Thanks to the attention-grabbing way the Mets' 2007 season ended and the glut of media coverage all winter long, Mets fans have been on top of every move the team has made this offseason. So to refer to Monday as Opening Day seems strange.
Instead of the first crease on the spine of a new book, Monday's game against the Marlins will strike many Mets fans as only the next chapter of a story that began on Oct. 1, or, to some, on Jan. 29 when the team acquired Johan Santana.
That's not really the case, because all of that -- all the intrigue, nonsense, hope and skepticism that accompanied this offseason -- was merely a prologue to the season that starts on Monday. And while I can kick and scream and flail about the assorted things the Mets did wrong, that's all on paper.
On paper, it's hard to see why the Mets traded Lastings Milledge for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. It's difficult to determine why injury-prone Luis Castillo earned a four-year contract. It's tough to tell why the Mets used their last roster spot on Brady Clark, their third slap-hitting, defensively solid backup outfielder, instead of holding it for young infielder Ruben Gotay or the more powerful right-handed bat they still haven't acquired. And it's puzzling why Joe Smith, who had Minor League options and a 6.43 Grapefruit League ERA, joined the Mets' bullpen instead of Colorado-bound Steven Register.
In the papers, the Mets became heroes and inevitable champions-to-be when they acquired Santana. Then, when Moises Alou needed hernia surgery, they became an injury-plagued gaggle of old men who would be lucky to finish the season without needing new sets of dentures and hip replacements.
Luckily, baseball games aren't played on paper or in papers. And no matter how it seems, the Mets' 2008 season begins on March 31. No earlier. The front office has picked the team that will be on the field for the start of the season. We can pore over the decisions Omar Minaya has and hasn't made in the past all we want, but it's an exercise in futility. All there is left to do now is watch and see.
I have certain questions and expectations heading into the season, like I do every season. But what do I know?
The only thing I know I've learned in 20 years of following baseball is that I shouldn't expect anything. Many people have asked me about my predictions for the Mets' season. I've made a few, but I'm only confident in three:
The Mets will wear orange and blue.
Moises Alou will spend a lot of time on the disabled list.
Fans will call for Willie Randolph's head at the first sign of adversity.
I've never been a Willie apologist, and I was in the minority of Mets fans that thought the manager should have been fired after the shenanigans at the end of last season. But if the Mets come out and lose five of their first six games, people will call sports radio stations and say:
"Willie needs to go!"
That could eventually be the case, but if the Mets had the patience to stick with Willie after 2007, they should show enough confidence to stick with him through at least the first half of 2008. Sure, we'll wonder why Willie used Scott Schoeneweis when he did and why he didn't start Ramon Castro against a tough left-hander, but the bottom line is that if the Mets fail, Willie's not the one responsible. The manager may have input in the way a team fills out its roster, but the onus is on the general manager. So if the Mets stumble out of the gate because they lack a good right-handed bat or a complete bullpen, remember that Willie is only using the tools he's been given.
But now I'm getting all doom and gloom, and this is a day for hope. The cautious pessimism so many have adopted over the past few weeks fails to consider that the Mets have three young All-Stars in the lineup and as good a rotation as any team in baseball.
Of course, that's all on paper, too.
It's Opening Day. Maybe it marks a new chapter, or maybe it's just time to turn the page. But either way, the Mets can finally stop playing on paper and start putting games in the books.