PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Matt Harvey was out to another dinner with his new group of friends last autumn, enjoying a small slice of what Manhattan has to offer, when one of the more dramatic events in recent civic history unfolded before his eyes.
As Harvey tells it, he was sitting in a Village restaurant in the early hours of Hurricane Sandy when, staring north out the window, he gasped as midtown went dark before his eyes. One of Harvey's buddies, New York Rangers forward Brian Boyle, tried to read his face.
"What?" Boyle asked. Harvey kept staring.
"That was the craziest thing," Harvey recalled. "It was just pitch black."
Reflecting on that memorable night and so many others this winter, Harvey sees an offseason spent knitting himself into fabric of the city. Following an historic rookie run that saw him strike out 70 batters and post a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts, Harvey could have flown back to his home in Atlanta, enjoyed a quiet offseason and prepared for 2013.
He could have traveled straight from Atlanta to Florida and enjoyed the same type of spring he currently is, striking out another five batters Sunday to increase his spring total to 29 -- third in the Majors -- with a 3.47 ERA.
Instead, Harvey chose to rent an East Village apartment and ingrain himself into Manhattan life. Through mutual acquaintances, he befriended a group of Rangers players, including Boyle and Henrik Lundqvist. He spent his mornings training at Citi Field with bullpen catcher Eric Langill and new strength coach Jim Malone, preparing his body for what he hopes can be a 200-inning season. He spent his evenings trying new restaurants, going to Rangers games, learning what it means to be a New Yorker.
"Being from Connecticut, it's not overwhelming for me," Harvey said. "Growing up that close, it was a place that I always wanted to live for a good portion of my life. Getting drafted by the Mets and then getting called up last year, staying there for three months, it was hard for me to leave."
David Wright, who was once a rising star in a similar station of life as Harvey, understands that line of thinking. When Wright first became a local celebrity midway through last decade, at a time when the Mets were one of the hottest tickets in town, the third baseman spent his offseasons living in Manhattan. He attended Broadway shows and tried new restaurants -- grew "cultured," as he puts it.
Though Wright has since aged, gotten engaged and moved closer to his family back in Virginia, he thinks back fondly on his years as a full-time New Yorker.
"New York is obviously a place that you gravitate to," Wright said. "Especially coming up through the system, being a young player, being highly touted like Harvey is, you want to connect with the city. And I don't think you can fully do that unless you spend a period of time there where you can get out and try different things."
That is not to say Harvey spent his entire offseason roaming around town. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the right-hander flew to Newport Beach, Calif., where he trained for two weeks at agent Scott Boras' facility. He also took frequent train trips to visit family in Connecticut, less than a two-hour ride from his East Village apartment.
But New York was his home base, and not by accident.
"It just felt like it was the right place for me to be," Harvey said. "Obviously there's so much still to learn about the city. It's so massive. It's amazing. I love New York City. It's a happy place for me."
The love affair goes both ways, now that Harvey has established himself as one of the brightest spots in a rebuilding organization. Long considered a middle-of-the-rotation arm, perhaps a No. 2 starter in his prime, Harvey debuted in late July with a triple-digit fastball and uncommon confidence for such a young player. He blasted Dwight Gooden's 28-year-old franchise record with 11 strikeouts in his debut, rolling through nine more starts before the Mets shut him down on an innings limit.
With no such shackles in place this summer, Harvey hopes to give the Mets a minimum of 30 starts and 200 innings, perhaps even developing into an ace. His offseason strength program should help him approach those numbers, though Harvey also must learn to be a more efficient pitcher. Sacrificing strikeouts in favor of ground balls could be his ticket.
If Harvey succeeds, the five boroughs may embrace him in the same way he has already embraced them.
"I feel like whatever city I play in or wherever I end up, I want to be fully into that city," Harvey said. "I like connecting with fans. I like connecting with friends in that place, the restaurants, owners of places and stuff like that. I represent the New York Mets, and for me personally, that's on and off the field."