Wilmer Flores graduates to MLB’s greatest stage

Wilmer Flores has grown up with the New York Mets across his chest and as his family. Having signed with the club on his 16th birthday, Flores, from Venezuela, grew up learning how to be a professional baseball player in different minor league cities when many teenagers were facing life-altering experiences like earning a driver’s license, picking a college of choice and learning how to deal with homework.  

Perhaps that makes it easier to understand why Flores was so emotional when he thought his Mets career had come to a close. Toward the end of July, just days before the 2015 MLB non-waiver trade deadline, Flores believed he had to say goodbye to the only major league team he’s ever known. With tears rolling down his eyes for the entire world to see, Flores was mentally preparing to pack his bags and be packaged in a trade that would send him to Milwaukee, along with SP Zack Wheeler, in exchange for outfielder Carlos Gomez.

After news of the trade leaked before its official announcement, long after Flores’ emotional outburst had gone viral on social media but while Flores was still in the game, the Citi Field crowd gave him an ovation he had never dreamed of prior. A maligned player who so many wanted to see shipped out for so long, Flores had suddenly become a fan favorite. Those who watched Flores’ emotions unfold found themselves filled with a new appreciation for the 24-year-old kid. Clearly caring more about the name on the front of his jersey than the one on the back, Flores’ passion for his team mirrored that of a fan base that had been desperate to see success before this incredible World Series run. He became a relatable everyman, and there is nothing better for a fan than being able to see a part of himself or herself in his or her favorite player. 

After Flores finally departed from the game and the nine innings had been completed, Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson was immediately peppered with questions about what had just transpired. Delivering an update that few had ever seen, Alderson made an already awkward night borderline unfathomable when he dropped the bombshell: The trade was off, there was no deal to be had and Flores would remain with the only team he’d ever known.

What started as a seemingly unprecedented event wound up to be the defining moment in a Mets season filled with them, and the unquestioned turning point of what has amounted to an amazin’ season. Flores’ personal career arc hasn’t been the same since, and frankly neither has the vibe around his team.   

Just two days after that frozen moment in time finally thawed out, Flores solidified his role with the Mets and unlocked a respect from the fans that had eluded him prior. Battling a Washington Nationals—that was just about everybody’s pick to run away with the National League East crown—for first place in the division, Flores took his place at the dish in the 12th inning of a 1-1 game and blasted a walk-off home run over the left centerfield wall to give the Mets the win, providing momentum to a runaway train that hasn’t lost any steam since. On the last day that Flores could be traded, better remembered by some as the day the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers, Flores was the hero of a team with brand new dreams about what their season could be like. 

And now he’s the starting shortstop in the 2015 World Series, having graduated to the game’s biggest stage just three months after he and so many others never dared to dream about this opportunity being realized.

For Flores, it’s been a remarkable journey of perseverance, belief and confidence. Tabbed as the team’s starting shortstop long before 2015 ever began, the criticism was constant. At times, it was rampant: Not enough range in the field, can’t hit enough to offset his defense, not a true shortstop, an in-between player who is being billed as a starter. But with the Mets consistently standing in his corner, Flores fought through it all and never once wavered about his own personal commitment to a group that he only knew as family. At the time he believed he was traded, Flores wasn’t emotional because he thought he’d have to move cities, make new friends and go to a different team. Instead, he was upset because leaving the Mets would have meant leaving so much more than just a team behind.

The Mets went on a 37-22 tear after the All-Star break, and Flores hit .306 in August when the team went on an unbelievable 20-8 stretch that wound up being just a taste of the success New York would go on to enjoy.

As the Brewers watch the postseason from home, Flores is getting ready to play in the biggest series—on the largest stage—of his life (via Dan Martin, New York Post).

“If you had told me in February that I was going to play shortstop in the World Series, I would have said, ‘I don’t know about that,’ ” Flores said. “Now I’m here and I’m thankful for everything I went through. Everything happens for a reason and here we are.”

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