Fernando Martinez

Post-Traumatic Mets Disorder: I Survived Lastings Milledge

“Escobar, Ochoa, Milledge, (Fernando) Martinez.  They were all deemed ‘untouchable’ at one point or another, then they were untradeable.”  – Random fan at Mets season ticket holder event Q&A with Sandy Alderson and crew.

I know that Alex Escobar, Alex Ochoa, Lastings Milledge and Fernando Martinez were not part of Sandy Alderson’s time with the New York Mets.  Yet, a common thread emerged with each of those players.  They were either let go with little to no fanfare (F-Mart), or traded for crap or players on the downturn of their career (basically, everyone else in that list).  At one point or another, they were considered so untouchable that they were held onto for way too long, then desperate for any kind of warm body to take his place.

I really paid no mind to Ochoa or Escobar.  Ochoa, especially, was involved in some crap-for-crap trades involving the Mets and other teams, but was hardly considered an impactful player.

Two of the biggest disappointments in recent memory would have to be Milledge and F-Mart.

I have nothing by warm fuzzies with F-Mart.  I remember seeing him at Spring Training in 2008, and singing ABBA’s “Fernando” as he took his at-bat.  When he made his debut in 2009, I hadn’t been planning on attending the game, then at the last minute decided I needed to be there.  He didn’t really do anything of note that night, or any time with the Mets really.

But to give up on him at age 24 was something of which I was not a fan.  Young players, especially prospects, get hurt a lot.  They’re still conditioning.  Shit, look at Reese Havens, who was once more highly touted by prospect experts than Ike Davis (now a Mets fan favorite, and a legitimate “untouchable”…well at least in MY opinion, and you know, my blog, my rules).   And to let him go to next to nothing.  Okay, LITERALLY nothing.

I think one of the biggest travesties and mismanagement of a Mets’ prospect’s career has to be Lastings Milledge.  This guy was so highly valued by other organizations, he was the centerpiece in many armchair GM trades, including Manny Ramirez or Barry Zito.  The difference being, the Manny deal was close to going down several times over.  The Zito deal, I feel, was speculation by bored beat writers (Billy Beane said he’d never even talked to Omar Minaya).

Usually, there were extenuating circumstances as to why these trades didn’t go down.  Third party validation (including Peter Angelos of the Baltimore Orioles nixing his part of the deal, therefore, making the rest invalid) or the debate over the “half-year rental,” which is essentially what Zito would have been at the time.

Milledge was a flashy player, a throwback almost to the 1980s, with his armbands, bling and dreads, he exuded a certain attitude that was missing from the 2006 Mets (and Mets team, I feel, is now seen as incredibly overrated), an aura that could have given them an “edge.”  Which is funny…then-GM Omar Minaya said on later teams that the Mets were missing an “edge.” Or was it Steve Phillips on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball?  I dunno.  I seem to combine the two together (talk about your PTMD with those two GMs).

I digress.  I liked Milledge.  I was so excited when he was activated after Xavier Nady was sent to the hospital for appendicitis.  He hit a double in his debut, a game the Mets ended up losing, but that I was in attendance at, just to see ‘Stings play.  By this time, the advent of social media in the form of blogs had contributed to his hype.  I was excited to see him play.

A few days later, he hits a game tying home run against the San Francisco Giants’ Armando Benitez.  To add to this feat, he decided to take his position in right field by giving WWE-inspired high-fives with the fans down the field level.

I thought it was cool.  The butt-hurt Mets didn’t seem to think so.

I loved the 2006 team.  It was one of the most fun years, unexpectedly, I’ve had as a Mets fan.  A player like Milledge was a welcome distraction from the David “say and do everything” Wright and the goody two-shoes on the team.  On a team in desperate need of a bad ass or a player with some swag, Milledge’s attitude fit the bill.

Was he rushed though?  Of course he was.  He wouldn’t be a valid Mets prospect if he wasn’t rushed.  Ruined, in a sense, by the lack of depth on the Mets major league team that year, and the expectation level that he was supposed to provide.

The Curious Case of Lastings Milledge, in my opinion anyway, was one of a Catch-22 variety.  With all the hype surrounding him, he was only doomed to fail.  Yet, when he didn’t play up to expectation, the team and the fan base were quick to throw him under the bus, about how they could have gotten Manny or Zito for him during his hype.  And who knows…maybe it would have been worth it.

Whether we liked it or not, the Mets were a win-now team then.  And if that was the case, they should have cut their losses with Milledge and traded him.  Yet, we know he would have been a star someplace else, because another team might have taken the time to develop him properly.  Might have taken the time to let him be who he was.  Yet, like many Mets GMs, the prospect hype was overvalued to the point that when they had to cut ties with him, it was for scraps off the heap.

In one way, it was a good trade for me.  Brian Schneider was received in the deal, which launched a thousand hashtags (#ButterPecan, #TwoScoops).  I was never crazy about Ryan Church, but felt bad for him once the Mets exasperated a head injury by flying him cross-country.  I think it was over at Faith and Fear in Flushing, when someone said “Feed a cold, starve a fever, fly a concussion cross country.”  (I’d like to give credit to whomever wrote that, believe it was in a column).  It was the same old story, ruin a prospect, and ruin the gains received in any deal involving said prospect.

Lastings Milledge futzed around in the Major Leagues after being traded in the , and last we heard was playing in Japan, for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.  He is now 27 years old.  Sometimes, 2006 seems like a lifetime away, yet, he was just barely 21 years old.  Think back to when we were 21.  Did we make some questionable choices?  If you didn’t, I’d call you out as a liar.

Lastings Milledge’s time with the Mets doesn’t necessarily conjure up any painful memories.  Rather, it makes me a little sad.  It brings my hopes and fears, as a Mets fan, to the forefront.  It makes everyone skeptical of prospects, no matter how highly touted they are.  I mean, shit, if you look at it, Billy Beane (not the GM of the Oakland A’s, a team that was reported in the mix for Milledge when the Mets were looking for a good pitcher to shore up their rotation, like Barry Zito in his walk year) was once that highly regarded prospect who didn’t amount to much as a player.  It’s the stories like Lastings Milledge that makes every fan wonder if Travis d’Arnaud would be the next big thing, or if he’ll be the next Steve Chilcott.  You’ll just never know.

What I do know is that this front office is making it a point to develop their prospects properly, and not rush them.  This seems to be a common thread with the Mets in their history, where the prospects are not fully trusted, and thought to be a means to an end of winning now.  A vicious cycle, if you ask me.

So yes, I have some post-traumatic Mets disorder associated with Lastings Milledge and Fernando Martinez.  F-Mart to a lesser extent, though I had some warm fuzzies associated with a good memory of CitiField in its inaugural year.

But Lastings Milledge will always represent to me the dynasty that never was, the overvaluing of a player but only ruining by rushing him.  A Catch-22 indeed.

Something In The Air That Night

Coop and Metstradamus at Dodgertown, 2008

Mets buddy Metstradamus may have beaten me to the punch about this already, but I don’t remember him singing Fernando by ABBA when I saw him first time at Spring Training in 2008.  Okay, fine, it might have been me singing it…but that’s besides the point.

Once can’t-miss-prospect, Fernando “F-Mart” Martinez has been waived by the Mets…to make room for Scott Hairston.  I had to chuckle a bit at the irony.  For one, Hairston is a “buddy” of mine (and if you don’t believe me, check the picture on his Wikipedia page).  Second, I have a soft spot in my heart for F-Mart.  The last is that I’ve seen this story play out before, when Omar Minaya left Jesus Flores unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft for the likes of Julio Franco, the 1,000 year old man, for “veteran protection.”  Yet, I can’t disagree with this move because F-Mart has been a huge disappointment.  I place that blame squarely on his development with the organization.

Yet, I have a soft spot in the my heart for F-Mart.  He’s another cautionary tale of a can’t-miss-prospect yet at the same time the failings and flailings of the Mets minor league organizational cultivation.  If you look at Mets history, Roosevelt Avenue is littered with the bodies and ghosts of these once promising players only to see them flounder due to mishandling.  Billy Beane, Gregg Jefferies, Lastings Milledge, Aaron Heilman.  Most of them make us cringe with the thought of “MAKE IT STOP!!!!!”

F-Mart was different to me.  I never saw him as that golden boy status, because I guess in my heart I knew he wouldn’t amount to much.  I always saw him as that prototypical trade bait or someone who would move around to suit the likes of Carlos Beltran (the guy who ironically put the stop to Milledge and Martinez’s development with the big team).

Since CitiField opened in 2009, we’ve been waiting for that moment to stand up and cheer.  To that end, we’ve had three very disappointing seasons, and 2012 looks to be no different.  At the same time, we’ve all missed Shea, but I think that Shea provided those warm, fuzzy, mushy memories that we can all identify by being in the same house at the same time.  But in 2009, there were some glimmers of “maybe this place won’t be that bad.”  And one of those memories was Fernando Martinez making his big league debut.

Now, his debut didn’t amount to much.  I remember maybe his second or third start, he was caught not running out a foul ball, or what he thought was a foul ball, and it was an indication that maybe the minor league development teams weren’t doing their job in fundamentals.  By the time 2009 ended though, I called this game one of the Met-Nificent Moments of the year.  Why was that?  Well, my list, my rules.  But the game for me is what being a Mets fan is all about: making memories of your own.

We found out that day that F-Mart was being called up to make the start.  This was really the beginning of the end for that season: the AAA team being called up because of all the injuries.  That said, I had tickets to the game, and my friend Anthony who went by the moniker “Dykstraw” agreed to go with me.  We found out in the meantime that our friends El Duderino and Fort Greene Met Fan from the Brooklyn Met Fan motley crew were also going that night…the first time since Opening Day when I ran into them.  This was a coincidence: seeing F-Mart and seeing each other? Score.

By the time we arrived, it was close to first pitch.  El Dude and FGMF had texted me already, letting me know they were on the bridge, since they wanted food from Catch of the Day, the new seafood-themed food stand at CitiField, and it was right by the bridge.  Also bear in mind at this point, it wasn’t called the “Shea Bridge,” but it desperately needed a name.  This was the first game for me that I felt like CitiField could, indeed, be home.  When Anthony and I saw that Gene and Mia were going to be at the bridge at the beginning of the game, we figured we’d be near the food stands, and it was better than going to Guam for our real seats (up in Promenade).

Also, F-mart was starting right field that night.  We figured, if there was a play in the first inning, we’d see it better from the bridge anyway.  Oh, but wait, there’s more.  He would be batting in the first inning.  Well, we may as well stay put, since by the time we get to our seats, we’ll miss his first at-bat.

By the end of the game, we had spent the entire time on the bridge.  It’s moments like this that make me a Mets fan.  Mia and Gene bought calamari at the Catch of the Day stand, and we passed it around.  We passed around Box Frites.  Someone bought beers and passed them down.  I felt like we were at an Italian family gathering, and the baseball game was simply a backdrop.  Someone else from Brooklyn Met Fan noticed me and yelled, “Hey Co-Op!”  I was like, “Uh…it’s COOP!”  Another point, I struck up a conversation with another fan, who in turn bought us all beers, but asked me if I knew Joe from Mets Today.  Well, not only was I friendly with Joe…I was leaving him tickets for the next day!  Talk about a coincidence.

I’m pretty sure the Mets won that night, but it was really the fan camaraderie that made me really believe that, the team may be bad, F-Mart may not amount to much or anything really, but this was what kept me returning for more.  The beers, the food, the conversation, the jokes, the self-deprecating humor.

The Shea Bridge didn’t have a name that night.  Yet, secretly I still call it the “F-Mart Bridge,” because of that night.   Since I told all of you, it’s not so much a secret anymore.  Some people point to the fact that because the Mets don’t have a lot of quintessential Mets-ian players that their history might be flawed.  But it’s nights like this that give us a counterpoint in one another, the very idea that makes a Met fan a Met fan.  Good luck to F-Mart wherever he may go.  I won’t forget that first night you played.  You may have underwhelmed, but just know there were several people on the bridge rooting for you and wanting to see you do well.