“If you can keep your head about you when all others are losing theirs, and blaming it on you…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!” — Rudyard Kipling
As all of us who read this know, it’s a trying time to be a Mets fan, to say the least. The woes of this team are well documented and don’t need to be enumerated individually here, suffice to say that no team is going to look very good without its dominant ace starter, its mostly-consistent closer and its lightning-rod superstar hitter. It seems that the Baseball Gods have taken special delight in heaping the trials of Job on the team from Queens. Those of us of a metaphysical bent might call it Madoff’s Revenge or continuing payback to Satan for Bill Buckner. It could be a simple reversion by ownership to its previous meddling ways – if you notice over the years, in the wake of success, Mets’ GMs going all the way back to Frank Cashen suddenly get stupid; I leave it up to you, dear reader, to figure out the common denominator. In any case, the 2017 season is hurtling toward the “lost” column and it’s just Memorial Day weekend.
One bright spot among this rubble has been, of course, the emergence of Michael Conforto. Extremely little was expected from this third-year player this year. After his meteoric rise to the post-season roster in 2015 – it is easy to forget that he was only drafted out of college in June of ’14 – his fall was just as rapid last year. With all kinds of talk swirling that he might start the year in Las Vegas due to the Mets’ supposed glut of outfielders – they were supposed to have a glut of starting pitchers, too, but look how that one turned out – a lat injury to Juan Lagares late in training camp allowed for Conforto to take that roster spot. After a fitful start to the season, he has definitely made the most of his opportunity. With Yoenis Cespedes on the shelf for most of the early going and with Jay Bruce’s initial hot streak a thing of the past, Conforto has emerged as the team’s most consistent, exciting hitter. A graphic on a recent game telecast showed a textbook swing, with near-perfect mechanics. Ron Darling marveled at Conforto’s ability to keep his head down, his eyes focused on ball meeting bat. “That’s what everybody means when they say ‘Keep your eye on the ball.’ Conforto’s doing that perfectly.” With his emerging stature among League leaders, people are starting to take notice: eighth in Avg. (.333), third in home runs (13), fourth in OPS (1.138). And because of that lousy pre-season depth chart, he can’t get on the All-Star ballot.
Across town, people are turning cartwheels over the development of Aaron Judge, and rightly so. Judge started this season like a house ablaze and hasn’t let up. Thing is, Conforto is right there with him and not a lot of folks around here are noticing. While Conforto isn’t nearly the imposing physical specimen Judge is and is a year younger, he’s matched Judge stat-for-stat, with a couple more RBI and a couple fewer HR. Just watch, they’ll go neck and neck down the New York track the rest of the year.
Dare we hope the rest of the Mets can catch up?
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