The New York Mets long ago faded from the pennant race, but continue to garner their fair share of headlines. Unfortunately for the team, the underlying stories have been mostly negative.
The most recent example stems from the decision of three Mets players to not join their teammates on a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Making matters worse, the three players (Carlos Beltran, Oliver Peres and Luis Castillo) who skipped the trip also happen to be involved in deteoriating relationships with the team (Dillon Gee also did not attend, but he was the starting pitcher in the game later on that day).
Not surprisingly, the absence of the three players quickly created a firestorm that spread from Twitter to the Mike Francesca Show to the city’s tabloids and local television stations. Instead of focusing on an otherwise organization-wide gesture of goodwill, the story became about those who didn’t attend the visit when it should have highlighted those who did. This glass half empty approach to looking at the Mets has become very common, and although appropriate in most cases, seems very unfair this time around. If not for the absence of the three players, one wonders if there would have been any significant reporting at all about the Mets’ visit.
You’d like to see everybody. I don’t think it’s big enough until you get everybody.” – Mets’ 3B David Wright, New York Daily News, September 9, 2010
Reportedly, Fred Wilpon, who is active in veteran’s charities, was angered by the players’ absences, and even other team members expressed concern. In response to the negative reaction by the public, media and team, two of the players, Castillo and Beltran, provided explanations for their failure to attend. Castillo very honestly stated that he didn’t feel comfortable interacting with the hospital’s patients, many of whom are missing arms and legs. Meanwhile, Beltran, who stated that he had visited a Veterans Hospital earlier in the year with Mets owner Fred Wilpon, had a meeting regarding a charitable endeavor he is conducting in Puerto Rico. Not surprisingly, Oliver Peres had nothing to say.
The excuses offered by the three Mets are really irrelevant. Whether they are legitimate or not, excoriating them for not attending turns what should have been a voluntary gesture of goodwill into a mandatory routine. In a way, the decision of Beltran, Castillo and Peres actually makes the rest of the team’s appearance all the more meaningful. After all, they actually wanted to be there. By subjecting those who don’t attend similar endeavors to intense criticism, we are effectively making their attendance compulsory, which kind of defeats the purpose. If I was soldier at Walter Reed, I would like to think that my visitors were there of their own free will…not because they didn’t want to get slammed in the media.
Knowing the Mets, this story will probably have more twists and turns before it fades from the radar, but one only hopes the soldiers at Walter Reed are not exposed to any of them. Being in the middle of such a public tussle is probably not a comfortable position for men with the amount pride you’d expect from a soldier.