It’s easy to pick out Valentino Pascucci at the Mets’ Minor League complex in Port St. Lucie in early March. He’s massive, for one thing: Six foot six and mountainous. And he’s about a decade older than everyone but the coaches in camp early for the team’s STEP program aimed at preparing its best prospects for a long season of professional baseball.
He’s not there for the same training as 19-year-old Wilmer Flores or 21-year-old first-round draft pick Matt Harvey. He’s there hoping his early arrival will allow for some Grapefruit League at-bats with the big-league club when the David Wrights and Jason Bays rest or don’t travel, opportunities to show off in person the prodigious power he has been demonstrating in Triple-A most seasons since 2003, a few scant chances to leave the Mets’ new manager and front office impressed enough to consider him if at any point during the season they find a roster spot open and a need for some right-handed pop.
And maybe he’s there because hitting a baseball is awesome and he’s pretty damn awesome at it, and when you’re pretty damn awesome at hitting a baseball there probably aren’t many better ways to pass time than doing just that in fine Spring weather in Florida on beautifully manicured fields.
By now you must realize I’ve got a thing for Minor League mashers. I’ve followed Pascucci in particular because he has been the best in the Mets’ system for three of the past four years, and because I’ll go to my grave insisting he could have made a difference for the 2008 team that fell one game short of the playoffs, got a .624 OPS from its pinch-hitters and somewhat inexplicably carried three catchers and/or Marlon Anderson for large swatches of the season.
We all want to be Carlos Beltran, to have the unbelievable natural ability and grace and drive to achieve great things in whatever it is we endeavor. But I think the truth is, for the billions of us who are not Carlos Beltran, when we look at ourselves in the mirror and try to honestly assess our various skill sets we find we’re just average in most departments and damn near subpar in some others. If we’re lucky, we’ve got just a couple of things we’re confident we’re good at, and hopefully those things are the ones we enjoy doing. And maybe in life we’ll get a couple of times when everything just lines up right and we get a chance to do that one thing well at a most rewarding moment.
By “we,” of course, I mean “me” here. Maybe you’re good at everything. I’m pretty certain I suck at most stuff. You should see my jumpshot. Atrocious.
Point is, Valentino Pascucci’s not going to chase down balls in the left-center field gap like Beltran once could or steal bases at a historic clip. The guy hits home runs, he appears confident in his ability to hit home runs, and it seems like he likes hitting home runs. Again: Who wouldn’t?
And on September 24th, a couple weeks after the Mets called up Pascucci to reward him for another season of thrilling the good people of Buffalo, he got a chance to pinch-hit against Cole Hamels in the eighth inning with his team down 1-0.
Hamels is that dude none of us can really hope to be: He’s handsome (if you’re into that look), he’s unbelievably talented, he pitches for a perennial contender, and, let’s be frank, he can regularly pose for downright humiliating photos and listen to Lifehouse and Nickelback without shame because he’s probably so confident he’s better than us in every way that he just doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
But Hamels is human and Pascucci hits home runs, and if Hamels leaves something out over the plate, Pascucci’s going to do what he does. And it’s so f@#$ing awesome:
Watching it again, I regret not ranking this higher on the list. But it’s what I wrote first, so here it is.