Word Association, Mets-Style

If you listened to the debut Kiner’s Korner: Kult of Mets Personalities podcast last Tuesday (and if you didn’t, well, why haven’t you?),  I mentioned that I was out at CitiField last Tuesday…yes, the day it was announced that Clifton Phifer Lee signed a deal with our NL East-emies, the Philadelphia Phillies.  At this event, which was the “Mets MVP Reception,” several key people with the Mets attended including Sandy Alderson, Terry Collins, David Wright, Ike Davis, Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran (proctored by Ronnie Darling).

There was a Q&A session with members of the audience (which I didn’t get to participate in, unfortunately), and it’s interesting to see these players and managers in another element, not PR appearanced-out.  Of course, I know this is a PR appearance and things might be filtered; on the other hand, I felt as though we got to see a more realistic approach and reaction to some of the questions. I also felt I saw a different side to some of the players, some of which I was surprised to see.

For one, everything you think you know about Carlos Beltran — he’s quiet, he’s stoic, he’s brittle and injury-prone, underrated — and David Wright — he’s the all-American player, a strikeout artist, a hard-worker, overrated — throw it out the window.  I came away with entirely different impressions of these players, even if I had thought some of them myself.  In fact, I chose some of the words above based on my own word association game that I played with several Mets fans on those players.

You remember the one-word association we play.  It’s a question of “What one word comes to mind when you think of fill-in-the-blank?”  I asked some people that question about Carlos Beltran.  Some of the responses included:

Soft.

Quiet.

Reserved.

Underrated.

Mole.  (OK, that was pretty funny)

Knees.

Injured.

Underappreciated.

I get all of those thoughts surrounding him.  Believe me when I tell you, that I have been incredibly hard on Beltran in the past.  And please note: I NEVER hated him for taking strike three in Game 7 of the NLCS.  That game was lost at so many junctures, but I digress.  No, my issues were about his throwing out arbitrary numbers about his health.  “I’m at about 85%.”  I was furious whenever I would hear those statements.  Why wasn’t the manager clued in and furthermore, WHY ARE YOU PLAYING?  You bring the team down when you are hurt.

It wasn’t until 2008 that I realized why: he was SO good, that he could theoretically bring the team down with him when he was hurt.  I even went so far to say that it wasn’t Jose Reyes who was the so-called “catalyst,” it was Beltran.

When I heard Carlos Beltran speak at the event…he WANTS to play.  He has the desire.  It bothers him just as much as it bothers us that his performance has been hampered.  He may be quiet, and he may be injury-prone, but that doesn’t mean he is not valuable to the team.  Unfortunately, he is known mostly for being hurt a majority of his large in both dollars and years contract, and causes a rift amongst Mets fans who lump him in, unfairly or not, with the highly paid prima donnas in sports.

Then I asked the same word association game with David Wright.  I felt like the responses might have been more “glowing” for Wright, but I found there are a lot of fans who don’t think that way.

Strikeout.

Overrated.

Blue-collar.

Nonthreatening.

Sincere.

Mystery!

The last one I found odd, I feel like David Wright is one of the easiest characters to figure out.  I admit, I am a David Wright fan, but I am no “David Wright groupie,” like some fans are (female OR male).  I’m more of a root-for-the-laundry type of gal.  That said, the mystery lays in what David Wright believes HIMSELF to be.  I felt like the more emotional responses are there because of our expectations on not only a fan favorite, and a homegrown talent, but a good-looking “clean cut” dude that we WANT to see succeed.  And believe me, we shouldn’t cry over having someone like Wright to root for.

However, I think he is replaceable.  Yeah, I said it.  What most people think of when they think of David Wright is that he strikes out.  A LOT.  He’s someone who seems to not be able to handle the pressure.  The nonthreatening part of it.

Of course, I am biased.  Carlos Beltran has fast become one of my favorite Mets, while David Wright to me is someone I can appreciate.  What I saw at the event was this.  Carlos Beltran is everything you would think he wasn’t, based on reports and ideas we have based on body language.  He loves the game.  He is passionate.  He isn’t afraid to show his emotion when asked.  The younger guys look up to him as a leader.  Ike Davis spoke nothing but high words about him and how he’s helped him in the clubhouse.

David Wright answers just seemed guarded, and scripted, not to mention generic.  So it’s all very interesting what our perceptions are and what are biases are on certain players, and when you can interface with them outside of the ballpark (well, technically I was in the ballpark, but it wasn’t a game day, so there), you can see their true colors.

Perhaps newest Kiners Korner member, Ed Leyro, put it best when he called David Wright “Diva’d Wright.”  He may have been Santa Claus earlier, but he was the only player who didn’t interact with fans (taking pictures or signing autographs).  Heck, even Jeff Wilpon was shaking hands with some people at the event.  Carlos Beltran, even Sandy Alderson, were out there before the event interacting with fans.  It may sound like I have an axe to grind, but I really don’t per se.  It’s more of a reaction I hear from fans who want to pin the label of “face of the franchise” onto a certain marquee player to identify with.  David Wright’s perception of the “good guy” is good enough for these people.  My thinking is that he is not ready for all of that but he is also not a leader.  He’s on his fourth manager in his tenure of the Mets, his only team.  He tries too hard to get everyone to like him, which leaders don’t necessarily care for.   And here is Carlos Beltran, a working class hero, who gets the shaft from fans and media alike for the perception of not being a “team player.”  It drives me nuts!!

So who is the “face of the franchise?”  My answer to that question is in the form of a Jeopardy response…does it really even matter?  Someone in the audience on that Tuesday asked that very question of Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson…that is, will there be a “Captain” title on the team?  The answer to that was no, from both Alderson and Collins.  Collins said to the effect that there is enough veteran presence on the team that not one specific player should be a “leader?”  It’s more for the fans to find someone to identify with, and I’d rather have someone who can walk the walk, not just throw out blanket plain vanilla response to appease a fan base.

I think we all know, from our day jobs and wherever else in life, that leadership is an innate quality.  So I raise the question to y’all, the Kult of Mets Personalities, to ask yourselves…does it matter?  And why does it matter to you, if it indeed does bother you?

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