Bartolo Colon has a secret, but not for long.
When the New York Mets signed Colon to a two-year, $20 million deal prior to the 2014 season, fans and the media scoffed at investing in an aging veteran pitcher. Colon is now 41, but honestly, his physique suggests he’s closer to 55. What we saw — an out-of-shape pitcher with a large waistline and legs like small oak trees — was not what the Mets received.
The only thing the New York Mets are looking at now is Colon’s performance. Instead of declining, Colon is improving with each start. In fact, he’s pitching like a 10-year old Little League pitcher; having the time of his life, playing baseball in the summer, chowing down hot dogs and snow cones after games.
“He plays the game like a kid plays the game,” added David Wright. “He genuinely goes out there, you see him just flipping the ball up, a guy will get a hit off him and he kinda claps. It’s fun to watch him have fun. It’s kinda infectious.”
Since signing with the Mets, Colon has won more games than any pitcher on the team (20) and is the envy of the Mets pitching staff, that includes Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler (DL) and now Noah Syndergaard, four of the most promising arms in all of Major League Baseball.
Colon is the second oldest active Major League Baseball player behind LaTroy Hawkins (42) and the oldest starting pitcher in the game. He has pitched for eight major league teams — including the Chicago White Sox twice — during his 18-year career. Colon has recorded 210 wins, a Cy Young Young Award (2005), two 20-win seasons and three All-Star Game appearances. And, he just keeps getting better.
During his last start in Philadelphia Colon struck out six batters without allowing a walk, making him the first pitcher in Mets history to make six consecutive starts without issuing a base on balls. The Mets beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-4, and Colon collected the win. He is now 6-1, his best start since the 1999 season with the Cleveland Indians.
“He gets it. He just gets it,” said Phillies broadcaster Mike Schmidt. “So many people try and make sports harder than it has to be. That’s human nature.”
“He’s got his own style of calming himself down,” Mets manager Terry Collins told the media. “When it starts to get to be a tough situation, we have all these techniques now we’re trying to teach guys on how to breathe and how to do this, and Bart’s got his own little thing that he does on the mound to get him back in focus, and it works.”
Which begs the question:
What’s his secret to success in a game dominated by players nearly half his age?
The calm demeanor, the child-like quality and pinpoint control were attributes Colon has had to refine. In 1997, Colon’s rookie season, his arsenal included one pitch: a four-seam fastball. Major league hitters figured him out quickly. During the season, Colon made five trips to and from Cleveland to Buffalo (then the Indians Triple-A affiliate). He finished the season 4-7 in 19 appearances (17 starts) with a 5.65 ERA.
Colon knew he was on the fast track back to Puerto Plato, his hometown in the Dominican Republic, if he didn’t make some changes. So, in 1998, he arrived in Arizona for Spring Training with a secondary pitch: a two-seam fastball.
Then came the tipping point in Colon’s career: June 26, 1998. The Indians were hosting the Houston Astros at Jacobs Field and Ricky Gutierrez led off the eighth inning against Colon. He swung and missed at the first two pitches. What happened next is legendary: Colon and Gutierrez confrontation lasted 10 minutes and 20 pitches. Colon threw 18 fastballs, hitting 99 miles per hour fives times during the at bat. Pitch No. 20 dove straight at Gutierrez’s shoe tops. He swung helplessly and whiffed.
During the at-bat, Colon never lost his focus; he was in complete control throughout the at-bat, never giving in. Colon had revealed his future in that moment; we witnessed a glimpse of the presence and command he has remastered.
“I’ve learned how to put everything into perspective,” Colon told Sports Illustrated. “The key word here is focus. In actual throwing time, you’re talking about 10 minutes per game. So for those 10 minutes we work on putting everything into focus.”
We included Colon and Charles Maher, the longtime team psychologist for the Cleveland Indians.
Today, Colon’s fastball still occasionally reaches 93 miles per hour and his control is, as Baseball Essential suggests, is “ridiculous.”
Colon has done some ridiculous things on the mound … Colon has thrown a four-seam or two-seam fastball a whopping 84.7% of the time this season … [He] covers the whole zone, and it is the side to side movement within the strike zone that allows him to be effective despite having underwhelming velocity.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote:
Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen … simplify.
Colon is showing us what Thoreau’s message looks like on a baseball field.