This Spring I find myself in a city with a National League club for the first time in my soon-to-be 28 baseball seasons. I’m trying very hard to adopt the Mets as my new hometown team. In a way it’s pretty easy – I have nostalgia for the good old days of Doc, Straw, Hernandez, Dykstra, Mookie, and the Kid; GM Omar Minaya is putting together a very solid team for this year’s model. In another way though, I feel some guilt about cheering for the Mets.
At heart, I’m a supporter of the Brew Crew. As a Brewers fan, I want it to be possible for small market clubs to build a decent team and play winning baseball for more than a couple seasons at a time. I want to see a day when teams like Brewers could put together a dynasty run of LCS and World Series appearances. But I know that as long as teams with deeper pockets can put together $100 million dollar payrolls (or $200M in the case of the Yankees), teams like the Brewers cannot afford to win for very long.
For a small market team to win, they have to put together a team mostly comprised of talent from their farm system, other teams’ castoffs, and solid roll players. This is no small task, winning with inexperienced, unproven, and sometimes marginally skilled (by MLB standards, anyway) players. It takes a very talented coaching staff and a visionary GM. They also have to do this while working against the clock, trying to win before their young talent and reclamation projects get too good and demand more money when their contracts are up.
The Mets don’t have to worry about stuff like that. They can afford to keep guys like Pedro and Beltran around and add guys like Delgado and Wagner to the mix if at first they don’t succeed. The Brew Crew can’t do that. And it doesn’t seem fair that they are up against teams that can. It’s frustrating to be a fan of a small market team.
It is with this frustration that I watch my Brewers building a pretty decent team, knowing full well that they’ll have to dismantle and start all over again in about three years. And it is with this frustration that I watch my new hometown team, who I really do want to support (I even bought a hat), writing checks for large sums for prominent free agents to fill in the gaps that the farm system has left and a lackluster coaching staff can’t fix.
It’s like the difference between buying a good meal at a restaurant and making one yourself – they both taste great, but I get a lot more satisfaction when it’s my skill and finesse that went into cooking it. I know that there’s skill involved in selecting the right restaurant and the best choice off the menu and that just because you go to the most expensive restaurant in town doesn’t guarantee that it’s the best meal. After all, “that’s why they still play the games,” Harold Reynolds will remind us. But, if you think that those games are played on a level playing field in Major League Baseball, you’re crazy.
Maybe I’m a fool or a masochist, but I still like rooting for the underdog. Sure, it’s a lot of fun to cheer for a winner, but it’s even better when you know they beat the odds, earning the glory by working harder, wanting it more, and getting really lucky. It’s sweet enough that it makes only getting to do it once a decade worth sticking to my guns. I want to believe that the players too can taste a difference in the champagne when the grapes are grown organically rather than with a huge free agent budget. But I’m probably just a masochistic fool.