It’s been 179 days since the Mets slumped off the field on a chilly New York afternoon in Flushing; 179 days since Oliver Perez walked in the eventual winning run in the 14th inning against Washington; 179 days since the club fell to its 83rd and final loss of 2010.

April brings something fresh. If not hope eternal, then hope anew.

The general consensus is that the Mets will struggle over the next six months, and that’s okay. Expectations are low, and this group of largely underachieving stars has essentially nothing to lose.

Each individual will want to justify his place on the roster, his inclusion in the lineup and the number in his contract, but if the Mets finish at .500 come October, people will probably think they’ve been as distinctly average as everyone thought they would be.

It’s fitting, then, that the Mets get their campaign underway on the road in Florida, a warm-weather state where the disappointments of the previous cold winter can be forgotten and where the rebirth of championship dreams begin in camp each spring.

Bigger R-words might be “rebranding” or “renovation.” The club has a new front office, an improved field staff and an almost entirely fresh bench. There’s a new sense of self-belief and an air of accountability. Fans will hope this combination translates into a new winning mentality.

In cutting Luis Castillo and Perez, the club signaled its intent, drawing a line in the sand and telling the world that over-inflated contracts alone won’t hold the club ransom. It’s a visual way of expressing the end of the Omar Minaya era and a not-so-subtle sign that mediocrity will not be tolerated.

It’s not a rebuilding project, but the effects could be the same.

Rather, it’s a contradiction of terms, a conundrum of what-ifs and maybes, a conundrum wrapped in an enigma.

Eleven players of New York’s 25-man roster are new members of the team, but the core of the team is still intact.

Its black sheep reliever is gone and out of the picture, but its higher-paid white knight is here, yet unavailable.

The right fielder who hit .333 in three spring games and nobody expected to be ready for Opening Day will be in the lineup, while the left fielder who hit .333 in 16 games will start the year on the DL.

At 32-17 the Mets have the best winning percentage (.653) of any team in the history of baseball on Opening Day, and that includes losses in the first eight years of the club’s formative years.

The new season starts now, and the club is on a pedestal with everyone else. If the Mets want any chance of upsetting the NL East applecart, that Opening Day trend needs to continue.

New York needs to get off to a hot start, not only to put 2010 firmly in the rear-view mirror, but to usher in that fresh era that Sandy Alderson, Terry Collins and Co. have promised us.

Hope and pride should not be confused with misplaced trust and blind faith. After all, in 2011, optimism might be all Mets fans have to cling on to as they look towards the future.

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