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As in Tampa, it’s Spring in St. Lucie

Spring Training proceeds. I’m sure fine things are taking place on the field, right alongside not so fine things. That’s baseball last I checked. But it’s still a week in. Until some strangers in Mets uniforms are told to shed them and hit the minor league complex or the road, I still can’t get excited or agitated over a single personnel development. Excited and agitated that they’re there, sure, but not over what anybody in particular does.

Thanks to the near-saturation coverage provided by SNY (can’t believe they’re pre-empting Northeast Angling as often as they are for something as esoteric as the team that owns a third of their channel), I’ve certainly kept an eye on our surfeit of Mets. I’m beginning to notice some things about some players, none of which I choose to put any emphasis on whatsoever. The ones who look good? They’re professionals. They’re supposed to look good. The ones who are not so sharp? Tempting as it is, I’m not going to write them off a handful of games into the meaningless exhibition season.

How meaningless is the exhibition season? It’s no Mr. G when it comes to reliable forecasting. The Mets posted the exact same record of 13-13 in 1967 as they did in 1986. They won the World Series in 1986. They lost 101 games in 1967. They were also impressed enough by rookie George Thomas Seaver to add him to the rotation, but not until after he worked some relief early and then got a couple of starts late in camp. Tom didn’t reveal himself as Terrific in the first week of March. I doubt anybody does. Hence, I’ll continue to enjoy the sights and sounds of all that orange and blue beamed north to us polar bears but I refuse to take it seriously as death even though I’m kind of dying to.

Toting this uncommon maturity regarding exhibition games has left a void in my soul. I have to find something to rile up the blood (it’s the blogger’s code). I think I have it. And wouldn’t you know it comes in pinstripes?

No, not the Yankees. I don’t have the foggiest what they’re up to lately. I’m sure the sleepovers have recommenced and all is peaches and cream in Tampa.

But yes, the Yankees. Through no fault of their own (except for existing, the bastards), they continue to infiltrate our benign good times.

Three recent examples of a disturbing long-term trend…

1) A profile of Mike Pelfrey [1] by John Harper in the News last week:

You go from one side of the state to the other, from the Yankees to the Mets, and after watching Phil Hughes wow onlookers in Tampa, it felt important to see Mike Pelfrey as soon as possible. It’s the year of the phenoms, after all. For both New York teams this seems destined to be remembered as the spring training in which an ace was born, and as such Hughes and Pelfrey may be linked forever.

I understand the itch Harper describes. On my few sojourns to Yankee Stadium, I couldn’t wait to go home, take five showers and head to beautiful Shea — as soon as possible. If that were John’s angle, I’d applaud mightily. But it wasn’t. Instead he couldn’t just tell us, “Mike Pelfrey is quite the prospect, here’s how he’s doing.” Why oh why was it necessary to couple him with Hughes? I’ve been aware of each pitcher independently since 2005 and it’s never once occurred to me that they need be linked. Did it occur to Harper that when covering Hughes it was required to note, “The Yankees may have an answer to Mike Pelfrey on their hands and his name is Phil Hughes”?

We know the answer.

2) A Tuesday story in the same paper by Peter Botte about the defensive prowess of Jose Reyes [2]:

[I]t’s not far-fetched to believe the 23-year-old rising star soon will join three-time winner Derek Jeter as Gold Glove shortstops in New York.

Would it be far-fetched to have framed Reyes’ ascension into the ranks of elite defenders by pointing out he could soon join Bud Harrelson and Rey Ordoñez as Gold Glove shortstops who have won the award as Mets? What in the name of Dick Schofield does Jeter have to do with any of this? That he plays in New York? So have lots of shortstops. That he’s won Gold Gloves? So did Ozzie Smith. There was no reason to inject him into a story about another player on another team except that there’s apparently a rule that Mets can only be explained in certain quarters by using Yankees as examples. The next time Jeter steals second, will Botte liken the footwork involved to “the speed shown off by Jose Reyes”?

We know the answer.

3) Bob Klapisch’s followup on the Wright/A-Rod nonstory [3] at ESPN.com:

None other than Derek Jeter says Wright has to be careful about choosing his friends as his star quotient grows.

It would be amusing if Jeter were referring to Rodriguez as the unsavory character to steer clear of, but he’s talking about…oh, who cares who he’s talking about? Who cares what a guy on the Yankees says about a guy on the Mets? I’ve never for a second bought this “Wright could be the Mets’ answer to Jeter” line they’ve been pushing down our throats since David came up. Why should we? Because David’s talented? Because David’s first language is English? They play different positions, they have divergent offensive skills and David, as my partner pointed out [4], comes off as a helluva nicer guy than Captain Automaton.

If we were living in the distant past, say 1998, ’99 or thereabouts, I wouldn’t be any happier with the contexts presented by these writers but I’d have to grudgingly admit that the Yankees are such consistent champions that it’s no wonder they come up so often in conversation.

But have you noticed? They’re not consistent champions, at least not in terms of the only championship they institutionally claim to care about. A Yankee ticket brochure fell into my hands (don’t worry, I washed them) the other day and it’s right there on the second page: “Thank you for supporting us as we give everything we have toward winning a 27th world championship. Yankees fans deserve nothing less. Sincerely, George M. Steinbrenner III”. I imagine it’s the same closing he’s been using since the winter of 2001.

Do you realize that 12-year-old Yankees fans may as well be hundred-year-old Cubs fans for all the World Series they’ve seen their team win? A whole new generation of long-suffering Yankees fans is actually taking root — if we are to assume they consider perennial participation in the postseason without ultimate reward to be suffering. (Not everybody [5] thinks so.)

Listen, it’s easy enough and always fun to creep into Yankee-bashing [6] without really trying. That’s not my mission, not today anyhow. What I’d like to contract from the sport at the moment is not New York’s American League representative but rather this rancid notion that too many card-carrying baseball writers cling to: that the present-day Yankees — not the 1927 Yankees, not the 1936 Yankees, not even the 2000 Yankees — define baseball and that you can’t report on the doings of another baseball team, especially one in New York, without invoking them relentlessly. To a certain extent I can understand the easy segues from February, the lazy “…unlike in Yankeeland, all’s tranquil for the Mets in St. Lucie as Otis Livingston tells us…” But once you’ve cleared out the cobwebs, you have two disparate organizations to report on and two disparate fan bases to report them to. Unless we’re trading Rafael Santana for Phil Lombardi again, keep them disparate.

What is the point of namechecking Yankees in so many Mets stories? Will we not understand what a pitcher does if you don’t illustrate his job by elaborating that pitching is what we see a Yankee do when he throws a ball from the mound? Will we not grasp the concept of shortstop defense if you leave us without a reference to a Yankee practicing it? Will we not be able to identify a burgeoning star in our midst if we are not spoonfed repeated reminders that a star on the Yankees once burgeoned?

C’mon, give us some credit. If you’re going to write about the Mets, write about the Mets. I’ll bet we can figure it out from there.