David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Long before Jordany Valdespin flipped a routine throw over his pitcher's head, Lucas Duda botched a bunt attempt or the Mets screwed up a triple play that was practically handed to them, it was a nearly flawless morning at Citi Field.
Seated near the visitors' dugout, under bright sunshine, a group of 350 season-ticket holders had the chance to ask questions of a Mets panel that included Sandy Alderson. After all of the softballs lobbed at Matt Harvey and John Buck, one frustrated fan shoved the conversation in a different direction.
Taking the microphone, he spoke to Alderson: "I'm told it's coming, and I'm waiting patiently. I don't see it."
How could anyone? The Mets were unwatchable again in Saturday's 5-2 loss, their second straight to the Cubs. For those still counting such things, it also dropped them to 2-9 for the month and a season-worst 15 games below .500 (24-39).
But let's get back to the fan's question for a moment. What he wanted to know is how Alderson, "as the guy who puts this team together," could sit back and say to himself that the Mets would be competitive this year. We're paraphrasing, but you get the idea. Even with the promises of better days ahead -- supposedly in 2014 -- it's becoming increasingly difficult to stomach what's left of this season.
So Alderson responded in much the same way he has since taking the job after Omar Minaya's firing in 2010 -- by asking for more time to produce something palatable.
"The problem is that, at some point, the best thing you can do is have a little patience," Alderson said. "Unfortunately, I've been preaching that for 2 1/2 years and it's wearing thin."
But the general manager did add, "We're almost there."
It's all relative, of course. The Mets certainly don't feel any closer to contention today than a year ago, when they were 35-30 on June 15 and only 4½ games out of first place. We'll just have to take Alderson's word on it.
Matt Harvey is a bona fide No. 1 starter and the Mets are expecting another potential ace Tuesday when Zack Wheeler makes his debut in Atlanta. But aside from David Wright -- if Alderson is to be believed -- the real difference-makers haven't arrived in Flushing yet. And the GM suggested the Mets are now in a position to do the heavy lifting necessary for the final step.
"How have we tried to achieve that?" Alderson said. "We've tried to achieve that by stockpiling talent. We haven't given away draft picks. We have traded some veteran players to acquire high-ceiling prospects. You're going to see one of them next week. We've made an effort to sort through the talent we have to find out who can be part of that sustainable success and who can't."
The Mets appear to be getting some answers and we're not seeing too many keepers on this current group. The Valdespin experiment isn't likely to continue for much longer. If second base is his actual position, then he's not very good at it. And after watching him get wiped out twice Saturday on double-play attempts, Valdespin might wind up on the DL before the Mets have a chance to demote him.
Duda isn't looking so great, either. For all his freakish power, and rumored plate discipline, he appears to be regressing.
Over their last 28 games at Citi, the Mets are batting .199 and averaging 2.5 runs. The offense is in desperate need of help, and to that end, Alderson again raised hopes by saying the Mets will be in the hunt shortly for upgrades.
"By the end of this season," Alderson said, "you will see we have more opportunities to acquire the kind of players who will sustain us and make us successful than we've had the opportunity to acquire the last couple of years."
The GM was referring to the kind of payroll flexibility he hasn't had during his Mets tenure. But with Johan Santana coming off the books, along with the non-deferred chunk of Jason Bay's contract, Alderson can begin thinking a little bit bigger. As for what's happening now, the season-ticket holders will just have to wait.