One of the first things Terry Collins told Michael Conforto was that he can't be the thing the Mets need the most.
"I told him his job is to come out and play his game and not for one instant think he's the savior here," Collins said. "This is a big man's game . . . and just one guy isn't going to be a difference. We're hoping he's a big piece of it and he's going to get a chance to play, but there are going to be days that he doesn't."
So began the Conforto era Friday, with the Mets tweeting out a picture of Conforto's jersey before the 22-year-old had even set foot at Citi Field, with the team posting a video of his emergence from an Escalade after a traffic-logged drive from Trenton, and with photos of Conforto hugging Michael Cuddyer and stepping out onto the field.
Conforto wore No. 30, started in left, hit seventh and went 0-for-3 with an RBI groundout.
He classified the 7-2 loss to the Dodgers in a way few Mets could relate to. "I had a lot of fun out there," he said. "I felt comfortable out there and that's the most important thing and it just makes me want to come back tomorrow. I'm excited. I feel good."
Conforto got a loud ovation from fans at Citi Field who have been waiting for his final ascension -- something, he said, that "gave me chills . . . It kind of caught me by surprise a little bit. I can't say enough how much that meant to me. I'll remember that forever."
Collins said he was pleased with what he saw -- the patience, the swing and the measured approach.
The Mets made many clarifications that no matter what, Conforto isn't here to personally cure a lineup mired in a slump.
Before his debut, Conforto said, "I haven't played in big-league games, so really there's no way for me to know if I'm ready. All I can do is go out there every day and perform and learn what I could and be as ready as possible. It's just the culmination of all my dreams growing up. It's all I've wanted to do since I picked baseball, picked up a bat and a ball -- who knows how old I was. I can't describe it. Being here right now is really a blessing."
Conforto, drafted in 2014, hit .312 with five homers and 26 RBIs in 45 Double-A games. The lefthanded-hitting outfielder has played 133 minor-league games.
Entering Friday night's game, Daniel Murphy (.268) had the highest batting average in the Mets' starting lineup. The Mets were hitting .233 as a team, the lowest in baseball.
"I think Michael is going to be a nice piece and a nice addition," Collins said, "but we'll be very careful with him."
That means there will be times when Conforto sits against lefties. But Collins and GM Sandy Alderson said Conforto has the makeup to survive with the Mets. "I think there are things about his game and his personality -- I think he's very mature," Alderson said. "I think he's handled a lot of things really well, including the recent attention that he's received."
Collins knows the scrutiny will be intense. "That's one of the things that Michael's got to realize," he said. "There's going to be a lot of heads watching him to see and there's going to be those guys who say, well, he's got to prove himself first."
It's a gamble, but if he can do that, he might turn out to be the very thing the Mets need the most right now.
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