Well, as they said when Harvey, Wheeler, deGrom, and Matz went down, it had to happen eventually. I’ve reached the end of one decade, or two cumulatively, and effective tonight will begin my third. It’s amazing how the time just seems to fly — that, they may have said watching Zack Wheeler tossing in Spring Training last week as if the last two years had gone in the blink of an eye. I’m saying it for a different reason.
20 years on earth. Interestingly enough, it’s hardly a milestone year the way 30, 40, and 50 are, let alone 21. There’s not much, on the surface, that changes; it’s almost another 19. 20, to borrow from a TV show that’s slightly older than I am but almost certainly more timeless, doesn’t have a feel.
Except it does, because that one number makes all the difference in the world. Yesterday, I — or, let’s say, Desmond Lindsay, about a month my senior — wouldn’t have been out of place on a rookie-level ball field. Today, it’s time to start thinking about my MLB debut. Amazing what that one little 2 can do.
But really — think of what can happen, over the course of just one change of digit in one’s age. Yesterday, my age began with the same number, in the same slot, as the main character in Rookie of the Year. Today, the same can be said of myself and Paul Goldschmidt, Madison Bumgarner, and Rick Porcello. Hell, I only missed Yoenis Cespedes by a year.
In baseball, one’s 20s are an important time, if not the important time: one’s 20’s, unless that one is Dwight Evans, are where the basis for a career is assembled. You’ve never heard of a Hall of Famer coming into his own in his 30s — again, exempting Dwight Evans from discussion and hypothetical Hall of Fame consideration — because it just doesn’t happen.
In his 20’s, Tom Seaver won 146 games. Darryl Strawberry hit 280, or 84%, of his career home runs. Doc Gooden won 140 games; Mike Piazza hit 200 home runs and batted .333; Daniel Murphy — well, he’s another exception. But the trend is clear: 20, in baseball, is a big number.
Even outside of age, there’s a lot that 20 can tell us. 20 wins is a great pitching season; 20 home runs is a good power season; 20 stolen bases is a fast season. A .320 hitter is about where a good contact hitter becomes great, but a fielder who makes 20 errors needs some work. 20/20 is the first benchmark for speed/power players; I’ve never met a fantasy baseball owner who hasn’t had their eye on some sleeper they thought could produce a 20/20 season. You know the type: Rickie Weeks, Danny Espinosa, Shin Soo Choo before he hit the spotlight, Alex Rios, Justin Upton, Adam Eaton, Ian Kinsler…yeah, you know the type. Sometimes, they follow through on those 20/20 predictions; more often, they don’t. But it’s an important number to reach nonetheless.
Speaking of 20/20 guys, could the Mets have one in Desmond Lindsay, and if so, when will we see him? Lindsay isn’t quite younger than I am, but he was born earlier the very same year, which means that until some 19-year-old kid comes blazing through the farm system and shocks everyone on his way to the top, Lindsay is the guy I’m watching out for. Eventually, there will be a Met younger than me: Luis Carpio, Andres Gimenez, Gregory Guerrero, and Ricardo Cespedes notwithstanding, I haven’t yet the slightest idea who that will be. Perhaps it will be none of these players: it seems only yesterday that mets.com’s prospect page was guaranteeing me that Eddie Kunz would be the next big thing. But there will be someone eventually.
For now, though, I’ll keep enjoying being too young to be a Met, even though the impending onset of my 20s would seem to put a mostly symbolic end to being young enough to enjoy being young. In this case, the numbers don’t match the real-world results: with numbers putting me on the fringes of adulthood, I’m decked out in a bright blue Spring Training jersey killing time until the guys — that is, Howie and Josh, seeing as the other guys, Gary, Keith, and Ron, do not yet grace the airways — go live. Sure, I’m getting old; I’m not yet too old to appreciate the significance of the first game of Spring Training. I fervently hope that that day never comes.
Honestly, the first game of the Spring — what better birthday present could you ask for? Besides, possibly, the panoramic Citi Field puzzle that I was gifted late last night, and that, due to my near-photographic knowledge of what the inside of Citi Field looks like, has already had a substantial part assembled? Late February is a great time to be a Mets fan (as if there was ever a bad time to be a Mets fan): Spring Training, I’ve always believed, looks better in orange and blue.
Really, could I ask for more? A sunny day outside (up north, let alone in Florida); a Mets lineup that includes Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Gavin Cecchini, among others; Howie Rose on the radio (Josh, you’re not bad either); a Spring Training jersey, one of these new 3/4 sleeve gizmos, that just arrived in the mail; and Opening Day 38 horizons off. It’s almost as if I was born to be a Mets fan — now, scratch “it’s almost as if.”
Another year has passed; another season, since my last birthday, gone; players in and players out; a new season getting closer every day. It’s true every February around this time, as is the fact that at the same time, I add another year to my ever-growing collection. Is it a perfect Mets birthday? Would I prefer something different — say, a birthday the first Sunday of baseball season every year? No and yes. But as we Mets fans have all learned in one way or another, you gotta work with what you have. If I haven’t taken in that message after eight years of the post-Madoff Mets, I’ve been doing something wrong.
So here’s to another year of Mets baseball, whatever it may bring. As for wishes, I’ll only say this: in one year exactly, I’ll be legally eligible to drink — not that I plan to, what with everything that goes on in my brain, but regardless, it’ll be within the boundaries of the law. I simply ask the Mets not to spend the next year actively driving me down that path. Just this year, no more Jason Bays, no more distracted Terry, no more ridiculous roster moves and questionable lineup decisions.
In other words: let’s go win a championship before I turn 21 and my capacity for youthful wonder and unfettered love for the game begins to run dry. Please and thank you.