Wil’s magician act carried over in other areas of the game too. I attended a late August game with my brother at Petco. It was around the bottom of the 6th in a good back and forth affair and Wil was leading off. While waiting in the on-deck circle he began twirling his bat. In those huge hands the bat seemed like a toothpick, though a toothpick of some substance.
He began to twirl, and twirl, and twirl. First the right hand off to the side. Then the left hand off to that side. Then the right hand over his head. Then the left hand over his head. Back and forth he would go, spinning, twirling, rotating. First one hand, then the other. He didn’t look like he was about to lead off an inning in a Major League baseball game, he looked like he was preparing for a Drum Major tryout for the University of Notre Dame. It was mesmerizing. Even though he’d been in a slump, he waltzed up to the plate and smacked one into right center for a single. Score one for the Drum Major.
Wil’s wackiness carried over to the All-Star Game too. Specifically, the Home Run hitting contest. Whether out of wackiness, or loyalty, or maybe just based on childhood dreams, Wil chose his 19-year-old younger brother, Beau, to be his pitcher.
Beau, a college player in his own right, proved not up to the task, hitting his brother in the ribs with one misplaced pitch and backing him off the plate with numerous others. Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale would have been proud. Padre fans, who wanted to see their hero blast pitches 500 feet, not so much. Wil did muster 10 home runs but Adam Duvall of the Reds easily beat him with 11 with plenty of time left on the clock.
Wil said both he and his brother laughed it off. “We had a great time. A dream come true.” Wil couldn’t laugh off his post-All Star performance, however. Whether because the home run derby had thrown him off his game or through the sheer grind of the season, his second half numbers were worrying. Prior to the All-Star break, Myers slashed .286/.351 / .522 / .873 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI. This included a Matt Kemp-like May of .229 / .264 / .333 / .597 with two home runs. Basically, his April and June were off the charts. Post All-Star break, Myers slashed .223 / .316 / .381 / .697 with nine home runs and 34 RBI.
Myers went from the June player of the month in the National League to a subpar performer for the last three months of the season. Toss in an even worse May, and in four months out of the six, Wil Myers offensively bordered on poor. It got so bad in the second half that the best way to get Myers out on a two-strike pitch was to throw a meaty fastball right down the middle. Wil was so betwixt and between he would often simply stare at it, instantly knowing it would be rung up as strike three and beginning to trudge back to the dugout. In the second half of the season, Wil Myers was in a serious funk.
Myers overall ultimately slashed .259 / .336 / .461 / .797 with 28 home runs, 94 RBI, and 28 stolen bases while playing fantastic defense and running the bases with aplomb. All the while ingratiating himself with the fans and becoming the face of the franchise. By almost every measure, a superlative year. Given where he stood just past the halfway point of the season, however, it could have been so much better. Midseason, his OBP was in the high .360s, and his slugging average in the mid .500s. While most likely unsustainable, in turn it fell off the table, and by the end, his OPS had sunk just below .800, a demarcation point between what is considered a very, very good offensive season and a somewhat more nondescript year. While .003 is meaningless in any grand scheme, the point stands.
Wil let a superstar season get away from him. Maybe because the shenanigans of the Home Run Derby screwed him up, or because Matt Kemp got traded early in the second half and no longer protected him in the lineup, or because this was Wil’s first full injury-free season in the majors and the mental grind ground him down, or because life is a series of peaks and valleys and in the end our resting place is found somewhere in between. For whatever reason, Wil ended up with a good – a very good – but not great season. The Padres need great.
Maybe even more than that, the Padres need consistent. As the main veteran offensive presence on the team, the Padres need a steady performance from Wil. Two great months and four poor ones is a prescription for disaster in setting an example to all the young players. Myers needs to grind out the at-bats from Game 1 through Game 162. If he doesn’t get hot enough to win player of the month, so be it. Consistent production is what we need. He’s certainly capable of it and most likely that is exactly what will happen. He knew he had fallen off in the second half, and felt he learned from the experience.
On December 10, Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature. At the Nobel ceremony Patti Smith sang an extraordinary rendition of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”, of which both her version and the original you should familiarize yourself. The award is always given on December 10 as it is the birthday of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the award. It is also Wil Myers’ and my own birthday. Wil just turned 26. I won’t tell you how ancient I am. Wil is just entering his prime. He’s coming off a remarkable season in so many ways, not the least of which is he loves being a San Diego Padre, he wants to be here for the long haul. He just needs some fine tuning, a bit more “Steady Eddie” in his approach. Some say a hard rain’s gonna fall before the Padres ever bring a championship to town, and lo and behold it may prove true. It also may not be too far off. Wil Myers is an essential component of the Taco Train, the one coming up around the bend. Like Wil himself, it is wonderful, wacky and a bit worrying, but oh so exciting, so magical, just like Wil himself. Here’s to the 2016 version of Wil Myers, just a little better version of it.
And to watching him slide like a wild-eyed jackal into second the first chance he gets.