It seemed fitting that, as Bartolo Colon threw the ceremonial first pitch Sunday afternoon, he did it from a spot in front of the mound, softly lobbing a strike. It was a natural progression from the 100-mph fastball he flashed early in his 21-year major-league career to the finesse pitcher he had become by the time he reached the Mets as a 40-year-old free agent for the 2014 season.
It might have been even better if the Mets had let him get in the batter’s box. Despite Colon’s stellar career on the mound, his most viral and enduring memory came on May 7, 2016, when he became the oldest — and perhaps most unlikely — major-league player to hit his first career home run. Even flashing the video on the scoreboard among his highlights ignited a roar from the Citi Field crowd.
But it was all of those things, the 44 wins in his three seasons here, the home run in San Diego and the enduring embrace of the organization and its fans that led to Colon spending Sunday officially retiring as a New York Met.
Among the 11 teams he pitched for, there were longer tenures in Cleveland, where he began his career, and Anaheim, where he won a Cy Young Award in 2005. So why opt to announce the ending here?
“I’m grateful for the Cleveland organization,” he said through an interpreter. “They were the ones that gave me that opportunity and that start of my career. If it was up to my parents and the rest of my family, they probably would have wanted me to retire in Cleveland. And I had good years in Anaheim. But once I was done there, this was the fan base that accepted me the most and supported me the most. That’s why I felt really comfortable here. “
In his three seasons with the Mets, Colon compiled a 44-34 record, winning at least 14 games in each season. And over his long career, he became the winningest pitcher from the Dominican Republic with a 247-188 record.
But still, it’s the home run that dwarfs anything else in his highlights. The MLB posting on YouTube has more than 2.5 million views. And his second most viral spot is a behind-the-back toss to first to throw out a runner, a play that defied his physique.
His nickname, “Big Sexy,’’ which was given to him by Noah Syndergaard — and offended him when he first saw a T-shirt placed in his locker bearing those words because he thought a teammate was calling him fat — became an enduring legacy.
“It was special hitting that home run in San Diego,” Colon said. “The only thing I could think about when I was running the bases was those bases were getting further and further away. Once I scored and once I came home and the two guys that were on base were waiting for me, I felt like it was a dream.”
Terry Collins’ memory, though, is more of the teammate Colon was with the Mets, influencing some of the young star arms and helping the team to a World Series appearance in 2015.
“The biggest part, the biggest night I had with him, we were playing in Anaheim and Bartolo was going to start a game and I had burned the bullpen the days before,” said Collins, his manager with the Mets, who flew up from his Florida home to join him on the dais. “He starts out the game and gives up two or three in the first inning, they got a couple in the second inning. He was getting knocked around pretty good. He walked up to me in the dugout and he said, ‘I’ll get you to the seventh inning. Do not worry about me.’ He knew the situation, he knew the bullpen was shot and he said don’t worry about me. In the major leagues, when your career is about numbers, he put the team first and not himself. I respected him from that time on. That showed me what a professional he really was. That has stood out to me. I’ve told pitchers about it. I’ve told people about it. This guy was more than a good pitcher and a good athlete. He was a true professional.”