Whether it's hitting a game-winning homer off Jonathan Papelbon, getting hit in the groin by a Justin Verlander fastball while not wearing a cup, or getting blamed for Daniel Murphy’s baserunning blunder, Jordany Valdespin is always in the middle of something, good and bad.
Unlike Woody Allen's Zelig, this isn’t by accident. Valdespin plays with a flair typically associated with pro wrestlers, and his Instagram account suggests a man who is sure of himself. Baseball culture has always discouraged individualism, and it seems like Valdespin’s histrionics have made him a lightning rod.
In a recent road game against the Phillies, Valdespin earned a hearty round of boos from the Philly faithful when, after hitting a fifth-inning triple while the Mets were trailing 8-2, he pounded his chest and pointed to the sky. The incident caused a bit of a stir, and Valdespin was forced to answer questions about his antics.
"Everybody knows that's how I play my game,” he told Newsday. “I don't care. If they hit me [with a pitch as retaliation], I'll say I'll steal second and give David [Wright] a chance for an RBI."
Good for him. The Mets' identity as a franchise is steeped in players who were outsized characters -- the goofiness of the likes of Choo-Choo Coleman and Tug McGraw defined the early years, while unapologetic cockiness typified the 1986 club. And let’s not forget Jose Reyes, who was criticized for a lot of the same kind of antics that Valdespin is getting heat for, though Reyes is obviously a better player. Nonetheless, Valdespin fits the Mets' mold, and fans should embrace him for it.
There is a tendency of the Mets to want to emulate the Yankees, which is understandable because of their success. However, the Mets are different, and that should be celebrated. The Mets wear bright colors, they have an absurdly awesome mascot and a giant mechanical apple to celebrate home runs.
The Yankees would never feature any of those things. And if they did, their fans wouldn’t even notice, as they’d be too busy deciding who is a True Yankee. Mets fans have no such debates, but if someone were to name me arbiter of True Mets, Valdespin would qualify.
He may never be that much of a player, as he has a tendency to swing at everything and does make some baserunning blunders that are worthy of scorn. (Like when he only made it from first to second on a ball that Murphy hit off of the wall in Minnesota.) However, he has crazy bat speed, is one of the fastest players on the team, and can play a number of positions (albeit poorly). Because of his impressive raw tools, and the fact that he is just 25 years old, he has a chance to be a useful player, and when he’s on the field, you always want to see what he is going to do next.
Fortunately, Terry Collins appears willing to let Valdespin do his thing, recently telling the Daily News, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it, keep your eye on the ball on the field and don’t watch it. Let him play his game.”
Valdespin could have a 10-year career or be out of the majors in August; neither would be surprising. But while he’s around, it’s important to embrace what he represents, which is a history that makes the Mets lovable and unique. (And how could any Mets fan have anything bad to say about a player who seems to make a point out of getting under the skin of the Phillies and their fans?)
Like him or not, Valdespin is a Met in their grand tradition of colorful characters, which should make him a fan favorite. As a bonus, he may even turn out to be a decent player, too.