Yankees reliever who defected to Mets this offseason looks completely different

New York Yankees v Chicago White Sox
New York Yankees v Chicago White Sox / Ron Vesely/GettyImages

Clearly, the Yankees were holding Stephen Ridings back from achieving his true destiny.

Ridings was lost on a surprise waiver claim to the Mets back in mid-November, stunning only because it was bizarre to imagine the scope of his Yankees downfall. The flame-throwing ex-substitute teacher stepped in to help save the 2021 season and give hope that a talented wave was still on the way, only to suffer a shoulder impingement as quickly as he came.

That issue pushed his throwing program back long enough to delay his 2023 season, and after a cavalcade of errors, he ended up never making a big-league appearance for the Yankees again. The Long Island native, who was dealing with a much worse injury than was ever reported, will now slow-play things again at Mets camp, carefully trying to traverse his own recovery.

And he'll be doing so with a monstrous bushy red beard, which makes him look like a completely different person than the one who hit 97 on the radar gun in pinstripes.

Former New York Yankees reliever Stephen Ridings has a wild beard now

"Wild Card"? You bet. In more ways than one.

According to the latest update in The Athletic, Ridings will not be ready for Opening Day, and has already ruled out trying to push his comeback past its limits. In addition to the shoulder issues and slowed rehab, the righty also pulled a lat muscle midway through September last year, right when he was about to be activated. Considering Ron Marinaccio and Scott Effross also went down just before the postseason, he could've gotten some run if those stretch-run appearances has gone well.

This time around, Ridings aims to throw off a mound in two weeks and get into some game action just before the end of spring training.

And, when he returns to the mound, he'll be doing so looking like a long-lost cousin of Yukon Cornelius from "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." Isn't that always how it goes when the Yankees lose someone?