David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
CHICAGO - There are many layers to Noah Syndergaard's major-league debut Tuesday at Wrigley Field. The feel-good story of a 22-year-old kid realizing his lifelong dream. The up-and-coming Mets wheeling out yet another highly touted pitching prospect from their Triple-A stable in Vegas.
And finally, the not-so-small detail of trying to win a baseball game.
We forget that sometimes, amid all the chatter of who's next, followed by the seemingly endless wait. When Syndergaard is handed the ball Tuesday, he'll take a deep breath, try to slow down the scenery to a manageable blur and presumably get a few outs before giving it back to Terry Collins.
To Syndergaard, this day will seem like everything. But when the Mets look at him standing on the mound, they're visualizing a very bright future, with Syndergaard a big 6-6 chunk of it.
"I'm excited to see this kid pitch because I'm a fan," Collins said Monday. "But first and foremost, I'm the manager of this team and I think he's good enough to win here. Or he would not be out there.
"This is not a show. This is not a Broadway play that we're going to throw this kid out there and see how he sings. We know how he sings."
We all do by now. The 98-mph fastball, the biting curve, the freeze-frame changeup. By the Mets' estimation, Syndergaard was hitting all the right notes in Vegas, but it still took Dillon Gee's achy groin to clear a spot in the rotation.
Something had to give eventually. The Mets already thought Syndergaard had proved himself at Triple-A, with a 1.82 ERA in five starts this season, including 34 strikeouts and only eight walks in 292/3 innings. Despite a few blips along the way, the Mets had Syndergaard ahead of former Ward Melville star Steven Matz on the depth chart, so here he is.
"Last year, not getting that call was the best thing for me," Syndergaard said Saturday upon joining the Mets. "It kind of motivated me. Last year taught me how to struggle and how to handle adversity."
There will be more, of course. Whatever happens Tuesday is just another step, as huge as it may be. Jonathon Niese still remembers what his 2008 debut was like on that September night at Miller Park. The second pitch of his major-league career, a "get-me-over" fastball as he described it, was hammered into the leftfield seats by Rickie Weeks.
Syndergaard will experience the same anxiety every young pitcher does. But Niese believes his new teammate has the antidote.
"He'll be able to figure it out," Niese said. "He has plus-plus stuff. All he has to do is attack guys."
In that regard, the Cubs may be the perfect prey. Their lineup is stocked with talented, young hitters who lack experience at this level. To first-year Cubs manager Joe Maddon, a first look at Syndergaard could mean a long night.
"A guy like that, talking about the proactive nature of pitching, if he's out there loaded with the down-and-away slider that he executes, there's not a whole lot you can do about it," Maddon said. "I always believe, in situations like this, pitchers should have somewhat of an advantage."
The Mets called up Syndergaard a few days early so he could absorb the big-league atmosphere, but they kept him bottled up Monday from the media. Two interview sessions probably would be a bit much without throwing a pitch yet, so it was understandable.
The Syndergaard hype, however -- now three years in the making -- isn't going away anytime soon.