If there's a pathway to play baseball under the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 season will serve as an accelerated test lab for implementing changes in the game. One of them will be the use of a universal designated hitter. The concept that Major League Baseball will be better served by having bona fide hitters at every spot in the lineup is widely popular but, unexpectedly, not with Bartolo Colón.
And not because Colón, among the players most unskilled with a bat in MLB history, hit an all-time memorable home run.
"In general, when it comes to baseball, I don't like all the changes they're putting in," Colón, who turned 47 Sunday, said during a video call with ESPN. "Nowadays baseball has too many changes. We have never seen so many home runs. Right now, the game is only for the hitters."
And for one magical day, May 7, 2016, Colón legitimately looked the part of one when, as a member of the New York Mets, he launched a home run to left in San Diego's Petco Park off Padres right-hander James Shields.
Then 42 years and 349 days old, Colón became the oldest player ever to hit his first career home run. Video of the dinger and the portly Colón slowly rounding the bases became a social media sensation.
"I still have the bat; it's a beautiful memory for me," he explained. "Ever since [my debut] with Cleveland, I always dreamt of playing interleague baseball. When I was with the White Sox [in 2003], one time I thought it was going to happen, when I faced Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs. I really thought I was going to hit it out that day because the ball was flying out of the park."
He added: "Then, after 2014, I thought my dream of ever hitting a home run would never happen. I was getting old. But apparently I had some power that day. I knew Shields was going to throw me a fastball. I let the first two pitches go by. I told myself I wasn't going to swing but that if he threw me another fastball I would put a swing on it. And I did."
Colón has celebrated his birthday very differently the past two years.
In 2018, Colón spent his 45th birthday as a member of the Texas Rangers as the oldest active player in the majors. Bartolo kicked off his Rangers tenure with a solid 3.55 ERA over his first nine starts, but finished the season with a 7-12 record and 5.78 ERA over 146⅓ innings pitched.
He wanted to continue pitching in 2019 but no opportunities materialized. In February, Colón signed a deal to play in Mexico with the Acereros of Monclova before the pandemic hit.
Now, facing a shortened season and expanded rosters, Colón hopes for another shot as veteran help for the back end of any MLB rotation. And, if given the choice, he would go back to the team he spent the 2014-16 seasons with, the Mets.
In a career spanning over two decades -- he has also played for the Indians, Expos, White Sox, Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Athletics, Braves and Twins -- Colón singled out his time with the Mets as "really special."
"If it was up to me, I would retire with the Mets. I would like my career to end in New York. I've played with 11 teams, but with the Mets, the way all those players treated me, how that entire franchise treated me, from the front office to the kitchen staff, was amazing. I felt like all the players were a family, and the support that the team and the fans gave me was great," Colón said. "And Mets fans are the best. In the beginning, when they laughed at me every time my helmet fell off when I was batting, at first I felt uncomfortable. But when I saw how much the fans enjoyed it, I asked for a bigger batting helmet so that it would fall more because it was so much fun for them!"
Colón became one of the most popular players in Mets history, particularly after pitcher Noah Syndergaard anointed him with the "Big Sexy" moniker. Syndergaard even went on to publish an Instagram post of his entire family donning "Big Sexy" T-shirts.
"It's all thanks to Noah Syndergaard. He's the one who called me that when I was with the Mets," said Colón, who titled his recently released memoir "Big Sexy: In His Own Words." "One day out of nowhere he just showed up in the clubhouse wearing that T-shirt. I kept looking at it, and I said to myself, 'That has to be me ...' He gave me around 10 shirts; it was such a nice gift. During Christmastime, he took a picture of his whole family with the shirts, and it was such a nice thing to do."
Syndergaard himself had great appreciation for what Colón brought to the Mets' clubhouse, telling reporters, "You can sum him up in one word: fun. People forget that it's a game. If you just keep that mindset, it makes it that much easier."
Even though he hasn't thrown a pitch in the majors since September 2018, Colón believes he can still be a major league contributor. He has won 247 games over 21 seasons, which was the most among all active starters in 2018 and the most ever by a Latino pitcher.
"I wish I had thrown 46 more innings so I could become the Dominican with the most innings pitched in major league history. Although I know that records are meant to be broken, I feel that's one thing that I have left to accomplish," said Colón, who trails Juan Marichal in innings pitched by a player from the Dominican Republic after having surpassed the Hall of Famer (243) for most career victories by a pitcher from that nation.
"The situation with this pandemic is very difficult for everyone. I left all my stuff [in Monclova, Mexico] and I told them I wanted to come back to play this season. But we'll see what happens with the virus [and if we can play baseball] because it doesn't seem like this is going to end anytime soon."