During a recent ESPN Sunday Night broadcast former Mets manager Bobby Valentine was asked, “At what point do you have a good idea of what your team is?
Valentine replied, “45 games.”
Potential. That’s the word that may eventually haunt Lastings Milledge most. Not now. No, he is still only 24 years old, and has the time and, er, potential to silence his naysayers.
Potential has two definitions in sports: one, for a prospect, rookie or young professional like Milledge, potential is a hopeful, optimistic word. The second definition is reserved for mostly former first-round draft picks, ballplayers well into their thirties, lingering on a bench in Peoria, Syracuse or Las Vegas, hoping for one last opportunity. The latter is an ugly word, often shadowed by a question mark.
After firing his final warm-up pitch, Juan Padilla catches the return throw with a cocky snap of his glove. It’s a warm, humid night in Norfolk, so Padilla pinches his white jersey between his thumb and index finger and pulls it off his chest to fan himself. The 28-year old native of Levittown, Puerto Rico is fun to watch.
Between every pitch Padilla circles the mound like a shark, ceremoniously mocking his prey. He removes his orange-framed Oakley glasses, wipes the perspiration from his face, takes a deep breath, exhales and digs his reflective, high-top spikes into the pitching rubber and glares in at the opponent.