David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
For 10 minutes or so, Travis d'Arnaud stood in front of his locker before yesterday's game at Citi Field and told us he had figured everything out.
I'm good, d'Arnaud said.
The 16 days in Vegas? Consider it an extended spa weekend, a chance to clear his mind, get his head on straight.
"I had a long conversation with myself in the mirror," d'Arnaud said.
And, um, what did you guys talk about, Travis?
"That's between me, myself and I," he said. "It's something that I definitely needed."
We didn't have to see a transcript to get the idea. Because what happened to d'Arnaud happens all the time to 25-year-olds carrying the weight of humongous expectations on their shoulders.
They can get overwhelmed. And once a youngster like d'Arnaud gets sucked into that vortex of doubt, they often wind up in some Triple-A outpost like Vegas or Scranton or Pawtucket. To d'Arnaud's credit, he didn't stay long in the desert.
And after raking in the Pacific Coast League, d'Arnaud quickly proved that it wasn't a mirage by launching a three-run homer off Scott Kazmir in the third inning of Tuesday's 10-1 rout of the A's.
Welcome back, indeed.
"I just forgot how fun this game really was," d'Arnaud said afterward.
Kazmir handled d'Arnaud with relative ease in the first at-bat by throwing nothing but fastballs and striking him out on four pitches. But in the next meeting, Kazmir tried to sneak a 75-mph changeup past d'Arnaud, who smacked it for a long home run that landed about 10 rows deep in the leftfield seats.
Being demoted stinks. But the pressure upon returning is no picnic, either. Not only was d'Arnaud resilient enough to take advantage of the Vegas wake-up call, he realized that the biggest obstacle during the first two months had been himself.
"It was 95 percent mental," d'Arnaud said before the game. "Five percent was physical and technical. I feel like I'm in a good place now."
It's better than Cashman Field, but getting d'Arnaud out of there wasn't entirely up to the Mets. It was d'Arnaud who forced Sandy Alderson's hand by showing that the PCL was too easy. He batted .436 (24-for-55) with eight doubles and six homers in 15 games.
Say what you want about the thin air and hitter-friendly parks of the PCL, d'Arnaud's numbers screamed for a promotion. And the Mets, a team starved for offense, couldn't let that type of streak fizzle out by the Strip somewhere.
But was it legit? They had no way to be sure. When the Mets demoted d'Arnaud on June 7, he was batting .180 and even admitted that his subpar performance was "unacceptable."
That couldn't continue. And when Terry Collins was told Tuesday afternoon that d'Arnaud claimed to be fixed upon his return, the manager wasn't completely convinced himself. Not yet anyway.
"I have no idea what goes on between the ears with players," Collins said before the game. "They're told all the right things in my opinion. They've got to apply it. But it's all about playing with confidence. And if you have that, you can do a lot of things."
Collins had reason to be skeptical after seeing d'Arnaud struggle for so long. Plus, as a young catcher, d'Arnaud had plenty on his plate. Their primary job is to be the caretaker of the pitching staff, to sit in on meetings, to study film of opposing hitters and go over game plans. Any spare time can be used for their own batting practice.
Now, it seems, maybe d'Arnaud has found a better balance between his two jobs. He'll always be saddled with the task of being the guy who was traded for R.A. Dickey -- and at this point, he's still ahead of Noah Syndergaard, the other key piece in that deal.
But d'Arnaud also knows he doesn't have to cram a career into a day, a week or a month. A few more nights like Tuesday, and he won't have to worry about Vegas for a while. Or people questioning the can't-miss label he arrived with in Flushing.
"I'm not putting any pressure on myself," d'Arnaud said. "I'm just going to go out and play."
There was a time when the Mets believed that would be enough. Now with d'Arnaud back, they're hoping it is again.