Jordany Valdespin likes it flashy. The guy who made waves last year for comportment unbecoming of a rookie was at it again on Friday, hitting a second-deck homer at Citi Field, watching it, watching it some more, slowly sauntering toward first while dismissively flipping his bat, and only then settling into his home run trot.
The blast came in the ninth inning and served only to bring the Mets to within a 7-2 deficit against Pittsburgh. This may not have mattered when it came to the Pirates’ disdain for Valdespin’s display … but it sure didn’t help.
“When you hit the ball, you got to enjoy your hit,” Valdespin told the New York Daily News afterward. “Every time I hit the ball, homer or something, I enjoy that. Every hit, I’m enjoying, my family’s enjoying, my friends enjoying.”
Enjoyment, of course, comes at a cost. An evening of slurping whiskey sours can lead to dry heaves the next morning. An evening of pimping one’s meaningless homer can lead to Bryan Morris throwing a 94-MPH fastball into your arm the following day. (Watch it all here.)
Prior to Saturday’s game, Mets manager Terry Collins professed no idea of what was in store for Valdespin, although he told the New York Daily News that “fifteen years ago, the answer would’ve been yes [Pittsburgh would have thrown at Valdespin in retaliation]. … A lot of teams have long memories.”
To judge by his actions, however, Collins seemed certain of Pittsburgh’s response. He inserted the targeted 25-year-old as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the seventh inning of a game in which the Mets trailed, 10-1—almost certainly to allow the Pirates a chance to respond directly, enabling both teams to move on without this particular dark cloud overhead.
When it happened, nobody in the Mets dugout appeared to take much issue (unlike Pittsburgh’s bench, which offered Morris hearty congratulations). Valdespin himself, however, was disgusted. He loitered near the plate (though he made no semblance of a move toward the mound) and sauntered slowly toward first. Afterward, he threw a fit in the dugout, hurling his helmet into a corner.
“Whether you like it or not, it’s just the way it is now,” David Wright told the Daily News, after Valdespin’s pimp, but before Pittsburgh’s retaliation. “I’d probably prefer a different way, but each guy has their own individual thing. I’m always with the theory that you don’t want to show anyone up. With that said, it is done a lot by a lot of people, not just by one individual.”
It is safe to assume that Wright is speaking for the team on this point. Valdespin has been causing organizational headaches since he was a minor leaguer—including issues with teammates at Single-A Savannah that led to a two-month exile in extended spring training, and a benching by Binghamton manager Wally Backman for a “lack of intensity,” according to a Metro WNY report.)
It is of particular organizational concern because situations like Friday’s can put Valdespin’s teammates in the crosshairs. (Because Valdespin did not start Saturday’s game, speculation had Wright becoming Pittsburgh’s target in his absence.)
In Newsday, David Lennon wrote that “Not once Saturday did any of the Mets say they don’t like to see one of their own get hit by a pitch—on purpose, no less. The discussion mostly involved talk about lessons learned and growing pains.” Collins was quoted as saying that “if nothing else, he grew by it, and that’s the most beneficial thing that could happen.”
In the New York Post, Wright soft-pedaled the message that, for Valdespin, “toning some of it down might be appropriate.”
Many in the sports world decry this form of baseball justice as unnecessary and brutal. Many of these same voices also bemoan the modern sporting landscape as having become too ego-focused, with too many look-at-me, eye-rolling moments to palate.
No matter how one feels about it, the dance done by the Mets and Pirates over the weekend is the best hope for professional American sports in this regard, a system of players keeping each other in check—no league mandates or threatened fines involved. The game is to be played pride and respect, and players themselves ensure that this is so.
Whether Valdespin changes his behavior going forward is no sure thing. In 2011, his manager at Triple-A Buffalo, Tim Teuffel, said this about the outfielder: “Sometimes he looks at the ball when he hits it, doesn’t run as fast as his body will allow him. But I think he’s going to learn how to play the game a little bit more up here.”
For some people, information takes time to sink in. The lesson has been delivered; what Valdespin does with it is up to him.