Bartolo ‘Big Sexy’ Colon: Not like everybody else

 

NEW YORK – Brian Snitker paused for a moment late Wednesday night when a young New York reporter, presumably assigned to write a sidebar on ex-Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon’s highly anticipated return to Citi Field, asked the Braves manager if anyone “told” Colon about not carrying the bat with him the way the 43-year-old icon did when Colon grounded out to start the sixth inning.

He trotted to first, rounded the base and headed back to the dugout, all the while carrying his bat. Like Colon is wont to do in such situations. Like a boss.

Snitker, tired but in a good mood after his team won 3-1 in 12 innings, paused, cracked a smile and answered in a tone that seemed both dismissive of the question – understandable, as Colon’s playful actions entertained many and offended no one on either team – and appreciative of the unique athlete that he and the rest of Braves Country is going to watch this summer as “Big Sexy,” the oldest active player in baseball, plies his craft in a 20th major league season.

“A guy his age, 18 or 20 years in the big leagues, he can do whatever the hell he wants,” Snitker said, in answer to the question about carrying the bat.

Colon, who last year because the oldest player in major league history to hit his first home run, might not hit a ball over the fence for the Braves, but he showed Wednesday night that he remains fully capable of doing what it is they signed him to do: Pitch. Effectively and efficiently.

Bartolo pitched six innings of two-hit ball in his Braves debut Wednesday against his former Mets team. (AP photo)

The 5-foot-11, 285-pound Dominican cult figure received a standing ovation – as loud or louder than any current Mets — when Colon was introduced with the rest of the Braves as they lined up along the third-base line Monday on Opening Day. Then he was honored via a video tribute on the huge scoreboard screen above center field just before the first pitch Wednesday night.

Then he got yet another standing ovation before his first at-bat of the night in the third inning. This guy melts the hardened shell of Mets fans, one of whom held up a sign for Colon at Citi Field that read, “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

Very few former Mets have ever received such a hero’s welcome upon returning with another team. And Colon got that reception midway through his sparkling performance against the home team, on a night when he would limit the Mets to two hits, one run and one walk with six strikeouts in six innings and 80 pitches, coming out only because the Braves had bases loaded with one out in a tie game when Colon’s spot in the order came up in the seventh inning. (Emilio Bonifacio struck out; the bench, unlike the rotation, is a work in progress for the Braves, who continue to look for an affordable power bat.)

During a spring training in which Colon post an 8.66 ERA in six Grapefruit League starts, Braves fans unfamiliar with his lackluster showings in previous springs wondered aloud whether Atlanta had signed Colon a year too late, if he might finally be ready to act (or pitch) his age, rather than continue to produce the 30 or more starts and more than 190 innings per season that he’d cranked out over the past four years while going 62-40 with a 3.59 ERA in that span.

But all spring, Colon kept telling them – through us reporters – that he would be just fine, that he felt good and that he couldn’t care less about spring training results. He was in Florida to work on things, not compete for a Grapefruit League ERA title. He said all spring he was “ready for the fight” and that when the big lights came on at the big stadiums in games that mattered, he would be on his game.

“It’s like I always tell the guys, the regular season is a different monster,” Colon said through a translator after Wednesday’s game. “Once the lights come on, it’s a totally different thing. While I’m down at spring training I don’t really care if I get lit up or if I give up a bunch of hits. I’m doing down there to work on my specific things that I need to improve on. Again, two different things. Spring training, just trying to work on stuff. Regular season, totally different animal.”

Indeed, wwhen those big lights came on Wednesday, he did just what he said he would do. He flipped a figurative switch and became Big Bart, badass pitcher.

“That’s what he does, man, he’s a vet,” said another veteran, Matt Kemp, who had three doubles including the 12th-inning two-run hit that lifted the Braves to the win. “He’s just working on things in spring training. I don’t think he’s worried about the results in spring training…. He pitched his butt off tonight. That’s what he does, he’s a gamer.”

Snitker said, “He kept saying all spring, I’ll be ready when the lights come on. I mean, tonight he was dotting it up (locating pitches with pinpoint accuracy). If we hadn’t hit for him he was good to go back out in the seventh. We asked him after the sixth, whatcha got (left in the tank)? He said, I’ve got three more (innings) left.”

Snitker smiled again when he told that story. He almost always smiles when he talks about Colon. The 61-year-old manager loves this most veteran of pitchers.

Colon had 18 wins and a 2.65 ERA in 30 starts for Oakland in his age-40 season in 2013, then was a durable workhorse for three seasons for the Mets, capped by an All-Star season – his fourth – in 2016 when he was supposed to be rotation depth but ended up being a rock in the middle of a rotation that was beset by injuries to (much) younger pitchers than he.

He parlayed that into a one-year, $12.5 million deal with the Braves, which even Braves-hating Mets fans wouldn’t begrudge him for taking. They understood the Mets wouldn’t make Colon a comparable offer, seeing as their rotation was filled with their own young starters including some returning from surgeries.

And so Colon joined his ninth major league team, and now Braves fans will get to see the stocky, spectacularly non-sinewy stalwart make potential runs at a couple of significant records: His 233 career wins are third-most in major league history by a Latin American-born pitcher, trailing only two other icons, Dennis Martinez (245) and Juan Marichal (243). With 11 wins, Colon could top Marichal’s record for a Dominican-born pitcher.

And if, along the way, he carries his bat when he runs to first base every single time he puts a ball in play, I’m guessing that no one will be offended.

• I don’t know, for some reason this great Kinks tune just made a lot of sense to me on several levels for a Bartolo Colon blog. Because he sure ain’t like everybody else. And for that, we are grateful.

“I’M NOT LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE” by The Kinks

The Kinks

I won’t take all that they hand me down,
And make out a smile, though I wear a frown,
And I won’t take it all lying down,
‘Cause once I get started I go to town.

‘Cause I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else.

And I don’t want to ball about like everybody else,
And I don’t want to live my life like everybody else,
And I won’t say that I feel fine like everybody else,
‘Cause I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else.

But darling, you know that I love you true,
Do anything that you want me to,
Confess all my sins like you want me to,
There’s one thing that I will say to you,
I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else.

I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else
And I don’t want to ball about like everybody else,
And I don’t want to live my life like everybody else,
And I won’t say that I feel fine like everybody else,
‘Cause I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else.

Like everybody else,
Like everybody else,
Like everybody else,
Like everybody else.

If you all want me to settle down,
Slow up and stop all my running ’round,
Do everything like you want me to,
There’s one thing that I will say to you,
I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else.

I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else.
And I don’t want to ball about like everybody else,
And I don’t want to live my life like everybody else,
And I won’t say that I feel fine like everybody else,
‘Cause I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else.

Like everybody else (like everybody else),
Like everybody else (like everybody else),
Like everybody else (like everybody else),
Like everybody else.


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