On March 7th 2016, Bartolo Colón solidified his place as one of the most memorable players of the past few decades when, with one marvelous swing, he hit the first, and to date, only home run of his illustrious career. His career began in 1997, when he broke into the league as a fresh faced starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. After his rookie season, Colón remained one of the most reliable players in the league for twenty-one years until the end of the 2018 season. Last year, he did not find a contract, and for the first time in over two decades, did not play in the majors. However, reports recently emerged that Colón is looking to make a comeback by signing a minor league contract and finding a path back to the big leagues. If he were to make a comeback, it would make him a four decade player, having appeared in the 1990’s, 2000’s, 2010’s, and now the 2020’s.
In 2016, Colón was in the midst of his third year with the New York Mets and just the third full season in the National League of his career. Colón, who had to this point accumulated an impressive and consistent stat line as a pitcher, was never especially well known for his grace at the plate. In his first three years playing on a National League team, opponents, teammates, and fans alike had been treated to their share of proiette the spins in the box, hustle down the line, and of course, plenty of instances of the helmet falling off Colón’s head on sweeping swings from a little too far off the plate.
Regardless of how previous plate appearances had treated the veteran, on May 7th, Colón stepped into the box determined to give it his all. Having set the scene and knowing the result, let’s take a look at how, as Mets announcer Gary Cohen put it, “the impossible happened.”
Colón steps into the box and slowly waves his bat back and forth waiting for the first pitch from Padre’s starter James Shields. The TV broadcast brings up a stats box on the bottom half of the screen, telling viewers that Colón is batting .089 over 225 AB in his career with zero home runs. The latter of these stats is soon to change. Although it’s only May, Colón is 0 for 9 on the year so far for 2016.
Before the ball leaves Shield’s hand, Colón’s bat comes to a rest on his shoulder where it remains until well after the pitch has arrived in the catcher’s glove. While he clearly was taking the pitch all the way, Colón barely moves a muscle as he methodically watches the pitch arrive with seemingly locked knees.
Now ahead in the count, Colón once again watches all the way, barely lifting the bat from his back shoulder. This time, Shields finds the zone, evening the count. Colón looks down and softly sweeps his bat in an almost golf-esque swing. With two outs, a runner on second and his Mets already up by two runs in the second inning, Colón is looking to help his own cause by moving the runner on second around to score for his 10th RBI of the year. Little does anyone know that number 11 is on the way as well.
This time, Colón is ready. He picks the bat off his shoulder and waves it back and forth waiting for the pitch from Shields. In a more athletic stance than the two previous pitches, Colón unleashes a looping but powerful swing on a 90 mph fastball that Shields leaves middle middle. The ball jumps off the bat and everyone who is watching in the stadium and at home wonders… Could it be? Initial contact gives way to a high fly ball, which drifts deeper and deeper into the left field corner. Finally, it lands in fair territory just a few rows behind the fence in the left field corner.
The 41,028 fans in Petco Park go wild, waving cutout cardboard heads of Colón. His ecstatic teammates pound on the dugout railing and file into the locker room tunnel to give him a hero’s welcome. After a hard-earned home run trot, Colón steps into the dugout and is greeted by his teammates rushing out to congratulate him and greet their returning hero.
I remember when I got the notification from MLB AtBat on my phone that Bartolo Colón had hit a home run. Colón, for all his too often undercovered success on the mound, had seen overcovered struggles at the plate, and it is only right that the one home run of his career was to a hero’s applause. If only Colón makes a return to the big leagues, he can return to his old form on the mound and bring us back the unforgettable moments at the plate. For now, I have to wish him the best of luck with the Acereros de Monclova, as on Friday he signed a contract with the Mexican Baseball League team.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.