If you’ve ever felt a little charge upon reacquainting yourself with an old song that wasn’t exactly a favorite back in the day but it’s surprisingly good to hear playing again from out of nowhere, then you know how I feel upon seeing Pedro Feliciano in a Mets uniform this Spring Training. For me and my vintage ear, spotting Pedro in Port St. Lucie is akin to turning on CBS-FM and hearing something by Firefall instead of the Eagles for the 4,000th time this month.
Pedro’s not the pitcher that I always dreamed of, but he’s a damn comforting sight. He was a survivor in his Met prime and he’s even more of one now. He’s survived four managers, two collapses, several departures, enough spins around the mound turntable to have worn out the sturdiest copy of “Hotel California” plus an injury that has kept him MLB-inactive since the last time he pitched for us.
When I saw him wearing one of those adorable Mr. Met caps a couple of weeks ago, I realized the picture wasn’t quite right. Pedro Feliciano needn’t wear a cap with Mr. Met’s image emblazoned on it. Mr. Met should be wearing a cap with Pedro Felicano’s face affixed squarely above the bill.
That’s how much a part of the Mets Pedro Feliciano had become over his final three seasons, when two of his four Met managers handed him the ball on 266 different occasions, enabling his setting of three consecutive franchise records for appearances in a season. That’s 266 games for one pitcher in three years. From 2008 through 2010, it was tough enough to watch the Mets 266 times.
Pedro, who first warmed up in our pen in 2002 while 19-year-old David Wright was working his way up from Single-A Capital City, was part of the 2006 Mets, too, yet his provisional return to the team — competing among an armful of southpaws for the role of lefty reliever who isn’t Josh Edgin — doesn’t instantly spark memories of fleeting triumph (though Feliciano and Chad Bradford were a super set of specialists back when relief was an honest-to-god Met strength). Pedro is 2009 and 2010 to me, which doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement, but in the long view, you need an avatar of affirmation for your bad old days. You need a good guy to stick out when you’re stuck pondering the lesser personalities and performers you rooted through. You need a Tony Clark, a Rico Brogna, a Bruce Boisclair. I need a Pedro Feliciano, a game lefty who would do his job fairly well incredibly frequently. He wasn’t the reason the Mets sucked, nor was he going to do enough to elevate the Mets from sucking. Mostly he was definitively, resolutely here.
It’s not so much that he announced his presence with authority, à la Nuke LaLoosh. It’s more like his presence was authoritatively implied. Tonight the Mets are playing the Braves and Pedro Feliciano will be warming up in the seventh inning. The consequences were rarely disastrous. The outcome was occasionally rewarding. And the next day there’d be a new opponent, a different starter who couldn’t go any further and good ol’ Feliciano getting loose, ready to nullify whatever lefty hitter lurked in the opposition’s on-deck circle. You could set your device’s clock app by it.
That all ended after the 2010 season when allegedly Perpetual Pedro eschewed his core competency of Met survival by signing with New York’s other baseball team, which was antithetical to all that was implicitly decent. So is New York’s other baseball team, but Pedro Feliciano of all Mets going to the dark side? Pedro Feliciano who was a one-team man the way Odia Coates assured Paul Anka she was a one-man woman? Pedro who slipped away on waivers to the Detroit Tigers following 2002 and spent the summer of 2005 abroad as a Fukuoka Daiei Hawk yet never actually pitched for a big league team not named the New York Mets? Why would Pedro challenge taste and propriety in a fashion similar to how he so often challenged Ryan Howard?
It took us two years to understand Pedro Feliciano’s clever plot. What he did required sheer, righteously diabolical genius combined with nerves of steel. He accepted $8 million from New York’s other baseball team for 2011 and 2012 and then brazenly lammed it, never once appearing in any of their games. His cover story was that his shoulder was in bad shape from overuse at the hands of Jerry Manuel and Dan Warthen, but that was just a smokescreen. What Pedro did recalls Pat Buchanan’s rationalization for the Iran-Contra affair:
“If Colonel North ripped off the Ayatollah and took $30 million and gave it to the contras, then God bless Colonel North!”
Except what Pedro Feliciano did wasn’t illegal and raised no questions of morality. And better yet, now he’s home, in the only baseball home he’s ever really had. The shoulder’s going to be an issue until proven otherwise, and they’re monitoring his heart carefully, though anybody pitching more than every other day for the New York Mets across three mostly depressing seasons has already proven heart is the last thing he’s lacking. There’s no guarantee that he makes the team and there’s no guarantee that he can pitch as soundly let alone as constantly as he did in his heyday, but he’s here now like he was here always and the friendly Feliciano familiarity of it all brings me a smile even brighter than that of Mr. Met’s on those caps.
Nothing wrong with a little Perpetuity now and then.