Something Is Contagious

Energy? Childhood innocence? Nimmo's chicken virus?

Brandon Nimmo can’t seem to stop using the word “contagious.” Addressing reporters via Zoom yesterday, he twice used it to describe Tony Tarasco’s energy during outfield drills, and used it a third time to describe Chili Davis’ personality. Ordinarily, it’s a dull, slightly overused cliché: “hey man, this vibe is contagious!” You’d never use it literally in a positive sense, because contagion, no matter how fun and energetic, is also worrisome by default. Now, during — well, you know — most people probably wouldn’t use it at all. Every use of the word and related words — contagious, infectious, viral, etc — carries an unfortunate undertone.

Then again, he’s Brandon Nimmo, and he’s got his way of talking. “My approach is pretty much going to stay the same. I’m going to stay true to myself,” he said yesterday, answering a question on how he might vary his offensive approach based on his spot in the lineup. “It’s probably not going to change too much. I’m still going to be me.”

He also, separately, said that he didn’t have a problem moving from centerfield to a corner outfield spot, because it would mean the outfield had improved defensively. “If someone pushes me out of center field,” he said, “they’re a pretty dang good center fielder.”

It was Nimmo’s comments on Tarasco, though, that struck me, partly because he couldn’t stop comparing him to contagion, but also because Dom Smith agreed. Smith described the Mets outfielders talking smack to each other and to Tarasco as he hit fungos; the players insisted that Tarasco couldn’t get a ball over their heads, and Tarasco tried to prove them wrong. “He would be screaming from the infield, dancing and laughing,” Smith said. “He just keeps everything light. I mean it’s serious, he’ll correct you, but he’s not going to yell at you, he’s not going to make you feel bad.”

We’ve all probably had coaches like Tony Tarasco, loud and engaging and fun, impossible to tear down or mute. He’ll work his players hard, but they’ll love every minute of it — and they’ll actually get better. 

“He gets you fired up,” Nimmo said. “I like it, because I like to work at a high pace, I like to practice like I’m going to play. He’s all about that.”

Nimmo also said that Tarasco has brought new drills with him to camp. One involves catching lacrosse balls, “to be real soft with the hands.” The first time he did the drill, Nimmo said, a ball bounced right off his hand.

Basically, here’s the composite image I have in my head; a bunch of Mets outfielders clustered together, shoving each other and fighting for lacrosse balls flying towards them while exchanging snide remarks. Dom Smith says something wacky and weird with his unique, unparalleled sense of humor; Nimmo responds “gosh dangit, Dom!” or something like that.

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Which brings me to something Luis Rojas said in his press conference. “These guys are behaving like they belong in camp,” he said. He was talking about prospects: Matt Allan, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Brett Baty and the like. “We say kids, but make no mistake, when we’re on the field, they don’t look like kids.”

It makes sense, and it’s certainly a positive, to say that a prospect no longer looks like a kid. But Rojas’ remarks also struck quite a contrast with one of the first comments Smith made.

“I’m just happy that we’re back out here playing baseball,” he said. “I’m happy that we’re doing the things we love to do. I’m like a little kid in a candy store out there.”

Between Rojas and Smith, it’s clear — to me, at least, but then again, I’m the guy who’s writing this stuff — that Smith is closer to the truth. The current Mets, as they talk smack and give each other nicknames and, as Brandon Nimmo once did, spend a night throwing up after eating undercooked chicken then tell the media a bathroom joke (it later turned out to be an unrelated virus), are a lot more like kids than mature adults. That’s a good thing, though, because who wants to hang out with mature adults? These Mets are likable and fun, and they play baseball exactly the right way: like a bunch of kids, just happy to be there.

“Every time you get to go out on this beautiful diamond and play the game you love, it’s still baseball, it’s still normal baseball,” Smith said. 

That, really, pretty much sums it up. We’re stuck here up north in a winter COVID hellscape, but there’s baseball coming — and soon. There are 34 days until Opening Day; the first TV broadcast of Spring Training will come next week. Finally — thankfully — the snow is melting, and there’s baseball in the air again. Can’t you feel it? For me, at least, the energy is contagious.