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Minor Things, Major Dreams

Matt Harvey is clearly ready. Or almost ready. Or not ready, but a better bet than the barely any longer ready for prime time Miguel Batista, which is what matters in the short term. I kept an eye on the Bisons and the Mud Hens last night from lovely, lonely Buffalo, and I can’t say for sure whether Matt was masterful in holding Toledo hitless for five innings or they don’t call them the Mud Hens for nothing. Toledo is 38-57 and may not have been our 2010 first-round pick’s toughest test imaginable.

Harvey didn’t ultimately beat them but they didn’t much beat him, either [1]. And do you really want to see Batista Saturday against the Dodgers? At worst (not counting a Tim Leary situation [2], and this game won’t be at chilly Wrigley Field in April), a Harvey debut [3] blowup will have proven a learning experience and the Mets can continue to grope around with Jeremy Hefner or roll the dice — if they’re feelin’ lucky — with Zack Wheeler…if in fact 2012 is a season that feels worthy of rollin’ dice over when the fifth day after Saturday comes around. (Update: Forget it for now; Batista’s starting [4].)

What captured my notice more than anything when I wasn’t trying to be a TV scout and decipher Harvey’s readiness was how depressing Triple-A games are to watch. This contest was a relative big deal in our world yet there was nobody at Coca-Cola Field. There’s never anybody at these games when SNY shows them. There’s never anybody in Buffalo [5] and there was never anybody in New Orleans when the Mets’ top farm club was the Zephyrs. Perhaps it’s a symptom of both those cities being major league in other sports but told to sit at the children’s table for baseball. Or maybe it’s from knowing that the up-and-comingest players they’re watching will soon be gone and won’t be back if all goes well. Or it could be New Orleans and Buffalo just aren’t Mets territory the way Norfolk was cultivated to be [6].

The other aspect of the minor league telecast that got me was the identity of the Bisons’ leadoff hitter, Fred Lewis. Fred Lewis…why was that name familiar? Then I remembered: He’s Fred Lewis from the San Francisco Giants five years ago. Fred Lewis played right at Shea Stadium on May 29, 2007, codified as an SNY Mets Classic, shown approximately every other week, it seems. That’s the one where, in the twelfth inning, Armando Benitez pitches for San Francisco, balks Jose Reyes home from third and gives up the winning homer to Carlos Delgado. I was at that game, one of the last indisputably great games I saw at Shea [7]. As I thought back on it, I remembered Delgado ended it with a homer and a Giant began it with a homer. Wasn’t that Fred Lewis who started it with a bang?

No, it was Randy Winn. But Fred Lewis was there, 26 then, 30 last summer as a Red, 31 now. The Mets signed him in April and he’s been at Buffalo since, playing with Harvey, playing with Zach Lutz and Adam Loewen and Matt Den Dekker and all those names who filtered through my brain in February and March before going mostly into storage. I don’t know much about Lewis, but he seems to be having a pretty good statistical season at Triple-A: .296/.377/.483 with 7 homers and 18 steals. He’s been hot, too, having earned International League Batter of the Week [8] honors for the period ending July 15. Fred hits lefty, which isn’t quite what the Mets need right now. If he hit righty, I might wonder what (besides a monstrous contract) would be keeping him at Buffalo instead of bringing back Jason Bay.

I do know, without knowing anything about the man, that I don’t blame Fred Lewis, a veteran of parts of six major league seasons, for keeping at his craft in lovely, lonely Buffalo. Who’d want to quit getting paid to play baseball? I’m pretty sure the answer is nobody.

While I watched him and Harvey and the rest of the herd do their thing, I noticed a Tweet from the Long Island Ducks:

“Timo Perez steps into the batters [sic] box to make his Bethpage Ballpark debut!”

Timo infamously broke into a trot a dozen years ago this October and hasn’t played in the majors since 2007, when Fred Lewis was a rookie, when Shea Stadium stood tall, when Armando Benitez was still being trusted to close games at the major league level, which the Giants would stop doing after he balked Reyes home and gave up that game-ending blast to Delgado. Benitez is now Perez’s teammate with the Ducks, where Armando’s ERA is 11.17, where his walks and hits are more than two-and-a-half times greater than his innings pitched and where he’s collected no saves. Yet there they are out in Central Islip, participating in games people buy tickets for.

You can blame Timo and Armando, among others, for losing Game One of the 2000 World Series, but you can’t blame them or Fred Lewis or Miguel Batista or anybody who’s seen better days to keep seeking baseball nights.