There’s a scene in a church in one of my wife’s and my favorite movies, The Commitments. A lady, dutifully scraping away at the hardened wax countless candles have dripped in the name of divine intervention, rhetorically asks, “If ya didn’t do it for God, who would ya do it for?”
We were going to watch The Commitments on St. Patrick’s Day, but we didn’t get around to it. I was, however, thoughtful enough to stop flipping the ol’ remote long enough to provide us with a glimpse of a Mets Classic a few nights later. I don’t consider the game SNY was re-re-re-rebroadcasting all that worthy of enshrinement, but when Opening Day has yet to arrive, everything that evokes baseball is a Classic if you squint purposefully enough.
Anyway, Mike Pelfrey was pitching in this long-ago game, prompting Stephanie to ask me whatever became of Big Pelf. He’s a Twin, I said (assuming she knew I meant the Minnesota kind and wasn’t implying there are two tall pitchers roaming this earth licking themselves into submission). Then I noted that several of the Mets taking part in this well-worn 2010 contest shared a certain Pelfness.
Remember Mike Pelfrey? Probably, but I mean do you remember how large a share of mind Mike Pelfrey held in our collective head? He was one of those guys whose progress or lack thereof we ruminated the fudge out of. When’s Pelfrey coming up? Has Pelfrey shown enough to stay? When’s Pelfrey coming back? What’s wrong with Pelfrey? Pelfrey looks good! Pelfrey looks terrible. What’s with Pelfrey now?
If you were a friend or relative of Mike Pelfrey, that level of concentration regarding someone close to you would be understandable. If you weren’t, and you acted on your concern enough to proactively check on Pelfrey’s well-being, you’d likely earn yourself a sizable restraining order along with court-mandated therapy. “Who are you and what’s your business outside the Pelfrey home?” But in context, it’s perfectly OK to think deeply about fellows we don’t actually know because they play for the Mets. And we’re Mets fans.
And if ya didn’t do it for the Mets, who would ya do it for?
Everywhere I looked amid this Mets Classic, I could recall all the Pelfritude we put into that team. Our 2010 Fruitgum Company of a roster harbored several characters in whom Metsopotamia invested a little too much emotional capital. Some guys you accept as transient. Others you’re convinced you can pull fortune-altering improvement from if only you dwell on them hard enough. They become the center of your baseball-loving universe all out of proportion to their potential to help your cause. Four years ago, on that May night against the Giants, there was Pelfrey, who merely had to settle down and find his confidence. There was Jason Bay, who was bound to snap out of it if only he could relax. There was Angel Pagan, who only needed to get his head on straight to fully tap his abilities. There was Jeff Francoeur, who if he could discipline himself at the plate would put up numbers as immense as his smile.
And there was 23-year-old Ike Davis, who was fresh and promising and not one of those guys in 2010. Instead, Ike was a different kind of Met, a Met whose shortcomings we weren’t going to have to obsess over. He was going to run out to his position like David Wright and Jose Reyes. We were going to enjoy him every time we saw him. We were going to ride his inevitable development to better times, him and us, together.
That was four years ago. It’s four years later. Ike Davis is now one of “those guys”. On a good day he’s one of those guys. On a bad day, he’s the ghost of Ike Davis. You’re pretty sure that’s Ike you’re looking at out there, yet you can’t quite fathom that you’re seeing this person in a Mets uniform preparing to play for the Mets in this upcoming season.
You hope for everything to work out, yet you’re already resigned to one of his Mets Classics coming on in the not so distant future and someone who hasn’t been fully keeping up asking you, “Whatever became of Ike Davis?”
Ike turned 27 over the weekend, which in terms of math is perfectly logical, yet in terms of emotional aging seems almost impossible. Ike Davis has been haunting Citi Field practically forever. Only he and Wright remain from the eleven Mets Jerry Manuel deployed to defeat the Giants on May 7, 2010. Of course Manuel isn’t here anymore, either.
The continual Met presence of Ike Davis isn’t the story here, though. It’s more about something that’s been absent. At the moment, there’s no middle to Ike Davis’s career arc. He went from that rookie who was going to help lead us into a better era to a veteran struggling to put the pieces back together (while we still await the onset of that better era). His age feels immaterial. Ike, as we speak, is a not exactly old, not exactly young 27. He’s a ghostly 27. That’ll happen when you’ve disappeared a couple of times without ever actually going away.
Saturday he swatted a long home run. Sunday he needed to exit in the fourth inning due to what was described as fatigue. Ike’s calf demands caution, but there’s probably a touch of Ike fatigue within the Mets’ planning for 2014 and beyond. They treated him as if he had faded into the past-tense during the offseason. For three consecutive winters they invited Ike to Citi Field to model some updated jersey and chat up the media. He was as personable as he’d been promising. Why wouldn’t you want to show him off? This past winter, however, the only Ike talk in Flushing transpired in the third-person, as in, “How’s that trade of Ike Davis going?”
It didn’t go and Ike came to Spring Training, played a couple of games, got hurt and has played a couple more. He’s not, with a week to go, fully inked in as the projected starting first baseman for the season ahead, but there’s nobody obviously poised to take his spot. The Mets maintain a fistful of players who can play the position and contribute something valuable, but none is thought to add up to what Ike could be…not what he is, but what he could be. If he heals. If he doesn’t contract another malady. If his swing is fixed. If he doesn’t listen to too many voices. If he gets in a groove. If he doesn’t get down on himself. If he isn’t traded.
Four years after the only year when nothing went wrong for him, Ike Davis still beckons with potential. Of course he does. He’s only 27.