The start of spring training for Major League baseball teams is always an upbeat time for each team’s fan base. The future looks as bright as the Florida or Arizona sunshine, and the assembled talent — to hear it from managers and GMs — is capable of going all the way, if a couple dozen “ifs” break the right way.
Spring training is also the only part of the lengthy baseball season where the players get to have some fun, and few players have taken more advantage of the relaxed atmosphere in the Grapefruit League than Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
The Cuban-born 29-year-old, who belted 14 homers and knocked in 44 RBIs in just the last two-and-a-half months of the 2015 season to lead the team to its first World Series since 2000, signed a $75-million deal with the New York Mets in January, which included a $10-milion signing bonus.
So it’s not exactly shocking news that he brought not one or two, but an entire fleet of tricked-out, souped-up trucks and cars (including a custom Lamborghini, sticker price $361K) to training camp. According to the New York Daily News, Cespedes was a “one-man car show” at the team’s Port St. Lucie, Fla., training camp.
Okay, what super-rich pro athlete doesn’t go out and splurge on more than one pricey ride, right? But here’s a unique twist to the fun-loving Cespedes’ excellent spring training adventure: He also threw down some serious cash to buy a pig.
A gesture of goodwill
But not just any pig.
After showing up at the Port St. Lucie County Fair last Saturday as part of a team-sponsored charity event for a local children’s group — decked out, according to the Daily News, in “full cowboy gear,” by the way — Cespedes returned the next day and put down the winning bid of $7,000 for the fair’s Grand Champion hog, all 275 pounds of award-winning pork.
“He saw that the kids were trying to raise money,” a Mets spokesperson told the newspaper, “and he was just trying to help out.”
Maybe. Maybe not.
After the purchase, Cespedes reportedly hung around, posed for photos with the family of the young 4-H-er who raised the pig, and signed autographs for the Mets fans in attendance at the fair.
Most media reports were complimentary but expressed surprised that an athlete would be interested in buying a pig, even if the rather extravagant purchase price was a goodwill gesture to help out a local 4-H Club raise funds for its programs.
But the pig purchase shouldn’t have been a surprise, especially for any sports reporters who actually follow Major League Baseball.
That’s because last year Cespedes made a now-infamous video of himself to shop his skills to various teams prior to his signing with the Mets. Self-titled, “The Showcase,” the video contained a segment with Cespedes roasting a pig on a spit, prior to a feast he no doubt was hosting for friends and family.
The Daily News story reported that, “There’s no word on whether [Cespedes’] pig will be housed next to the Lamborghini, the Alfa-Romeo or the Polaris Slingshot [he brought to] spring training, though he may have something hotter in mind.”
Indeed he does.
From all indications, there will be a “banquet,” shall we say, at some point during the remainder of spring training, to complement the outfielder’s already legendary car show.
No word on whether that occasion will be commemorated on video, but it sure seems as if this entire episode ended with the best possible outcome: A seriously wealthy professional athlete does something generous for a 4-H Club — wish there were dozens more willing to step up in a similar fashion — Mets fans get to cheer for something more substantive then yet another round of conspicuous consumption, and the champion pig . . . well, his part in the story might not be quite as heart-warming.
But no matter what the ending, he’ll confront his fate as a Grand Champion.
And they can’t take that away.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator