Published March 03. 2013 4:00AM
Port St. Lucie, Fla.
It was the hour of breakfast one day last week and Matt Harvey sat in a booth at Berry Fresh Café, a hip little haven for the unshaven to gather before heading to the ballpark.
Harvey spoke to an old friend about life, this new, wonderful life with the Mets. How he's recognized now in public places, even in the big, bad city. His face plastered on the jumbotron at Madison Square Garden to the cheers of the crowd, while he watches his pal Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.
Mostly, though, Matt Harvey was talking about how, again, life provides its best and most insightful answers through the temperate rhythms of time and space, not the immediacy of a text or tweet.
He's all grown up now, no longer just the kid from Mystic with the oak beam shoulders and 50,000-watt fastball. He's learned that not even throwing projectiles in excess of 95 miles per hour guarantee entrance into the inner circle. There's the savoir faire required to get there.
"I know how to get major league hitters out. There's not a gray area any more of knowing whether it's possible," Harvey was saying, pausing occasionally to make eye contact and an inside joke with teammates passing by. "Obviously I know until I have a big contract that nothing's ever guaranteed. But from what they're telling me, I have a spot. I'm going about my ways a little differently."
Harvey's days with romance of rookie year are gone. No more first starts with the whole family watching history and the rest of the world watching intently. No more feel good stories of how his dad, Ed, earned a standing ovation one night last summer from the patrons at the Harp & Hound, Mystic's "Cheers," in appreciation of his son's accomplishments.
Now it's time for the yeah-right realism of every day: stretching in the condo before taking a sip of coffee, maintaining the flexibility that once came naturally. Biking 10 miles per day to keep his legs stronger than a snow plow. Removing bread, pasta (except when his mom, Jackie, makes it) and beer (mostly, anyway) from his diet. Now it's about producing.
What wonderful problems, really. Sure beats the days from high school when not even the strength required to squat 600 pounds could combat the guns that impeded his progress. The radar guns. The scouts behind the fence at Fitch High, three deep some days, watching his velocity drop his senior year.
And when you spoke to Harvey in those days, you didn't see a happy kid.
"There was a lot of added pressure I put on myself. But when I look back, that all needed to happen," Harvey said. "The struggle. It was a life lesson. A career lesson. It made me go to college, which was the best decision I ever made. If I didn't struggle my senior year I would have been in pros somewhere."
Harvey was rolling now.
"I think that was the plan for me. I was supposed to learn from something like that," he said. "That all carries over into how I am as a person now, a competitor now. In high school, I felt like everything was guaranteed, everything was there and handed to me, pitching was always easy. I learned things aren't always so easy. But I needed to go through that. I wouldn't take it back."
Harvey's rookie success went beyond the numbers. Teammates, management and media members noticed his people skills. Stand up guy, look-you-in-the-eye guy. Accountability. Responsibility. That resonates.
"That's from my dad," Harvey said, alluding to the man who won three state titles and more than 400 games at Fitch. "I'd watch the way he coached. How he wanted things done: his way and no other way. If you hit a grounder to short and didn't go hard, you got chewed out. Pop ups were worse. If you didn't run those out, you got a face full of chew.
"That carried over to everything," Harvey said. "You do things right. You stand up when you talk to people. Look them in the eye. Give time to others. I remember how he would want me to be as a player. That carried over into how to react to other things."
The Mets begin April 1 at Citi Field against San Diego. Feels like forever, especially after a long month in Florida. Then the quest for 200 innings begins.
"The 200-inning mark is a big one," Matt Harvey said. "Whether you're going to arbitration or free agency, they always look at durability numbers. I really want to be where (Justin) Verlander's at throwing 260. But I'll take 200 now. You do that and you have a lot of good quality starts. It means you stayed healthy, too."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.