PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Yoenis Cespedes had played for three big-league teams and had been traded three times in a year when he landed on the Mets’ doorstep in a deadline-day deal on July 31, 2015.
Cespedes’ play after he came to the Mets is the stuff of legend and led the team to a World Series appearance.
But the slugging outfielder was free to leave after each of the last two seasons. In 2015, he shocked the baseball world and took less guaranteed money to stay with the Mets. In 2016, he quickly signed again for four years, $110 million and a full no-trade clause.
Cespedes, who defected from Cuba to the United States in 2011, finally can unpack his bags. He’s home.
In spring training, Cespedes spoke of his reasons for wanting to remain with the Mets. He thanked COO Jeff Wilpon, general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins for creating a comfortable working environment at Citi Field.
“I love the family atmosphere,” Cespedes said through a translator. “People care about you as a person and not just as a player. Jeff and Sandy have been great with me from the start. I can walk into Terry’s office and talk anytime. I am just really comfortable here.”
There’s always a question about how a player will respond to New York. It isn’t just the long, clutch home runs and the flamboyance that Cespedes shows on the field. Mets fans fell in love with him and he fell in love with the Big Apple.
“I love the energy of the city,” Cespedes said. “The fans and I just hit it off from the beginning. The city has so many great Cuban restaurants, too. I can always find a good place to eat. New York City is the big stage, and I enjoy playing on the big stage.”
Cespedes’ flair for the dramatic — who else in baseball wears bright yellow arm sleeves? — doesn’t seem to extend to his off hours. He’s got a lot of Reggie Jackson in him on the field, but off it, he’s pretty chill, teammates say.
“He’s quiet,” captain David Wright said. “He certainly gets his work in. But you wouldn’t guess by the way he plays and what you see on TV the way he is away from the field. Kind of opposite of how quiet he is and how he is a terrific teammate with that blue-collar attitude. On the field, you see the different bright colors and the swag that he brings.”
That swag began when Cespedes hit 17 home runs, drove in 44 runs and slugged .942 in 57 games after joining the Mets in 2015. He was comfortable in the batter’s box and the clubhouse.
“You could see kind of from the moment he got here,” Wright said. “The start he got off to. The way that he has the ability to put an offense on his back and just carry them for stretches at a time. I would say the early success, the early comfort level helped. You could just tell that he loves the stage, he loves the spotlight. When those lights come on, just something clicks with him. He just goes out there and aims to put on a show every night.”
Cespedes is the Mets’ most feared power hitter since Mike Piazza, whose Mets career followed a similar trajectory. Piazza was traded to the Mets by the Marlins and chose to re-sign with the team as part of a Hall of Fame career.
Piazza, who spent a few days in camp as a special instructor, counts himself as one of Cespedes’ biggest fans.
“He’s an amazing physical player,” Piazza said. “I think ultimately New York likes personalities as well. He’s an interesting personality and has fun playing the game. I always say if we were all the same, it’d be a boring world. So I think he obviously had a couple of teams and now it seems like he’s found a home here, which I think is really good for him because the fans love him. He’s an exciting player. He’s a player that needs a big stage, I think. For me, I enjoyed the pressure and I think it made me a better player. So I think it may have the same effect for him.”
Some of Yoenis Cespedes’top moments with the Mets:
Aug. 12, 2015
For the first time as a Met, Cespedes wears neon yellow sleeves. The game is viewed by a neon yellow parakeet who takes up residence on the screen behind home plate at Citi Field. The bird quickly becomes a celebrity on the broadcast and social media, with its own Twitter account. Cespedes hits his first home run as a Met in the eighth inning. After the game, he says: “I knew there was a bird on the field and I wanted to look like the bird.”
Aug. 21, 2015
Cespedes goes 5-for-6 with three home runs, including a grand slam, and seven RBIs in the Mets’ 14-9 victory over the Rockies at Coors Field. “I haven’t seen anything like that,”manager Terry Collins said. “He just continues to display some of the things that everybody says he can do. When you see it, you justshake your head because he’s a special talent. Now you just can’t wait to seewhat he’s going to do tomorrow.”
BAT FLIP IN THE NLDS
Oct. 12, 2015
In the first postseason game in Citi Field history, Cespedes hits a massive three-run home run off Dodgers lefty Alex Wood and follows with a theatrical bat flip toward the Mets’ dugout in the fourth inning of the Mets’ 13-7 win in Game 3 of the NLDS. According to MLB.com Statcast, the ball had an exit velocity of 111 miles per hour and traveled 431 feet. There were no recorded stats on the bat flip.
PUTTING AWAY THE NATS
Sept. 8-9, 2015
The Mets all but clinch the NL East with a pair of comeback wins against the Nationals’ bullpen in Washington. In the first game, Cespedes’ three-run double helps the Mets rally from a 7-1 deficit. In the second game, Cespedes hits a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth off Nationals closer Drew Storen. The Mets go on to sweep the series.
ONE SWING IS ENOUGH
April 26, 2016
Cespedes, who is sidelined with a leg injury, comes off the bench in the seventh inning to hit a first-pitch, three-run home run in the Mets’ 4-3 win over the Reds. Cespedes rounds the bases and immediately leaves the stadium after the game. “A flair for the dramatic,” David Wright said. “It was like out of a movie scene.”
— ANTHONY RIEBER