Any team that is going to succeed needs a few key components, such as one or two star hitters and an ace pitcher. But teams also benefit from folk heroes; a guy with a good story who comes out of nowhere and unexpectedly contributes to the team in a significant way, often becoming very popular with the fanbase in the process. Cody Ross quickly became a folk hero among San Francisco Giants fans after clubbing five postseason homers and knocking in ten runs en route to the World Series championship. Folk heroes can give a team something a little something extra, and are particularly useful when other players are injured. The Mets are fortunate in that they have three men who fit this description.
The first is R.A. Dickey, whose legend began last season. Born without an ulnar collateral ligament, Dickey struggled until he began developing his knuckleball. After stints with the Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins (a lot of which was spent in the minors), Dickey signed a minor league deal with the Mets in 2010. Once he was promoted to the big leagues, he finally put it all together. With John Maine and Oliver Perez dealing with injuries and ineffectiveness, Dickey pitched brilliantly, going 11-9 on the season with a 2.84 ERA, 1.187 WHIP, 2.48 K/BB and 3.3 WAR. He also tossed a one hit shutout against the Philaldelphia Phililes, with the only hit coming via Cole Hamels (can you imagine the hero Dickey would’ve been if he threw a no-hitter). R.A. struggled a little early in the season, pitching to a 5.08 ERA in his first nine appearances, with opponents batting .311 against him. After a great outing vs. the Yankees, Dickey partially tore his plantar fascia in his right foot, a tissue that supports the foot’s arch. Ever determined, Dickey made his next start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, throwing seven and two-third shutout innings while striking out ten before surrendering three runs; still, the effort was impressive coming off the injury, and the crowd showed its gratitude. In his next start, Dickey proved the effort was no fluke, tossing eight innings against the Atlanta Braves, allowing just one run on four hits.
So to recap, Dickey has no UCL, torn tissue in his foot and relies on the typically unpredictable pitch known as the knuckleball, a pitch which the thirty-six year old Tennessee native is still relatively knew to throwing. And yet here he is, enjoying a second career with the Mets and was arguably the team’s most consistent pitcher last season. Sounds like the making of a folk hero. He gives his bats names like “Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver” and “Hrunting,” which is just the kind of eccentricity New Yorker’s can appreciate and respect.
Then there is another pitcher, the twenty-five year old Texan Dillon Gee. With top prospect Jenrry Mejia on everybody’s radar last season, Gee quietly led the International League in strikeouts in 2010 after missing much of 2009 recovering from a torn labrum. As a September call-up last season, Gee threw five no-hit innings in his first major league start against the Washington Nationals before Willie Harris broke it up with a homer. He finished last year with a 2-2 record and a 2.18 ERA and 1.212 WHIP. After missing out on a rotation spot out of spring training, Gee began the year at Buffalo but was pressed into duty when Chris Young went on the disabled list. After an unsuccessful stint in the bullpen (the only thing Gee didn’t succeed at, but to be fair he needs a certain pregame routine due to his labrum issues), Gee returned to the rotation and has continued to pitch well. He is 6-0 as a starter this season with a 2.90 ERA and 1.087 WHIP. Furthermore, the Mets have won all eight games he’s started, whether the offense has scored one run or seven runs.
The way fans see it: whenever Gee takes to the mound, the Mets win (or at least, he’s given them a strong chance to win, and so far the team has taken advantage). Given his winning ways and a last name that lends itself to numerous puns, it’s no wonder he’s quickly become so popular. The rookie could keep himself in the rotation for the future if he keeps this up.
And then there is Justin Turner. Prior to this season, the twenty-six year old rookie had a grand total of 40 plate appearances. Largely left out of the second base competition this spring due to the fact that he has minor league options, Turner was recalled when Brad Emaus got the boot and got his chance to play every day when David Wright landed on the disabled list. Since being called up, Turner has been one of the team’s best and most consistent hitters, batting .308/.344/.436 with two homers and 24 RBI, including a seven game streak in which he had at least one run driven in, a new Mets rookie record. With runners in scoring position, he’s hitting .406/.444/.625, welcome statistics for a team that has struggled in that category all season.
Justin Turner: picking up clutch hits and filling in admirably for one of the franchise’s most popular players, which is no easy task. He’s energized the fans and even sparked the creation of the Twitter handle @TurnerFacts (which has 394 followers) and the hashtag “JustinTurnerFacts” (There is also an @DillonGeeFacts but it only has 36 followers). Think he’s popular?
Dickey, Gee and Turner aren’t stars, but they have all become popular with the fans due to their unexpected levels of success. Of course it can be said that any player who succeeds will be popular with the fans, but these three have more going for them. Whether it’s an eccentric personality, overcoming injuries or just finally getting a shot, these three folk heroes have helped inject some much needed life into the Mets and the fans.