There is nothing quite like waking up before the sun rises on a February morning and knowing that you will see baseball before the day is through. The first day of the calendar year that actual baseball is played and observed is like none other. That day for me was last Saturday.
After two consecutive days of rain outs ruining my baseball plans, Saturday was filled with even more heightened anticipation. I set out before the crack of dawn for a long drive to Port St. Lucie. When I arrived, fans were not yet being let into the facility. I was instructed to wait near the player’s lot, which afforded me the opportunity of seeing many players drive past.
Once we finally obtained admission to the practice fields, I made my way over to watch the pitchers and catchers stretch and do calisthenics. I should mention, that in watching Mets games and also at Spring Training, I enjoy the quirkier moments that the casual observer may overlook, or find unimportant. I take note of who has new facial hair, or let their locks grow out. I find the interactions between players amusing, and I often let my dry, sarcastic sense of humor take over from there.
Having said that, I enjoy the stretching, as well as strength and conditioning exercises. I sought out a spot along the fence between groups that featured Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler. Terry Collins surveyed the field as his players prepared for the long season. I thoroughly enjoyed his unbridled enthusiasm. The strength and conditioning coach mundanely called out the next calf stretch, and Collins screamed at the top of his lungs, “SWEET!” Which was much to the delight of some of his players.
I spotted COO Jeff Wilpon talking to some of the coaches. Wally Backman was engaged in pow-wow with a few other coaches, and fittingly, he took the intense lead role. I made sure to catch my first live glimpse of the newest Mets top catching prospect, Travis d’Arnaud.
After strength and conditioning was over the players broke out into groups assigned to different fields for drills. Collins was truly the star of the show. Every field I walked to, he seemed to be there. He was chatting with some fans, while watching his player’s drills. He was resting on the fence one minute, and running between fields the next. As he ran passed me, I asked, “Terry, do you need any outfielders?” He replied, “Always!” I quipped back, “Ok, I have my glove.”
I watched closely as a group including Johan Santana, and Wheeler practiced fielding bunts and throwing to first, along with covering first base on ground balls. As Keith Hernandez would say, “fundies.” Watching Santana cover first, I couldn’t help but realize the true importance of the drill, considering it was on a play covering first in Chicago that he got his ankle stepped on, contributing to his shortened season.
I spotted the familiar faces of many beat writers walking the grounds, some casually amongst the fans, and others inside the fences, hunting for photos and interviews. Assistant general managers John Ricco and J.P. Riccardi were also seen pacing on their cell phones. I presume the only thing they use their phones for is to talk to other general managers about trades, so you can imagine my excitement, and I left them alone.
Of particular interest to me was the field where the catchers were working on throws to second base. In full catcher’s gear, one catcher would pitch from in front of the mound to another catcher, who would fire the ball down to second base. I was alarmed when d’Arnaud’s first couple throws sailed into the outfield, but he righted the ship. The sight of catchers pitching in full gear was captivating to me in it’s peculiarity.
There were only a handful of fans at this field, including myself. A younger fan watching nearby kept yelling, “TRAVIS!” Finally after the drill was completed d’Arnaud told him he would come sign an autograph after batting practice. d’Arnaud hit to all fields with ease, mostly line drives and a couple of fence clearing home runs. Then he shagged fly balls in the outfield, throwing most of the balls he caught over the fence to fans, one of which, I was able to snag.
After practice wrapped up, d’Arnaud along with John Buck stayed to sign autographs. I was surprised that they were among the very few to do so, but I was informed full squad workouts, which began Monday of this week, include more player interaction and autograph sessions.
If you can afford the opportunity to make the pilgrimage to Port St. Lucie for Spring Training, I would recommend doing so. It is a great trip.