It was a quiet morning during the slog of spring training, too far from the start of camp to still feel the glow of baseball’s return from the winter, and too far from Opening Day to be excited for the upcoming pageantry. For the players, this is a time to get through the grind.
The Mets had just won the National League pennant, so their team in 2016 brought the kind of expectations that had largely been foreign. The focus had been on the team’s ferocious young arms led by Matt Harvey and a mercurial slugger named Yoenis Céspedes. And briefly, it was on a rotund pitcher in the batter’s box and an omen: a snapped tree branch well beyond the fence in left field.
As Bartolo Colón took batting practice along with the rest of the pitchers, the session warranted some attention. Because in the long, long history of pitchers being lousy at hitting, few were as lousy as Colón.
By that spring, the righthander had been in the game long enough to endure a metamorphosis. He had once been a young power pitcher with a bright future. He won a Cy Young Award. Then he battled injuries, underwent controversial medical treatments, returned to effectiveness with the Yankees in 2011 by becoming a master of command; all before he wound up popped for performance-enhancing drugs.
Colón had packed three careers’ worth of experiences into one by the time he dragged all that baggage with him to the Mets, where against all odds, he won hearts and minds and 15 games a year during his three seasons with the franchise, two of which coincided with appearances in the postseason. That journey continued on Sunday, when Colón returned to Citi Field where he could officially retire as a member of the Mets.
But the one constant through it all had been Colón’s incompetence with the bat.
In 237 plate appearances, he had never homered. Even then, it was common for BP swings to be captured on video or on a phone. But on this morning, it was just Colón, meatballs thrown by hitting coach Kevin Long, and soon, an unbelievable sight.
Colón swung hard at a cookie delivered by Long and the ball took off for the trees behind the left-field fence. Following the boom of the bat there was silence, most certainly brought on by disbelief. Then came the crack of a tree branch snapping, and the thud as it hit the ground. The sound traveled 340 feet back to home plate, where Colón smiled wide and Long flashed a look of delight. For a few days after that, the players took to calling Colón “lumberjack.”
Arguably the worst hitting pitcher of all time had felled a tree. In all his years of playing, aside from launching bombs during offseason softball games back home in the Dominican Republic, Colón had never homered in an actual game. Surely this was a sign.
Could this be the year?
Fifty-four days later, during a regular season game in San Diego, the world got its answer. The pitch was a 90 mph fastball from James Shields and upon contact the unmistakable sound of a…
Read More: Bartolo Colón’s legacy with the Mets: Making it a joy to suspend reality 2023-09-17 18:34:49