A while back I earmarked this three-day weekend for taking the boy down to Virginia to see his grandparents. I noted it would be the first weekend of spring training, hesitated briefly, then booked the trip. Because, honestly, the first few days of every spring training are exactly alike, down to the beat writers mysteriously picking the same subjects for Day 1, Day 2, etc. No matter which paper you start with, flipping through it will tell you with great accuracy what today's big feature will be in every other paper: It's Mike Pelfrey Day! It's Diaz/Nady Day! Etc. And that's without even mentioning the latest on The Toe.
Ah, The Toe. We'll have that to, um, kick around all spring. I'm good for following your lead and writing assurances 100 times on the board. I'm also hoping it's all a big conspiracy to keep Pedro from expending innings we'll need later in the World Baseball Classic. The WBC will certainly be a new wrinkle — I'll be interested to see if I'm thrilled by it, or resent it as a disruption of the usual dull but comforting spring-training rhythms. An unwelcome undercurrent to Life in Port St. Lucie so far: The Nobody Misses Mike Piazza stories.
My favorite part of the first week of spring training? It's that there aren't players in camp so much as there are roles in camp, waiting for new players to fall into them. Names change; archetypes not so much. Time to check out last year's list and see who fits the bill this time around.
Guy Who's About to Burst Onto the Scene: Anderson Hernandez is getting groomed for this, though Xavier Nady might steal it from him. (Nady shouldn't count, but San Diego may as well be Kamchatka as far as most Met fans and writers are concerned.) There'll be the usual write-in vote for Pelfrey or Lastings Milledge before they get reassigned to minor-league camp.
Guy MIA Because of Visa Problems: Jorge Julio and Anderson Garcia are missing in action. Honestly, why does this happen every year? Is the holdup on our end or theirs? Do the players who are missing half-ass things and file paperwork in early February, proving you can get jaded about anything?
Journeyman Who Just Might Stick: Look for one of the situational lefties, since we've got about three camps' worth. Does Tike Redman count? Important thing to remember: In this case “stick” means “get put on waivers in mid-May.”
Minor Leaguer in Awe of It All: Given to Mike Pelfrey by default. Hopefully things go better for him than they did for Phil Humber.
Minor Leaguer With Interesting Story: Usually this goes to a backup catcher never to be heard from again, but the New York Post just filled this slot with Henry Owens, who has a bachelor's degree in biology, was headed for med school, and can hit 100 with arm action that makes the ball look like it's coming out of his Adam's apple. I stopped being cynical when I got to that last part.
Guy in the Best Shape of His Career: Last year it was Heath Bell, rollerblading dervish. This year? Nobody's offered admiration for a slimmed-down Victor Diaz, alas. I guess it would be nice if it were Jose Valentin or Jose Lima. Hey, Lima's wardrobe is certainly hitting on all cylinders….
Comeback Feel-Good Story: Darren Oliver would like it to be him. Ditto for Valentin or Lima. I guess Alay Soler wouldn't count. And what if Rickey picks up a bat?
Guy Enjoying His Last Go-Round: TBD. Sub “Enduring” for “Enjoying” and I'm afraid we have Kaz Matsui.
Guy Who's Just Happy to Be Here: This slot usually goes to some tortured soul who's overcome injuries, agita, a bad reputation, or some other albatross necklace to Take 'Em One Day at a Time. Lima? I'd like it to be Victor Zambrano, a.k.a. His Own Worst Enemy, but absent a frontal lobotomy that's unlikely.
Guy Who Works Harder Than Anybody: Last year David Wright and Carlos Beltran walked off with this one. This year it's already been handed to Billy Wagner.
Guy in New Surroundings: Wagner, with Paul Lo Duca as the understudy and Xavier Nady as a walk-on. Until Carlos Delgado arrives.
Guy Going Back to His Roots: Sometimes this one doesn't get cast — the difference between it and Guy Who's Just Happy to Be Here is GGBTHR goes to a veteran who takes a number north of 50 to remind him of what got him to The Show in the first place. If Bret Boone had any brains, he'd be trying to lock this one up. He'd also be in camp already.
Guy Who Doesn't Take It Too Seriously: This is the guy who shrugs off bad stats or minor hurts to say he'll be there when the bell rings, skip. Probably Cliff Floyd or Tom Glavine, though you'd like them to be lean and hungry.
Guy Who Knows He'll Be Elsewhere: Matsui. Poor Matsui. I keep clinging to the thought that he'll relax, hit eighth, succeed and wind up as well-liked in the stands as he seems to be in the clubhouse. But outlook not so good, sayeth the 8-ball.
Guy Swearing You'll See Him in July: Humber? Bartholome Fortunato? Being this guy guarantees you won't in fact be heard from.
Guy Who's Making This Team, Dammit: Oliver? Soler? Someone from the Lefties Anonymous group? This guy often gets screwed by a dog-and-cat trade made to get the roster down to 25.
That was last year's list. New ones for this year:
Guy Who's Buying a Suit Because He's Headed North: I'm betting on Anderson Hernandez.
Guy Under the Microscope: Aaron Heilman. The annual Locker Placement Kremlinology story (a perennial favorite of mine) noted Heilman had been assigned a locker in a row with Pedro, Glavine, Steve Trachsel and Victor. Here's hoping Aaron can handle it — and things go better for Beltran now that he's escaped this role.
Guy Who Is Just So Damn Selfless: One look at the photo of Lo Duca carrying in a box for young Henry Owens (uniform number: 68) and this one was cast.
Guy Who Doesn't Know Why the Hell He's Here, Either: Dae-Sung Koo. I mean, what on earth? It's like an outdoor version of Office Space. Still, better Mister Koo than Danny Graves, last seen being mistaken for a water buffalo on his tour of Vietnam.
Guy Who Would Like to Remind You He Is NOT, in Fact, Armando Benitez: Jorge Julio. Let's hope he's correct.
Guy Who Does Not Want to Hear Your Insensitive, Unfairly Sweeping Generalizations About Previous Experiences in This Vein: Yusaku Iriki.
Guy Who Already Went to New York for an MRI: Jose Parra. Ack. At least it wasn't Pelfrey. (Wood is being knocked.)
Ah, spring training. Where have you been all my winter?