When Chipper Jones was removed for a pinch-runner on Sunday, he got a standing ovation from the hardy souls who braved the presence of the Mets to check out the game at Citi Field.
It was a nice gesture from fans who have never been too enamored with Larry Jones of the Atlanta Braves, mostly because he used to treat Shea Stadium like a batting cage with a machine throwing 70 miles per hour. But they cheered him all the same on Sunday afternoon because they'll never get another chance to see him play in Queens again.
Jones' retirement means that the Mets have taken yet another step away from the good old days when they and the Braves had an actual rivalry instead of the "divisional rivalry" that the Twins share with the Royals. Those days, filled with "LARRY! LARRY!" chants and John Rocker and the weight of the baseball world hanging in the balance, feel millions of miles away.
The Mets got swept this weekend, which is pretty meaningless at this point. There are 22 games left, the season's been over for almost two months and this is the way it has been in September far too often since those golden days of more than a decade ago.
So the fans applauded Jones and they also applauded their own memories and loyalty for continuing to turn out for these Mets even though getting beaten by a dramatic Jones homer would acutally be an improvement over the listless losses they tend to suffer. After all, it can't be dramatic unless the Mets actually got close enough to make you think they had a chance.
There's reason for hope, true believers. The Mets have a plan to fix their offense, something that surely took hours and hours in the lab and must be shared with the fans in order to spur their interest in the next chapter of Mets baseball.
Or it could just be something that Terry Collins came up with on the fly while expressing his frustration with another loss. You be the judge!
"We've researched it. We're going to try something new tomorrow. But, believe me, we have wrung the rag dry trying to find some answers why we don't hit the ball in this park. We're going to change some pregame-preparation stuff -- see if that works," Collins said. "You'll see it. We're going to try a different approach tomorrow and see if that works."
Here's a suggestion: Tell Sandy Alderson to get better players. The problem with Andres Torres, Jason Bay and Josh Thole isn't their pregame preparation, it's that they are Andres Torres, Jason Bay and Josh Thole.
When the Mets learned to hate Chipper Jones, they had Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura and John Olerud. Pregame preparation had nothing to with it.
Until they do, they won't have any tearful goodbyes for reviled but respected rivals. Awful teams don't have rivals, just guys who keep kicking sand in their faces.