Damion Easley is ready for anything
Mets veteran is a big part of the club's playoff chase
Veteran Damion Easley is one of the busier part-time players in baseball this season.
When Mets manager Jerry Manuel wanted to give David Wright a day off during the dog days of August, he plugged Easley in at third base. The next day, it was Jose Reyes' turn to get some rest, and there was Easley, playing shortstop.
When the regulars returned to duty, Easley went back to second base, where he has become just about an everyday starter since Luis Castillo went on the disabled list with a hip flexor injury on July 3. Castillo had been in and out of the lineup before that, with Easley filling in regularly.
At age 38, Easley had a more leisurely summer in mind as a backup infielder and maybe a once-a-week starter when he signed last winter. "You would probably be right about that," he said. "I thought I'd be a guy off the bench, spell guys who need a break or filling in for somebody on the disabled list."
He has been much more than that and a vital part of the Mets' bid for the National League East lead. He has become a prime-time regular in the twilight of his career.
Easley is in his 15th Major League season. He's played with California, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Florida and Arizona. He reached his statistical peak with an All-Star season in 1998 when he hit 27 home runs and drove in 100 runs for the Tigers.
But he hasn't been an everyday player since 2002, which is why this season has meant a significant change in his daily preparation.
"It's easier if you're in the lineup every day," he said. "I was an everyday player. I draw on those experiences on the fly. I listen to my body and get my work in every day."
For the Mets, part of the attraction of Easley was his flexibility. Easley is a handy guy to have around, and GM Omar Minaya knew that when he originally signed him in 2007.
Easley became the fifth Mets player in history whose first two hits for the team were home runs. He batted .280 in 193 at-bats last season and hit 10 home runs, one of them inside the park. The 10 homers were the most he's had in a season since 2001, and five of them either tied the game or gave the Mets the lead.
He was building an impressive season before it came to a premature end when he suffered a severely sprained ankle in August. At that point, he had made his usual position tour, filling in at six spots. It was nothing new for him.
"I have played almost every position at one time or another," Easley said. "I never played center field, or pitcher or catcher. Nor do I have any interest in them." Over his career, he's also batted in every spot in the lineup, which is versatility that is valuable in today's specialized game.
Easley worked hard in rehabilitating the ankle, and the Mets welcomed him back this season. It's a good thing. He batted .459 with a 10-game hitting streak during the first week in July when the Mets turned their season around. The 10-game hitting streak was his longest since 2001 with Detroit when he hit in 12 straight. He has delivered a fistful of clutch hits for the Mets.
With six weeks left in the season he had more at-bats than in any season since 2002 and was ready for the sprint to the finish line -- just as long as they don't ask him to pitch, catch or play center field.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.