PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Thirty years ago, when the Mets made their last journey through the Canyon of Heroes, many of those currently in uniform had yet to be born. And those who were had barely graduated from T-ball.
Yet here they sit, at the beginning of a long journey, allowing themselves to envision their own coronation.
“I think in New York, they want us to win, they need us to win, it feels like that,” said Lucas Duda, the Mets’ slugging first baseman. “So we’re going to do everything in our power to bring home a championship. It would be pretty cool driving down that road on a float or something. You know how the fans are. They’re crazy. Everybody would be going berserk.”
The three decades that have followed the triumph of the vaunted 1986 Mets have brought forth a tortuous blend of promise wrapped in heartache. But these Mets have fully shed the shackles of what had been a painful rebuilding.
They are emboldened by last season’s run to the National League pennant, and motivated by the bitterness of losing to the Royals in the World Series. But mostly, they are reinvigorated by the thought of a return to the Canyon of Heroes.
“It’s more important to focus on the things that I can control at this point, not daydream too much about what could happen or what could possibly happen,” Mets captain David Wright said. “But you can’t help but to wonder what that would be like.”
Rarely have the Mets been in position to dream. But in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon, they boast the most electrifying starting rotation in all of baseball.
“As a team, and as a pitching staff as a whole, I feel like we do have the opportunity and the chance to do something real exciting,” Syndergaard said. “Not only this year but to continue after that.”
Even during the closing days of camp, when a bladder infection threatened to keep Harvey from making his Opening Day start, the Mets had aces to spare.
“We were very, very lucky to have some pieces that would pick him up if he wasn’t going to be able to go,” manager Terry Collins said. “A lot of teams, that’s hard to fill a role like that. So we’re real lucky.”
The return of the dynamic Yoenis Cespedes only lengthens a Mets lineup that has the potential to be formidable from one to eight.
While the Mets lost postseason star Daniel Murphy to the Nationals, they acquired a veteran replacement by trading for second baseman Neil Walker. The offseason also brought the signing of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, completing a revamp of the middle infield. He gives the Mets another potent bat against righthanded pitching — an area of emphasis this winter as the Mets retooled their pennant-winning team.
Behind the plate, Travis d’Arnaud blossomed as one of the game’s top offensive catchers, though he must still prove he can stay healthy.
Atop the lineup, Curtis Granderson delivered his best season in three years. And on the bench, the Mets boast far more depth than they did a season ago, a glaring weakness until the trade deadline.
Fresh off tying a franchise record with 43 saves, closer Jeurys Familia anchors a bullpen with a steadier bridge than it had last year. The Mets signed lefty Antonio Bastardo and retained righty Addison Reed.
“The pitching staff, the key additions, Asdrubal, Neil, Antonio Bastardo, Cespedes obviously, a healthy David Wright, these are all central factors that we need,” Duda said. “I’m excited and looking forward to it. I’m sure people in New York are. This should be fun.”
It has been seven weeks since general manager Sandy Alderson admitted that throughout his tenure as Mets general manager, he’s never felt more upbeat at the start of spring training. With the Mets on the verge of breaking camp, his stance hasn’t swayed.
Said Alderson: “I’m still feeling that way.”
Members of the Mets’ last championship team can still be found in the organization. Tim Teufel coaches third base. Wally Backman serves as the manager at Triple-A Las Vegas. Keith Hernandez broadcasts games for SNY.
With all of those ’86 Mets, Duda said he’s long envied their childlike wonder whenever they speak of winning the franchise’s last championship. After three decades, it’s a feeling that has yet to fade.
“I want to have that feeling,” Duda said. “I want to know what that feeling is like.”