Sunday, April 03, 2016

Rebooting 2016 seems unlikely, so we're waiting for Cespedes in year 52

I want to reboot 2016.

Seriously. Let’s march into Times Square, raise the glistening ball back to the top of the flagpole and lower it at midnight once more.

Today we embark on our traditional journey of pairing the age we turn with a Mets player who wore that number, and thinking about what lessons that exercise might bring for the year ahead.

Flipping the calendar to 2015 brought good news and adventures. But 2016, while appearing to start off good, has brought rather difficult challenges. I've been hurt, people I love have been hurt and people I admire have been hurt.

As always, we look to our favorite baseball team for inspiration. The 2015 Mets were off to a great start, with an 11-game winning streak that made the early April showers seem like tears of joy.

Then the bad things started to happen. Captain David Wright went down with a hamstring injury that somehow turned into career-threatening spinal stenosis. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud and then-perfect reliever Jerry Blevins got hurt in the same game, the latter, through an unforeseen incident with a curb, was out for the rest of the season. And, the stud closer, it was learned, could attribute some of his studliness to banned substances, making him banned from the clubhouse.

The Mets were quickly left with an amazing rotation and a punchless offense.

It’s a little difficult to pinpoint the moment the Mets bottomed out.

Perhaps it’s the day the team was no-hit by a 27-year-old Giants rookie, who missed a perfect game only because he hit three Mets with wayward pitches.

Or, it was July 23, the day the team faced Clayton Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, and sent out a lineup that included John Mayberry Jr. – batting .170 – in the clean-up spot, followed by Eric Campbell, who was hitting .179. They were hitting better than the battery, where catcher Anthony Recker, at .137, had a lower average than pitcher Bartolo Colon, whose flailing at-bats were expected to generate more laughs than hits. The lineup managed to get a hit in the seventh, which was a moral victory.

Or, perhaps it was July 29, the day when sportswriters inaccurately Tweeted mid-game that the Mets had acquired Brewers’ slugger Carlos Gomez for injured pitcher Zach Wheeler and shortstop Wilmer Flores. 

That famously sent Flores, who didn’t want to be traded but thought he had been based on the apparent appreciative departing ovation he received, trotting out to his position with his glove and tears.

I think it actually might be the next day, when the Mets somehow piled up a 7-1 lead over the Padres, only to have the Friars chip away at it as storm clouds came increasingly closer. With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, the heavens opened, forcing a rain delay. After a 35-minute pause, closer Jeurys Familia strode back to the mound for the final out but instead allowed two hits and a home run, giving the Padres the lead. That was followed by another rain delay before the Mets were meekly retired in order.

After the near-trade the day before, the soggy loss was a ridiculous gut punch in a couple of months that was full of them.

How are we finding this inspirational?

As my friend Greg Prince writes in his essential new book “Amazin’ Again,” “the Mets never gave up despite the difficulties they encountered.”

Before the water-logged Mets uniforms had a chance to completely dry out, General Manager Sandy Alderson added a new one to the clubhouse – adorned with a big 52 on the back.

Yoenis Cespedes was a five-tool player on a disappointing Detroit Tigers team that was more in need of prospects than any of Cespedes’ abundant talents.

Fitted in glorious blue pinstripes, he became the hottest player on the planet. In all, Cespedes hit 17 homers and drove in 44 runs in 57 games as a Met.

An all-world masher in the heart of the order with Wright and d’Arnaud returning from injuries – coupled with a rotation that includes the Dark Knight, Thor and other assorted superheroes -- allowed the Mets to pull ahead of the Nationals to claim first place and never let go. The resurgent Mets, led by No. 52, marched through the playoffs and into an unexpected but well-earned World Series.

As we reflect on the present personal challenges and the arrival of year No. 52, we can recognize that the Mets, despite the struggles, kept in a position to become successful by working hard and never giving up.

It’s OK to be angry, but it is important to let it fade before it turns into bitterness. Bitterness consumes. Nothing good comes from it. I recognize that I have many, many blessings and have leaned on my faith, family and friends.

Today is a double celebration of a birthday and Opening Day. No. 52 could have left as a free agent after the season, but he’s back with the Mets in centerfield because he knows good things are about to happen.