PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Yoenis Cespedes never wore a Mets uniform before his trade from the Tigers on July 31. And until Sunday morning, after most believed he’d again be in a different uniform, he’d never set foot here in their spring training home as a member of the Mets.
Yet Cespedes looked comfortable in what formerly was foreign territory, and he likened his early arrival at camp to a homecoming.
“That’s exactly what it is, just coming home,” he said through a translator. “I’m just home and relaxed.”
It was mostly a mundane day for Cespedes, who rolled into the players’ parking lot in a customized white Ford F250 truck with oversized wheels. He had breakfast, a waffle and a banana. Later, he snacked on a salad topped with grilled chicken.
He worked the room, catching up with many of the same teammates he credited with making him feel welcome.
A day earlier, in a corner of the clubhouse, Matt Harvey peppered Bartolo Colon with questions about when Cespedes would make it to camp. Upon seeing Cespedes, Harvey wrapped his arms around him.
To reporters, Cespedes spoke of what he called the “embrace” he felt from the organization as he helped the Mets to a second- half surge that propelled them to the World Series.
It’s part of the reason that Cespedes returned to the Mets, signing a three-year, $75-million deal that was roughly half of what many within the game believed he’d fetch in the open market.
“It was a mix of everything — the fans, the front office, the coaches, teammates,” said Cespedes, who has an out clause that will allow him to test the market next winter. “Everything was positive. [I] don’t think any other team was going to offer that kind of atmosphere.”
Fostering that atmosphere, he said, is why he reported to camp ahead of schedule. Only Asdrubal Cabrera and Alejandro De Aza have yet to arrive. “It’s meeting some of the new guys, creating that bond, getting in here early, that’s one of the things that was important,” Cespedes said.
For Terry Collins, the early arrival further demonstrated Cespedes’ desire to be a calming influence. “I salute him for coming back,” Collins said. “Now he shows up early. I told him today that’s a sign of a real pro and a guy who wants to be huge in our clubhouse. I think it’s a great step for him.”
On the field, Day 1 proved to be light for Cespedes, who made a game of batting practice, with the first to record 10 hits or 10 outs declared the winner. His adversary: hitting coach Kevin Long, who threw from behind an L-screen.
When Cespedes won the first round 10-7, he insisted on a rematch, to five. He even waited a few minutes for the field to clear as players completed conditioning sprints in rightfield.
Cespedes smashed a long homer and relished the unmistakable sound of barrel meeting ball. But he also showed some rust, such as when he popped a ball into the screen. He flashed a sheepish grin as he shielded his head from the ball. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.
The score was tied at 4 when Long shouted from behind the screen. “This is it!” he screamed. “Game 7, World Series!”
Cespedes smiled, took a pitch, then popped one up into shallow center. But he wasn’t done. “No, no,” Cespedes said, waving Long back to the mound.
The next pitch found the barrel and cleared the fence in left. With that, Cespedes retreated to the clubhouse, back to what already feels like home.
“He’s not where he needs to be there just yet,” Long said. “He was catching the ball just a hair deep. He said, ‘You got about another 10 days and all those are going to be on the barrel, you know that?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ ”
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