In my last job I shared an office with Steve, an Englishman who was a passionate fan of Liverpool. Liverpool, Steve explained, was the football equivalent of the Mets — badly run, generally luckless and often an object of derision for other football fans. Steve loved them as much as I love the Mets, and so we would trade tales of these teams that were thoroughly hapless and yet somehow commanded our lifelong loyalty.
This morning I couldn’t wait to tell Steve about the newest Met.
Mike Nickeas, it so happens, is the son of Mark Nickeas, who began his football career as an apprentice with Liverpool. (He’d later play with Plymouth Argyle and Chelsea, about which I know nothing.) I’m always happy to welcome a new Met into the fold, and doubly excited when the new Met is also making his big-league debut. But here was a player who was a link between two different sports in different nations — a player Steve and I might have dreamed up except for the fact that his existence seemed so thoroughly unlikely. How great was that?
Mike Nickeas was given the start because he’d worked well with Jenrry Mejia, making his first big-league start and hopefully finally moving beyond the damage his own club did to his development by wasting him in middle relief earlier this year. So how’d Nickeas do? Well … let’s just say it was the kind of day fans of the Mets and Liverpool are all too used to. Mejia did better, showing an effective changeup and curveball at times to complement his fastball. Yes, he lost, but he’s 20 — the youngest Mets starter since Dwight Gooden. Unless you’ve got a Dwight Gooden on your hands, sprung fully formed from the head of the Zeus of pitching, 20-year-old starters are inconsistent and lose a fair amount. They grow up in public, and growing up in public is messy.
So too are the late-2010 Mets. The youth movement is finally here, and they look, well, young. There’s Ike Davis bashing a home run and making several nifty pickups at first, but he’s the same Ike Davis who stumbled through a mediocre summer after a marvelous spring. There’s Ruben Tejada making a season-in-review highlight play to gun down Geovany Soto while airborne from the outfield grass, but this is the same Ruben Tejada who makes us long for the powerful bat of Anderson Hernandez. There’s Jon Niese enduring the ups and downs of a young starter, and Josh Thole trying to prove he’ll hit enough to stick in the lineup. There’s the hulking Lucas Duda, who’s made nice plays in the field grafted onto mental errors. There’s Jenrry Mejia showing good complementary pitches, and then not so good ones. There’s applauding the sight of Mike Nickeas behind the plate and then having to watch him scurry to the backstop.
They’re young players with some genuine promise, but their arrival it means September will be bumpy, with plenty of 2010 bruises we hope turn into 2011 calluses. But that’s OK with me. I’d rather watch young players make young player mistakes than see an excess of old players hanging around because of their supposed intangibles. The Mets who came back from San Juan were not just bad but boring. That team is gone, and turning into something else. We don’t know what yet, but these are the early stages of figuring it out.