Pitchers are the early objects of attention and, potentially, affection at Spring Training. Catchers tag along dutifully. Yet it would be athletically incorrect to frame them that way, so we politely refer to this golden interval in the dead of winter as Pitchers & Catchers. Most years, it could be Pitchers & Pitchbacks for all we reflexively care about the receiving end of this equation. It’s not like we’ve been given much reason to dwell on or drool at Mets catchers these past five years.
The second week of February 2013 (spring, my ass; look out the window), however, seems a little more promising where the “2” on your scorecard goes. Our — or anybody’s — greatest-hitting catcher ever is poking his head out of self-imposed exile to promote his new autobiography. Our best excuse for not torching Citi Field in the wake of the exportation of R.A. Dickey is finally getting his picture taken in something other than a Blue Jays cap. And our temporary starting catcher is showing he’s something of a live wire, at least provisionally.
Mike Piazza didn’t do steroids, he says. Travis d’Arnaud hasn’t done anything, but we assume he will. John Buck? I kind of liked the cut of his jib when I saw him on Hot Stove the other night. Mets catchers’ jibs have almost uniformly lacked zazz since the De Parture of Lo Duca. They’ve all been underformed or overcooked. Some of them seemed genial enough yet demonstrated quickly they were, as Mets, skill-averse. Buck? He’s spent two years accumulating more strikeouts (218) than batting average points (.213 overall), but he’s already won me over, February-wise, by going on with Kevin Burkhardt and seeming a) more than competent and b) excited to be here. Ed Leyro considers the early evidence at Studious Metsimus and makes the case that John could be something of a catcher-coach. I don’t know if that makes him a latter-day Yogi Berra, but anyone who isn’t, say, Brian Schneider I’m willing to call an improvement.
Brian Schneider just retired, by the way. Maybe if I’d been in a better Met mood when Schneider first reported to St. Lucie as the well-respected veteran catcher de l’anée around this time in 2008, I would’ve found some reason to see him as a sage. But I was in a lousy Met mood post-2007 and Schneider’s wan presence didn’t help it. His brand equity wasn’t substantially different from Buck’s, except he never gave a cheery interview that I can recall. As Jules noted in Pulp Fiction as he debated pigs versus dogs with Vincent, personality goes a long way. (That might also explain Jeff Francouer’s extended big league engagement.)
I never much cared for Schneider, but I have no reason to doubt his bona fides as a human being. He could’ve said, “I’m done” and gone on a cruise. Instead, he joined a mission of current and former players to bring a little Spring Training to American troops stationed in Germany this month. “I want them to have the opportunity to see guys they grew up watching or who they see on TV now,” he said. “I want to have the opportunity to thank the troops because what they do on a daily basis is more than we know.”
It’s not the first time Schneider has been attached to a good cause. Upon his arrival on the Mets, we learned there existed (for a while) Brian Schneider’s Catching For Kids Foundation because there was a wine created to raise funds for it: Schneider Schardonnay. It came out in 2008 in conjunction with Santana’s Select, CaberReyes and some other player-named varietals. Most of the players were stars. One was Brian Schneider.
I can’t say I was fired up to own a bottle of Schneider Schardonnay, no matter whom it benefited. I can’t say I was fired up about Brian Schneider ever, no matter what he did. Not that he did much as a Met. Some players just let you down even if you expect nothing out of them. That was Brian to me. In two Met seasons, he batted .244, he OPS’d .680, he compiled a WAR of 0.3, he rarely lived up to his defensive billing and whatever he did behind the scenes in his final month here, his mentoring of Josh Thole didn’t pay many dividends.
Then Schneider went away, became a Phillie, mentioned the little differences between the two organizations (for example, in Philadelphia, they would win and only then would they enjoy a Royale with Cheese), batted a Buck-like .213 for three seasons and retired. I didn’t miss him.
But I did wind up with a bottle of his wine. My brother-in-law came across one in a Trader Joe’s a year or so ago and picked it up for me. He didn’t know Brian Schneider from Brian Boitano, but he saw orange, blue and a chest protector and figured it was right up my alley…which it was, more or less, if you eliminate my distaste for the player pictured in the chest protector. Still, it was a thoughtful gesture, even if Schneider Schardonnay was immediately stuck in our lightly visited cabernet cabinet and completely forgotten about.
On Thursday, with the latest storm of the century bearing down on us, Stephanie asked me to pick up some ingredients for a slow-cooker dish she decided to try in anticipation of being snowed in. The recipe called for one cup of “dry white wine”. I didn’t buy any because I assumed one of our cooking-specific wines would cover it. She said it didn’t, that we still needed some. Hey, I know, I said, reaching deep behind some paper towels and cat treats, why don’t we use this?
Brian Schneider may not have been the missing ingredient in a Mets championship, but he sure as hell fit the “dry white” description. And he worked out fine in a dish of creamy chicken and mushrooms even if he never clicked behind the plate at Shea Stadium or Citi Field.
Maybe it takes a dull catcher to make a tender chicken.
FYI, I’m scheduled to be on the air in Brian Schneider Country this Monday afternoon at 3:15, on WBCB (1490 AM), to talk Richie Ashburn, Original Mets and The Happiest Recap with Skip Clayton and Cassie Gibson. If you’re not in the Lehigh Valley, you can listen here.