JUPITER, Fla. -- There are all the signs, and not just the ones in the outfield for Metro Plumbing and Florida Community Bank and Palm Beach State College, telling you that this is a day made for baseball in Florida in the spring, one that makes you want to vote for baseball instead of politicians. There is all this blue sky, covering Roger Dean Stadium the way it covers the whole state on this day, and temperature in the 80s, and the Mets finishing up their batting practice before they will play the Marlins at 1 o'clock.
But Terry Collins, the Mets manager, he stands to the left of the batting cage and wants to talk about October. Not next October, despite all the great expectations that Collins' starting pitching will take him back there. No. Collins is talking about last October, Game 5, Mets against the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium, when he gave the ball to a 22-year-old named Noah Syndergaard and asked the kid to protect a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh and help pitch the Mets the rest of the way into the National League Championship Series.
Syndergaard had done a lot for the Mets already last season, had these moments when he looked as if he had more arm than anybody on the Mets' gifted young pitching staff, and was capable of striking out the world. But he had never pitched in relief in the big leagues until it was 3-2 Mets, Game 5, Collins asking him to get him through the seventh and to his closer, Jeurys Familia in the eighth.
"We'd gotten him up before that," Collins is saying. "Finally I turn to Dan (Warthen, his pitching coach) and say, 'I think we should bring him in.' Dan says, 'I like his hard stuff against the middle of their order.'" Collins grins. "Now I say, 'Well, damn it, I AM gonna bring him in.' And I did, knowing some things about this kid. I knew he wasn't gonna be afraid. I knew he was gonna throw the s---t out of the ball. And he was gonna throw strikes. Which is exactly what he did."
Syndergaard got Howie Kendrick to ground out meekly, walked one batter in the inning and struck out two, finally throwing a fastball past an old Met named Justin Turner that Turner maybe saw when he was watching highlights of the game later. That one-run lead stood up. Syndergaard would win a game against the Cubs and then another in the World Series against the Royals, when he got everybody at Citi Field buzzing in the top of the first of Game 3 by buzzing Alcides Escobar and putting him on the ground. He would end up pitching 19 innings in the postseason, striking out 26 guys.
Now here Syndergaard was in Jupiter on this afternoon, getting ready to face the Marlins, getting himself ready for the season and expectations that truly are as high as they have been for the Mets in 30 years. The pitching, with Syndergaard and Broadway Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom and Stephen Matz, is that good. Harvey got famous first, because of his fastball and a start in a Citi Field All-Star game; because of the way he chased every bright light he could find in New York City. Syndergaard may turn out to be better than him and all of them.
Collins, who made the postseason last year for the first time in a long baseball life, who finally made it to the World Series, just laughs when you ask him which one of his pitching children he loves best. He's just happy to keep running them out there and watching them figure it all out for themselves.
"These guys are aware that they've got something special going on, believe me," Collins says. "When one of them is starting during the regular season, you see the other three go out to watch him warm up. And do they have a competition going among themselves? I'm sure they do. But it's a good thing. The other three guys want the SOB on the mound that day to do well."
Collins had been talking about last October with Syndergaard. But there won't be a day this season, starting here, in the high heat of a Florida spring, when the manager isn't thinking about this October, when the Mets will get the chance to finish something they started the way the Royals did after losing to the Giants in the 2014 World Series.
"My hardest job is telling them all to take it easy," Collins says. "But, man, it's hard. Harvey's out there the other day and he hits 99, what, five times and 100 once? They just don't know anything different than to just get after it. You'll see it today with Noah. Hell, you see it with all of them.
"They all know there's things they can work on, areas where they can better. I don't care how good a pitcher you are or how much arm you have, you can always get better command. But there's not one of these kids who doesn't look at himself and the mirror and think, 'I'm pretty damn good.'"
They are. They owned New York City in baseball last season and look to do it again this season, after all the years when the Yankees owned New York. In Jupiter on Tuesday, Syndergaard didn't have his best stuff. He had trouble throwing breaking balls for strikes until the last inning he was out there. But he jammed Miami's Marcell Ozuna, a terrific ballplayer, and got him to hit into a 6-4-3 and there was a four-pitch strikeout of Ichiro that made the hitter's swing look older than Bernie Sanders. Syndergaard pitched into the fourth and gave up five hits and a couple of runs, and threw enough big fastballs to remind everybody at Roger Dean just who it was they were watching.
"Once the regular season comes you can't wait three innings to find your breaking pitches," the kid said when he was done.
There would be a lot of runs from both teams after that. Lot of guys you never heard of doing the damage. Middle of Spring Training. Middle of March. Long way to October. But you know Syndergaard can see it from here the way the manager can. The way they all can.