Yoenis Cespedes isn’t the easiest player to track down, even in his own clubhouse. But with the help of Melissa Strozza — the team’s interpreter — running point, the Mets leftfielder wound up sitting at his locker for a few minutes before Wednesday night’s game against the Diamondbacks.
The idea going in was to find out if Cespedes, the highest-paid Met and now one of the team’s elder statesman at 31, was warming to the concept of being a mentor to the youngsters, most notably the two potential future stars, Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith.
The answer, amid the August dog days, surprised us.
In a lost season, with most of its veteran talent traded away, this usually is the time when a team such as the Mets shifts into cruise control. A lame-duck manager, the club hurtling toward 90 losses, playing before more empty seats than people.
But Cespedes revealed that he had just come from a hitters-only meeting, held in conjunction with Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera, for the purpose of telling the rest of the Mets what should be expected from them over these next five weeks.
The players gathered in the batting cages adjacent to the clubhouse, where Cespedes helped instill the message that these games count — for themselves, and the loyal paying customers showing up at Citi Field.
“We understand what the team’s situation is, and how it’s not necessarily our year,” Cespedes said through his interpreter. “But these games are very important, because we’re here to play, to try to win, and the fans spend their money to see us.”
The Mets responded with a 4-2 victory over the Diamondbacks with a boost from Smith’s third homer of the season. Perhaps that it came after the meeting wasn’t a coincidence.
“They put a lot of stuff in perspective,” Smith said. “You have to look at yourself in the mirror. Am I doing everything I can?”
Cespedes’ statement may sound obvious, but it’s not, especially after the Mets ditched so many core players in such expedient fashion in the past month. When the front office thinks so little of the product left on the field, the uniformed personnel tend to feel deserted.
With the Mets waiting so long to call up Rosario and Smith, this current Citi climate could be a toxic environment for their development, if not for the intervention of more experienced teammates. Reyes already had a close relationship with Rosario, and Cespedes has been spotted sharing knowledge in conversations with both prized rookies.
The Mets are going to need that from Cespedes, who signed a four-year, $110-million contract last winter on a team that could be looking at a leadership void, depending on what happens with David Wright’s health. Maybe Wright makes it back in September to assist in the education of the younger Mets, some of whom will be relied on as the core for the ’18 roster. But without him, that duty has fallen to the three who took it on Wednesday.
Reyes, who is expected back from the disabled list Saturday, told the other Mets in the meeting that the slide had to stop. The persistent losing is a poor reflection on what the next generation should be trying to accomplish.
“Show the people that you care,” Reyes said. “For the fans still coming out and supporting us. We understand that we didn’t play good baseball, pretty much for the whole season. We can’t change that now. But we can finish the season strong.”
The Mets are playing out the string, but the fact that Wednesday’s meeting happened at all is not insignificant. The Mets currently are the second-youngest team (average age 26.7 years) in the majors, according to ESPN — behind only the Phillies (26.2) — so there is room for growth.
“We told them, there’s going to be an opportunity next year,” Reyes said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
It is good, however, to feel like somebody still is paying attention.