“There is a time in every young whackstick player’s life that they must experience the power of strength,” said Terry Collins to a curious Juan Lagares, during a break in Mets throwing practice at Cobble Hill Park. “The time for you is now, Juan, I am giving you a residency in being a good hitter.”
“Cool,” said Lagares, as he watched Daniel Murphy receive a throw from behind a cement dolphin. “I definitely don’t understand.”
“Think of it as a retreat, like when people go into the woods to paint stuff for like two weeks,” Collins explained.
“I’m good on that concept,” said Lagares. “Never tried it myself, except for a certain incident in which the spirit of yage commanded me to make the mark of my soul on a tree above a wasps nest several hundred feet above the ground, but I don’t think that’s what you’re getting at.”
“Well,” said Collins, leaning forward, “I’m glad you had that experience. There is no doubt in my mind it will help you with this. I’ve been talking with Sanderson and the others, and we all agree that you are the best fielder in the world. Actually, it’s between you and this Tibetan lady, but she doesn’t play baseball. Anyway, we are going to have you be a superior hitter for a few weeks to see if it takes.”
Lagares lowered his glove and snagged a baseball that had darted his way. He signed it with the name of his favorite sandwich, then threw it over the park fence to Lucas Duda, who was standing next to Ted and Honey. Duda abided, and went into Ted and Honey to get Lagares his lunch of choice. He also picked up some artisanal honey and expensive yet irresistible crackers. The cashier mentioned to Duda that those crackers inspired him to come up with his own spread, which is a combination of several nut butters and habanero paste.
“I’ll take three jars,” said Duda.
Back at the park, Terry Collins was looking at birds and saying stuff.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Collins, “because you just told me while Lucas ordered your sandwich. If you could suddenly become a better hitter, you would do it. But—and not that many people know this—that’s not how baseball works. You can always try being someone else for a little while. We call it the Agbayani Project. You don’t have to do anything. In fact, most teams don’t even tell their players about their residencies, but we’re trying to be ethical about it. Which reminds me, we’re also going to give you a silver fingernail to scuff up the ball whenever you catch a fly. It makes the pitches bend more, and no one suspects the centerfielder.”
Lagares nodded, for this last he knew to be true. No one ever suspects the centerfielder.