Don’t Give Up…Yet (Part One)
Deceptively, baseball looks like an easy game to play. Most of the players seem to be of average height and weight; the rules and strategies are fairly straightforward and as George Carlin has pointed out, it’s a game played in a park where the objective is to be safe at home. Partially as a result, it can be easy to get down quickly on players who don’t meet expectations. In a market like New York “quickly” is an understatement as calls for a player’s head can be heard after a single 0-fer game. After a whole season of this, the fanbase’s desire to banish said player to the remotest outpost in baseball can border on the irrational.
Recently, I was reminded of just how hard this game is. I coach my son’s Fall League baseball team and a sudden downpour ruined the field for game conditions. With a collection of players in uniform and ready to go, we decided on an impromptu intrasquad scrimmage. To round out the teams, a few parents participated. My sole at bat was against my 11 year old son. He’s a big (5’ 5”) kid to begin with and he can put some heat on his pitches. He obviously relished the chance to face dear old dad on a level playing field. He buzzed me inside twice, much to the bemusement of the onlookers. He came in again on a third pitch which jammed me, but I was able to get around on it and hit a roller out past an admittedly disinterested second baseman into right field. Later, I took a seat in the dugout next to my wife, whom our son had fanned on three pitches. “Not as easy as it looks,” she remarked.
Now what does this tender family moment have to do with the Mets? A reminder of just how true those five words are. Under the best of conditions, the game is extremely difficult to play and even the top players fail two out of three times. There is an adjustment level from the Triple- or Double-A to the Major League level and for some young men, coming from a small close-knit community to the world’s loudest metropolis can be overwhelming. To top it off, some of these players are also forced to change positions or be the replacement for a popular incumbent. For every David Wright, Edgardo Alfonzo or (hopefully) Matt Harvey who arrived here and had immediate and lasting success, there are other players who needed the time and mentoring to adjust to the talent, sights, sound and sometimes even the language of their big league surroundings. Fernando Vina, Jeromy Burnitz, Jason Isringhausen, Jeff Kent and **sigh** Nolan Ryan are a few examples of players the Mets gave up on too soon, traded away for next to nothing and watched as they blossomed into good and in two cases, great players elsewhere. While I don’t think the Mets have a future Nolan Ryan in their organization, they may well indeed have another Vina, a Burnitz, an Izzy and maybe even a Kent in the fold already.
Who are they? You’ll have check back here tomorrow to find out!