'Bleeds blue and orange': Conforto's parting?

Right fielder gets standing ovation in possibly last home game with Mets

October 1st, 2021

NEW YORK -- Throughout Thursday morning and afternoon, various well-wishers reached out to , several to say that they expected a special moment from him in the Mets' final home game. The implications were clear: Conforto's impending free agency made Thursday potentially his final home game as a Met. People would be watching.

For most of the night, the game's circumstances -- two out-of-contention teams playing out the last of their summers -- prevented too much emotion from seeping into Conforto's mind. There was a tender moment when he interacted with The 7 Line Army, a group of fans that called to him from center field. There were various signs scattered across the ballpark, perhaps a few more Conforto jerseys than usual. But even as Conforto collected three hits and a pair of RBIs in what became a 12-3 rout of the Marlins, an uneducated onlooker might not have noticed anything out of place.

Then came the ninth. With one out, Conforto's former teammate Joe Panik sent a sinking liner to right field, where Conforto made a shoestring catch as he tumbled to the turf. Fans cheered -- modestly at first, then louder as a stadium camera lingered on Conforto. Finally, nearly everyone rose in a standing ovation.

"That thought may have crossed my mind that it was supposed to happen," an emotional Conforto said afterward. "Maybe I was supposed to have my moment."

The third-longest-tenured Met behind Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, Conforto signed with the organization as a first-round Draft pick in 2014, earning a rapid promotion to the big leagues in the heat of a pennant race barely a year later. He hit two home runs as a rookie in the 2015 World Series, made his first All-Star team in '17, then spent the next four seasons entrenching himself not only as one of the more accomplished position players in franchise history, but also as a clubhouse leader with admirers across that room.

When Conforto returned to the dugout following Thursday's catch, many of those teammates wrapped him in hugs, with Brandon Nimmo in particular locking Conforto in a lasting embrace. First-base coach Tony Tarasco grabbed Conforto's right arm, raising it skyward in acknowledgment of the fans. Then Conforto descended back into the home clubhouse, perhaps for the final time, where he thanked his teammates more vocally in private.

"It was just special to me," Conforto said. "I don't know if I can point out an emotion. It's probably something I've never really felt before."

For Conforto, this does not have to be the end. The Mets are certain to extend him a qualifying offer this offseason, giving him a chance to return on a one-year deal worth around $20 million. Conforto, in turn, is overwhelmingly likely to reject it in search of a multiyear deal. Last winter, George Springer set the market for outfielders of his caliber with a six-year, $150 million contract. And while Conforto's down year in 2021 -- a .228/.342/.376 slash line with 13 homers -- might force him to accept less, the general industry expectation is that he won't have trouble finding plenty of interested suitors.

As such, Thursday could very well have been Conforto's final home game. He knew it as much as the announced crowd of 24,312 knew it, too.

"Michael deserves that kind of treatment," Mets manager Luis Rojas said. "He's a special person. He's a special player. This is a guy that bleeds blue and orange."

About a week after his big-league debut in 2015, Conforto played witness to one of the most emotional nights in recent franchise history, when Wilmer Flores openly wept on the field believing he had been traded. Three years later, Conforto appeared in the final game of one of his mentors, David Wright, who spent much of that evening wiping away tears with his jersey sleeve.

Thursday, it was Conforto's turn. If this was indeed the end to his Mets tenure, it is one he won't soon forget.

"I don't really know how to describe it," Conforto said. "Maybe it's just love. And it's mutual. I've loved every second of being out on the field."