Wilmer Flores and the Love of Baseball

Everyone likes to repeat the adage, “There’s no crying in baseball” but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t broken that commandment.  Many of us are afforded the opportunity of doing it in the comfort of our own homes, or in suppressing it in locker rooms as you take off your high school jersey for the last time.  Wilmer Flores didn’t have that luxury.

Baseball may no longer be the most popular sport in the United States, but everyone enjoys memories of the first time they played catch.  Pictures on the wall, and in their parent’s wallets of toothy grins holding a bat too big for them as they get ready for their first t-ball season.  First trips to the ballpark are a rite of passage in a way few other childhood events are, and baseball remains uniquely attached to the American childhood.

The New York Mets are the only professional team Wilmer Flores has ever known.  The team signed him at just 16 years old out of Venezuela in 2007.  The baby-faced middle infielder has been a member of the organization for a third of his life, and for a few brief hours last Wednesday the world watched as his tenure came to an end.  The word had gotten out that the Mets were searching for a veteran bat to bolster an anemic offense, and Flores had been traded alongside Zack Wheeler in order to return Carlos Gomez to the organization he broke in with.  The world watched as the 23 year old broke down and cried like a graduating high school senior on the field, and in the dugout.

Then the trade fell through.  Carlos Gomez has a bad hip, and the injury-plagued Mets weren’t willing to give up a young stud pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery and Flores for middle of the lineup power.  Wilmer survived the trade deadline, and showed Mets fans how much the organization meant to him personally.  A rare showcase of emotion endeared him to fans starved for a playoff appearance, and for a player who loves the organization in the way they do.

Wilmer Flores received several standing ovations on Friday night, his first start after the botched trade and trade deadline.  He made a diving catch in the first inning behind Matt Harvey which drew the Citi Field faithful to their feet.  He received a standing ovation each and every time he stepped into the batter’s box.  Thousands of New Yorkers stood up and applauded the young man for his commitment to a franchise that’s been snake bitten for the past decade.  The Mets don’t typically generate that emotion from players.

Had this story had been written by Hollywood the baby-faced, once-former-and-still-current Met would hit an improbable walk-off home run.  Improbable because he’s gone over a hundred at bats since his last home run.  Hollywood wouldn’t have been able to elicit the emotional reaction of the real thing.  Flores deposited the ball into the left field stands and won the game.  The emotion felt by everyone, on the field, in the stands, and watching on television was overwhelming.

Wilmer Flores showed us the human face of baseball’s business side on Wednesday night.

On Friday night he saved the Mets season.

On Friday night Wilmer Flores made a lot of people cry in baseball.  Myself included.