PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Yoenis Cespedes is many things to many people.
For an auto body customizer from Miami, he is a patron who during spring training used his stature to generate what essentially was a week’s worth of free advertising.
For a family in Port St. Lucie County, Florida, he is an appreciative rancher who graciously returned to the county fair to win a bidding war for the prized hog that they had painstakingly raised.
And for a baseball team in New York, he is the flamboyant personification of a new era in franchise history, one marked by boundless optimism and championship aspirations. Cespedes, above all, is the powerful hitter who the Mets believe will guide them back to the World Series.
“It definitely speaks more than words about the amount of confidence that he has in this team,” said fireballing righty Noah Syndergaard, who insisted that Cespedes’ return alone signaled a new mentality. “He had the opportunity to go basically anywhere and he chose to stay in New York. We couldn’t be more thankful to have him back.”
As much as anything else, circumstance brought Cespedes back to New York. Late in the offseason, when the market for him didn’t develop as expected, he was faced with a choice.
The Nationals, the club he helped to slay after his July trade to the Mets, were said to have offered a five-year deal. But Cespedes signed a three-year, $75-million deal with the option to opt out after this season.
From the time he returned, Cespedes has said he was drawn back by the environment in the Mets’ clubhouse, one that he has likened to a family. It’s a place that has allowed him to be himself — whatever that might be on that day.
“I think we give all of our players a certain amount of space,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “Not all of them need as much space as some others, but I think we’re consistent in that we give all of our players the space to be themselves.”
Earlier in spring training, manager Terry Collins wondered aloud whether he would ask Cespedes to ditch his habit of wearing his cap backward, a la Ken Griffey Jr. But as camp breaks, Collins has turned his head, though Cespedes has not turned his hat.
A few times during the day, Cespedes retreats to a small room behind the dugout, which clubhouse attendants typically use to clean the dirt that sticks beneath baseball cleats. Cespedes uses it for occasional smoke breaks.
When Cespedes used the early days of spring training to flaunt his collection of exotic cars and motorcycles — all of them customized by his friend Alex Vega — the Mets played along by tweeting out updates to their fans.
One morning, he tossed the keys to his Lamborghini to a team staffer to replace a square wafflemaker with a round one (his preference), just one of the many quirks he’s revealed since his arrival.
On the team’s only off day of camp, he hosted a barbecue at his ranch in Vero Beach. To break up the monotony, and to make good on a promise to Syndergaard, he brought a pair of horses to the team’s complex.
Recently, the players’ lunch spread consisted of meatballs, the product of the cattle from his ranch. It’s his second home, with the first being on a golf course in Boca Raton.
Rightfielder Curtis Granderson said Cespedes’ varying interests “in so many non-baseball things” have helped him blend into the clubhouse.
“Whether you have an interest in this or an interest in that, there’s a good chance that he’s probably got an interest in it as well,” Granderson said. “The golf thing, music, he’s a country music guy, he’s got a ranch with animals, so you have guys that like that side of it. Family, he’s got a big family, so he’s able to connect like that.”
All of it is secondary, however, to Cespedes’ primary function with the Mets. He was brought in to provide a powerful spark, within the lineup and beyond.
“Him being a confident guy, it’s good for us, good for the team,” cleanup hitter Lucas Duda said. “We can feed off of it, build off of it, and rightfully so. He’s a great player. He should be confident.”
For captain David Wright, that flamboyance and flash can obscure another revelation about Cespedes. Despite his varying interests, Cespedes is a supreme talent who does all that’s required to prepare himself for victory.
“When we went out and traded for Yoenis, the last thing I was thinking about was what kind of car is he going to drive to spring training,” Wright said. “I think he’s an All-Star-caliber player and that he’s going to help us out on the field.”
What Yoenis Cespedes produced in 57 games as a Met last season:
17 Home runs