Back in 2007, the Mets brought up a young man named Carlos Gomez. Gomez could burn — he and Jose Reyes used to race each other out to their positions, which I thought was adorable. He was just 21, but pretty big — the kind of guy you see as a doubles and triples hitter who might mature into a slugger. Meanwhile, the incumbent in right field was Shawn Green. Green was 34 and looked to my eyes like he was 54, particularly in the field, where ball after ball seemed to strike earth and take one gentle hop into his glove. Let’s all pause and remember Scott Speizio’s ball just eluding Green’s grasp, though it was really Guillermo Mota’s fault. Ugh that sucked.
Anyway, I loved Carlos Gomez. He was young. He had promise. He was not Shawn Green.
Greg, stuck sitting beside me on multiple occasions while I yelled at Shawn Green for not being someone else, was more cautious than this. Too many Benny Ayalas and Jay Paytons and Alex Escobars have done too much damage to his psyche for him to get overly excited about callow youth. It wasn’t so much that he was a Shawn Green fan as it was that he wanted to be sure we had a better answer before consigning existing ones to the scrap heap. He’s logical that way. It’s kind of infuriating.
As it turned out, neither one of us can claim much in the way of bragging rights there, not that that’s what we do anyway. Green was done after 2007; Gomez proved periodically talented but mostly maddening as a Minnesota Twin and is now a Milwaukee Brewer.
I know it’s spring training because in recent days I can feel myself coming down with another case of Rookie Fever. Josh Thole, he of the curious inside-out swing and stuff to learn on defense? Well, did you read this awesome New York Times story about him by David Waldstein? He spent the offseason playing for Leones del Caracas and hit .381! The Caracas fans nicknamed him el Infierno — the Inferno! He played in Caracas, which most things you read portray like it’s Grand Theft Auto with better graphics! And he didn’t bat an eye despite growing up in a town the Times called “an Illinois hamlet”! (Though the Times being the Times, that could be anything that isn’t St. Louis.) [Withdrawn. First of all, St. Louis ain't in Illinois, genius. Second, a pointless, cheap shot about a terrific story and a good get. Not my proudest moment.] And his fiancee sounds like a badass too! After reading Waldstein’s profile, I was not only demanding that Thole be the opening-day catcher but also inclined to suggest that Kathryn Poe immediately replace Luis Castillo.
Or take Ike Davis. He’s an above-average defensively first baseman who says modestly that he has a lot to learn. He’s being respectful of David Wright, who’s taken him under his wing, recalling that Ty Wigginton treated him wonderfully when he might have resented the rookie’s arrival. He can hit! He can field! He’s well-mannered! He’s got a big-league pedigree! He was a Cyclone! I’m getting more and more excited!
We will love Thole and Davis. I’m sure of it. Well, I’m certain we’ll love them … until.
What’s that? You want me to define until? OK, that can be tricky. It might be “until we expire on our deathbeds, thinking of numbers on walls and World Series trophies and trips to Cooperstown.” Seriously, it could happen. But yes, I’ll admit that most of the time until arrives a little more quickly.
We might love Thole and Davis until they commit the sin of revealing themselves to be better than only 99.925% of people on Earth who play baseball instead of 99.975% of those folks. We might love them until they get hurt and are never quite the same. We might love them until they’re traded or seek professional homes closer to their real ones for more money than the Mets feel like offering. We might love them until they get old a little too early for our tastes.
And, yeah, we might love them until they’re competing for jobs with someone just a little bit younger and less defined by reality than they have been. Throughout this discussion Daniel Murphy has been jumping up and down yelling “I’m 24 years old! I was born in freaking 1985!” Quiet down, old man.
That’s the way it goes. But for now, it’s February. Which means Rookie Fever is loose. Just try not to catch it.