By Rich Coutinho
» More Columns
As we head to spring training next week, questions abound about the Mets’ finances, David Wright’s contract situation, the health of Johan Santana and, of course, Sandy Alderson’s Twitter account.
But in my opinion, one of the more interesting questions has flown under the radar: Will Jason Bay return to the form he exhibited before signing with the New York Mets?
I don’t know a single Mets fan that criticized the Bay signing prior to the 2010 season. But I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who likes it now. The reality is that the Mets have no choice but to put him out in left field every day. His contract is not movable and quite frankly, they have no other options.
The positive part? He is an athlete with a lot to prove in this town — and he is determined to do it.
“I feel terrible about the way I performed,” said Bay at the end of the 2011 season, “and I can’t escape it–I’ve played poorly. So for me this offseason I will prepare myself to start the season healthy and help this team win.”
Bay is an easy guy to root for. He is honest, hard-working and never makes excuses. He is also a tireless worker — one of the first to get to the ballpark every day. But in New York, all fans care about is production. Bay is keenly aware of that.
“I tinkered so much with my stance and got some much advice that I think it hurt me,” said the left fielder, “but please do not blame them–they were trying to help. It is up to me and when I am in the batters box, I have to perform–it is that simple.”
Bay came here two years ago, hoping to not only excel at the plate but be with a team that was winning and in contention.
“I do not regret coming here at all,” said Bay. “And sometimes you can only truly appreciate success when things have been a struggle. Of course, I would have preferred far less of a struggle. I want to be the type of player Terry Collins can rely on for good RBI production and I plan on doing everything I can to get to that point.”
Last year I am sure Bay got sick and tired and getting the “What’s wrong?” questions. But he never ducked a single media session and always answered the question politely and completely. I am not a batting coach and can not pinpoint what has gone wrong for Bay. Hitting is such a precise science that if you lose a split second of bat speed, that could turn a .290 hitter into a .240 hitter in a New York minute. At times last year, his bat did look slow. Not being able to catch up a high fastball is a huge cause of concern.
But spring is about getting a fresh start — and nobody needs one more than Bay. If he bats fifth in Collins’ batting order, he could benefit from being sandwiched between two powerful left-handed batters — Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. Bringing in the fences at Citi Field might also help him. And Lord knows the Mets and Bay are overdue for some good fortune.
If he does turn it around, I am sure Bay with continue to live by the “Two H’s”: Hunger and Humility.
Like I said, spring training is next week and we can all dream a little?
Will Bay ever be a core bat for the Mets? Sound off below…