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As Baseball Finds Its Voice

Tonight shortly after six, when Dillon Gee faces the Nationals’ Roger Bernadina with the first pitch that pretends to matter in 2012, strike one would be most preferable. Shortly thereafter, when Long Beach’s own John Lannan returns the favor sixty feet and six inches from Andres Torres, our new center fielder is advised to take it and work studiously from there.

That’s Terry Collins’s short-term dream scenario for what we commonly call a meaningless exhibition game, so it’s mine, too. Terry wants fundamentals attended to tonight. I know that because he told me during last week’s blogger conference call [1] (kindly transcribed by Chris McShane at Amazin’ Avenue). Granted one question to ask the Mets’ manager, I asked what he looks for from his players during the early fake games versus the later fake games. Terry, who had a good answer for every good question, said pitchers need to “pound the strike zone” and hitters have to make sure “we’re seeing pitches”. Start executing the fundamentals that have been the focus of drills thus far [2]. In a couple of weeks, velocity for the pitchers and bat speed for the hitters come into play.

As I thanked him for his insight and he moved on to another inquiry, I was buoyed that Collins had injected meaning into these supposedly meaningless games. Command the strike zone now, throw hard later; work the count now, swing hard later.

Something like that.

I’ll try to keep that in mind as SNY’s signal transforms from filler to vital. I might forget by the second inning, given that the mere presence of something very much approximating baseball appears on the old not-so-flat screen downstairs. As with what managers look for from their players, the needs of fans change as Spring Training gets going and gets old. Thirty-five years ago, I was so excited the Mets’ first Saturday game of March, versus the Cardinals, was being broadcast from Al Lang Stadium over WNEW-AM that I devoted two pages of loose leaf paper to scoring it, inking (inking!) in every substitution Joe Frazier and Vern Rapp made. I never did it again, not that spring, not in any game since. I satisfied myself in March 1977 with the sounds and occasional sights of baseball activity. It’s probably what I’ll wind up doing tonight after Terry’s guidance wears off.

After a hardcore group discussion of fundamentals, et al, with the Mets manager, it was intoxicating to think about pitchers hitting their spots and hitters waiting for their pitches, but in the days that have passed since that conference call, David Wright’s got a rib cage issue, Scott Hairston’s oblique is acting up, Zach Lutz has been plunked and what isn’t wrong with Ike Davis? Ike’s valley fever [3] (a damn poor substitute for pennant fever) isn’t supposed to be a big deal, but this is the same strapping young man who fell down in Colorado last May and didn’t get up for the rest of the season. Plus a judge says the Mets’ owners owe a trustee roughly the equivalent of their 2012 payroll [4] and thus –pending appeals, of course — provisionally cleared the way for a jury to add a whole lot more to their tab. One could be left to wonder if there’ll be enough left in the kitty by June to cover REO Speedwagon [5]’s expenses.

Injuries. Madoff. Whatever. Throw strikes, take balls, and if any Met reaches base, take it on the run [6]. For one night the rest will take care of itself.

Thanks again to Amazin’ Avenue [7] for transcribing the aforementioned blogger conference call. Read the entire enlightening Q&A session here [1]