The Defiant Ones

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Cautiously surprised as Mets initially defy budgets and predictions It looks like the baseball season is going to last more than a week for me. The season does go at least six months for all teams, but it's tough to root for a "small-market" ball club once it gets to the point where the postseason appears to be a fantasy. I used to root for a big market club, but then something changed. Not to me-to it. I didn't switch teams, my team switched on me. The New York Mets still play in the largest market in Major League Baseball, but since the owners' finances have been jeopardized by their dealings with Bernie Madoff, they've shown me and other Met fans what it's like to root for a team in a small city, where big-money cable contracts are not possible. The Mets entered the season with universal predictions of doom, but have defied them for now, coming out strong with three straight wins against a good team, the Atlanta Braves. The pitching is exceeding expectations so far, and the new crop of young, homegrown players have started out well. Meaningful baseball for most of April appears assured. If they can somehow make it to August, training camp for the football Giants will be in full swing. I'm constantly and pleasantly reminded of that by my toddler, who on an almost daily basis says, "J.P.P., Osi, Eli won the Super Bowl." By the summer, I'll be able to push the Mets out of my mind if their cost-cutting ways catch up with them. Does a true fan stay interested even when his team has no hope of going further? Maybe, but I have logged more than enough losing seasons with too many teams, and I just don't have the time or motivation anymore. I also used to follow the Knicks (I still check in for things like Linsanity) and Rangers (perhaps they'd win me back with a trip to the Stanley Cup finals), as well as college basketball and football. I'm not sure where I found the time. Back to the Mets. Unlike most fans, I was OK with them not re-signing Jose Reyes. As rare a talent as he is, he is typically not able to play a full season and is probably not worth the large contract he got with the Marlins. The problem is that the team had no ability or interest in using the Reyes savings to improve the team. The owners appear to have escaped the worst of the Madoff fallout, but they are not likely to convince fans that things have changed until they make a smart, budget-hurting baseball move. Their predecessors brought me my first pain as a sports fan when they traded "The Franchise," Tom Seaver, during a contract squabble. The plight of Met fans now highlights the fundamental problem with baseball today: A majority of teams are made to be perennial longshots because they can't compete with richer teams. It's certainly possible for a low-budget team to win it all, but the field is not level. The solution is obvious. If teams shared more revenue like the savvy, socialist billionaires who own NFL teams, it would generate broader fan interest and probably more revenue. Baseball owners would be wise to have a salary floor to insure small city teams didn't pocket the riches from clubs like the Yankees. Unfortunately, there is little chance owners would ever go for this, since they have always focused on artificial ways to limit how much they spend on players. So Met fans are left to root for the team becoming a big market club again and for small joys this season, like, perhaps Wednesday night, when a recovered Johan Santana takes on the Nats' ace, Stephen Strasburg. Let's go Mets. August isn't that far away. Josh Rogers, contributing editor at Manhattan Media, is a lifelong New Yorker. Follow him @JoshRogersNYC.

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