I was one of the remaining viewers watching the opponents’ broadcast; one of the final spring training games before the Mets’ 2023 season begins March 30 in Miami.
In a different Florida city; Buck Showalter sent out a major league lineup in front of a minor league crowd. An attendance number for Port St. Lucie, not in the home of another Major League Baseball team; the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Which is, of course, across a bridge in St. Petersburg.
NFL fans here in New Jersey are blind to this issue since both the New York Giants and New York Jets play in East Rutherford. It seemingly gets a pass since it’s only eight times a year for each; meaning weekly traffic during the season for local residents. But imagine if the Yankees played in Paramus; but still went by New York. It would look strange.
It would look strange if the outfield seats at Citi Field are completely empty like those at Tropicana Field last Friday. Steve Cohen is doing everything to ensure that doesn’t happen. He sent a marketing face behind the New York Mets' logos to announce a ‘$15 price point’ ticket plan for the over half-million college students in the area.
On Saturday, March 25, Amazin’ Day rewarded anyone wearing Mets' merchandise in the right place at the right time. You were encouraged to wear the garments, sport the colors and have pride in your team. One could replace the word ‘team’ with high school, college or country as enthusiasm for laundry was on display in full force during the World Baseball Classic.
Rooting for colors regardless who’s wearing them is a group mindset being built brick by brick. A mindset so slick, its foundation is already in place. Something akin to the greatest trick the devil ever pulled - convincing the world he didn’t exist.
But of course, he does exist. He was right in your face the whole time. And it’s evident even in our lowest moments. Losing Edwin Diaz for the year was a gut punch for fans of the Mets and Puerto Rico. But before the surgery had even been scheduled, yet alone completed; the narrative was already up and running - “Who will the Mets get to replace Diaz?”
There wasn’t a thought about the current state of the roster; no mention of a young arm shining this spring and ready for a bigger role. No; it went straight to Cosplay GM mode, where moves are made with no regard to current roster or salary.
When George Steinbreener was in charge of the Yankees, they were the team willing to outspend the rest of MLB to get the very best. There are documentaries about the way he viewed his franchise like the Mona Lisa - a masterpiece to be savored, not sold. That’s how I view Cohen’s attempt to turn the parking lot next to Citi Field into a hotel/casino.
Forbes recently reported “baseball’s 30 teams took in $2.3 billion in local television revenue in 2022, or 22% of their $10.44 billion in total revenue (before debt service).” The article provides numbers and statistics and much more that people who went to school longer and paid more attention understand much better. But even I know that numbers don’t lie.
For all the empty seats at Tropicana Field, both last Friday and the many future regular season games where they won’t be filled, the Tampa Bay Rays are worth 1.25 billion with an operating income (or profit) of 9.5 million from last year.
That’s a team playing in one city with a different one on their jersey. Playing in a metropolitan area with 3 million residents, the Rays hasn’t averaged close to 20,000 fans a game since 2008. Their principal owner Stuart Sternberg may be fine with that, but Uncle Stevie is not.
Cohen wants more for his purchase, valued at $2.6 billion. After an operating loss of $138.5 million last year; the creation of a members-only speakeasy at $25,000 per person looks like part of a long-term investment. One where all kinds of people take the 7 train to Mets-Willets Point.
“Across the country, ballparks have been adding meaningful experiences for both fans and the entire community,” said Mets owner Steve Cohen. “Queens shouldn’t be an exception.”
If Cohen gets his casino, there will be thousands in attendance who don’t care about the Mets at all. There will also be thousands more harboring negative emotions towards the Boys in Orange and Blue. Some of that will have sensible roots, like Nats or Phillies fans looking to lose their money while on vacation in a better city. But most will be programmed by outside forces. That’s what it was like for The Boss back in the 1980s. That’s what it is like now for Uncle Stevie.
The Mets are the new Evil Empire; and that includes everything that comes with the title. That means being the target for other billionaires like Sternberg complaining about their operating income or lack thereof. It also means anyone & everyone wearing the team logo, whether they have an opinion about the new pitcher from Japan or just wanted a chance at free stuff.
In Cohen's vision, the NY logo won’t be replaced on heads around the world; only the accompanying color arrangement. The 20th century is full of randos wearing Yankees colors for little to no reason. Ke Huy Quan won an Academy Award earlier this year; but is best remembered for roles in the 1980s. In one, he played Short Round and attempted to pickpocket a tall North American man in a fedora, only to find himself trapped by Indiana Jones's bullwhip.
I haven’t spoiled Temple of Doom; just know an orphan from Shanghai ran around the entire film with a Yankee cap atop his head. It’s instant recognition that would have applied to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s. In October 2019, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench said no team could afford a roster like the “Big Red Machine”; that the Red Sox’ $228 million payroll wouldn’t have been enough.
That’s when Bench, Pete Rose and Joe Morgan were annually atop the standings and the seats at Riverfront Stadium were packed for every game. The census report says the Cincinnati/Wilmington, Kentucky/Maysville, Indiana area has steadily grown since 1950; but the billionaire in charge says his market is too small.
Meanwhile, across the state in a slightly smaller market that hasn’t been growing; the Cleveland/Elyria area doubled the average household viewership numbers according to Forbes (59,000 to 27,000). So what’s the difference? One team was actually trying to win, regardless of its market size.
“This is a major market team,” said Uncle Stevie in a recent interview, “and it should have a budget commensurate with that.”
That’s a budget that can handle injury, even to the best closer in the game. Like bench coach Eric Chavez told Joel Sherman of the New York Post, “If you’re a good team and you remove one player and that makes you vulnerable, then you weren’t a good team.”
That’s what the Mets will be going forward - a good team that’s only going to get better. Uncle Stevie is going to make sure of it and that’s the truth.
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