His hat looked out of place on the Citi Field scoreboard, as if someone had photoshopped that white, cursive “A’’ on to Bartolo Colon’s forehead. It’s OK, though, because he didn’t keep it on for long.
No, the Opening Day crowd would not allow that.
Because even though Colon officially is an Atlanta Brave now, he was as much a part of Mets lore as any player lining up across from the home dugout. And when his name finally was called during pregame introductions Monday — shortly after former Mets R.A. Dickey and Anthony Recker — the cheers were so loud, and went on for so long, that Colon was obliged to doff his cap at the crowd. It appeared as though the only reason the cheering stopped was because, eventually, Howie Rose had to introduce the rest of the Braves.
“Bartolo had a huge effect on this team the last few years,” Mets manager Terry Collins said of Colon, who will square off against Jacob deGrom on Wednesday. “This guy gave us quality inning after quality inning. He was a force with the young Latin players. Still today, Hansel Robles’ development, Jeurys Familia’s development is in correlation with the fact that Bartolo Colon is in that room. They came fast and I think he taught them how to be major-league pitchers, how to go about things, how to take the good with the bad, and we’re going to miss that. We’re going to miss that. But as you know, those kind of guys, they have to take on that role now.”
Colon, who will turn 44 in May and is the oldest player in baseball, declined to comment, adding that he preferred to speak after his start Wednesday.
Often over the years, when the Mets’ young pitchers succumbed to injury, Colon came to their rescue. He was supposed to be in the bullpen for most of last year, but Zack Wheeler was unable to return from Tommy John surgery. Colon captured the hearts and minds of, well, everyone when he hit his first major-league home run in 2016. He was 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA in 33 starts for the Mets last season.
This offseason, he was rewarded: A one-year, $12.5-million contract from the Braves that the Mets would not dream of matching with the rotation they already have.
For Braves manager Brian Snitker, he’s worth every cent.
“Some people don’t remember baseball without him,” he said. “Guys kind of look to him for that. I think he brings leadership, he brings guidance. I know to the young Latin population that we have and — with anybody — when a guy has been that successful and has done it for that long, it’s a pretty good resource. It’s a good guy for these guys to lean on.”
And at this point in his career, Colon has done everything. He’s even a former Expo; there are few slots in his baseball bingo that remain unmarked. So even though Wednesday’s start will be special, he’ll handle it the way he does everything else: with exuberance, aplomb and a hefty dose of humor.
“I know it’s not bothering him,” Snitker said. “He just has a better than good understanding of what he needed to do and what he was trying to accomplish . . . I’m sure he’s excited and looking forward to it. He had a lot of good times here, so it’ll be cool.”