A cheer rose up from the crowd, arguably five times louder than any other that afternoon.
The announcer dragged out his last name – “Co-looooooon!” – as the clapping continued.
Bartolo Colon, the unlikeliest professional athlete on Earth, ran out of the dugout, hopped over the chalk and slowly ambled out to the mound.
For New York Mets fans, there’s #HarveyDay and #SyndergaardDay (two of their top pitchers), but for baseball fans not emotionally invested in Mets success, there’s only one, and it’s #BartoloDay.
That day was Sunday. And something remarkable happened.
When I disembarked from the Long Island Railroad, Citi Field, home of the Mets, was about 100 feet away. Built in homage to Ebbets Field, Citi Field is the child of Fred Wilpon, Mets owner. It’s a beautiful stadium, modern and clean and spacious. I entered through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, a thoughtful tribute to baseball’s color-barrier breaker, and a cool way to make your way into the ballpark.
My friend Sam had bought us seats in the third deck behind home plate and I marveled at the view from the seats. In Fenway Park, the resident stadium of the Boston Red Sox, there was nothing like that available to the public. Ditto to spacious concourses. It was also affordable – $20 per seat the day before the game in seats with this view. Not bad at all.
A group of public school middle-schoolers sang the National Anthem and, towards the end of it, a rumbling could be hard from far off in left field. It was a beautiful day, but I was surprised there was going to be a flyover. A series-ending game at home against the struggling Miami Marlins (albeit a divisional match-up) didn’t seem important enough.
A jetliner flew over the stadium, but not exactly in a flyover. Apparently, Citi is close to La Guardia Airport, so planes flew over frequently throughout the game. It felt a little disconcerting to see large planes consistently come over the left field fence during the game. Sam said that they usually re-route the plans when the Mets play, but not that day.
Maybe even the airplane passengers wanted a glimpse of Bartolo.
And why wouldn’t they?
Colon has lived an improbable, strange baseball life.
He broke into the league at 24-years-old with the Cleveland Indians in 1997. He pitched awfully his rookie year, then bounced back his sophomore season to become an All-Star. His performance then bounced around, reaching peaks of a 4.09 Earned Run Average and valleys at a 2.55 ERA.
He had his worst ERA as a pro (5.01) in 2004, and then in 2005 he won the Cy Young. He faltered and, by 2007, with this ERA well above six, he seemed done. From 2006 to 2009, he had 47 combined starts. Healing from shoulder surgery, he didn’t throw a single major league pitch in 2010.
Then he returned and was… good?
Some say the steroids (he was suspended 50 games in 2012 and his name has been linked to Biogenesis), some say magic. The former crowd probably got it right.
This season he continues to be the most predictable pitcher in baseball – he throws his fastball 85 percent of the time. Yet, even at a tepid speed of 88 miles per hour, he’s succeeding. He’s tied for the MLB lead in wins with eight. (Though, to be fair, his ERA is 4.72, but run support is something, right?)
I’ve buried the lede here. Very buried. But Colon is something of a cult hero.
He’s the most un-athletic-looking athlete…possibly ever. And for that, people love him.
Being a pitcher means he doesn’t have to run or field that often, but he does pitch in the National League. That means he has to hit.
And oh, do people love when he hits.
A Twitter account popped up, @BartoloAtBat, within minutes of him signing with the Mets. Gary Cohen, the Mets play by play man on WPIX calls it, “The most exciting at bat in baseball.” And the stadium feels a special buzz – as it did Sunday – when Bartolo digs in at the dish. People perk up in their seats, side conversations die down and normally loud hecklers stop talking and watch.
Colon’s goal this year was, he said, three hits. He had two entering the game – and it was only May!
In his first at bat, with a runner on second, Bartolo offered a bunt at the first two pitches. Then, later in the at bat, he swung away.
And how glorious it was.
I will always wonder if Bartolo could’ve reached third. This year in baseball has been christened as “The Year of the Triple” and – if Bartolo had done it – the Internet might have really broken. But instead, Bartolo chose not to hustle and ended up on second. Perhaps he felt that he’d properly chastised Marlins center fielder Ichiro Suzuki for disrespecting him and playing so shallow, and that a triple might just seem over-the-top.
Anthony DiComo of MLB.com pointed this gold stat out: The ball left Bartolo’s bat at 96 miles per hour. Bartolo has not thrown a pitch that hard in over two years.
And the cheer that rose from the crowd then, as Bartolo stood on second with his second extra base hit, in his 18-year career, was the loudest heard all day.
Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York City. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.