BY JOE RINI
Considering the team finished the season 22 games out of first place, the Mets ended 2013 with a party and an air of optimism. A sellout crowd of 41,891 fans cheered Mike Piazza into the Mets Hall of Fame in a pregame ceremony before Sunday’s 3-2 come from behind victory over the Milwaukee Brewers in the season finale. With this victory, the Mets avoided a fifth consecutive fourth place finish and squeezed past the Philadelphia Phillies for third place in the National League East with a record of 74-88.
Accompanied by family members as he accepted induction as the 27th member of the team’s Hall of Fame, Piazza was joined by several generations of Mets luminaries including Al Jackson, an original Met in 1962 and John Franco, who was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame fifty years later. Before introducing Piazza, Franco said of his former teammate, “Tremendous teammate, played hurt, played hard and you’re a great guy to be around. I just want to say congratulations from one Italian brother to another.”
Piazza was gracious and humble in his remarks as he thanked his family, Mets ownership, his teammates, and the fans. Speaking to the fans he said, “People may say, ‘What’s your most special memory?’ And, yeah, I’ve hit some great home runs and had some great games with some great teams. But the relationship we’ve had, the love you’ve given me and the support, words cannot describe how special it is to me…God bless you and all your family and God bless the Mets.” Injecting humor into his remarks, Piazza mentioned how he’d be teaching his two-month old son Marco how to hit someday, and he’d give the Mets “first crack” at him but he cautioned Jeff Wilpon, “He’s not going to be cheap.”
]The Hall of Fame ceremony produced a festive mood at Citi Field. Crossing paths with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, I complimented him on the ceremony and asked about what the team needed to do over the off-season. In the spirit of the day, he smilingly said, “We need more Mike Piazzas.”
A day after celebrating their past, the Mets addressed the immediate future by extending manager Terry Collins’ contract for two years with a club option for 2016. With increased payroll flexibility this winter and prospects becoming major league ready, Collins signaled the end of the recent Mets holding pattern and said on Sunday, “The talk is pretty much over. It’s time to get it done on the field.”
Echoing Collins’ sentiments, Alderson said on Monday, “We expect to be better next season. We expect to compete. And in that sense, we’re very much looking forward to next season.”
Priorities for the team in 2014 include improving the offense, the bullpen, and the team’s record at home, which was a disappointing 33-48. To the latter point, Collins noted that successful hitters at Citi Field, such as Daniel Murphy and David Wright, have a “two strike approach” and hit to all fields. The Mets are also hoping that Matt Harvey can avoid surgery and regain his All-Star caliber performance.
In my first column this season, I compared the trials of the Mets in 2013 with the trials of the 1983 season. Coincidentally, like 2013, the 1983 Mets finished 22 games out of first place yet ended the year on an optimistic note. 1984 became a turnaround season for the team and set the stage for the 1986 World Championship. Will 2014 be as joyful for the Mets and their fans? I don’t know the answer to that question but as this season concludes, I do know it has been a privilege and honor to write about the team for you, the readers, and I thank you. Opening Day is March 31, 2104.