When the Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes in January, fans responded as if the team had just won the same World Series they had actually lost to Kansas City a few months earlier.
There was dancing in the streets, or at least in living rooms. Hugs were exchanged. Champagne corks were popped. Tickets for the upcoming season were purchased.
In many ways, it was a turning point for the franchise and its fan base that was even more powerful than a single World Series appearance. The Mets were not cheapskates, not this time. Sandy Alderson was a negotiating genius and Cespedes was a hero for turning down more guaranteed money elsewhere to stay with the team and city he had grown to love.
All of that lasted until Saturday night.
On a frigid evening at Citi Field, Cespedes went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts as the Mets lost to the Phillies, 1-0. After his final strikeout in the eighth inning, as Cespedes trudged back to the dugout, the unmistakable sound of boos was heard.
You read that right: boos for Cespedes.
“We have a passionate fan base, so the one thing I know is they want to win,” manager Terry Collins said after the Mets were three-hit by Vince Velasquez and four relievers to fall to 2-2. “When you strike out, or you make a big out, it’s just part of playing here. They want to win and we do, too. Nobody feels worse than Yoenis, I can tell you that. Nothing surprises me here when you’re supposed to win.”
Is that it? High expectations for the man making $27 million this year? Was a portion of the 37,083 on hand really that displeased with Cespedes’ 2-for-16, seven-strikeout start to the season?
“I think he’s played enough games in this town to know that expectations are high with every player, especially when you’re a star,” Collins said. “Tomorrow he’ll get three hits and they’ll be giving him a standing ovation.”
Don’t misunderstand: Fans who spend their money on tickets have every right to boo whomever they want. Sitting through a game in which the Mets struck out 12 times against a pitcher making his eighth career start and four relievers from what could be the majors’ worst bullpen could make anyone cranky, especially in weather that was best suited for indulging in indoor pursuits.
Still . . . if anyone on this popular Mets roster has earned a honeymoon period, Cespedes would seem to be the choice.
He’s a tremendous offensive force, and his personality comes right out of central casting for a New York star — flashy, brash, funny when he wants to be. He has a shot to be Reggie without the candy bar. His dazzling car collection was the talk of early spring training. He rode into camp with Noah Syndergaard on horses one day, for goodness sake.
When Cespedes is at the plate, people stop to watch, because he might hit the ball 450 feet. When he’s chasing a fly ball in centerfield, he might turn a few different ways before catching it, as he did in the eighth inning Saturday night.
Through a translator, Cespedes said he wasn’t upset about the boos. He also said he wasn’t surprised. About his struggles, he said: “I’m not worried at all. It’s just a timing issue. Over time, when the games start kicking in, I’ll settle in.”
Cespedes also was asked how he enjoyed playing in the cold.
“This is not a time to be playing baseball,” he said. “It’s a time to be home sleeping.”
The odd thing? Cespedes walked out of the ballpark wearing knee-length shorts. So the cold apparently bothered him about as much as he said the boos did.