From the look on his face, you could tell that Wilmer Flores would love to finish his career as a Met. That is a long way off, of course, considering that his journey as a ballplayer still is only getting started. But given the context, it was worth noticing.
“You get used to one place and you obviously don’t want to leave. I’ve got all my friends here and when you feel comfortable in one place you just want to stay,” he said, with a smile, after he hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth Saturday night to end a stirring 6-5 victory over the Athletics — the team that Yoenis Cespedes pined for one day earlier.
Cespedes had caused his own stir on Friday when he mused, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, that he wants to top off his career in Oakland and that the Athletics’ manager Bob Melvin is “the best.” He had to backpedal later that night, asserting that New York is home and that he loves it. In other words, he had to play defense, which you know can be dicey if you’ve seen him in leftfield this season.
There is no such ambivalence or ambiguity with Flores, who signed with the Mets out of Venezuela when he was 16. In one of the most gnawingly emotional scenes in franchise history, he broke into tears on the field during a game two years ago after he heard reports that he had been traded to the Brewers. He desperately wanted to stay with the Mets.
Usually, a player is removed from a game in that circumstance but he was kept in. Manager Terry Collins said later that no one ever said anything about removing Flores. And there was a reason for that. There was no trade. Talks with Milwaukee broke down. Instead, the Mets traded for Cespedes. They went on a tear, with a big boost from a walk-off home run by Flores two nights after the non-deal. They reached the World Series, with Flores as their starting shortstop.
No wonder the blue and orange mean so much to him.
“That night when we all thought he was traded, I said, ‘You know, you have to understand there’s a team out there that wants you really bad. You should be happy with the way you’re playing to be wanted like that.’ He wanted to stay a Met,” Collins said after his team came all the way back from a 5-0 deficit. “That speaks volumes about the way the players feel about playing here, in this town, being part of this organization.”
Maybe not everyone. Cespedes sounded on Friday like the anti-Gertrude Stein, the early 20th-century poet who once said of Oakland, “There is no there there.” The Mets leftfielder seemed to think of the city as a welcoming land of milk and honey, where baseball managers are benevolent geniuses.
That is fine. Baseball is more interesting when players bear even a smidgen of their souls. Where he went wrong was in calling Melvin “the best” while still playing for Collins. It was like reminding your spouse that your mom was the greatest cook ever.
“It doesn’t bother me one bit,” Collins said before the game. “I just want him to keep hitting and keep hitting home runs. I think he’s one of the best players, one of the top five players in baseball. My respect for him is never going to change and we’re going to move forward.”
This time, the Mets moved forward after Melvin’s pitching changes failed spectacularly. Who knows what the trading deadline will bring these next few days? Maybe Flores’ homer Saturday night sparked interest from some other team again. That is not likely, but you never know. What is certain is how much Flores likes being here.
“When you’re born someplace . . . ” he said, letting his smile finish the thought.