“It’s like walking across the desert step by step and today he finally got to the oasis.”
That's Rick Peterson on Duaner Sanchez getting to pitch today in an intrasquad game, and with all due respect to the Jacket and bridge-potentially-too-far similes, both of which I approve of highly, throwing 25 pitches to teammates wearing hideous spring-training motley is nothing like an oasis after an arid hike. Spring training being spring training, it's more like a mirage, to be followed by five weeks' worth of further mirages.
Don't get me wrong: All hail Duaner Sanchez and his return to fighting shape and can-do spirit. Goodness knows we need him: Through the pitiless 20/20 of hindsight, Sanchez showing up in Port St. Lucie last spring heavy of flesh and light of commitment was the first sign that something might be wrong with the 2007 Mets, and when you finish one game out of playing extra baseball, you can point to any factor as the straw that might have left you with a quadriplegic dromedary. (Hey, we've got a desert theme goin' here, so help out.)
I've long since chalked up Duaner's fateful Aug. 1, 2006 Miami food run to the hand of fickle Fate, who doesn't usually hand back gifts like Oliver Perez in such situations. (Though perhaps Dame F. did steer Omar to the noxious Guillermo Mota.) But '07 was different: A combination of unforeseen physical complications and unwelcome attitude problems, and a cascade of at-first-minor trouble in the bullpen. You can recite the litany just as I can: The absence of Duaner begat the inconsistency of Aaron, which begat the overwork of Billy, while some burning bush told Willie to use Pedro F. and Schoeneweis oddly. (Desert theme again. I know I'm pushing it.) All the reports on Duaner are strongly enthusiastic so far, and that's an unreservedly Good Thing. (I'd say that of course all February reports are strongly enthusiastic — witness this, by the same Ben Shpigel whose testament is above — but I'm sure as I type that El Duque's waking up in a rented condo and discovering his leg has turned gangrenous, but he'll take it slow and be ready to answer the bell or something. For God's sake, put Pelfrey in the fifth slot!)
Anyway, Peterson of Arabia's report made me realize I'd reached a not-particularly-welcome mileage marker on my own spring journey: the first time that I catch myself grumbling that spring training is way too fricking long. It's that mirage thing again: About five days after hearing about pitchers jogging failed to cheer me up, we get Mets swinging bats and hurling balls in earnest. Ahh, cool water! Oh, wait — intrasquad game. If you can get enthusiastic about Team Sandy Alomar's 7-5 win over Team Jerry Manuel, my hat's off to you.
But wait! Over there! It's the real oasis of baseball … oops, no, it's the Mets playing the University of Michigan tomorrow. Mirage.
OK, so that one was more shimmer than sand — but look! Mets/Tigers on Thursday! Eh. I'll look at the box score, register my first worry at whatever known quantity got whacked around (it'll either be too early or he'll be too strong or he was working on stuff or his last couple of batters were better than the first few) and go back into my coma.
But what's that! Spring-training telecast Friday, with Johan on the hill!
(Mir … oh, heck, even I can't be cynical about that one.)
But post-Johan, there'll be a solid month to go. A month for silly quotes and dead-arm periods and someone to get in trouble in a mall parking lot and the rookies getting sent out and the NRI guys heading home or elsewhere and the Guy on the Bubble With the Inspiring Story getting cut and overheated chatter about the final one or two roster spots and the late-March dog-for-cat trade that scrambles all those projected rosters. And then, finally, it'll be time to pack away the blue and orange and white and black and hope for the world's least-effectual bit of revenge against the Marlins. (Of which I'll of course happily lap up whatever scrap I'm given.) And then April, and to work.
Spring training is wonderful — in abstract. Spring training is wonderful — compared to the depths of winter. When it's 20 degrees and you've lost whatever desperate interest you feigned in the Super Bowl, spring training absolutely is an oasis. But when you get there, the leafy palms and tranquil pools have moved just a bit farther ahead. Attaboy, Duaner. Now, could somebody wake me on March 31?