Today I was fortunate enough, as part of the last day of my Summer internship, to get on the field at Citi for Mets batting practice. As an obviously avid Mets fan, I can safely say I was a kid in a candy shop…it just so happened to be a candy shop full of Jose Reyeses and David Wrights instead of Reeses and Snickers. Needless to say, it was an incredible and touching experience, one I won’t soon forget.
Early on, the rookies were out, all clad in their matching 11 jerseys, taking turns cracking line drives all over the field. Hulking above them was Val Pascucci, crushing balls over that way-too-high left field wall. My admiring whistle as he bashed one into the second deck did not go unappreciated by the lifetime minor leaguer. The most impressive however, was easily Mike Baxter, who effortlessly hit shot after shot into the stands. I know. It’s BP. Still, though.
But it was when the big boys came out to begin warm-ups that I got a feel for the demeanor of the 2011 Mets, a moniker moving farther away in our rearview mirrors.
There were no feet dragging, no heads hanging, and no sighs to be heard. When the team began warming up, the callups were lined up along the right field foul line. Then, an alarmingly intense, bulging Mets trainer gave them a militaristic rundown. Each rookie, when called upon, was to recite their name and place of birth, most recent Mets affiliate, year drafted, round drafted, their own stats from last year, and the moment they helped their team most in their minor league careers. If a player forgot to mention one of those things or gave an unsatisfactory answer, he was told to take a seat. If he got it wrong again, he was told to lie on his back. Again, and he was to lie on his stomach. To be honest, I’m not even sure how one wins this game, but it was old school. They were treated more parts high school athletes than major leaguers. They may have made it, but they haven’t made it just yet, and the team wasn’t going to let them forget that. This game went on for a while, while the rest of the team, still stretching, watched on in amusement. The guys enjoying it most? The ones chipping in with jokes and comments most often? Wright and Reyes.
Once this was over, the team continued warming up, throwing, fielding, and hitting. But the attitude wasn’t that of a team with no playoff hopes and only .500 to look up to. They looked happy to still be out there. Reyes practiced his pitching motion while Tejada caught him, Turner made trick catches off his glove when he wasn’t feigning batting against the sidewinding Reyes, and Wright ribbed Bay for being married. All while Terry looked on with a watchful eye despite the lengthy SNY interview he was giving in the dugout. Just a few feet away from him stood Ron, checking out one of the callups’ gloves while Gary leaned on the dugout railing, taking in the scene on what could only have been a September afternoon.
When the sky turned somewhat more gray and the rain started falling, we all retreated to the dugout where Turner informed us that a little rain never hurt anyone. After letting a soft-spoken Duda and a very young looking Tejada know what a big fan I was of theirs, I extended a hand to Pagan.
I expected, wholeheartedly, that Pagan would give me a shake and an “appreciate it” as Duda had, especially as he was heading to an interview with some Spanish-speaking TV station. But instead, Pagan stopped and took some time to talk about the season with me. I was shocked by how honest he was and somewhat in awe that he was interested in sharing those thoughts. He mentioned that he had hoped the club could have strung together some more wins, and that the season has obviously been disappointing, but that he thinks they have outperformed the lowly expectations of the club at the season’s outset and he took particular pride in the heart and hustle the team has shown all the way through. It was neither the tone nor the sentiments of a defeated man on a defeated team. Pagan seemed strong, assured, and optimistic. He reflected the loose, cheery, yet determined atmosphere of the afternoon and it was refreshing.
Then, after a comment about how he just wanted to see Pelf go 7 or 8 innings tonight, Pagan and I retreated into the clubhouse where he intended to take a few more cuts before game time. He wasn’t the first though. Duda was already in there, zoned in, hacking away.
There are no days off on this club. Not for Duda. Not for the recently arrived rookies. Not for Pagan. Not for Reyes, Turner, or Wright. Not for Terry. Not even for Ron and Gary. The whole family was out there and the whole family was working. Because, contrary to early expectations, this team has not rolled over. They have not booked it in and they don’t appear ready to do so at any point in the near future. The Mets were out in full force today, working, grinding, improving. And so they will everyday until the 2011 Mets are no longer.
And you would be foolish to stop watching now.