Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Sun Will Rise: Matt Harvey and the Renewable Resource of Talent

For nearly two decades, I have followed a number of sports with heartbreaking loyalty. Be it baseball, basketball, football, hockey, golf, or tennis, I can be found lurking a stat sheet or highlight reel any given night. I've seen some of the greatest to play their respective sports. Athletes who are so transcendent of their game, they are instantly recognizable by one name. Jordan. Manning. Bonds.Woods. Sampras. Before they were legends, there was Bird. Montana. Rose. Nicklaus. McEnroe. Historic talent replenishes itself. This has always been one of my favorite aspects of professional sports.

On a cool early May night in Queens, New York, Matt Harvey earned nothing. No win. No loss. He had pitched nine complete innings against the Chicago White Sox. The one hit, the one baserunner for the visitors, was a tough play to Ruben Tejada. Alex Rios beat out the off-balance throw to first, and the perfect game and no-hitter were gone. The Mets' flamethrowing, twenty-four year old righthander still managed a dozen strikeouts. At the moment of Rios' infield single, Harvey had only thrown 73 pitcher. Harvey had made it to the ninth inning for the first time in his young career, yet without an ounce of run support, it was all for naught. He did not return to the mound for the tenth inning. His night over, any run the Mets might score thereafter would be credited to the incoming relief pitcher, as would the decision.

What amazes me is how players like Matt Harvey and Los Angeles Angels' stat-head darling Mike Trout always seem to come around. When someone like Derek Jeter is in the twilight of his career, there is a Matt Kemp on the cusp of superstardom. An avid baseball fan might peruse minor league headlines and college scouting reports in attempt to find the next big name. Even then, a player's talent won't always translate to the Major League level. I raise this whole topic not necessarily just to praise Harvey's stellar start to the season, but to try to comprehend how players like him will always exist. A few seasons ago it was Stephen Strasburg, the hard-throwing ace in Washington. When pitchers like Harvey and Strasburg start, it becomes the game to view.

Harvey's lack of Major League experience, as well as a 98mph fastball, are huge keys to his breakout start to 2013. Most, if not all, the hitters Harvey has faced so far have no prior experience against him. They can read scouting reports, but when it comes to natural talent, it really must be experienced to be understood. This will result in first pitch strikes from batters taking a pitch to gauge his speed. As the ball rips through the strike zone, the batter times the pitch and gets set for the next offering. This one is now off speed. 15mph slower than the fastball, a curve drops in low. The swing is just a moment too early. And just like that, the batter is in an 0-2 hole. That is how Matt Harvey has been on the verge of a no-hitter multiple times this season. His differing speed can throw a hitter's inner timing mechanism off. Of course, the collective of batters in the league will adjust, and soon they will understand Harvey's delivery and location tendencies. Then, if he is to become the next great pitcher, Harvey will adjust back and once more leave National League offenses scratching their heads.

The MLB Draft is coming soon. With dozens of rounds and players ranging from high-schoolers to young Cuban defectors will test the patience and pocketbooks of Major League organizations. Somewhere, an ace, a star infielder, or the next home run champion is waiting to be given his chance. Another generation of stars is just starting tee-ball. Whenever they arrive, baseball fans will always be waiting. Waiting for the next big thing.

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