TAMPA, Fla. -- Dilson Herrera's eyes grew wide when asked about his recent experience at the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Panama, where his solo home run in the eighth inning of his final game clinched Colombia's berth in the 2017 event.
"Oh my God, it was amazing for me -- amazing because everybody was watching that game in my country," Herrera said, grinning. "I was so excited for that moment. It was incredible. I was happy, so very happy."
Returning to Mets camp Tuesday after eight days away from the team, Herrera reveled in the fact that so many of his countrymen were able to watch the World Baseball Classic qualifiers on television in Colombia. He felt honored. But now it is back to reality for the second baseman, whom the Mets demoted to Minor League camp during his absence.
That was not unexpected; when the team acquired middle infielders Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera this winter, it all but assured that Herrera would not make the Opening Day roster. In many ways, that was what the Mets wanted for Herrera, who as recently as early December was the organization's leading candidate to start at second base. Rather than force him into a position for which he may not have been ready, the team preferred to give Herrera more seasoning at Triple-A Las Vegas.
"If you get a chance to play every day, you've got a chance to get better," manager Terry Collins said. "That's what he's got a chance to do: get better."
Specifically, Collins said, the Mets would like to see Herrera tighten up his defense around the second-base bag and improve his ability to hit to all fields. Those are relative quibbles for a player who batted .327 with an .893 OPS as a 21-year-old at Triple-A last season, but they are organizational requests nonetheless.
If Herrera succeeds, he could be the Mets' starting second baseman as soon as April 2017, with Walker a free agent after this season. And now he has something else to anticipate: Colombia's first appearance in the World Baseball Classic, scheduled for next March.
"That's a big chance for my country, for my people," Herrera said. "I'm not getting antsy. I'm not going to let myself get antsy, because I know that the moment will be here soon enough."