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Mets at Lakeland, Jeromy at Liberty, Snigh at One

Listened to a bit of the Mets and Detroit via the Tiger radio network on XM (why doesn’t SNY do road games in spring — don’t they have a long enough cord?). It’s always a touch jarring to hear others talk about you, even talk about themselves when they’re talking about those who used to be your own.

The Bengalcasters brought up three ex-Mets who were or are Tigers. They mentioned:

• Vance Wilson may be the best baserunner on their club. Not fastest, but best. (How come the fastest guys are never considered the best? I’m thinking Jose — Jose! Jose! Jose! — kind of knows what he’s doing out there.)

• Rusty Staub was one of the best baserunners ever. Ron LeFlore credited him for improving his basestealing game. (See?)

• Kenny Rogers, who will never return to Shea [1] but seems to face — and baffle — the Mets every third afternoon in the spring, is “The Old Professor”. (Come up with your own damn nicknames.)

As for those Mets who aren’t yet or have never been Tigers, they noted that “Ricky” Peterson is damn near a genius, Oliver Perez is quite a risk to depend on as a fourth starter given his 6ish ERAs of the last two years and David Wright is the most popular third baseman in New York (they chuckled, but no kidding [2]).

Wasn’t able to listen long, but sounded like a good one (2-zip) if you like pitching. Like Ricky Peterson, I do like pitching. Maine and Pelfrey continued to solidify their status as, if not the young professors, then the thesis candidates of this staff. We didn’t hit, but we had to schlep all the way to Lakeland. Apparently there’s nothing worse for a Major League ballplayer than taking a bus [3] in Florida.

Come to think of it, since when did we start playing the Tigers, the Indians and even the Red Sox as much as we have lately? Did we all, as a people, simply put our foot down and decided taking on the Dodgers 50 times, the Cardinals 50 times and the Marlins 50 times every spring was redundant? In 18 days, it will all be mist evaporated from the corners of our minds. For now, it’s still the middle of the pretend season. The mind wonders, the mind wanders.

The mind just stopped at three names that we won’t have to kick around anymore, at least not without a little extra effort.

Jeromy Burnitz [4] has retired. Has it been 14 seasons already? (Don’t play dumb, date boy, you know it has.) Talk about being a master of poor timing. While John Franco and Carlos Delgado overcame endless waits for a moment in the postseason sun, Jeromy never got a taste. You’d think that passing through Cleveland when they were hot stuff would have given him one lousy October at-bat, but no, he never made their playoff roster and once he was gone from there, it was a whirlwind of horrible teams with horrible records, most notably our horrible team and our horrible record in 2002 — to which he was a prime contributor — and 2003 — when he looked much better before lifting himself to trade bait status. Had so much hope for him when he came up amid the dregs of the dreggiest of years, 1993, and showed off a bat and an arm that were bound to be building blocks of this team’s future. Uh-huh, just like Ryan Thompson’s. I whined throughout the ’90s about the fit of Dallas Green pique that sent him away. It took his decidedly unspectacular 21st-century return to placate me that his having been disappeared probably didn’t matter all that much in the scheme of things.

Javy Lopez [5] has been released by the Rockies. I confess I had no idea he was with the Rockies. Pending his being picked up by another team, this is good news. This is great news. Wow, I hated this guy with the Braves. I’d like to think it was baseball hate, but after season upon season of being pelted by him (4-14-.386 in 44 at-bats as recently as 2003) and Larry and Andruw and Brian Jordan and assorted assassins, it’s hard to separate baseball hate from genuinely burning disgust that someone like this is permitted to walk the earth unaccosted. He broke Todd Hundley’s catcher home run record, which was also rather nasty of him. How did Hundley and Lopez get to set that mark but not Mike? (Speculate among yourselves.)

Alay Soler [6] has been released by the Mets. He must be thinking, I defected for this? Well, this and freedom. Boy, he looked good for four or five starts last year. Then he looked clueless, maintaining that uncomfortable stance into this spring. We’ve seen the Mets dismiss enough of the seemingly hopeless only to re-sign them for less money down the road, so maybe Alay — Alay! Alay! Alay! — isn’t finished crossing our path yet. If he is, could he have had a worse number than 59?
Snigh is back on the broadcasting beam tomorrow night, which gives us the opportunity to wish our very own cable channel a happy first birthday. SportsNet New York hit some if not all of the airwaves on March 16, 2006. Here in Cablevision Country, they didn’t exist for another week. I’m not sure they’re everywhere they need to be yet (the Extra Innings debacle will only make that more confusing), but we don’t hear the hum of complaints about carriers that don’t carry it, so I guess we’re pretty close to taking it for granted.

How have they done? Once you allow for whatever gremlins undermined their early technical efforts and you give them a mulligan for their callow sales department accepting far too many advertisements featuring a New York shortstop who wasn’t Jose Reyes, I believe our lives are better off with them than without them.

• Where once there was a handful of Spring Training broadcasts, now it seems odd when a March day goes by sans St. Lucie.

• Where once there was no peripheral Mets programming with any kind of pulse to it, there has been an off-season talk show, a praiseworthy weekly magazine show (putting aside my intermittent involvement with it, I really liked the first year of Mets Weekly), several highlights specials (a little light on non-Snigh highlights for some strange reason; how did they do UltiMet Long Balls and skip the inning with two grand slams [7] just because they were launched on ESPN?) and a commitment to breaking into regular programming (such that it is) with Mets news as it happens. Even if it is propaganda, it’s our propaganda. We got wall-to-wall Citi Field coverage. We got El Duque’s trade as the ink was drying on the paperwork. We got Willie’s new deal live from the Snigh studios (in front of one of those logoed backdrops that every team seems to think it’s fooling us with…are we supposed to believe little Mets and SNY emblems dance in the air?). The SportsNite news show does a fairly honest job of covering the team, though they’ve had a good team to cover. One can only imagine how Snigh would handle not the rehiring but the firing of a manager or general manager. Actually, one would prefer not to even think about that the tiniest little bit.

• Where once there were no Mets Classics, there are some. In their first year on the job, the Snighs ran 1986 into the ground. I didn’t think it was possible, but they did it. (Congratulations?) While there is something to be said for flipping on the TV at a random hour and rewitnessing a little roller up along first, there is such a thing as saturating the specialness out of anything. The twenty-year-old smorgasbord of the ’86 division clincher, the four NLCS wins and the four World Series wins — along with the repeatedly enjoyable Simply Amazin’ documentary— was so tasty that it only left us yearning for more. Outside the diminishing emotional returns of the 1986 collection, SNY gave us one game from 1988, one game from 1999, one game from 2001 and literally the same five games from 2006 (Pedro’s 200th; Bannister’s downfall; Subway Series comeback; The Carloses going deep; “after running roughshod over the National League…”) over and over again until they treated us recently to Game One from the NLDS just past (Game Two and some 1969 WS are coming soon). No need to list the hundred or so broadcasts each and every one of us assumes still exists and is yearning to see dusted off and popped in. I don’t know why they’ve been stingy with the mustard, but we are a community of Curtis Sharpes. Give us more and different Mets Classics! NOW!

• Where once there was Fran Healy, there is, save for a bit of vintage audio, none. That alone is not worth an Emmy. That alone is worth the Nobel. No Fran in the booth. No Fran glued to the studio introducing stuttered-up footage from last week’s series against the Reds. No Fran at all. We could debate the progress of Ron, the tangents of Keith, the value of planting Gary on television, thus removing him from radio, but the bottom line is SportsNet New York rescued us from 22 strangling seasons of Fran Healy’s association with the Mets. For that I will put up with the ’86 overload, the odd proliferation of boat-related programming, the poor PSA bastard who should have quit smoking and even the Yankee bimbo with the badly painted toenails. All of that in exchange for no Fran Healy [8]? Shoot, that’s a can of corn.