Jason Bay was the first Mets player to enter the dugout before Sunday's workout, and he had a big grin on his face.

After several minutes he bounded up the steps, looked skyward and lifted his glasses to check the orientation of the sun before running off into the expansive outfield.

For the new guy in New York, things couldn't be brighter.

"One of my big things is ignorance is bliss," said Bay, when asked about the team's troubles last season.

Manager Jerry Manuel, on the other hand, headed right for a group of fans gathered in the stands down the right field line to deliver a message.

"It's our time now. It's our time now," Manuel promised the modest crowd that came to watch the Mets' practice.

Optimism abounded in New York the day before the Mets start putting behind them last year's injury wrecked 70-92 season with Game No. 1 of 2010, against the Florida Marlins.

The Mets begin their second season at Citi Field, which feels a whole lot more like their true home. The organization opened a Hall of Fame and museum off the Jackie Robinson Rotunda - with memorabilia that includes the ball that squirted through Boston first baseman Bill Buckner's legs in the 1986 World Series. And the beloved home run apple from Shea Stadium - on display last year at a little-used gate - was moved to the main plaza outside the rotunda.

On the field, though, the Mets are a work in progress. They are beginning the season with Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy on the disabled list, and a starting rotation that struggled throughout spring training after a year in which all the starters except Mike Pelfrey spent significant time on the disabled list.

"I think that those pitchers came out of spring training healthy is an asset for us," Manuel said. "Now we get an opportunity to evaluate them under the lights. I think they're going to be better than some of the people give us credit for."

Manuel is pinning much of the season's success on the staff led by opening day starter Johan Santana, and on a bullpen anchored by Francisco Rodriguez.

The closer was at the workout Sunday after rushing home to Venezuela on Wednesday after two of his brothers were injured in a car accident. Rodriguez said he will be able to concentrate if called upon even though one of his brothers is in serious but stable condition in Caracas.

"I know it's going to be difficult," Rodriguez said. "When my time comes I'm going to be 100 percent focused on what I am doing."

Last season, the Mets made several baserunning errors and Manuel appears to be taking a conservative approach with his opening day lineup without Reyes at the top of the order.

Instead of using Angel Pagan in the leadoff spot he's going with "the very cerebral" Alex Cora. He's also starting Gary Matthews Jr. in center field but will not yet declare a permanent replacement for Carlos Beltran, who is out until at least May.

"I'm going to give them an opportunity to play with some consistency then evaluate," Manuel said.

The Mets have a tough April schedule and it starts with a matchup against one of the premier young pitchers, Josh Johnson. The Marlins, 87-game winners in 2009, also have NL batting champ Hanley Ramirez, Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan and just acquired left-hander Nate Robertson.

"They're a pretty good team. Johnson has done a great job through his career," Santana said. "It's going to be a tough challenge but we're ready for it."

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria increased payroll over $40 million for the first time since 2005 and expects a playoff berth, but Coghlan doesn't think there is any added pressure to win.

"Last year we didn't make the playoffs and that's our goal. So I don't think there's more pressure," Coghlan said. "For us all that matters is our belief in this locker room, the 25 guys. We're a team that believes we can go to the playoffs."

Cody Ross, out since March 23 with a calf injury, is in the Marlins' starting lineup Monday.