Wilmer Flores was traded. Then he was crying. Then he wasn’t traded. Then he was a fan-favorite. Then he was a hero. His story is everything that makes sports great.
People ask me – often – why I write about sports. Actually, they usually frame the question a bit differently; it’s not, “why do you write about sports,” it’s “why do you care about sports enough to dedicate your livelihood to them.”
I have a million answers to this question, each as valid in my mind as the last, but these ideas are more abstract. I know them, I feel them, but sometimes, putting them into words can be a challenge. Thankfully, I now have a concise, easy-to-explain answer.
What happened to Wilmer Flores over the last 72 hours or so is why I love sports, and it’s why everyone else should, too.
Wilmer Flores is my new favorite sports story in a long time; it’s certainly my favorite story from this 2015 MLB season. It was everything that makes sports great. It had drama, it had confusion, it had emotion, and it had redemption. Where do I even begin?
Wednesday night, in the middle of the Mets’ game against the Padres in New York and in the thick of serious trade deadline negotiations, rumors hit the Twitter machine that the Mets – in desperate need of an upgrade to the lineup – had traded pitcher Zack Wheeler and Flores to the Milwaukee Brewers for Carlos Gomez.
Beat writers began the rumor-mill, everyone and their mother ran with it, and it was soon about as official as it could be that Flores was in the midst of his last game as a New York Met; hell, even his trade counterpart Gomez was saying goodbye to his teammates in Milwaukee.
Then, something weird happened. If you follow trade deadline baseball, you’re all too familiar with #HugWatch. When a player is traded mid-game, he is taken out by his manager, informed of his fate, and then gives his coaches and teammates hugs as he heads to his clubhouse for the final time. It’s become a universally recognized means of telling if a guy was traded; so much so, in fact, that Padres outfielder Justin Upton began trolling the Twittersphere by dolling them out for fun.
Anyway, there was no hug watch for Flores; he was never removed from the game. Even as news of his trade spread through the crowd, Flores remained in the game. Even after receiving an impromptu standing ovation – all but assuring that Flores knew what was happening – Flores stayed in the game. Even as tears welled in his eyes as he took the field, and social media berated the Mets for allowing Flores to stay in the game an emotional wreck, Flores stayed in the game.
Wilmer Flores still in game for Mets after being informed he's being traded. Crying out on field. Way to go Mets pic.twitter.com/2GSnFSrzMA
— John Clark CSN (@JClarkCSN) July 30, 2015
Once the game was completed, something even stranger happened. Flores was alerted he had not, in fact, been traded. There are conflicting reports about why – some say the Mets cheaped out, some say they were scared off by some medical records – but the long and the short of it is, Flores was still a Met, and would remain one through the deadline.
Fast-forward to Friday night, past the Mets’ gut-punch of a loss the night before. By game time, the deadline had passed, and Flores knew he was safe. The game – an important one between the first-place Nationals and the second-place Mets – began like any other, with Flores starting at second base.
It’s here that Mets fans deserve a ton of credit. They saw Flores cry on the field. They saw his emotion first-hand. They saw what being a Met meant to him, and they appreciated it. Sometimes, emotion and pride and passion are all it takes to make a player an instant fan-favorite.
When Flores made a diving stop in the top of the first, the Citi Field faithful gave him a rousing ovation, letting Flores know they appreciated him and the week he’d had.
If things ended there, it would have been a nice story, but they didn’t. Matt Harvey and Gio Gonzalez went to-to-toe, and while Harvey was more impressive, the results were the same; the game went into extra-innings tied at one.
After a couple of impressive relief efforts by both teams, the Mets entered the bottom of the 12th inning still tied at one. Flores led off. He did this:
Saying “you can’t script that’ is a sports cliche, but I mean, come on. You can’t effing script that. The man who was nearly traded, put his heart on his sleeve for all of New York to see, and became a Mets fan-favorite in the process, won his team’s most important game to date in walk-off fashion.
As his teammates mobbed him, doused him with gatorade, and celebrated with the man whose team means so much to him, you couldn’t help but want to celebrate with him. During his emotional post-game interview, you couldn’t help but root for him.
Baseball – and sports in general – produces heroes in the most unexpected of times. Wilmer Flores, whether forever, for a week, or for just one night, became a hero last night in New York.
So go ahead, ask me why I love sports. I’ve got my reason. And now, you should too.