Earlier this week, I vowed to use the third anniversary of the 2008 Phillies championship parade to move past this season’s disappointing end. That plan worked for the most part. (The tears have mostly dried from my rally towel.) But looking ahead to next year doesn’t lower my stress level. Free agency has begun, and we may have seen the last of Jimmy Rollins, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson in red pinstripes. The image of J-Roll in a Giants uniform would be hard to stomach, and you know he’s the kind of player who will have huge games against his old squad whenever they face off. So in this time of such uncertainty and angst, let’s pause for a moment to thank the New York Mets for providing a good laugh and reminding us that our team is still the one to beat in the National League East. The reason? Not their Madoff debts, or their willingness to trade nearly anyone on their roster. The latest knee-slapping news out of Flushing is the team’s plan to lower the outfield fences and bring them closer to home plate by as much as 17 feet.
Desperate times, indeed. The Mets finished just 25 games behind the Phils this year, earning them second-to-last place in the division, just ahead of the Marlins who play in front of roughly 342 people each night (including beer vendors). The friendly confines of the nearly $800 million Citi Field didn’t help matters—the Mets were better on the road than at home, where they posted a woeful 34-47 record. So what’s a cash-strapped, underperforming team to do? Make life easier on their hitters and bring in those fences, boys! It sounds like Extreme Makeover: Ballpark Edition. Cut that 16-foot left field wall in half! Shorten up that power alley!
Of course, Phils fans remember Atlanta Braves pitcher and future Hall-of-Famer John Smoltz’s opinion of Citizens Bank Park in its early days: “They can’t ever win in Philadelphia … There’s no way free-agent pitchers are going to go there … I’m not even going to call it a baseball field … It’s a joke.” Smoltz wasn’t alone; plenty of analysts, including former Phils John Kruk and Curt Schilling, were down on CBP and its short fences back around 2005. Fast-forward to today. I know a few guys named Halladay, Lee and Oswalt who had no problems with the cozy dimensions at their Pattison Avenue workplace. Meanwhile, the Mets are shelling out money to tweak the three-year-old yard that they thought would emphasize pitching and defense. That plan ranks high on the list of recent MLB epic fails.
What’s (sort of) sad is that the Incredible Shrinking Ballpark is yet another reminder of how the Mets seem to have made every bad decision possible in recent years. In doing so, their rivalry with the Phillies is now more lopsided than Shaq and Snooki on a see-saw. Remember when Mets games here felt like the rumbles in West Side Story, but without the show tunes and with a lot more blood? With this lame attempt to bring more home runs—and fans—back to Citi Field, the Amazin’s have officially hit rock bottom. So instead of booing the guy at work who wears his Mike Piazza t-shirt on casual Fridays, thank him. His train wreck of a team really puts the troubles of the Phillies in perspective.