A lot of your friends and family ask, “What else do you have to do?” And I always tell them the only thing I can do is go out there and hit the ball and hope somebody takes notice.
Yesterday the Mets announced that they selected the contract of 32-year-old first baseman Val Pascucci from Triple-A Buffalo. Pascucci will join the team in Florida later today.
Back in 2008, when Pascucci was mashing for the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans, I participated in an enthusiastic but ultimately fruitless Internet campaign to get the hulking slugger on the big-league team. That club, in the thick of a pennant race, filled the fringes of its roster with guys like Marlon Anderson, Robinson Cancel and Abraham Nunez and unironically gave 25 pinch-hitting opportunities to Argenis Reyes. Pascucci posted a .963 OPS in Triple-A but never got the call; at one point, manager Jerry Manuel admitted he had never heard of him.
The Mets, as you probably know, fell one game short of the playoffs that year. In the weepy final game of the season, they used Anderson, Cancel and Damion Easley to pinch hit.
In the three seasons since, Pascucci has continued crushing Triple-A pitching. In seven years at baseball’s second-highest level, Pascucci has 159 home runs and a .902 OPS. It is the stuff of Pat Misch’s worst nightmare.
Yet Pascucci can boast only 62 Major League at-bats, all of which came for the Montreal Expos in 2004. Meanwhile, five American League teams have received OPSes of .730 or less from their designated hitters in 2011. Seven did in 2010.
Few professions are as closely and objectively tracked as Major League Baseball, so it seems the sport should be a meritocracy. Guys who fail and continue to fail at the Major League level should get weeded out; guys who torch Triple-A pitching every single year should get more than 62 chances to show what they can do in big leagues.
Only it doesn’t always work that way. Players get labeled — “Major Leaguer” or “Quadruple-A slugger” or “closer” or “organizational guy” — and the labels stick. Guys wind up in systems that never have the right need at the right time.
Maybe if five more balls off his bat found holes in that 2004 stint, Pascucci would have had a long and productive career as a right-handed bench bat, an Olmedo Saenz type. Maybe if he played in the Padres’ system last year instead of the Mets’. Maybe if he played in the Mets’ system in 2009 instead of the Padres’. Maybe if he posted the exact same numbers but hit left-handed.
None of that happened though, so Val Pascucci stayed in the Minors, crushing homers, taking walks, striking out, doing right by the city of Buffalo.
And it seems either ruthlessly ironic or perfectly fitting that the Mets call up Pascucci now that they don’t really need him, when they have bench-bat types in spades, guys that are younger and faster and a bit more versatile on defense. Pascucci’s second turn in the Majors comes as a reward, a month’s worth of big-league salary and a handful of at-bats for years of dutiful Minor League mashing.
But he joins the Major League Mets regardless, and maybe with that handful of at-bats… who knows? Perhaps Pascucci shows enough in a short sample to convince some other club he’s worth more than a spot on a coach bus and a couple of asses in Triple-A seats. Doesn’t seem likely, but then with baseball being baseball, sometimes things play out in unpredictable and awesome ways.