David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
During the seemingly endless months of a bitter, snowy winter, the opening of Citi Field felt like a distant dream. As for the team that calls Flushing home, the Mets helped fuel everyone's fantasy by promising better days ahead, by insisting this year would be different.
We're a good team, the Mets said. Your patience will be rewarded, they assured us. Spring training was no mirage.
On Monday, the Mets returned home with that message in tow.
"I think this team has a whole different attitude about itself," Sandy Alderson said two hours before Jacob deGrom's first pitch. "And what it's capable of doing."
A big chunk of that attitude must come from winning games at Citi Field, and from what we witnessed Monday, the Mets got one to build on in their own ballpark. Not only by squeezing out a 2-0 win over the woeful Phillies. Just the entire vibe of the place, from the thunderous boos directed at Philly villain Cole Hamels to the boisterous embrace of returning hero Matt Harvey.
The season doesn't really start for any team until the home opener, and after a 3-3 road trip through Washington and Atlanta, the Mets wanted to make some sort of statement in getting back to Citi. They still have another 155 games to back up their spring training bravado, but it's always nice to get this one in the win column.
"You gotta believe," said Michael Cuddyer, the first-year Met who accidently conjured up the most beloved rallying cry in franchise history. "You got to believe you're a good team."
But it takes more than repeating Tug McGraw's famous mantra. That kind of confidence is born from beating up on other teams, from making your stadium an intimidating place to visit.
The largest crowd in Citi Field history -- aside from the 2013 All-Star Game -- showed up for Monday's opener, and those 43,947 fans played a role in turning the tables on the Phillies.
It began with the harassment during the opening intros as Hamels, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were jeered with gusto. The crowd's only regret was that Jimmy Rollins now calls Chavez Ravine home.
Once Howie Rose, serving as emcee, turned the attention back to the Mets, the fans didn't air out as much frustration as they had in the past.
Ruben Tejada heard boos, and the reaction was mixed for Wilmer Flores, whose only crime is being the most cost-efficient shortstop available to Alderson. But on this first day, the Mets were welcomed back with a reception that was as close to unconditional love as they've heard in nearly a decade. These people want to believe, too.
"We've been doing a lot of yapping about how good we're going to be," Terry Collins said. "Our fan base was like, OK, we're going to come and see it. So today I think was a big step for us. We're going to have some blips. We all know that. But it was a huge step forward."
This win was no Mona Lisa, other than the combined shutout effort from Jacob deGrom, Jerry Blevins and Jeurys Familia. If not for a pair of missteps by the Phillies, it could have had a whole different ending.
The Mets took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Aaron Harang couldn't handle Juan Lagares' hot comebacker. Utley let a grounder skip through his legs in the eighth that made Travis d'Arnaud's sacrifice fly possible.
So the Mets didn't dominate a supposed bottom-feeder in the Phillies, a division rival they'll need to pummel during the majority of their 18 subsequent meetings this season. But give them credit for being resourceful and opportunistic, two traits that can be very useful in the course of a 162-game schedule.
The Mets, who haven't been to the playoffs since 2006, aren't worried about style points. It's about getting the job done.
"When push comes to shove, the only way to be truly confident is to become a winning team," said David Wright, the captain and last surviving member of the Mets' 2006 division champion. "Talk isn't true confidence. True confidence is going out there and winning. Otherwise, it's just words."
Seven games in, the Mets have four wins. And with Matt Harvey next up, a sensational Citi encore is on tap for Tuesday.
Believe? Maybe. But after listening to the Mets for a while now, we're going to need more proof.