Seven years later, Bartolo Colon's 'impossible' home run still resonates
It feels as if every shred of Bartolo Colon’s historic home run has been dissected.
There was the pitch: A 1-and-1 meatball from the Padres’ James Shields that landed in the hands of a disbelieving Mets fan at Petco Park.
There was the celebration: The team pulled the silent treatment, vacating the dugout before charging back to hug Colon when he finished his 30.6-second home run trot.
And there were the calls: Gary Cohen on television, Howie Rose on the radio, their voices incredulous.
But maybe there is one thing that isn’t talked about all that much: It was part of a long con.
Well, sort of.
“He used to go to home plate and say, ‘Terry, I’m not going to swing this time,’ ” former Mets manager Terry Collins told Newsday, chuckling. “My assistant hitting coach, Pat [Roessler], said one of these days, [Bart’s] gonna face a pitcher who says I’m just going to lay one in there because he’s not going to swing, and he’s going to stinking crush it.”
Added former reliever Jerry Blevins: “He’d bait some pitchers and just stand there and then, with two strikes, uncork a good swing.”
None of this is to say that Colon, who will throw out the first pitch at Citi Field Sunday to commemorate the seventh anniversary of his home run, had some secret hitting ability. He wasn’t trying to hide anything by his propensity to either: a) place the bat firmly on his shoulder and leave it there; or b) swing with the wild abandon of someone who may or may not have his eyes closed.
But it’s no coincidence, either, that Colon barely twitched for the first two pitches of that at-bat. And then Shields did something one simply shouldn’t do in baseball: He laid one in there — a middle-of-the-zone fastball, 90 mph.
It was May 7, 2016, and Colon stinking crushed it.
“I never thought he’d hit a home run like that,” Blevins said of the 365-foot blast. “It was me and Logan Verrett watching, and we see the connection. It goes out and we’re two grown men hugging and literally jumping up and down, going crazy. All the Padres fans behind us are going nuts. It was a unified moment . . . They just saw a dude hit a home run who shouldn’t have and broke records. It felt big in the moment and historically, it gets bigger every year.”
It’s not every day that a team commemorates the seven-year anniversary of something, but with the Mets eschewing Old Timers' Day this season, there was a possibility that there would be no public celebration of the modern shot heard ‘round the world. And that simply would not do.
So Colon, 49, who retired last year, will throw out the first pitch in front of an adoring fan base that has jokingly wondered if he’d be up for throwing 90-or-so pitches after that one, too.
He was 42 years and 349 days old when he hit his only career homer, becoming the oldest player to do so. But in the intervening years, the myth has grown — partially because of his ineptitude at the plate (product of a career spent in the American League) and also the introduction of the universal designated hitter, which all but guarantees that a pitcher with a career .084 batting average will never so much as sniff a batter’s box again.
“The fact that seven years on, we’re still talking about it, it justifies how special that moment was,” Cohen said. “Baseball can still surprise you.”
NOT A FAN OF HITTING
Colon was engineered to surprise.
He’s nicknamed “Big Sexy.” He was known to swing so hard that his batting helmet would fly off his head. He was the GIF that kept on GIFing, constantly going viral.
And he was a big guy — 5-11 and nearly 300 pounds, leading uninitiated spectators to think he was unathletic. Social media has the ability to take fully formed humans and make them into caricatures, and this vague sketch of Colon’s character soon became canon. Sure, he was capable and durable and crafty, but he was kind of funny, too, right?
“There was a certain mystery about him because he didn’t speak English to any of us [in the media] so all we knew was what he presented as a persona, and it was misleading,” Rose said. “I’ve seen him in the gym in hotels and there was no comic element in the way he presented himself. He was an athlete . . . The image that everybody tried to build for him was not real. He was strong and he was gifted.”
“But he was not a hitter.”
In fact, Colon hated hitting, Collins said. But he never missed batting practice. He was agile, too. It isn’t as famous as the home run, but most fans will remember him hustling off the mound on a soft grounder in 2015 and getting the out by tossing the ball to first behind his back.
“He was a consummate professional," Collins added. "Don’t be fooled by the fact that he was a heavyset guy. He was extremely athletic.”
When various injuries stripped him of his high-velocity fastball, the 2005 AL Cy Young winner reinvented himself off his sinker, thrown in the high 80s. His easy sense of humor also belied the fact that he was actually shy. Colon declined an interview and still doesn’t love doing media sessions but did provide a statement saying he was excited to be back at Citi. He added: "Some people said my home run trot was slow. Problem was, I didn't have much time to practice it."
He said he also didn't have much time to watch baseball these days, but it's clear it's still his passion. He spent 2021 in the Mexican League, throwing a complete game at age 48. His Instagram shows that he’s still playing in a New Jersey recreational league. When he showed up at Citi Field last year, they chanted his name — a nod to his popularity, and an uncanny ability to navigate scandal (the PED suspension when he was with the A's in 2012, familial issues unearthed by a lawsuit in 2015).
“This guy comes along who, you know, he’s been everywhere, he’s done everything,” Cohen said. “He had a PED suspension, he doesn’t look like a baseball player and then there’s the fact that he hasn’t hit in so many years . . . But he also had a lot of pride and he worked really hard at it. There were so many things that went into” how he was received.
SHOCK & AWESOME
Which brings us to May 7, 2016.
Before that at-bat, Colon, who was in his 18th major-league season, had managed just 20 hits (two for extra bases) in 247 at-bats. He was respected in the clubhouse, Collins said. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t have fun when it was his turn at bat.
“It was must-watch TV,” Blevins said.
So here's what you see when you pull up the clips: Shields’ first pitch is inside for a ball, and the next is a strike. Colon takes all the way. And then, the dead-red fastball.
“The impossible has happened!" Cohen yells on SNY.
Ron Darling honest-to-goodness giggles in the background.
On the radio, Rose goes straight into a blow-by-blow description, painting a portrait for the fans who can’t see it. Colon is still carrying his bat up the first-base line, Rose says, stunned. It’s the "slowest home run trot you’ve ever seen," he adds.
“I instantly broke into reporter mode,” Rose said, though he said he didn’t love his call. “Radio charges you with the responsibility of description in the moment . . . so I’m proud that I was able to do that. [It was] pure incredulity, and if I portrayed that through my inflection, then I’ve done my job.”
Added Cohen: “I knew it had a chance, but it was so far from anything that you would have a right to expect. You have no template for how you approach something like that because it’s inconceivable and I think that’s how it felt.”
Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Flores and Hansel Robles mob Colon in the dugout. Jacob deGrom is hopping around, beaming. Noah Syndergaard is giddy. Collins, the baseball lifer, is in some state of shock. The joy is unbridled and childlike in a way that feels so exceedingly rare. It's a snapshot of a hallowed time in Mets history — the fun, young team that had just come a few games away from a championship.
“In the clubhouse, for days, it was like, ‘I can’t believe it,’” Blevins said.
The clips also show how Colon is grinning and clutching his heart, indicating to his teammates how hard it's beating.
“I had a lot of great memories" as a Met, Colon said in his statement. "For me, what made the home run so special was seeing how excited my teammates got. The dugout was empty when I rounded the bases but then they were there to give me hugs.”
And maybe Colon doesn’t hate hitting quite so much anymore. He recently posted an Instagram video from his amateur league, and though you can’t see the at-bat, you can see the aftermath. He’s rounding the bases and beaming, and his teammates line up near home plate to high-five him. They’re laughing. Some are mildly surprised.
Colon has just homered. He looks as if he’s practiced his trot.
THE TROT SEEN 'ROUND THE WORLD
Breaking down Bartolo Colon's improbable home run on May 7, 2016:
Previous At-Bats: 247
Statcast Trot time: 30.6 seconds
Opposing Pitcher: James Shields
Distance: 365 feet
Exit velocity: 97 mph
WHAT THEY SAID THAT NIGHT:
Bartolo Colon: "This is probably the biggest moment in my career . . . Once I hit it, I knew it was gone."
Kevin Plawecki: “I almost missed third base, I was so excited. I was just kind of in awe about the whole thing.”
Gary Cohen: “Drives one. Deep leftfield. Back goes Upton. Back near the wall. It’s outta here! Bartolo has done it! The impossible has happened! The team vacates the dugout as Bartolo takes the long trot. His first career home run. And there’ll be nobody in the dugout to greet him. This is one of the great moments in the history of baseball. Bartolo Colon has gone deep.”
Ron Darling: “I want to say that was one of the longest home run trots I’ve ever seen, but I think that’s how fast he runs.”
Howie Rose: "He's taking the slowest home run trot you've ever seen."