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Leaving the Citi For Good? (Marlins-Mets; 09.30.21)

Carmelita Alfaro/ALOST

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

NEW YORK — The sinking line drive in the ninth inning that screamed toward New York Mets right fielder Michael Conforto was meant to be hit to him. He knew it, the 24,000-plus fans at Citi Field knew it and anyone in tune to the New York Mets over the past seven seasons knew it. One more time, Conforto made a spectacular play, a shoestring diving catch in this instance, in a New York career that has been littered with a number of stand-out performances.

That play may also have been his final special moment wearing a New York Mets uniform. It sure felt like it during the moments after he squeezed the baseball in his mitt.

In an otherwise anti-climactic end to a disappointing season that saw the Mets hold onto first place in the National League East for over 100 games before a late-summer meltdown, New York’s 12-3 win over the Miami Marlins in the home finale at Citi Field ended up turning out to be, possibly, one last time to thank Conforto and other Mets’ upcoming free agents who bled orange and blue for this season and beyond. Almost half of tonight’s starting lineup — Conforto, Javier Báez, Jonathan Villar and Rich Hill — are impending free agents, let alone other centerpieces of the team such as Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard. Given the collapse of the team and the inconsistency in the front office (the team has to fill its vacant general manager position), the active roster for tonight’s game looks likely to be radically different than the one that will take Citi Field next on March 31, 2022.

Of all the possible changes, Conforto’s possible departure comes with the “end of an era” feel to them. Drafted in the first round in 2014, Conforto played a huge role as a rookie the following year when he helped the Mets reach the World Series, hitting two home runs against the Kansas City Royals in the Fall Classic. Conforto became an All-Star (2017), a leader in the clubhouse and, while in New York, eventually met his fiancée. Though the Mets can make a one-year qualifying over for around $20 million in the offseason, Conforto, like many others who have found themselves in this position after their service and production, is bound to test the open market.

No amount of compensation will make up for how much the city of New York and the Mets franchise did in making Conforto the ball player he has become, and, at least one more time, he put on a red-hot performance for the blue and orange, going 3-for-5 with a double, two runs driven in, and that diving catch that seemed straight out of a Hollywood ending.

“It felt that way,” Conforto said when asked if that last play felt like it was fate. “That thought may have crossed my mind that it was supposed to happen. Maybe I was supposed to have my moment. I had a lot of people reach out to me before the game saying it was going to be a good one, for whatever reason. It was definitely special to be put in that spot at that time. Pretty cool moment.”

Conforto also admitted that it was hard to block out what tonight’s game possibly meant in preparation of the game, which clearly ended up not being another ball game — especially after the postgame hugs to Conforto from teammates and first-base coach Tony Tarasco holding up Conforto’s arm in the air towards the fans akin to a boxing referee would do to a heavyweight champion.

“It all hit me kind of toward the end of the game and, obviously, making that play and hearing the reaction from the fans,” Conforto said. “Standing out there, fans cheering my name and telling me ‘Don’t go,’ and something like that. It really was a special night for me. It’s tough to put into the words. The emotions were definitely there. I tried to fight it the bet I could, but when you have a crowd like that’s supporting you, that’s a great feeling.”

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Thursday evening’s contest, with photos taken by ALOST photographer Carmelita Alfaro. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 20 pictures in total.

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