Baseball fans bundled up against the cold are sometimes the worst people to ask to write about baseball. Sure, we need it the most, but we can't see past the breath in front of our face to get to why this thing we call Spring Training — with its repetitive profiles in the papers, its unsatisfying satellite standups on the TV news, its lack of substance, its endless tease to Opening Day — is perhaps the greatest thing there is.
The best person to ask to write about it? Let's try somebody who just got back from it. My buddy Dan, whose companionship can make a muggy evening in September seem springlike, has just returned from the Promised Land, a full-blown pilgrimage to Port St. Lucie. He took his three kids: his son, his daughter and his inner child.
Here is Dan's report from the scene of the sublime. The whimpers at no longer being there have been edited out for all our sakes.
To start with, it's true: It's all free.
You drive up to Tradition Field, and you park outside the stadium, no charge. You walk to the entrance — not into Tradition Field, but to the six or eight adjacent fields, where the Mets conducted the public workouts — and not only is it free but they hand you lists of all Mets regulars and invited nonroster folks; you really need the scorecard to tell the players.
After calisthenics, the players and coaches scatter onto the many fields. I actually saw Mets practicing bunts. Also saw infield practice various double play combinations. David Wright made one diving stop of a ball that drew applause; Jose Reyes has gotten bolder and a big voice in calling for all manner of pop flies — I got it! I got it! — in a way that suggested he's taking charge of the infield.
Delgado impressed, with long BP hits, but then, so did Chris Woodward, who is on my kids' highlight reel because he signed balls for them. Cliff Floyd looked good, with no limp; so did Lastings Milledge, looks like a lean ropey sort in the Mike Cameron mode.
Coolest stretch might have been seeing Wilpon, Minaya, Randolph and Peterson all behind the batting cage while Mike Pelfrey pitched. I cannot claim to have understood the significance of Pelfrey's performance — though he is a big boy — but I did have the feeling that, wow, this is where the season starts.
Best moment was definitely within the first 15 minutes. While I was walking with my kids along the side of one field, a coach — the name escapes me for the moment, but it was No. 56 — saw Asher (all of 8 years old) wearing his mitt and Mets gear and barked, “Hey Lefty!” When we stopped, he told Asher if he could catch the ball he was tossing him, he could keep it. It only took Asher three times to make the catch.
I wonder how many day-of-travel flights to West Palm Beach Dan just sold.
History's all over Gotham Baseball today. First, an examination of all the non-Mets New York third basemen David Wright will render irrelevant in no time at all. Then, a little something on Mrs. Effa Manley of Newark, New Jersey and Cooperstown, New York.