Don’t know if it’s still conventional wisdom in baseball circles to define a player’s prime as more or less the ages of 28-32. Since conventional wisdom never dies, probably. But if that’s the prime — when you’re old enough to know better and young enough to successfully implement what you know — we lack prime time on our team.
But we did last year, too.
Still, I can’t help but notice the age distribution in our lineup. On one end there are the gifted children, Jose and David. They’re getting up there, but not all that much. Wright turned 24 in December. Reyes is 23 until June. Nobody here is turning down exuberant youth, especially the kind that’s yielded so much in the way of results to date. We’d like to believe that the last two years indicate they’ve arrived early to their prime, but you can’t discount the possibility that their learning curve is not complete. That’s neat in terms of imagining how good they can be, but it’s troubling in terms of the chance they might step in the proverbial bucket soon. Wright’s power-reduced second half might have been that step, in which case let’s hope he’s steppin’ out when Pitchers & Catchers & David report next weekend. (I assume he’s already got a glove on a bat and that bat on his shoulder as he jimmies the lock on the shed where they keep the Iron Mike.)
On the other end are the fellas whose primes are chronologically pretty well behind them. With the exception of one (and then for less than two months), nobody’s age showed that badly last season, but the age is there. Green, a bit on the stale side from August to October, turned an unfresh 34 in November. Lo Duca will be 35 in April. Delgado will join him for presidential eligibility in June. Jose Valentin, nobody’s ideal incumbent at second, is a crisp 37 and counting. Moises Alou brings to left 40-year-old legs, both of which are due to turn 41 in July. None of these five guys is Julio Franco, but they could have all gone to high school with his younger brother Methuselah.
Other than Carlos Beltran Superstar, 30 as of April 24, nobody among frontline Mets is in his prime by traditional standards. But when were these traditional standards set? Probably when average life expectancy, to say nothing of typical career endurance, was a whole lot lighter. Yet this mildly freakish two young/one prime/three kinda old/one rather old/one practically my age demography has been nagging at me a bit as the wind chill turns these venerable bones cranky. But I’m not worried.
I swear it.
Even as one inspects birth certificates, experience is not to be underestimated. The most recent installment of Mets Hot Stove on SNY reminded me why. Willie Randolph was on and sounding rarin’ to go to Florida (after a winter of “MLB Insiders” and other timefillers on the show, it was nice to listen to an honest-to-goodness baseball man talk honest-to-goodness baseball). Conversation eventually turned to Valentin and, beyond the usual coachspeak, an enthusiastic Randolph — a second baseman of particular note in his day — mentioned something that hadn’t occurred to me at all about Other Jose. He said he was a great influence on Jose One, that he truly helped him out after he took over at second.
Hmmm…it was worth checking into. Willie may have been referring to the field, but take a look at the plate. When Reyes was paired with rookie Anderson Hernandez and the terminally uncomfortable Kaz Matsui up the middle (having had no consistent, experienced double play partner since coming up in ’03 for that matter), he was decidedly not en fuego. As late as the second week of June, our nascent All-Star shortstop was wallowing in the .240s. Then Matsui was traded, Valentin was installed for good at second and Reyes’s stick threw off sparks. In a two-week span, Jose Reyes’ batting average rose 56 points, rocketing from .246 on June 11 to .302 on June 25. No everyday player raises his batting average 56 points in the middle of June.
Connection? I have no concrete idea, but hearing the manager single out a positive working relationship between the two Joses, one technically over the hill, the other in stunning ascendance, hints at the likelihood that 25 different players have 25 different primes. And that Willie Randolph probably knows what he’s talking about.
You gotta read this gem of an anecdote from ex-Ranger pitcher Chris Young, passed on via Dan of Lone Star Mets regarding Chan Ho Park’s time in Texas. It gives nothing away to say the kicker of the story is Young’s assertion that “you just have to know Chan Ho. He’s a strange guy.”