The odd reality of a beloved Met, who wants more than this
ATLANTA — In show business, he might be called a beloved character actor.
In sports? Wilmer Flores ranks as a little more unique. How many homegrown, young, beloved bench players do you see out there?
Flores might never fully accept the niche he has created for himself with these Mets. Yet he does understand there’s something to be said for doing a job well, even if it’s not the job you want. And he appreciates being appreciated, particularly for a role that typically goes unnoticed.
“I’ll never get used to it. You never get used to it,” he said Sunday at SunTrust Park, before rain postponed the Mets’ series finale with the Braves. “… I don’t think that [anybody] wants to be on the bench. Everybody wants to be out there. But I contribute to the team and that’s what’s important.
“I know that I can help the team win, so I’ve got to stay ready for whenever I’m playing.”
Fittingly, Flores was set to make his first appearance of the season at third base Sunday, as Mickey Callaway wanted to give new guy Todd Frazier a breather after 20 straight starts (and a spiking in Saturday’s 4-3 loss) at the hot corner. Flores started at first base in Friday night’s 5-3, 12-inning Mets victory, going 2-for-5 with an RBI, and on Saturday, he pinch hit, walked and scored the game’s first run in the eighth inning.
That capped a good week and strong start to the season for the 26-year-old, who owns a .263/.333/.474 slash line in 18 games and 42 plate appearances. He delivered the third walk-off homer of his career on April 15 when, in the bottom of the ninth inning, he went deep against Milwaukee’s Matt Albers to give the Mets a 3-2 victory.
“What makes him special, No. 1, is he can hit off the bench,” said Mets bench coach Gary DiSarcina, an Angels everyday shortstop back in his day. “He’s done it numerous times when he’s stepped in and had a great plate appearance for us and stepped up in different situations. The ability to not play for two days and then have a start at first base, or third base, or second base, and move him around, those are special players. I don’t think you really realize it until you get on the coaching side of it.”
This marks DiSarcina’s first year in the National League — in recent seasons, he coached for the Angels and Red Sox — so he first learned over the course of the Grapefruit League schedule just how solid a bat Flores carries. Since the regular season began, the coach has witnessed the roars Flores receives every time he steps to the on-deck circle.
“Was he the one that cried?” DiSarcina asked.
Yes, Flores’ legendary Citi Field tears on the night of July 29, 2015, after word leaked that the Mets had agreed in principle to trade him and Sunday’s scheduled starter Zack Wheeler to the Brewers for Carlos Gomez, elevated him to cult-hero status in Flushing. The deal of course fell through after the Mets didn’t like Gomez’s medical data, and two nights later, Flores hit a walk-off homer in the 12th to beat the Nationals and turn the Mets’ season around all the way to a National League pennant.
“They definitely make it easier, because it’s just easier when you know they have your back,” Flores said of the Mets fans. “They’re always cheering for you. Every day, you try to do something good for them, to give back. It’s definitely fun when they’re supporting.”
Flores can be a free agent after next season, at age 28, so maybe he’ll find an employer willing to give him another shot at a regular gig. That’s a long time away, though. And Flores has shown he can yearn for something more while not neglecting his current responsibilities.
“It’s hard waiting. ‘When am I going to get in there?’ ” Flores said. “But I think about the opportunity, not the obligations.”
Spoken like a true character actor on one of baseball’s biggest stages.
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