The 1989 Mets opened the season with exactly one player who didn't play
at some point for the 1988 Mets: Don Aase, who won a spot in the
bullpen after starting spring as agate type.
Don Aase can be recalled for three accomplishments.
1) He displaced Tommie Agee atop the all-time alphabetical roster. If
we don't sign Henry Aaron IV somewhere down the road, we're stuck with
2) He gave up a positively Pendletonian ninth-inning blast to a Dodger
on August 20 which cost the Mets not just a game but all the momentum
(15-4) they'd built up since acquiring Frank Viola at the trading
deadline, momentum they never recovered. The offending L.A. slugger? A
veteran second baseman named Willie Randolph who hadn't hit one out all
3) My late mother, in her final season of Mets-watching, continually
referred to Don Aase as Ass-Man. She did the same thing for Paul
Before 1989 was out, the Mets would go through one of their most
dramatic in-season shakeups in franchise history, dispatching Aguilera,
Dykstra, McDowell, Mazzilli and Mookie to the hinterlands. That's more
than 20% of the '86 Series team disappeared in a 43-day span. In the
context of setting a roster, the regular season was little more than an
extended spring training. Some years are like that.
Yet I'm sure I was interested in spring training in 1989 regardless of
the rather sedate competition for jobs, whereas I'm a little light to
date on being fully engaged in this year's maneuvers.
As I lay awake the other night to mentally pencil in the 25-Man, I was
stunned to realize significant blank spots remain beyond the starting
eight, starting five and closer. I've been so focused on drooling over
millionaire Carlos Beltran and his ward David Wright that I've been
willing to pencil in “Others” for most of those slots.
That won't work for much longer. So now I'm snapping out of it and
paying attention to who's here. There's a real dichotomy, I've finally
grasped, in Camp Willie. There's the old scrubs and the new subs. My
hunch is the newbies will carry the day.
It's good that there are several seemingly fresh and viable options for
fourth and fifth OFs and second utility IF and even backup C, because
more is better. But I have no attachment to the various Woodwards,
Robinsons, Calloways, Castros and whichever non-locks are floating
around, and I haven't seen enough of any of them to adopt one or more
as a cause.
On the other hand, I was disappointed to conclude that Eric Valent was not guaranteed a place on the 2005 Mets.
A team coming off 71 wins shouldn't guarantee anybody a spot. But come
now — Eric Valent didn't manage to pencil himself in to “it's his job
to lose” status? Look at the back of his card:
* Thirteen homers as a part-timer
* Competent outfield and first base credentials
* A lefty
* The cycle in Montreal
* Out of options
* His bizarre appearance with Todd Zeile on Cold Pizza to promote a men's fashion show
All that must deposit some goodwill in the bank.
I was delighted to see Pat Borzi in the Times, one writer
who so far finds his own stories, rediscover Valent the other day. I
was happier when Eric was in the lineup Friday night while Gary and
Howie doted on him. They're the ones, in between bashing Richie Hebner
(who can't ever be bashed enough), who reminded me of the thirteen
dingers in 2004. Has anybody told Willie about those?
As much as I'd like to reserve him a spot, I recall now that Eric
Valent is what happens when spring training works correctly, that a guy
can actually come out of nowhere and become somebody at somebody else's
expense. He seemed to show up in virtually every game I caught last
March. And I always wondered the same thing. Who the hell is Eric Valent?
An ex-Red, an ex-Phillie, but I have to admit he escaped my notice.
Then when Roger Cedeño was mercifully exchanged for Wilson Delgado, a
spot opened up and Art Howe woke up long enough to grant it to E.V. It
was, to damn with faint praise, perhaps the best move he made in his
two years as manager.
Wayne Housie is also what happens when spring training does its thing.
The first Opening Day I ever attended was 1993, the Rockies' inaugural
game. I'd waited almost a quarter of a century for the opportunity to
see our boys take their place on the first-base line and be introduced
one by one. As it's done in numerical order, the first reserve to have
his name called was No. 2, Wayne Housie. You could hear 53,127 fingers
scratching 53,127 heads. Wayne Who's-He? Whoever he was, he didn't make it to July. (And the Mets barely made it to May, but never mind that.)
For every Valent who qualifies out of the gate for meal money and
proves a delightful surprise, there are Housies and Aases who remind us
what a 25th man really is — the guy they take because otherwise they'd
be a guy short. Whoever emerges, the battle for the end of the bench
needs some juice, and soon.