Friday, March 31, 2006

Thursday

I was astonsished at the seperateness of Kaz Matsui. Six members of the Japanese media are here just to cover Matsui with little interest in the Mets. Matsui and his own personal trainer wandered over to a minor league field yesterday for a rehab session with his media entourage in tow. He hit off the tee alone in the cage prior to the game.......At both the minor league complez and Tradition Field, along with the American Flag and Florida State Flag fly the POW-MIA rememberance flag.......St. Louis Cardinal legend Red Schoendienst watched the game briefly from the press box yesterday......I also had the priveledge of sitting next to NY Daily News Columnist, Vic Ziegel, while he typed his column on Paul LoDuca. I found him quite amusing, charming and kind. He graciuosly took a photo with me, too........Speaking of LoDuca, longtime Los Angeles beat writer, Brian Golden tells me theres still some level of disbelief in the Dodger organization that LoDuca was traded.........Met fans John and Jill Blauner of Manhattan told me an interesting story about Bud Harrelson. During the early 70's he played and sang guitar at Barney Googles on 86th Street. They remember him as being pretty good in his covers of country classics such as John Denver's, "Country Road." Jill Blauner still hasn't forgiven M. Donald Grant for trading Tom Seaver.......Carlos Beltran has a contraption that lots of other Met hitters are using now. Its a variation of the machine which serves tennis balls. Tablenis serves are much faster than a pitcher's fastball. They'll stand in a batters box and watch the tennis balls go by. With their eyes being accustomed to tracking something faster thatn a pitch, it makes sense that a baseball will be easier to track...............Carlos Delgado worked on stretching and taking throws in the cage prior to yesterday's game on one of many throwing machines that are available.............. Two Mets who played in the World Baseball Classic, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran have played in only 8 Grapefruit League games. Reyes in batting .500 and Beltran .391. Do with that what you will............Braden Looper was booed lustily by the Tradition Field crowd yesterday when he was announced. Almost as much as was Cardinals manager, Tony Larussa when he came out to remove Looper.........I spoke with Ron Darling yesterday and Keith Hernandez for my book.......See an exerpt of my interveiw with Howard Johnson over at NYSportsDay

Thursday, March 30, 2006

My Wednesday in Florida

I had lunch with Gary Carter after the morning workout of his St. Lucie club. I also caught up with long-time Met Minor League Instructor Bobby Floyd. Its Floyd's 21st year with the organization and is a solid baseball man........Mets minor league starters are limited to 70-75 pitches in April. There's been an emphasis over the last several years to keep pitch counts down to prevent injuries. As more and more teams are going with 12 pitchers, its clear the emphasis in baseball is toward developing more relievers to create favorable match-up after going through the line-up twice. The days of 300 inning seasons may be a thing of the past........Former Met catcher, Barry Lyons, lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. He received assistance from BATS, an organization designed to help anyone who's ever been in baseball get through financial hardships..........Bobby Ojeda is with his old friend, Rich Gedman again. They're Pitching Coach and Manager, respectively of an independent team in Worcester, Massachusetts........Howard Johnson tells me Tim Teufle is in private business that recently took him to China...........Paul LoDuca's ready. See ejection yesterday..........The Minor league umpires aren't working this spring and are looking for better working conditions. The season starts next week for many leagues and replacements may have to start the season.....Former major league catcher Sal Butera was at minor league camp yesterday watching his son Drew play. His a Met farmhand.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Remembering

On Monday afternoon, I had just finished spending some time with Howard Johnson and I was walking alone back through the complex toward an empty Tradition Field. But music was still playing. It was Phil Collins' "Take Me Home." How appropriate.

I bought the cassette during the 1985 season-my first-and listened to it all year. The soothing "Take Me Home" completes the tape and needless to say, it takes me back and I remember how it was. But its not then any more. Its now.

I've met some of the young men who are trainers in the Mets minor leagues, and I feel great kinship with them. Their dreams are the same as mine once were. For now, its enough to be part of the game. Its as close as you can get without being there I suppose. Some of them get to come to big league camp now. And they take turns coming over to cover Tradition Field for the day. Rey Ramirez' strong relationship with Omar Minaya has enhanced their role and acceptance. I've enjoyed meeting them and sharing things.I wish them well. Some of them have called me Sir. Please don't. We're colleagues in more ways that once.

Charlie Samuels is grey now, as I am around the temples. His dog slept on the floor of the equipoment room. When we talked, it was like I'd never left. Charlie has those kind of people skills. We'd met our wives about the same time and we're both divorced. We're both still devoted and involved in our kids' lives. Charlie's been there so long now that someone on TV once described him as legendary.

Speaking of legendary, there's Mets' publicist, Jay Horwitz. Marty Noble pointed out to me he's known around baseball as just "Jay". An entity now. Finally being named a Vice President for the Mets after years of disregard, he remains unchanged. Trim and energetic, I still have no idea how he does it. Now he's co-travel director, too. Remembering names and the slightest of details, its remarkable what he accomplishes. And he amazingly has time and genuine concern for everyone. His help to me this week I'll never be able to repay.

I know what surreal feels like now. The only thing that come close to comparing was going to my 20th high school reunion. But this is better. Phil Collins' song laments a longing to be taken home. This week has taught me we can have more than one home.

Somehow our journeys are hopelessly and wonderfully lonesome. Perhaps this is a good thing.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tuesday in Port St. Lucie

As the chattering classes traveled a few miles north to Jupiter to witness the game against the Marlins, I stayed behind to watch Gary Carter manage. I snuck up on Gary today and shouted out a private joke that he recognized, and told me, "Sikesie, thats just perfect." He laughed loudly,again telling everyone in sight I'd been the one who kept him together as a Met. Gary is a firey sort of manager, continually engaging his players. His teams will take on his personality, just as Met fans remember him as a player. Like Keith Hernandez, I'm surprised to find him here, but am looking forward to finding out more tomorrow when I have lunch with Gary.......In the Oh, thees times they are a changin' department: After Sunday's game, fans approached Omar Minaya at his seat behind homeplate for autographs and photos. Lots of them. No other Met GM has ever had to do this.........By orgabization policy all minor league players will wera their socks the same way with pants ending just below the knee. Coaches and managers as well. It looks odd to me on Carter and HoJo, but thats just me. The discipline and uniformity is a very, very good idea, though. And it demonstrates and organization moving impressively......I'm very pleased with the way the minors train and go about their business. Their exteremly organized and focused....Carter's St Lucie team won with a walk-off homerun in the ninth. I wished I had a scorecard so I could relay the young man's name. They played hard and hustled the whole game.....With Aaron Heilman's move to the bullpen, it prompts several things to remember. First, the staff that leaves in April is never the staff that exists in Setember. Second, with the Mets signalling they will begin with 12 pitchers, it demonstrates just how much they will be relying on their bullpen. Third, and in conjunction with point two, this shows the Mets realize they have starters who don't necessarily go far into the game. Six relievers will be needed to get the ball to Billy Wagner in the ninth. Another indication about how times have changed. Ten pitchers were considered the norm 20 years ago. Sometimes even nine...........When behind, look for Randolph to pinch hit for Anderson Hernandez in the 8th spot and the pitcher. Its an effective way to use his bench and as Jose Reyes has proved to be a fairly good RBI man, it plays to the Mets' strengths.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Today at Tradition Field

Steve Trachsel was removed during a rough inning today and sought refuge in the mound area beyond the bullpen area down the rightfield line. He needed to get more pitching in. Veteran Pitching Coach Al Jackson awaited him. I can't think of a better one to talk to after such an outing as Trachsel had today. Jackson is a jewel and the Mets have been fortunate to have him for so long..............Long after the crowd had gone, Ricky Henderson was giving a private lesson to a young Mets player on the field behind the stadium. .......Having lunch in the press lounge today before the game was long time Dodger and Cub great Rick Monday, Dodger icon Tommy Lasorda, scouts Bobby Wine and Dave Hollins. Lasorda naturally found a way to hold court.........Cliff Floyd hit one of the hardest balls I've ever seem today. Brett Tomko seemed to duck and the centerfielder charged only to have the ball sail over his head. What a rocket........A few of the writers confided to me that David Wright is one of the best guys to ever wear a Met uniform........A great situational hitter, Paul LoDuca easily drove home Floyd with a basehit afer Wright's flyball to right moved him over. Another reason to keep LoDuca in the six or seven hole. Xavier Nady batted seventh today behind LoDuca.......Norfolk mannager Ken Oberkfel had surgery today and its uncertain who will open the season as AAA manager. Either Howard Johnson or Randy Niemann are quite capable.........Rey Ramirez gave me a tour of the clubhouse today and got to see the improvements......He and Mike Herbst have been very nice , treating me as a old colleague. Alumini I guess.....I spoke with Keith Hernandez today and he agreed to speak with me more on Thursday about my book. I told him how much I loved his TV work and he was gracious in his thanks. No. Thank you, Keith. You're really good at it....I interviewed HoJo for the book today. He still wears number 20 and looks as if he can still play.He says Tim Teufel, his best friend, is in private business but living near Port St. Lucie.......I reminded Hernandez how everyone balked at coming over to PSL from St Petersburg as everyone loved it so much. But now he...and so many other old Mets now make it home. Besides Hernandez, HoJo, Teufel, Niemann, Al Jackson. Joe McIlvaine, and Frank Cashen now call it home. I'm sure there are others......Speaking of Cashen, I had a chance to say hello to him in the elevator today at Tradition Field. He walks with a cane now, but the eyes are still clever and the mind and wit still as sharp as ever.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Today

A voice called out to Howard Johnson as he grasped my hand and pulled at my neck when I said hello to him for the first time in 15 years. One of the young Met pitchers had come down and pitched on the AAA field for an inning. He'd obviously befriended Howard during his time at big league camp. And Johnson shared a few kind, knowing words with the young man who was trying to make the big club. Howard Johnson..mentor. I'm not surprised, but I'd forgotten how kind HoJo was to people. And how generous he was with his time.......Joe McClvaine shook my had in the Press Room before the game while we ate lunch with Marty Noble. We shared lots of stories.........Ray Ramirez and I were trainers together in the minors with the Mets. He greated me warmly, too. The Mets are in good hands. I can tell............Gary Cohen and I swapped storied about the days of the 80's and talked of his moved to TV and old friends such as Howie Rose who I'll see tomorrow...........Randy Niemann and I swore not to tell where all the bodies are buried. What a good guy he is..............Jay Horwitz said Charlie Samuels looks younger than me. I'll get even. Somehow..........Cohen had apparently told Ron Darling I was around and he gave me a big hug, too on his way up to do the game on TV........Its not easy being a Hall of Famer, and Gary Carter had to hold court before a game with well wishers. But when he realized it was me, we had a very nice hello, with him telling everyone insight that I'd taken care of him.....Did you see the play Anderson Hernandez made today from the grass to start a DP? Wow........and two big hits from Jose Reyes, too......Pedro's fine. See snap throw to first during the first. That was really stressful on his toe........They look good. Real good. Keep fingers crossed.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Today's the day.....

,,,that I make the drive to Port St. Lucie. I live in the Panhandle of Florida. Bush Country for all my liberal democrat readers. Please don't hate and take me off your favorites. Some last minute laundry and tidying up before I launch out of here.

Quite a change things are. Ever the dinasour and cheap bastard I am, I actually broke down and got one of those cheapy cell phones last night. You know the ones with no contract and all. I got a little dictaphone, too. I even got a digital camera. How else could I play the role of freelance writer and blogger without all these props?

I missed the game terribly after my firing in 1991. Still in New York, I couldn't bring myself to watch any baseball on TV. I only visited Shea twice in the three years I remained in New York. My son helped change all that as he started to play the game and watch it on TV. Playing ball in the backyard with your son is an undescribable pleasure and right of passage. My father was tall and thin and was lefthanded. He used a first baseman's mit. Its still in the top of the closet in my old bedroom in the home I grew up in.

On the day I was let go by the Mets, Mom told me that I could always write and that it was something I needed to do. Of course at the time, I didn't want to hear any of that. But it was always there in the back of my mind, somehow as something there that had to be taking care of at some time.

I moved to South Carolina in 1994 to work for a PT clinic and work with a local school district. I got to work some with the University of South Carolina's Atletic Training Curriculium, mentoring and doing some teaching. For awhile it filed a void I has missed as a trainer. Content with things, I started going out onto my a porch at night and while listening to some music, and I began scribbling some things down on legal pads. The music helped me remember.

A girl who worked at the clinic with me gave me the second hand computer her father had given her for school. It was an old bank computer and she had a new one. So in 1997, I began getting up every morning around 3 to write. Luckily I didnt have to be at the clinic until 9. In three months I had an all-but-complete manuscript.

As a new acquaintance with Sports Illustrated told be in December though, it layed dormant. After suffering through the rejections of the publishing industry for about six months, I put it aside. But a blogger and now good friend, David Pinto of BaseballMusings offered to post an exerpt. I got a call, I started a blog, and here I am now.

Like many who have been blessed enough to have some part in the game, I'm above all else, a fan. In my book, I occassionally third person myself as an interloper. Maybe this gives you some sort of insight into the way I write about baseball. I'm like you and want you to feel it as I did.

I don't know how much and in what form I'll be blogging from Port St. Lucie, or even how I'll be received by old teammates when they know I'm writing a book. Howard Johnson and Tim Teufel know and we're trading phone calls now. But its under other circumstances now and they may see me differently. Its been 20 years now since 1986, and we're all changed men now in many ways, older and wiser. I can't wait to see them.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Davey's Life After the Glory

? In my brief tenure as the Girls Soccer Coach at Crestview High School, I've witnessed two sets of parents bury their children. For those of us who are parents, its unspeakable, unthinkable. Yet some do, and they somehow endure. I can't imagine how.

Somewhere in a drawer is a photo I took in 1983 with a young, Andrea Lyn Johnson. Davey Johnson's daughter smiled a wonderful little girl smile. Athletic like her father, she became quite an accomplished surfer. But little Andrea had her deamons and sufferd from schyzophrenia which ultimately took her life at age 32 last June. Davey nearly died in 2004 from a painful stomach ailment that Ed hearn told me about in January. I didn't know about Andrea. Thankfully he had healed from the year-long ruptured appendix from the previous year. Sometimes they're hard to diagnos. The same happened to my late father.

I'm sure the Mets of the 1980's are far from Davey's mind. Still, the winningest manager in Met history, Johnson managed elsewhere. Surprising to no one, he did well, finally landing a gig with his Baltimore Orioles. It had to be a dream come true for Davey to manage the team he found glory with as a player. It all has a tendency to end badly as a manager, and its sadly what we usually remember most. Davey's always been a big boy about this and has always known it was the nature of things. He never took his 1990 firing by the Mets badly.

His Baltimore dismissal was a little different though. Angry at Peter Angelos for his departure, he never really got over it. But the flowers that arrived from the Angelos' after Andrea's death made Davey forgive and forget everything. With such loss, I'm sure Davey sees many, many things far different then before. His visit to see the Orioles indicates this.

For me its hard to realize that when Davey managed the Mets, he was younger than I am now. As time goes on, I feel more and more like him as other experiences bring something into our lives that a game we loved so much never really could.

Hat tip: David Pinto of Baseball Musings.

Lets give them something to talk about

That great Bonnie Raitt blues song comes to mind when considering that another change is at hand for the Mets, and that is the re-emmergence of its minor league system. One early season assessment had them rated near the bottom, but this no longer is valid. With the spring showings of Lastings Milledge, Henry Owens, Mike Pelfrey and Brian Bannister, four who will begin the year in the minors, it can be said that the Mets indeed know what their doing in scouting and player development.

In Milledge, the Mets have possible developed their third or fourth straight everyday player. With David Wright and Jose Reyes established everyday players, and Anderson Hernandez poised to begin the year at second, Milledge's arrival to the everyday line-up represents the fourth example of home-grown talent to crack the line-up in three seasons. True, Hernandez was acquired via trade, but his late development was done under the Mets watch. This will make up half the line-up, something most teams desire doing. And its a line-up thats expected to contend.

The visual performances of Mike Pelfrey and Brian Bannister are certain indicators they will both be part of the Mets' rotation-possible as early as this year. If Aaron Heilman remains, this would mean that 3 of the 5 man rotation are homegrown, too. Owens' spring validates Mets scouting which recommended drafting him from another organization. Another strike-out arm could be available for the bullpen by mid-season.

Often its by default that rookies make a club as extra players. I remmeber the opening day roster in 1985 included Terry Blocker, Bill Latham, John Christenson, Ronn Reynolds and Roger McDowell. Only McDowell remained at the end. Significant contriburions can be expected by the Milledge, Owens, Bannister and Pelfrey, and not as back-ups as the 1985 rookies did.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Opening Day

My freind and mentor, Al Jackson, has a favorite saying about baseball.

"The three best days are the first day, the last day and pay day."

No kidding about pay day. It was even good for me. But anyone who'd ever been part of the game knows there's something magical about Opening Day. My first Opening Day was in 1985. Doc Gooden started and Gary Carter won it with a homerun in extra inings. We didn't use the term, "walk-off homerun" yet.

I've never though much about those throwing out the first ball ceremonies much either. The only one that really carries any weight with me is maybe the one where President Bush threw out the first ball at Yankee Stadium afer 9/11.

But April 3rd will be different. Its a day game, so I'll be in class teaching kids about Biology. And maybe its a good thing, too. When Jesse Orosco and Carter go out before a full stadium to throw out the first pitch, I can only imagine the roar. I'd shiver and my eyes would tear.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Metsnucia

Aside from the numerous jokes that arose as a result from Billy Wagner's middle finger, there's no reason to pay this much attention. This is something trainers have seen before and it goes away. Besides, the MRI proved negative. Man, can they get those things quick!.......Victor Zambrano's no-walk performance over five innings yesterday let it be known not only is his back going to be fine, but he's pitching well. If memory serves correctly, the powers that be were impressed in what they saw from Zambrano prior to the WBC. You can be sure that major league scouts noted much the same.......While we're on backs, I want to reiterate that this is why we bring pitchers in early. Its hard to simulate the demands that your back goes through in baseball. Ask anybody who's ever been to fantasy camp about how their back felt. There was usually a fight at the whirlpool to get in. The back muscles in question we refer to as lumbar stabilizers. Most teams now have a vigorous program of exercises for these. Renowned back specialist, Dr. Robert Watkins from Los Angeles has been is a leader in this area of sportsmedicine for over 20 years now and you'll see his name mentioned as someone who gives those second opinions........As I stated in a previous post, Willie Randolph won't need five starters at the beginning, but Martinez may be on a strict pitch count if he starts during the first rotation. If its opening day or game two, I'd look for Aaron Heilman to come in after 80 pitches. Barring trade, I still expect Brain Bannister to start the year in Norfolk to get a regular turn............It seems many pundits like the Oakland A's. If they A's get contend, that would mean Barry Zito isn't going anywhere. Doesn't it? But I often wonder what goes through my old friend, Billy Beane's mind. Way too much late night reading of Bill James, Dude..........I think you saw the batting order yesterday afternoon:
SS: Reyes
cf: Beltran
1B: Delgado
LF: Floyd
3B: Wright
RF: Nady
C: Martinez (Lo Duca)
2B: Hernandez
Pitcher.....
At the AL park, Randolph used the DH and got some ABs for Julio Franco. There might be some flip-flopping with Wright and Floyd against a lefty. They were facing righty, Kris Benson.........While we're on Benson, if the Mets traded him-partly for the work of his meddlesome wife-I don't balme them. Anna had become a sideshow that sapped energy. To gain publicity she shamelessly inserted herself into her husband's workplace to create a name for herself without regard to what effect it had on anyone. Its called a cancer in sports circles.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Faye Vincent Banned Steroids in 1991 Memo

From a favorite blog of mine, MLB Trade Rumors comes a interesting link to a little known fact about baseball's steroid policy. The Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice has a blog in which he dispells the notion that baseball had no policy on steroids. Justice notes a memo from former Comissioner Faye Vincent. Justice writes:
"Commissioner Fay Vincent sent the clubs a memo in 1991 reminding them that players were forbidden from taking any illegal substance. He specifically mention steroids in the memo and encouraged the clubs to take a get-tough policy on players thought to be using steroids.
What could a team have done if it suspected a player of using steroids? Probably nothing.
Vincent simply wanted to be on the record as letting the clubs know that steroid use was against the rules and that they shouldn't be afraid to confront a player.
There was no testing for steroids until 2003 (after being part of the 2002 labor agreement).
The notion that Bonds wasn't breaking any rules is ridiculous. He was. He knew he was."
My lawyer friends might be able to add some insight to this, but this may well serve as a legal document of sorts. And it may indeed be some additional ammo for Bud Selig to go after Bonds and others.

Musings of Spring (with apologies to David Pinto)

The injury to Kaz Matsui prompts considerations for the Mets. As it appears to be an isolated MCL sprain without cartilage involvement, it won't require surgery. But one of the problems with MCL sprained is that you just have to let them heal. There's no way to hurry that process along. And the Mets have made it known there's going to be a period of non-baseball activity for three weeks. This is necessary to protect the stability of the knee. Three weeks takes us into the season, so it makes sense for Matsui to remain in Florida and play his way back into shape with the St. Lucie club. By this time though, the Mets will certainly have a much better feel for what Anderson Hernandez can do. If it looks like the kid has the goods they won't ship him out and Matsui's fate will be sealed. As he'll most likely be batting 8th, there will be no pressure offensively, and if it looks like the Mets can develop another young player at the major league level, they will do so.............Despite all things that can be considered worse case scenarios, it looks like Pedro Martinez is doing well. I have to hand it to Ray Ramirez, Mike Herbst, Guy Conti and Rick Peterson for the way they've moved him along. Knowing that the adjustment of his toe needs to be gradual, they smartly eased Martinez throwing schedule based on this. Its all been about gently increasing the range of motion of the toe in a manner in which there have been no set-backs. Its not a problem at all that Martinez is behind in his throwing schedule. I really don't think he needs as much as other pitchers. Instead of March, I'll take the innings in September-and hopefully, October.....................Lastings Millage has been a hit man, and is clearly developing as a player. Expect him to get better this season, but don't expect him in April. For one, the Mets will want a free year of sorts of controlling his contract and keeping him ineligible for arbitration. With Victor Diaz having a good spring along with Xavier Nady another corner outfielder won't be needed just yet. Both Nady and Diaz can play first if Carlos Delgado's elbow somehow doesn't come along. Randolph won't want to go with Julio Franco as an every day player. So Milledge won't be needed just yet. But his performance this spring will give him confidence that he can play at the big league level...................Randolph won't need five starters in April. Unless Martinez is unable to go, expect few surprises. This includes Brain Bannister not going north. Tom Glavine, Steve Tracshel, and Aaron Heilman will get the other starts behind Martinez. Victor Zambrano is behind these three right now. But with others impressing thus far as well (see Jose Lima, Yusaku Iriki, Mike Pelfrey, along with Bannister) the potential for a trade is there. I fully expect Omar Minaya to bring in another starter sometime during the season. If Billy Beane is willing to trade Barry Zito, expect Minaya to put forth the same effort he did for Manny Ramirez last summer...................If we are to believe Greg Prince at Faith and Fear in Flushing and I do, it looks like the Gary Cohen-Keith Hernandez team will be a star tandem. Lets just hope SNY will be seen in the New York area..................I'm planning on going to Port St. Lucie next weekend. Its my spring break. I'm going down to try and hook-up with some of the 86 Mets to spend some time with them for my upcoming book. Yes, of course I'll be doing some blogging..........So its Cuba against Japan Monday night for the World Baseball Classic. Big league quality telecast appeared to bring the games of teams like Mexico, Korea and Cuba to, well, major league level. They belong. And maybe somehow baseball is becoming a world game much like basketball and soccer. Odd how only our Women's National Soccer Team has been the only one of late to perform at a championship level. Shame on the International Olympic Committee for dropping baseball and softball. Can someone say Anti-American? Anyway, doesn't it seem though that's its somehow appropriate for Japan and Cuba to be in this final as the importance of baseball to these two country's collective psyches has always been palpable. And far past what it is here.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day, Mex!

St. Patrick's Day-1985-Huggins-Stengal Field-St. Petersburg, Florida
The Huggins-Stengal Field Clubhouse just off Fouth Street in St. Petersburg was a lovely, homey little place. Everybody seemed to love it and didn't mind the little inconvenience of taking little city buses for games at Al Lang Stadium a few blocks away. We shared it with the Cardinals at the time.
Keith Hernandez arrived on St. Patricks Day morning sporting a green shirt he proudly announced to any and all it was the one he always wore on St. Patricks Day. Known as Mex-actually referring to himself as "Mex" in third person quite frequently when he poked fun at himself-Hernandez wasn't known for being a stylish dresser at the time. Even Davey Johnson once told him he needed to change the oil. He got alot better later when the club generally became more style conscious. But at the time, Mex dressed like he lived off, well, my trainer's salary. Nonetheless, Mex was quite proud of his Kelly green shirt.
After the afternoon game at Al Lang, Mex returned to discover someone had sabotaged his prized green shirt. The collar, one sleeve and the emblem had been surgically cut away by someone during the day. Hernandez loved this sort of clubhouse prank and good-naturedly put the shirt on and wore it out that night.
I never learned who did it. I suspect it was one and or any combination of the following: Jesse Orosco, Ron Darling, Rusty Staub, Ed Lynch or Danny Heep. Sorry, Folks. Roger McDowell was then a rookie and even he wouldn't have dared such a stunt just yet.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Only Sadness for a Friend

I have only sadness this morning at the news a very good friend in Doc Gooden has tested positive for Cocaine again. As I type its just still hard to fathom that he's probably just being awaken in a Tampa jail cell for breakfast served in some form that allows for any joy or dignity.

I'll only remember the way it was. There was the genuine laughter and horseplay in the clubhouse. There was the wonderful camaraderie at dinner. Gooden was kind and always seemed to identify and befriend the little guys around the team-the trainers, the clubhouse kids, Jay Horwitz. His closeness and loyalty to his family.

Addiction is loneliness and I can imagine Doc feels extremely alone this morning, the uniform and the game a distant memory.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"They're going to fill you full of holes, but you can never let them see you bleed."

Thus quoted once, one Davey Johnson, when referencing confrontation with the New York media.

All parties involved accept that the New York scene is different. Three daily tabloids compete for the raciest headlines. Even a notbaly friendly one for George Bush in the NY Post once ran a post 9-11 headline, "Bush Knew." Wow. Or make that, "Ouch!."

That had to leave a mark, but as Johnson says you can't dare bleed. Lest you be referred to as prickly. Mike Vaccaro of the NY Post does a good job this morning of explaining how this now applies to Gotham team GMs.

I really feel Omar Minaya is indeed up to the task. Like no previous Met GM he's embraced the media and seems to not fear a back page thrashing. Herein lies one major difference between the two different franchises in the city. George Steinbrenner's Yankees know that being on the back page, good or bad, is the place to be. Its publicity. Some elements in the Mets organization still hide under their desks like we did during nuke drills back in the 60's at the hint of a bad day on the back page.

But not Minaya, and his influence is starting to change the way things are done in Queens.

After the schisms of Johnson v Cashen and Phillips v Valentine, the Mets have Omar and Willie. Its been an extremely skilled and people friendly Minaya who's done this. Unlike previous regimes Randolph won't be left twisting to face the fire alone as has been in the past. Observe this with the Yankees as during turmoil bothTorre and Cashmen are out front.

To be sure, last year both received a bit of a pass. But the club played hard for Randolph all year through some glaring weaknesses in the bullpen and on the right side of the infield. Unlike Johnson and Valentine, Randolph develops relationships with his players. And Minaya is part of this, too, as a man with shining interpersonal skills.

Expect to witness drive by shootings, but with little blood on the floor. The burden is bared by two.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Barry's World of Hate and Arrogance

Barry Bonds learned arrogance and hate at an early age. And it went unchecked from his childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Surrounded by sycophants and alienating teammates, a monster was created-a perfect storm of immeasurable proportions. A better environment for such a disaster is hard to imagine. We've never seen such ilk as Barry Bonds before, and hopefully we never will again.

For me, its understandable Bonds' illegal steroid and performance enhancements use and clear addiction. Many athletes of both sexes and all sports have chosen their allure over the past 5o years. Here Bonds is not alone among people from all walks of life and character. It is where he will find the least trouble. It was Bonds' motivation and personal justifications for making this choice-and others-for which he will be accountable to the public, the game of baseball and perhaps eventually to our system of law.

If we are to believe the book of the two San Francisco chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, and I do, then there are many, many things to consider.

Setting aside the fact that Bonds certainly knows his choice to take steroids has put his long term health at risk, lets consider his motivation for making the choice. Simply put, it was jealousy and envy. Few examples of such assumptions of personal entitlement exist. Not feeling his own certain Hall of Fame career enough, in 1998 Bonds became jealous of the attention Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa received during their quest for Roger Maris' magical single-season homeruns record. We'll never know Bonds true feelings about whether or not he thought McGwire and Sosa were taking steroids as he'll never tell. But he made the decision at the time that he had to have the attention for himself. And at all cost. And without regard to anyone else.

Bonds found a willing players in his dangerous game in Greg Anderson and Kimberly Bell. Sycophants to be sure, they lusted to be part of Bonds inner world. They willingly endured the abuse and contempt, but it speaks more to the abuser who so willingly uses and exploits such weak people and treats them so shabbily. We don't accept such things in our society. But Bonds doesn't care about what anyone else thinks. He never has.

If we are to accept the book as factual, we have to also sight Bonds' self-absorbed use of the race card. The book asserts that Bonds learned this sort of approach from his late father and Willie Mays. Born to a life of priveledge, Bonds experienced none of the injustices his dad or Mays had. So his utilization of past experiences of his mentors are unjustified. But if the icon, Mays and Bonds' father had indeed instilled such justifications of raw hate in Bonds from birth then they should be held into account. Nonetheless, Barry Bonds has used such justifications to give okay to mistreatment of people.

Bonds, among others to be sure, manipulated a system to achieve an end. Much blame is heaped upon baseball's administrators. But during the course of the steroid riegn of the 90's there was little they could do. Overwhelmed by a labor union of which who's wealthiest members were indeed using illegal steroids, baseball's hierchy could do nothing without its willingness. It was only with the BALCO grand jury and a subsequent Congressional Hearing would it be that the union was leveraged into accepting a policy. Bonds and others knew they had the protection of a powerful union and knew anyone who may have raised issue were powerless to do anything at all. And without any kind of testing came plausible deniablity.

So Bonds used this plausible deniabilty during his testimony to the BALCO grand jury. Perhaps it is here, where he made a fateful mistake. If we are to believe the book, then Bonds clearly perjured himself. Other testimony and interviews reveals such things that are now of public record. Coupled with Bonds' tax problems, prosecutors may find reason to look further. Bonds's lawyer clearly has taken offense to the book's revelations and has gone on a public relations offensive. If this is the purpose of his protestations then it is clear that, "me thinkest he protest too much."

It is with these instances where Bud Selig may be given the ammunition to take action against Barry Bonds. As there was no policy against using steroids until this season, Bonds has a certain sense of can't touch this. But if Bonds is found to have perjured himself to a grand jury and been guilty of tax evasion, it is under these circumstances where Selig will have the means with which to discipline Bonds. At some point soon, we will see a formal investigation by baseball. This will not be going away.

The world that Barry Bonds lives in and his own realities are disturbing. Bonds' values and assumptions are separate from the vastest of majorities among the rest of us. Somehow rules, laws and social mores do not apply, and never have. We've seen examples in others and we've been revolted. Barry's world of hate and arrogance is now a sideshow ball and chain that weighs us all down.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Remembering Kirby

"Lucas County Rec Center"

When calling the home of the Toledo Mud Hens in 1984 to get in touch with the clubhouse man, you went through the switchboard of the local rec center. It looked like they held rodeos, and flee markets, and fairs there, too. A baseball stadium seemed an afterthought. At the time there were few modernized parks in the minors, but the quality of the game remained unaffected. And, yes, many of us saw legends in places like Toldedo, Ohio for the first time.

The Tdewater Tides opened the 1984 season in Toledo against the Mud Hens. Part of the pregame ceremony included a couple of young guys singing a theme song, "Oh How We Love Them Hens." Jeff Bittiger was masterful for the Tides and tossed a four hit shut-out. All four Mud Hen hits were delivered from the same player.

After the fourth rocket, I commented to pitching coach, Al Jackson, "Damn. We're going to have a long year with him."

Jackson calmly was tossing seeds into his mouth and said quietly, "Don't worry, Doc. He won't be here long."

Indeed.

Kirby Pucket played in 128 games for the Minnesota Twins that season, and somehow became even more than the clubs indentity. Pucket earned two World Series rings from 1987 and 1991. Sadly his career was shortened by glaucoma in one eye, but it was after batting .316 the previous season.

A great one in more ways than one, Pucket was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.

We always miss these great one's but remember more then ever only the best. And lest do so here.

From David Pinto's Baseball Musings, read Batgirls fitting tribute.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Lying in wait at the NY Post

Davey Johnson received high marks for his skill at dealing with the media. There was the occasional blow-up. One was with Steve Marcus of Newsday when he pressed him in 1987 on whether or not he was going to name Terry Leach to the All-Star team. It was soon forgotten as it was out of character. Davey could be frequently short and aloof with Steve Garland and me. But Steven observed once, "You know, I just think Davey gets tired of having to talk all the time about everything."
Although not in any written job description, its the manager's job to speak with the media as the club's spokesman. This task is most difficult in New York with the volume of daily print coverage. Joe Torre has proved a master at it and he's earned quite a bit of leeway. Willie Randolph is new. And the honeymoon is clearly over.
Eminent hockey columnist at the NY Post, Larry Brooks, took the occasion of the Winter Olympics NHL break to tarvel to Florida to weigh in on some baseball issues. On February 26, he took exception to a light-hearted quip by Willie Randolph about Brain Bannister and wrote Willie had a faulty memory. This was a cheap, blind-sided shot from am experienced writer who should know better. Certainly a veteran of locker rooms of NHL and ML players, Brooks should have recognized this as simple trash talk that exist between knowing athletes who've shared similar experiences. I'm doubtful the elder Bannister would have gotten much more than a chuckle from Randolph tort. Yet Brooks took the opportunity to play "gotcha!". Recently burned himself by an NHL source with respect to Mike Bossy wanting to be paid for his appearance at Nassau Coliseum to recognize the dominate Islander clubs, I expected more from a writer of Brooks caliber.
This morning, Joel Sherman took his turn. Sherman asserted that Randolph displayed 'prickliness' with the media and that it won't serve him well in times of trouble. He also took Billy Wagner to task for getting on a Post writer about a disparaging headline in the paper about him opting not to play in the World Baseball Classic. He feels Wagner and the Mets need to be big boys about it. Sherman seems to feel writers are immune from criticism as they don't write the headlines. But like a manager, they represent their paper. And they need to be big boys as well if they write a less than complimentary piece about someone and that person calls them on it. Keith Hernandez once told a St. Louis writer to beat-it when he showed up at his locker after writing a personal hit piece on him.
And this is the road which both Brooks and Sherman are going down. By choosing to go beyond on field success or failure and venturing into the personal, their both opening themselves up to potential prickliness from the people they write about. And they both have signaled that they will be letting Willie Randolph have it at the first sign of struggle in Flushing.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The world in which we live....

No one really understands it when I try to explain to them how grateful I am for the place I find myself now. It usually draws laments about how much I must miss baseball. I went through that for close to five years, but I got over it. And it was lonely. I had to realize that being part of that had at one time been the only thing that mattered and had indeed meant too much. More personal loss followed and more loneliness, too. But faith prevailed somehow, a miracle followed that most of us somehow always seem to find. Through an inexplicable maze of events and choices, both good and bad, I find myself now in a place that brings true joy. And joy that means more than anything I ever experienced during the blessed time I spent within the great game.

My wise late father told me I'd one day need that degree in teaching I received from Florida State. Only a few years away from achieving my own big league dream and firmly entrenched with the Mets as their AAA Tidewater trainer I smiled at Dad's words yet scoffed inside. I was where I was going to be and always would be.

If you ever want to see God smile, make plans.

It would all end after the 1991 season and I puttered around lost and lonely. Working in PT clinics and treating patients provided some feelings of self-worth for a few years. But the endless drama of the health care industry and its politics and power plays disillusioned me. A teaching job fell in my lap in the late 1990's at the perfect time. And the old feeling is here again.

I can't imagine doing anything else.

When I'm inside the school when kids are around I truly feely alive. Maybe like I never have before. And there's more to what I do then teaching kids about the cell theory or the phases of mitosis. And there's more to coaching than just teaching a teenage girl to get lift on a soccer ball or how the play a flat four defense. What that "more" means is hard to explain. Maybe it comes to light during tragedy.

I returned a little after nine last night after spending the evening with friends. I ate, answered some e-mial, and flipped channels before going to bed. As I was about to turn off my light there was a knock at my door. Two of the young women who play soccer for me were there and they brought news that they'd lost another teammate.

Brittany had joined us after our season started after leaving her Katrina damaged Morgan City, Louisiana home. Her sister and brother-in-law were here, so it was a natural place for her to go. Soccer was important to her and the girls embraced her. It was easy to. She was warm, genuine and funny. Brittany made friends easily and became popular around school. She was in my Biology class as well, so I got to know her well. I have a tendency to sit my players near my desk. She bubbled, laughed and found ways to like people.

Brittany missed her mom though, and Mom missed her, too. They looked so much like each other. Like sisters almost. I suppose it was easy to understand why on one weekend visit they just decided to scoop up everything and take Brittany back to Morgan City. Lots of hugs, and tears and goodbyes on the Monday. Promisses to stay in touch were kept. Cell phones , text messaging and e-mail make the world simpler this way. Especially for teenagers.

An automobile accident took Brittany yesterday. And I know the news immediately brought back the memory for my girls the loss in August of 2004 when another of their teammates was taken in a still unthinkable murder-suicide. Somehow we all experience death as a young person and the presence of adults to sheppard the way marks a passage of sorts.

Now I am one of those adults.

The outward emotions are experienced and measured. But the inner hurt remains. I slept little last night and found myself yelling out the word, "No!" And to no one.

Some of the girls and a mother have loaded up and are headed to Louisiana for the service this afternoon. I'm going to try and take some time off from school to go and see Brittany's mom and dad next week. I sent a flower arrangement from the team and spoke with our principal about a memorial at the school. These are important and, well, its the example that should be made.

We all find our own way somehow in the world in which we live. And I always find myself pondering what days like this mean. For me, its now not about loss. Its about what it feels like to love.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Subtle Signs of Spring...and good one's, too

Posting has been light this week with the high stress of FCAT Testing in Florida upon us here. Creativity has been at a low point but, hey, TGIF! But as Friday springs hope eternal, I must share some things that are good for Mets fans.

Item One: Pedro Martinez hasn't missed any of his throwing sessions. He seems to be an on an every other day system. And because he's able to make each time, its indicative that imflammation has not returned to his great toe. It should be cautious to note that Rick Peterson indicated that Pedro puts an unusual amount of stress on his toe, describing it as violent. Nonetheless, as yesterday's session indicated , he's clearly progressing. Spend no time at all worrying that he's behind. Pedro seems to me that he dosen't need alot of spring training.

Item Two: Carlos Beltran batted second yesterday. If Randolph were going to bat him third this year, he would have done so yesterday. Having Lo Duca bat second was the sexy pick, and I maintaining he'll serve the Mets better batting down in the line-up. The thought that Beltran needs to bat third to justify the salary or some kind of silly cornerstone status needs to be cast aside. Keith Hernandez is in the booth now and the rest are gone. Derek Jeter frequently bats second in the Bronx. And the combination of Jose Reyes and Beltran at the top may prove to be one of the most explosive in franchise history.

Item Three: Reyes walk in his first at-bat in an intrasquad game. It indicated maturity and a change in focus at the plate. An off-season to think of such things can be helpful. Heaven knows the media talked about it enough, but a Reyes who shows NL pitchers he's taking more pitches will see more good pitches to hit. More extra base hits will result.

Item Three: Henry Owens. Every report has him impressing. He'll be making a contribution this year.

Item Four: Xavier Nady's hands. All the hand grip exercises on the planet won't develop the kind of hand strength Nady apparently has. Its a gift. Some great one's have such things. Lee Mazzilli had the strongest hands I remember. The firmest hand shake I ever recieved was from hockey great, Brett Hull. Its his fourth year in the big leagues, and he's been a hit machine thus far.

Item Five: Matt Perisho's four pitch inning yesterday, courtesy of Matt Cerrone's Metsblog. My kingdom for a lefthanded set-up man or two.