Jason Isringhausen walked out of the Mets’ clubhouse during batting practice Wednesday rubbing his forehead and wincing. He then rolled his eyes not only at the loud music that was playing, but at teammates Willie Harris and Scott Hairston dancing and singing along to it on the other side of the room.
“Enough of this,” he grumbled as he exited.
It’s official. Isringhausen has gone from Generation K to generation gap.
He’s now the old man in the bullpen, the 38-year-old sage who has been through it all. Terry Collins added that to his job description when Izzy 2.0 returned to the Mets’ big-league roster on Monday, extolling young relievers such as Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato to take advantage of the six or seven innings they spend sitting behind the right-field wall with him each night.
The ironic part about that is that there’s no way the 20-year-old Isringhausen would have heard a syllable of advice from his 38-year-old self.
“I was that dumb young kid who didn’t listen to anybody,” he said Wednesday (once the music had been turned down, of course). “I thought I knew it all.”
Eventually Isringhausen began to pay attention, probably about the time his promising young career seemed poised to explode from the combustible combination of arrogance and ignorance. He suffered silly injuries, made bad decisions. He was reckless off the field, and perhaps even more reckless when he was on the field for the Florida strip club’s softball team while recovering from surgery.
This is the guy the Mets have charged with being the Father Flanagan of Flushing?
Well, no. Same name, not the same man. Isringhausen said things started changing for him once he arrived in St. Louis as the closer in 2002. That’s when he made the turn from dozing off in the pew to taking the pulpit and younger pitchers started coming to him for advice. Turns out that even though he wasn’t always using what he’d learned early in his career, he remembered it. So the lessons that Bret Saberhagen and John Franco and Al Leiter taught him, he passed on.
“As I got older and I struggled at times, I realized how right they were,” he said.
Isringhausen still seems a bit uncomfortable with the job of helping to mold the young Mets’ bullpen. He remembers what it was like for him to have veterans chewing his ear off, telling him what to do.
“I’m not going to go out and get in anybody’s business,” he said. “If someone wants to ask me a question, I’ll help them any way I can, but I’m not going to push anything on anybody.”
They do ask. During spring training, Isringhausen gave advice to everyone from Mike Pelfrey to Ike Davis.
“He’s really open to helping people like me, rookies who are coming up,” Beato said.
The advice isn’t always profound. Asked the most important lesson he’s learned from the Wizard of Iz, Beato said it was to “be aggressive, don’t fall behind and try to get out of there quickly.”
A Little League coach would know to say that.
“Yeah, but it’s a lot different when you hear it from different people,” Beato replied.
Isringhausen certainly is different, especially compared to the person he was in his first stint with the Mets. During this return of the prodigal pitcher, he’s thrown just two-thirds of an inning since being called up from his extended spring training three days ago. Two up, two down in a perfect outing against the Rockies on Monday. In a tattered bullpen, that makes him one of the Mets’ most effective relievers.
But as Collins said, he’s “not just here to get outs.” And maybe, just maybe, his presence is one of the reasons the bullpen had its best outing in a while on Wednesday night with three scoreless innings.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s just pitching,” Isringhausen said. “There are universal truths to pitching, but everybody goes about it different ways to get to that point.”
If they’re smart, the young Mets will turn down the music – not only to make the old man happy, but to hear what he’s telling them.