loved to talk.
Times have changed, though. Matt Harvey may be a man about town in New York, loving the star life, but he’s hardly a compelling quote.
No, these Mets are pretty buttoned-down. It’s the way of the sports world these days, when players are coached by their organizations to be guarded publicly, the better to avoid controversy.
Curtis Granderson, for example, is a bright, charitable man who is more bland in interviews than even Derek Jeter, and when that subject came up on Friday with someone at the top of the Mets’ hierarchy, the response was a smile and a predictable “just the way we like it.”
So it is that David Wright said it best on Friday, urging his teammates to handle expectations with confident play and humble demeanor. In other words: Easy on the swagger.
Wright is the only Met to speak from experience, of course, with the team having failed to live up to the expectations that followed the 2006 playoff season. More than that, however, even at the height of his stardom he saw himself as a blue-collar player whose work ethic was his most valuable tool. Now, as captain, his way of thinking sets the tone for these Mets, perhaps most significantly on the obligatory World Series-or-bust question.
“It’s foolish to sit here and say…’’ he began Friday, before re-thinking his answer. “I think we have to set our goals a little more short term. Let’s worry about spring training. Let’s worry about coming together as a team, forming that unity that I think was a big reason we got there last year.
“Those things are more important than proclaiming we want to be World Series champs. We’re going to have lofty expectations, both from the outside and the inside. But we can’t get too caught up in talking about it. We’ve got to go out there with that same blue-collar attitude that we had last year during spring. This is where we started that winning culture.”
Wright said he appreciated the confidence players voiced last spring, talking about going to the playoffs when few outside the clubhouse believed. Now, he said, they don’t need to talk as much.
“We experienced a lot,” Wright said. “It’s not just talk. I hope guys aren’t boisterous, I hope guys aren’t cocky. It’s good to be confident but not cocky because it’s a very humbling game.
“We want expectations to be high but we don’t need to go out and talk about it. We need to go out and prove it. Confidence is a good thing. I think cocky is a little bit dangerous.”
Cocky worked in ’86 but this team is different. Wright’s level-headed approach would serve these Mets well, as expectations are high already, as evidenced by Friday’s fan turnout.
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