Flexen, who arrived at Petco Park in San Diego (by way of Binghamton), will make his major league debut against the Padres.
“I don’t think it will be too difficult,” Flexen told the New York media. “The hardest thing is to manage the emotions. Like he [Terry Collins] said, ‘Whatever got me here, stick with it.’ That’s been being confident, attacking guys and that’s what I am going to go out and do. Just stick to the game plan.”
Flexen may be in for a surprise. When he walks across the outfield from the bullpen tonight, he will look around and see something he’s never seen, but likely dreamed about as a boy: tens of thousands of fans and a green, manicured diamond that will feel like walking on a cloud. His heart will begin to race as he nears the dugout steps and sees major league veterans Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson. When the national anthem plays, the hair on his arm will stand too. Suddenly, it will become real.
Now, tell me about how difficult it is.
Flexen will need to “clear the mechanism,” take a deep breath and whisper his own words back to himself: “Attack hitters, stick to a game plan and win a ballgame.”
Flexen was 16 years old when the Mets selected him in the 14th round of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft. Flexen has compiled a 32-21 record and 3.82 ERA in five professional seasons. He has pitched 417 innings and climbed the minor league ladder from Kingsport (Rookie), Savannah (A), St. Lucie (A+) and Binghamton (AA). In seven starts for Binghamton this season Flexen has allowed nine earned runs in 48.2 innings pitched (1.66 ERA).
Of course, it’s unfair to compare Flexen’s promising career to what Seaver, Ryan, Gooden or deGrom have done. But every pitcher’s career — from those who last for a cup of coffee to those who pitch 20 seasons and go to the Hall of Fame — starts the same way. One pitch. One batter. One out. One inning. At. A. Time.
Here’s what some of the Mets most celebrated pitchers did in their debuts:
Seaver arrived on the scene in 1967, making his major league debut on April 13 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He pitched into the sixth inning (5 1/3), allowing two runs and six hits. He had no decision in the Mets 3-2 win.
Unlike his colleagues, Ryan made his MLB in relief. He faced the Atlanta Braves on September 11, 1966 and pitched two innings, allowing one run in an 8-3 loss. After missing the entire 1967 season, Ryan made his first major league start 18 months later, on April 14, 1968, against the Astros. He impressed, pitching 6 2/3 shutout innings and recording eight strikeouts in a 4-0 win.
Gooden made his major league debut on April 7, 1984 against the Houston Astros. The date and location are not a coincidence, but a strategy designed by manager Davey Johnson and the Mets brass. The Mets chose the Astrodome because of its controlled environment. Gooden would not be exposed to the elements that often accompany April baseball: no heat, wind or rain. The Dome was a perfect 72 degrees.
The move paid off. Gooden pitched five strong innings (81 pitches) in his debut, allowing one run, three hits and striking out five batters. The Mets defeated Houston, 3-2, and Gooden recorded his first major league win.
“He’s got the most live arm I’ve seen in a long time,” said Astros third baseman Ray Knight after the game. “His fastball explodes just like Nolan Ryan’s.”
The Mets had selected Gooden from Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla. as their No. 1 pick, and fifth overall pick, in the June 1982 amateur draft. In his first summer as a professional, he struck out 84 batters in 79 innings. The following year, 1983, Gooden pitched in the Carolina League and recorded 19 wins (including 15 consecutive wins). He struck out 300 batters in 191 innings. The Mets promoted Gooden to Triple-A Tidewater where he helped pitch the team to a minor league title.
deGrom, still in the prime of his professional career, made his MLB debut on May 15, 2014 at Citi Field against the New York Yankees, pitching seven innings, allowing one run and four hits in 1-0 loss.
“It’s a feeling I’ll probably never have again,” deGrom told the New York Post.
Seaver, Ryan, Gooden and deGrom have combined to pitch 67 major league seasons, winning 871 games and recording 12,291 strike outs in 13,582 innings pitched … and deGrom is still going strong.
Flexen? For better or worse, Flexen’s major league story begins Thursday night in San Diego.