PORT ST. LUCIE — The number of the day is 12.
When Yoenis Cespedes was asked Sunday morning on a scale of one to 10 how motivated he was this season to come back from his strange injuries, Cespedes did not wait for the question to be translated.
He quickly answered in English “12.’’
The best Cespedes is a motivated Cespedes.
Remember 2015 when he was traded to the Mets from the Tigers during a contract year? Cespedes was money for his 57 games after the deal as he produced 17 home runs, 44 RBIs, a .942 OPS and helped carry the Mets to the World Series.
That was a lot of injuries ago. That was before double-heel surgeries and his showdown with a wild boar. Cespedes, 34, is five years older now and has yet to run the bases in his rehab, but he says he will be back playing in games next month.
Perhaps the blessing in the wild boar incident is that Cespedes has once again realized the importance of baseball. His ability to punish a baseball made him a star and about $138 million over his career. Baseball allowed him to purchase all those fancy vehicles through the years.
Yet Cespedes preferred to play the part of a rancher, but baseball is his meal ticket. But every time a contract is about to expire, Cespedes hears a bell, a reminder again he is a baseball player.
Sometimes athletes get so wrapped up in their self-importance they forget what got them to The Show. For Cespedes, it is baseball, and you could see that in his eyes Sunday morning.
Baseball is again center stage.
Cespedes started camp with a media boycott. Last Monday, he said he was not talking, “not today, not tomorrow, not at all this year,’’ but that ended Sunday. You can be sure teammate Robinson Cano helped convince Cespedes to talk to the media — and the fans.
Move on, and that is what Cespedes did. He started off by saying he made a mistake.
“I’m not going to speak about the past,’’ Cespedes began through Mets translator Alan Suriel. “I committed an error and I paid the price for it. Today I will be talking about the present and the future.’’
He is making progress in the present and that is a good thing, but the future is in doubt. Cespedes must prove he can deal with the rigors of playing the outfield at his age, one cut the wrong way could set him back to the injured list.
Cespedes never really ran hard on the bases and would sometimes pay for that mistake too, suffering a leg injury because he was not going full speed and then, at the last minute, turning it up a notch and getting injured.
The bottom line is Cespedes must be much smarter. Avoid pitfalls he creates. Baseball is hard enough. Why put these obstacles in your way?
Cespedes talked a good game Sunday morning. He said the right things, that progress is being made.
Does he believe he will be ready for Opening Day?
“If I continue progressing the way that I am, yes.’’ Cespedes said. “I’m running in zig-zags right now. I am not running in angles as if I were running the bases. In terms of running, I am about 80 percent.’’
There probably is no way he will ready for Opening Day. But it is a goal.
“That is the most important part, to keep my legs healthy,’’ Cespedes said.
Here is a telling comment. When asked about his former agent and current GM Brodie Van Wagenen, Cespedes said, “It’s not the same relationship that it was when he was my agent. … Since the whole incident we haven’t spoken as much, but I think the relationship is still going to go well.’’
Cespedes has to get healthy and stay healthy to have a future in baseball. He is on the clock. Cespedes must perform to get paid. He’s only had 432 at-bats the last three seasons, producing 26 home runs.
He thinks he can hit 40 home runs this season. He’s past due.
The motivation factor is high, 12 is the number, as in 12, like when the clock strikes midnight.