PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Bartolo Colon understands his cult-like status with the Mets. He hears it on the radio on the way home to Clifton, New Jersey, after games. Once, he remembered callers discussing his flying batting helmet — a fan favorite — after unleashing one of his pretzel-like baseball swings.
It’s part of why Colon spurned better money elsewhere to sign a new free-agent deal with the Mets.
“It’s family here,” Colon said through a translator. “All these guys are my family. They’ve treated me well. Not just them but also the big bosses around here too. Also, I live in New York.”
Colon, 42, isn’t guaranteed a rotation spot once Zack Wheeler returns from elbow surgery sometime in July. Yet, he signed a one-year, $7.25-million deal this winter partly because of his comfort level with the Mets.
Entering his 19th big league season, Colon has played for seven teams. But in the past two seasons, he appears to have found a home. In two years with the Mets, Colon is 29-26 with a 4.13 ERA. And in the playoffs last season, he showed his ability to work as an effective reliever.
“One of the things we thought when we had a chance to sign him is that he brings a lot to the table,” manager Terry Collins said. “If something happens, and we do need him to start all season long, we’ve got him. If not, he showed in the postseason how valuable he can be out of the bullpen.”
Perhaps more importantly, the keg-shaped, strike-throwing artist has served as a mentor to the team’s stable of brilliant young pitchers.
“It makes me so happy and fills me with so much pride that they’re constantly speaking so highly of me,” Colon said. “I just always want to be there for them. I always will in my free time. When I was coming up and I was maybe their age, I didn’t always have someone to look to. So, I will always be there for those guys.”
That connection, Colon said, made it easy to look past other offers.
“I think he does like it here,” Collins said. “He did like pitching here. He’s extremely respected in the clubhouse by not just the Latin kids but the American players and everybody else that’s on this team. He’s a gentleman, he’s a pro. Guys like being around pros. He handles himself great.”