September 18, 2020

Monday Mets: Dom-ino Effect

These are tough times. Everywhere. If you don’t know this, then you’ve been quarantined under a rock for the last few months. So, another Monday Mets calling out the team’s shortcomings is really just sad, and frankly, it’s pretty obvious. The team isn’t scoring. Their starting rotation is battered. They got swept out of Philadelphia and into last place in the NL East. As I sat down to write this, I wondered, if I don’t have anything nice to say, should I say anything at all. Then I remembered the value of optimism, and the value of Dominic Smith.

Now, I’m not ready to write about why Mets fans should believe in this team despite the recent performances. I’ll keep that in my virtual back pocket for slightly later in the season. However, if you’re looking for a feel good story right now (and who isn’t?), then you needn’t look further than the man who has recently been in the middle of the Mets lineup.

First, a little personal history with regard to Dominic Smith. During spring training in 2018, I wrote about how Dominic Smith came to camp ready to prove that he would be the Mets starting first baseman of the future, only to damage his chances before the first exhibition game. Smith subsequently missed most of spring training due to a quadriceps injury, and spent most of the rest of the season shuttling back and forth between Triple-A Las Vegas and the Mets bench. Then, last year I wrote about how Smith carved a spot for himself on the Mets roster despite losing his starting first baseman duties to eventual Rookie of the Year, Pete Alonso. Smith was an important lefty bat for the Mets through the first half of the year last year, tapered off a little in the second half, and then missed just about the rest of the season with a foot injury. The “just about” is important though. On September 29, 2019, after a little more than 2 months on the IL, in the Mets final game of the season, Smith hit a pinch-hit 3-run home run to beat the Braves in 11 innings, sending the Mets and their fans into the offseason in style.

If that had been the last memory of the Dominic Smith on the Mets, it would have been enough. While Dominic Smith had only played 194 games for the Mets, spread out over 3 seasons, his story encapsulated so much more. He went from being a first-round draft pick, to a future star, to a disappointing backup player, to a valuable backup player, to the injured list, to a somewhat redeemed Disney hero-ish.

And with that, many Mets fans were prepared to lose Smith in a trade during this past offseason. Even though he seemed just like the type of player who would come back to haunt the team while playing for an opponent, at least he would be leaving on good terms. But that trade never happened. The player voted most likely to be traded, was still on the Mets coming into spring training. It’s not that the Mets and their fans didn’t want him around, there was just no real spot for him. He’s too good to be a backup, and he’s too lefty to play anywhere but Alsonsobase or the outfield, and he wasn’t going to crack the starting lineup that way. It seemed that the only way that Smith would be a regular player for the Mets would be if someone got injured, or if the National League suddenly adopted the designated hitter, but that would never happen, right? Right? Anyone? Bueller?

Then, yeah, it happened. Well, lots happened that led to it. Obviously, 2020 will not be taught in future textbooks as “the year the NL used a DH”. Still, for the sake of this story, let’s focus on the fact that without much warning, all NL teams suddenly had to add a ninth hitter to their respective lineups.

And still, this promised Smith nothing, because the timing of baseball’s 2020 return allowed Yoenis Cespedes the opportunity to return to the Mets lineup. In what may have been the wompiest of Dominic Smith’s history of womp womps, baseball created a situation that was just right for him, and the Mets were compelled, understandably, to give it to somebody else. So what did Smith do? He showed up ready to play. Without saying it out loud, he seemed to ask the question, “what if last year’s season-ending home run was just the beginning?” – a concept most fans never really considered.

On August 2nd of this year, after playing in 8 games, Cespedes chose to challenge Bobby Bonilla as the symbol of “LOLMets”, and he opted out of playing the rest of the season. Since that morning, Dominic Smith has simply been the Mets best hitter, batting .311, with 5 HRs, 11 RBIs, 8 Runs Scored, and an OPS over 1.100.

Despite the shortened season, and the automatic sense of urgency that comes with each game, the Mets still do have some time to turn things around. If they need a source of inspiration, they have a hitter in their lineup who has taken every challenge that’s been thrown his way, some self-inflicted, some just bad luck, and is still standing, perhaps prouder than ever. Time and time again, Dominic Smith has had the excuse to throw his arms up in the air and wave the white flag. And every time, he’s come back stronger and ready to contribute in whatever way he can. In a year in which most of us have taken some pretty damaging hits, and seen challenges we never thought we’d experience, perhaps it’s not just the Mets that can take inspiration from a guy like Dom. We’re probably all due for a few wins.