Travis d'Arnaud knows about team chemistry
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The video lasts less than a minute, though it offers a telling glimpse of top Mets catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud.
In it, he describes the origins of the "oppo taco," a team gag that took on a life of its own. The video was shot in the summer of 2011, when he played for the Blue Jays' Double-A affiliate in New Hampshire, where he made the train tracks beyond the rightfield fence a frequent target.
"Every time I hit an opposite- field home run, I would just prance around the dugout yelling 'oppo taco,' " said d'Arnaud, who relished "getting a whole bunch of laughs from everybody" with the phrase originated by Angels broadcaster Victor Rojas whenever an Angel hit a home run to the opposite field.
Eventually, T-shirts were made that featured d'Arnaud's grinning face and the words "I drop bombs." Teammates modeled them in the clubhouse while d'Arnaud laughed his way to Eastern League MVP honors.
"It really definitely helped with our team chemistry," said d'Arnaud, the centerpiece of the R.A. Dickey trade. "And ultimately led to a great season that year."
Those events followed a familiar pattern for d'Arnaud, who the Mets believe will develop into their catcher for years to come. It began when he was 13 years old, playing for a traveling team filled with lifelong friends from his native Southern California.
"Of course, Travis was the leader of the pack," said Spud O'Neil, who coached d'Arnaud at Lakewood High School.
When Travis was 12, his father suggested that he stick to catching. He idolized his hometown Dodgers and found an easy role model in Mike Piazza. Playing the position appealed to his leadership qualities, which went on full display at Lakewood.
Together with his teammates -- many of whom were from his old traveling team -- d'Arnaud helped Lakewood maintain its status as one of the best programs in the region.
"He's very intelligent," O'Neil said. "He gets along with people. He knows the game. He was more advanced with us than a lot of the players we've had in the past. Very coachable. He taught us stuff."
But the lesson that still seems to have stuck involves chemistry.
During his introductory conference call with the Mets, he recalled his time in New Hampshire and how loose he and his teammates were when they took the field. He hit plenty of "oppo tacos." The importance of connections again emerged as he discussed the prospects of growing alongside some of the Mets' bright young arms.
"As a catcher, I feel team chemistry is important, and knowing your pitching staff is definitely one of the most important things as a catcher," he said. "Growing together, learning each other's strengths and weaknesses is a good way to build a championship team and a championship organization."
For d'Arnaud, new bonds will form. Even though a knee injury ended his 2012 season prematurely, he has a chance to start the year with the Mets. Even if he doesn't, he almost certainly will make his big-league debut in 2013.
The 23-year-old stands on the brink of realizing his childhood dream, but he has not forgotten his old connections. D'Arnaud still finds time for his old high school program, sometimes showing up for workouts, often with a group of his former Lakewood teammates.
"They all still have a camaraderie," O'Neil said. "And our guys, the high school kids, really look up to him. He treats them with respect, and it's pretty cool."