Coming off two injury-plagued seasons in which both wrists had separately shelved him for significant time, heading into the 2016 season much was made about the ability of Wil Myers to stay healthy. A full year of a productive Myers was considered essential for the Padres to have any hope of a respectable season, much less a successful one.
Given that both his previous injuries revolved around his wrists, some of the specific focus was made on how Myers would no longer be sliding headfirst during his forays around the base paths, where the risk of injury to a player’s wrists is considered higher. Entire Spring Training TV segments were spent on how Wil would be sliding feet first instead of launching himself into the bag as if diving into a lake.
New manager Andy Green offered up numerous sound bites on the subject. Tarrik Brock, the Padres’ base running coach, assured fans Myers could easily make the adjustment because he was a such a great athlete and a heady ballplayer, and that they were working on it diligently in practice. Wil Myers would discipline himself for the good of the team and the good of himself and eschew the headfirst slide in favor of the old-school Lou Brockian feet first variety.
On April 8 in Colorado, on the Padres’ first road trip, Wil Myers was on first after a single. He broke for second. About three-quarters of the way to second, he began to hunch over before launching himself like a wild-eyed jackal headfirst into the bag. Safe. Myers had stolen his first bag of the year. Headfirst. Injury free.
Wil Myers stole 28 bases in 2016, was caught stealing 6 times, circled the bases by hook or by crook 99 times and went first to third drawing close throws more than anyone on the team. During all these adventures, Myers dove headfirst into the bag if the play was close almost every single time. And his wrists seemed to get stronger as the year went on. So much for the best laid plans. And God bless.
Who can argue with success. He finished 10th in the National League for stolen bases with a higher success rate than most of those who finished higher. He would have finished with a far higher number if his second half of the season at the plate hadn’t cratered so significantly (more on that later) and he’d had more chances. Following Green’s exhortations to his team to be aggressive, Myers ran the bases with abandon, not to mention smartly, all making him one of the better overall base runners in the entire game of baseball.
All the while doing it playing first base.
In 2015, Myers was miscast as the Padres’ center fielder. He wasn’t much of a right fielder, why would anyone think he would pass muster as a center fielder? The experiment ignominiously failed. On a lark and a look, towards the end of 2015 the Padres put Myers at first base. Just to see. Somewhat astonishingly, Myers took to it like white takes to rice. It was as if he’d played there his whole life and the position was made just for him.
Still, small sample size. Heading into 2016, the question was could he sustain his brief spell of excellence there for the whole season? Would he be found out over the course of time as an imposter at first, somebody whose lack of experience would ultimately prove detrimental? Ha! Not for the amazing Wil Myers.
They say the basis for every defensive position in baseball is based largely on speed, quickness and agility. Except for first base, which is based on skill and learning. Myers brought with him the quickness and agility and seemed by instinct to possess the skill and learning. He showed great range to both his right and left (particularly down the line on his glove side), he picked balls out of the dirt like a corn thresher, chased foul balls down the line like, yes, a center fielder, and fielded bunts with absolute aplomb. He could start double plays. He fed the pitchers covering first with precision. He said he felt more engaged at first place, every pitch was important while playing there. He loved it at first base and the Padres loved having him there. Wil Myers had found a new home.
He was rewarded with being named one of the three Gold Glove finalists at first base in the National League.
While he didn’t win, just being named to the final three bordered on the incredulous. Myers had gone from defensive misfit to defensive magician in one year.
Speaking of magician, Wil had a little of that in him too. As the year went on he grew in confidence. If there was nobody on base he would make the putout on a ground ball and then rifle it around the horn with a underarm throw that reminded one of Curly Neal (Harlem Globetrotter reference which millennials may not get.). The longer the season went on, the more submarine and laissez faire his throws became. Always on target though. An old-school manager – say, a Dick Williams – no doubt would have chastised him. “Throw the ball overhand, you moron,” he would have shouted. Not Andy Green. He knew it was just Wil being Wil, finding new ways to stay in the flow of the game, that unceasing energy between stop and go, start and stop which makes up the game of baseball. Wil was just finding his groove.
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