So I’ve been reading this great book by Scott Weidensaul called The First Frontier, about the wars between the early colonists and the Indians. And a stray passage in it reminded me of something I’d forgotten: Connecticut’s 1662 charter claimed its western boundary was the “South Sea,” AKA the Pacific Ocean. This strikes us as ridiculous today — imagine the Nutmeg State as a long sliver unspooling west through Cleveland and Chicago, claiming mountains and plains until finally ending among the redwoods of Northern California. But Connecticut took its charter seriously: Its settlers fought with Pennsylvanians in the late 1700s over land around the upper Susquehanna, and the state didn’t surrender its “Western Reserve” in Ohio until 1800.
What does this have to do with Dilson Herrera, born in the seaport town of Cartagena, Colombia 332 years after Connecticut’s charter? Nothing, really — but stick with me for a bit, will you?
The glory of prospects is that their histories have yet to be written and can be imagined as many bright tomorrows extrapolated from a few successful yesterdays. We imagine ourselves being awed by prospects’ talents instead of learning to accept their limitations. Dilson Herrera could be the next Daniel Murphy or Wally Backman or Brandon Phillips or Joe Morgan, with potential extending to some marvelous baseball Pacific. We look at him at 20 and wonder if we’ll proudly tell people that we saw his first game and his first hit and his first RBI. We dream of him adding thousands more, becoming a fan favorite and having his number retired. It’s ridiculous, and we know it, but it’s fun to get carried away like this.
Besides, we know the occasional prospect does live up to this lofty billing — according to the geographical conceit above, Mike Trout would be the freaking Louisiana Purchase. But most prospects turn out to be the equivalent of Connecticut or Delaware, possibilities truncated and dimensions familiar, the vast promise once foreseen for them reduced to a shake-your-head footnote. Mike Vail was going to make us forget about Rusty Staub. Alex Escobar and Fernando Martinez were going to be superstars. Gregg Jefferies would lead a Mets dynasty and wind up in Cooperstown. Izzy, Pulse and Wilson would be the new Seaver, Koosman and Matlack — and not, say, three variations on Gary Gentry.
We love Dilson Herrera because he’s new and has done nothing to disappoint us. We watch him show a good eye at the plate and a compact swing and soft hands in the field and imagine we’ve got something here.
And hey, maybe we do.
But for a reality check about prospects, all we had to do today was look to either side of Herrera. To his right was Wilmer Flores, greeted as a pure hitter and then touted as a better answer than Ruben Tejada at shortstop and then dismissed as just a different problem. It still isn’t clear what Flores is, exactly, but he collected three hits today and made a couple of nifty plays in the field — bailing out Jeurys Familia with a smothering grab in the eighth and then rescuing Jenrry Mejia an inning later, turning the double play over an onrushing Chase Utley after taking a strong feed from Herrera.
Or if you looked to Herrera’s left you saw Lucas Duda, praised upon his arrival as a big slugger with a good eye, dismissed as a galumphing non-outfielder with confidence issues, greeted skeptically after winning the first-base competition over Ike Davis, and now accepted, however warily, after showing serviceable defense and pursuing what looks like a 30 home-run campaign.
All these storylines were at work today in a matinee that was a lot of fun — the Mets racked up their 13th win of the season against the Phillies (versus just six losses) as the teams played the kind of back-and-forth game more typical of their tilts at Citizens Bank Park. There was Anthony Recker swatting a home run and the Phillies coming back again and again behind nemeses old (Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard) and new (Domonic Brown, Ben Revere). The good guys prevailed thanks to youth (besides Flores and Herrera, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker had key hits) and former youth, as David Wright leapt out of the coffin with a pair of hits. And it was fun watching an outfield of three plus centerfielders with den Dekker and Nieuwenhuis flanking the always-marvelous Juan Lagares.
I don’t know what Dilson Herrera will turn out to be — just as I’m not sure about Wilmer Flores, or Lucas Duda, or even the autumn years of David Wright. But all of them were fun to watch today, and it makes me happy to think about getting to watch them tomorrow. And that’s the promise that keeps us thinking the best about all the tomorrows yet to arrive.