For almost everyone involved with the Mets, it was a mess of a week, from Sandy Alderson in the trade deadline war room to the clubhouse attendants dealing with the raccoon in the weight room. At its worst, this week was enough to scare off even the most loyal fan. But at its best, which often looked like its worst, we were reminded of the humanity of this game.
On Wednesday night, after Citi Field gave him a standing ovation and a fan told him that he'd been traded, Wilmer Flores stood at shortstop and cried. We've all seen the videos. It was one of the most heartbreaking images in a rather heartbreaking season, despite the standings in the division. And it's also an image that was replayed on every network, on every sport show and news broadcast that night, as if Flores's night wasn't tough enough.
Flores wasn't crying because (he thought) he was going to the Brewers. He was crying because (he thought) he was leaving the Mets, the team that drafted him the day after his 16th birthday. The team that had been his boss and his friend and his family for the past seven years. Then, as we all know, it all fell apart.
He was a Met. Then he wasn't. Then he was again. Oh, and he also had to play some baseball in between. For a 23-year-old kid who's only known one team in his professional career, that's a lot to deal with. Heck, for anyone, that's a lot to deal with.
On Friday night, when he stepped up to the plate, Citi Field gave Flores a standing ovation. After all he'd been through, Mets fans were behind him, perhaps mores than they'd been all year. Then he drove in the first run of the game. Then he made a diving stop at second base. Again, more applause. It gave me chills.
Hours later, nearing midnight and well into extra innings, Flores came up to the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning. In a movie, this is the point where the underdog comes through and saves the day. And for one night, the Mets were a movie team. Wilmer Flores, whose tenure as a Met had come a medical test away from the end, was a hero.
If this doesn't give you goosebumps—or tears in your eyes—I don't know what to say.
With that fist pump around first and that smile rounding third, Flores completed a week of the most emotion I think we've ever seen from him. And it made me love him. After everything he'd gone through, Flores had come through again. As the team mobbed him, as Daniel Murphy ran out to hug him and Travis d'Arnaud poured Gatorade over his head, Flores was the most important part of the team that had raised him.
Zack Wheeler, the other part of the almost trade, was the less visible victim. Rehabbing in Florida (although it's been raining here in the "sunshine" state for three weeks straight, so I don't know how much on-field rehab he can possibly be doing), he wasn't on TV crying or in front of a microphone talking about how much he loved the Mets. But he was fighting for his job behind the scenes, with a call to Mets general manager Sandy Alderson.
Wheeler, Alderson said, "really expressed his desire to remain a Met, his excitement for being part of the organization, for being part of what is happening here."
Can you imagine making that phone call to your boss? "Look, I know you're using me as leverage to make this year's team better, but I want to help next year and the year after that and the year after that. I can help if you let me." It's a terrifying call to make for a 25-year-old man who's sitting around while his team makes its push toward the postseason. But he's also a 25-year-old man who sees where his team is going and wants to be a part of it.
We get caught up in the numbers of this game, in the on-base percentage and the swing-and-miss rate and the defensive runs saved. But those are people getting those hits and making those diving catches. Men of 25, 30, 40 years old who play a boy's game and make millions of dollars doing so. They're people with emotions. They have homes and families and roots.
Baseball is a numbers game, but it's played by men. Men with feelings just like you and me, even if their bank accounts are a bit fuller than ours. Through all of the mess, this week reminded us exactly that.