Although these news conferences introducing a team’s newly signed player — like the one the Mets held yesterday with Jason Bay — have evolved into a made-for-TV event, it still qualifies as a first impression. And we all believe that first impressions rarely tell a lie.
That’s why it was interesting to see Bay at Citi Field repeating several times his interest and strong desire to be a Met. They were on his “short list” from the very start of this process, he told us, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Obviously, he and the Mets had seen how his delayed signing played out publicly with their fans, many of whom questioned whether he really wants to be wearing blue and orange. Hence, it was no surprise to hear these words come out of his mouth: “This is where I want to be, and I’m happy about it.”
Whether you believe him is up to you, but it dawned on me during the news conference that debating that point — does he want to be here? — is somewhat tangential.
It’s not about whether he wants to be here, but rather can he perform here? To me, the first impression I got from Bay is that this is a guy who is not afraid of New York. And, really, shouldn’t that be our biggest concern with new additions?
Bay brought up the point that if he had signed with the Mets after playing his whole career with the Pirates, there would have been legitimate questions about whether he is up for the challenge of playing in New York.
But thanks to his 11/2-year apprenticeship with the large-market, high-intensity Red Sox, we’re not asking those questions today. You might recall Bay replaced an enormous Red Sox player in Manny Ramirez — midseason, mind you — and all he did was make everyone in that baseball-crazed city forget all about Manny being Manny.
In 200 games with the Red Sox, Bay posted a .380 on-base percentage and .534 slugging percentage and hit 45 home runs in 715 at-bats. When you can do it in Boston, we know you can do it in New York.
“As long as you toil in anonymity in some places, some people have questions like, ‘Can you do it here? Can you do it here?’ . . . Unless you get the chance, you can’t prove it,” Bay said. “When I went to Boston, I’m sure a lot of people said that.”
Coming to New York where the home fans tend to be, well, a little cranky at times doesn’t seem to faze Bay. “That doesn’t seem daunting to me,” he said. “It’s just another year.”
Bay didn’t deny that he preferred to stay with the Red Sox, which wasn’t all that surprising. All he really would say was that they, too, were on his short list. But he also made a point of saying he believed the Mets “wanted him more,” code in free-agent speak for “the Mets offered me more money.”
Again, don’t read too much into it. Don’t forget Carlos Beltran offered the Yankees a last-second discount over the Mets’ offer to sign him, and that doesn’t seem to have affected his play with the Mets. When he’s been healthy, Beltran has been the guy in the Mets’ lineup that you count on the most.
“I wouldn’t have signed the contract if I didn’t want to be here or I wasn’t happy,” Bay said, and with that, let’s agree to let the issue die. He’s officially all yours, Mets fans, and above all be thankful that this guy doesn’t come with those lingering questions of whether he can make it here. You have real history to believe he can. And will.