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Began In '96

Matt Harvey: new hope, same result

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By Joe Schackman

Matt Harvey was supposed to be different.

I have had the misfortune of missing the best moments in Mets franchise history.

The Amazin’-ness of the ‘69 Mets came well before my time, and the ‘86 Mets managed their ridiculous season a year before I was born. By the time I became a fan, Tom Seaver was just some old guy, Nolan Ryan had faded into the Texas sun like a western hero and Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were lost to the spiral of drug addiction. Real drugs. Like the ones you take to ruin your life, not resurrect your career. You could make the argument that my birth served as some kind of Antichrist moment, a terrible turning point for the franchise. But that would be crazy. (Right?)

The bottom line is that I completely missed those players. Their time in Flushing might have been short or ended in disgrace, but generations of fans can bask in the memories that those guys created. Mine, meanwhile, revolve around a World Series loss, two epic collapses and a future Hall-of-Famer who is forever remembered for the time he didn’t swing. Oh, and Matt Harvey.

I’d be lying if I said that news of Harvey’s season-ending injury took me by surprise. The Summer of Harvey always felt like borrowed time; like I had already swallowed the poison and was just waiting for it to hit my blood stream. The Mets don’t fall ass-backwards into one of the best young pitchers in the game. They go running, arms outstretched, to guys like Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen.

The Mets don’t have a pitcher who starts his career in historic fashion. They don’t have a guy with a career ERA of 2.39 or an ERA+ of 153. They don’t have a guy who strikes out, on average, 10 batters per every nine innings. The Mets don’t have a guy who starts the All-Star Game. And they certainly don’t have a guy who can do this:

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But this time, they did. The beauty of Matt Harvey was that, for once, something the Mets touched actually turned to gold. He’d been drafted by the Angels in 2007, only to spurn them for college. Then six teams bypassed him when he re-entered the draft in 2010, placing him directly in New York’s lap. And even then, we didn’t know just exactly what the Mets had. Harvey’s future was, at best as a career number two starter, or at worst a pitcher with a live fastball but no consistency.

You don’t have to squint very hard to see that Donnie Darko, alternate reality version. In one of the best drafts in the last 10 years, the Mets miss out on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and pass on Chris Sale and Christian Yelich to take Matt Harvey. He soon becomes the latest first-round bust, joining the likes of Billy Traber, Aaron Heilman, Phil Humber and Mike Pelfrey as modern-day Mets pitchers who never fulfilled their potential. Within five years, he’s the answer to some obscure trivia question that you’re ashamed you actually know.

Instead, without even really trying, the Mets got ahold of one of the most precious commodities in baseball.

It’s important to note here that the Mets are not to blame for anything other than being, you know, the Mets. Unlike the guy who owns the Ferrari but keeps it locked in his garage, the Mets have to turn their prospects loose at some point. These things happen for no other reason than that throwing a baseball is a stressful and unnatural action for the human body to endure time after time. It’s not overuse, and it’s not poor training. The Mets’ only mistake is that they had the audacity to try and win some baseball games.

And Harvey is not dead, nor is he even a lock for Tommy John surgery. The rational fan would say that there’s a chance he never has to go under the knife, a chance that 2014 begins with the eternal hope that spring brings to all baseball teams. But Mets fans know better. These things are never that easy.

When I sat down to write this, I turned off the TV, flipped open my laptop and turned on the most emo music still left in my iTunes library. It seemed like the appropriately melodramatic thing to do.

Yet after a song, I switched it off. I wasn’t really that upset, I realized. I had been mentally preparing for this moment all summer. I didn’t need emo music. I needed an exorcism.

Joe Schackman is an editor and co-founder of Began in ‘96.