LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When’s the last time an opposing pitcher at a Mets home game got a standing ovation before his first at-bat?
While you ponder that, know that it’s pretty certain when the next time will be: April 5, when Bartolo Colon likely will make his Braves debut against his old club in the second game of the season at Citi Field.
Colon, who signed a one-year, $12.5-million free-agent contract with Atlanta, will begin his 20th big-league season with his ninth organization. His exploits at the plate, including his monumental first career home run last May 7 in San Diego, made him a cult hero in Flushing.
He was a pretty darn good pitcher, too, going 44-34 with a 3.90 ERA in three years with the Mets, including 15-8, 3.43 in 2016.
It’s undeniable that the love will be returned by fans who probably understand why the potentially pitching-rich Mets let Big Sexy walk without an offer.
“There’s a lot of great memories that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life from New York,” Colon said Monday through a translator. “First of all, the camaraderie with the guys in that clubhouse. It was just a great friendship that we had.”
On Monday, Colon worked out with the Braves at their Disney Wide World of Sports complex in front of a handful of fans. Apparently, there are other things to do on an 80-degree day at Disney than watch a baseball practice.
Colon, who will turn 44 on May 24, said he is still feeling his way around the Braves’ clubhouse. And how. Upon his arrival at about 8:30 a.m., he bear-hugged one teammate and fist-bumped any others he came across.
Everyone Loves Bart.
“Just an awesome guy,” said former Mets catcher Anthony Recker, who is trying to make the Braves’ roster. “Happy-go-lucky. Loving life. Generally just enjoying being here, being with the guys. Having fun all the time. Jumping around. He’s just a pleasure.”
Colon’s camp locker is two away from R.A. Dickey, another former Mets pitcher brought in by the Braves as a free agent. Dickey, 42, signed for one year and $7.5 million with a club option for 2018. The Braves , who finished last in the NL East last season, have little chance to contend, but they wanted some seasoned arms to stabilize their questionable rotation. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Atlanta flip Colon and / or Dickey at the trade deadline. Would it shock you if the Mets tried to pick up Colon in July?
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. First, here’s what Colon had to say about leaving the Mets: “It’s tough. Mostly because my family is in New York and so it’s hard to leave them there. But the hardest time really, I think, was when I first got traded from Cleveland [to Montreal in 2002]. That’s when I first realized that baseball was a business. Ever since then, I’ve kind of just understood it more. Any time these moves happen, it’s just about business.”
Colon reached the World Series with the Mets for the first time in 2015. But when asked his single favorite moment with the team, the home run earned a slight nod over his incredible behind-the-back flip to record an out against the Marlins in 2015.
“If I had to say, the play behind the back and the home run, those are both two plays that stand out for me,” Colon said. “I’d probably say the home run more than the other. But those are two things that stand out.”
The only thing left for Colon, other than a triple or a stolen base — he said not to bet on either — is to keep on doing what he loves while getting paid well to do it. Don’t let his roly-poly frame fool you: When it comes to pitching, Colon has always been an example for young arms with the way he goes about his business on and off the mound.
“He’ll kind of take the Latin guys under his wing and talk to them,” Recker said. “Try to teach them what they need to be doing even off the mound, around the clubhouse. It’s also a lot of just watching him, because as much fun as he has, he puts in the work to be ready every fifth day. I think he does that better than most, and that’s why he’s still pitching at 43.”
Bartolo Colon was a workhorse for the Mets the last three seasons, making more starts and throwing more innings than any other pitcher on the staff. The hefty, ageless righty’s totals as a Met from 2014-16:
W-L 44-34 (.564)
Innings 588 2⁄3