d'Arnaud, Mets raring to begin title chase

Catcher energized by team's clubhouse, on-field camaraderie

d'Arnaud, Mets raring to begin title chase

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Early on Monday morning, Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud was fighting a smirk as he talked to the media.

d'Arnaud wasn't reacting to a funny response to a question, or to a reporter nearly bumping into a table of players doing crossword puzzles, though.

"If you look at Wilmer Flores right now," d'Arnaud said, nodding to the fan-favorite, sunglasses-wearing shortstop across the locker room. "He's showing a little purple mirror right now."

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Joking around at Spring Training has always been standard for the Mets, but entering the season as World Series contenders has only become a recent trend.

Following two straight postseason appearances -- which last happened from 1999-2000 -- the Mets are hungry to finally break through and end their 31-year championship drought. d'Arnaud joins Matt Harvey and David Wright in being healthy, Yoenis Cespedes is staying with the Mets for the foreseeable future, and the bulk of the team's core that made the World Series in '15 is back.

Still, that doesn't mean the players can't have a little fun when they're not out on the field.

"It's really exciting to have everyone in the clubhouse back joking around," d'Arnaud said. "We have a good time."

Hopefully for d'Arnaud, the 2017 season will be even more enjoyable than the Mets' clubhouse antics. The former top prospect is entering his fifth season with the Mets after being acquired in the December 2012 trade with Toronto that sent R.A. Dickey up north and brought d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to Queens.

But after two straight years riddled with injuries, d'Arnaud is entering a make-or-break year to prove to the Mets that they already have their future catcher in place. He played only 67 games in 2015 after breaking his hand in April and spraining his elbow later in the season, though he did catch all 14 games that postseason.

In 2016, d'Arnaud battled both a shoulder strain and inconsistencies, hitting .247/.307/.323 with four home runs in 251 at-bats.

Rather than shrug off the expectations and concerns that come with his fourth season as a starter, d'Arnaud is instead choosing to embrace the challenges he's set to face.

"We've all been counting the days since the season ended last year," d'Arnaud said. "We can fight through adversity and fight through doubters if we just stick together. We'll come out on top somehow, regardless of what happened."

When that day comes, look for d'Arnaud's smirking and Flores' off-camera gimmicks to become a mainstay in the clubhouse. With a strong 2017 season, d'Arnaud can cement his place as a presence on the field as well.

Jake Elman is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.