David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TAMPA, Fla. - Don't feel sorry for Noah Syndergaard. We know he's the Next Big Thing, the golden-armed Thor, an almost mythical creation for a Mets team short on magic in recent years. But there's no need to worry.
Syndergaard, despite Tuesday's clubhouse dust-up with David Wright and Bobby Parnell, is going to be fine. Not only that, the team's top pitching prospect -- well, maybe 1A and 1B with Steven Matz -- will be better off because of it.
So will the Mets.
The first reaction here might be to fret about Syndergaard's psyche, to think that maybe Wright and Parnell were too harsh in lighting him up so publicly to Newsday's Marc Carig. But the Mets are a young team, and Syndergaard is 22 with a lot still to learn. As for what happened Tuesday, with Wright and Parnell scolding him for eating on intrasquad time, this is the type of self-correcting mechanism that good teams have.
You want accountability? Wright and Parnell just served it up on Syndergaard's lunch plate, the same one they pulled from under his fork and dumped into the garbage.
"If a kid's not playing nice," Parnell told Carig, "you take his toys away."
Kids also make mistakes, and this was an error in judgment by Syndergaard, who apparently thought he could sneak in a quick bite while the intrasquad game was happening on the stadium field. Understandable. Say what you want about the Mets, their clubhouse chefs are ridiculously good. It's the best food to be found in Port St. Lucie and second isn't close.
That's the only real casualty here. It's a shame to see a 5-star meal like that go to waste, but we think the education was worth the price.
Syndergaard now realizes what being a member of the team involves under Wright's watch. And it's a safe bet he won't make the same blunder again.
"I understand exactly where David was coming from," Syndergaard said. "It's not a big deal. No feelings were hurt. It was more of a veteran teaching a younger guy a teaching point."
See? No pouting, no shooing away a reporter. This was Syndergaard growing up quick. It had to be more than a little embarrassing to be dressed down by the Mets' captain before Parnell came along to provide the exclamation point. But Syndergaard took his medicine and then was a stand-up guy afterward when asked to explain the upsetting confrontation.
That part is big-league behavior, even though Syndergaard has yet to throw a pitch in the majors. The Mets want their youngsters to mature as soon as possible and give Wright an assist on accelerating the process here.
"I'm not going to yell and scream," Wright said. "But when I speak to somebody, when I get on somebody, the point needs to be taken."
Long before Wright was named the Mets' captain, every spring training began with him fielding questions about someday being awarded the title. To Wright, it didn't seem to matter. He already thought of himself as a leader, knew the way the game should be played and didn't hesitate to remind others when they stepped out of line.
What difference did a letter stitched to his chest really make?
Yesterday's tiff with Syndergaard reminded us of a conversation from a few years back about Wright and his looming captaincy, how his behind-the-scenes approach fed the public perception -- however wrong it was -- that he wasn't fiery enough.
"I get the feeling that David would never wear a 'C' on the front of his uniform," Jason Bay, then a Met, said at the time, "unless everyone else on the team has to wear one, too."
Wright passed on having a "C" sewn on his jersey like some Boy Scout merit badge, so no one wears the letter. But it does say Mets on everyone's uniform, and as Wright forcefully displayed Tuesday -- along with Parnell's Bad Cop routine -- that has to mean something.
Lately, Wright has been telling anyone who will listen that it's time for these Mets to back up all their big talk this season. He can't do it alone.
At some point, the Mets are going to need Noah Syndergaard. And we think he's closer to ready now than he was Tuesday at lunchtime.