Bat boy for second time in three years

My father and I came to Port St. Lucie this week so that I could interview Mets players and write a story for Baseball Youth magazine. Unfortunately, the magazine was unable to acquire credentials for today’s game as it was opening day and the team was flooded with several media requests.

My father and I were forced to change our plans and just simply buy tickets and enjoy the game from the bleachers. Well, let’s just say our plans were foiled for the better…

We were hovering around the dugout, where I caught up with Kevin Burkhardt and Matt Cerrone, as my dad chatted with a buddy of his who was the usher that brought me into the dugout in 2007 to be bat boy for a game. Well, that nice usherdid the same thing this year, but we were notified that there already was a bat boy for today’s and tomorrow’s game. Bummer, right? Wrong. A staff member from the Mets clubhouse came running out to tell us they needed me as bat boy (this is about 20 min. prior to the first pitch).

I wasn’t exactly in bat-boy mode, just minutes removed from sitting comfortably eating a snack in the Tradition Field seats. I slipped on a shirt and helmet provided by the team, was told where the baseballs were, and basically was then released on my own. Great, here I am, a person who five minutes earlier was eating skittles in a seat, now responsible for keeping the flow of the game constant with the umpires, coaches, and players.

Within two minues after I sat down on the dugout bench, Jose Reyes came walking through the dugout. I said “HEY JOOOOSSSEE,” and he looked at me, smiled, and let out something along the lines of “YO POPPO!!!” Whatever he said, whether English or Spanish, it was some sort of a greeting in return. Hmm, considering Reyes is my favorite player in all of baseball, let’s just say it woke me up a bit.

As the first pitch approached, I quickly flashed back in my memory to the last time I was bat boy, 2007, when Sandy Alomar, Sr (bench coach) was the most affable person toward me in the entire dugout. He reached out his hand to shake mine, and asked if I needed any help. He said he’d help in any way I needed. David Wright was also helpful, guiding me with what direction to take when I grab the players bats following their at-bat. Of course he was helpful… he was one of the only players who would do an interview with me last year.

I needed this help because the first few innings were a bit rough on my part. I was getting back in the swing of things from where they were when I first was a bat boy. I had to remember to grab the pine tar, etc for the on-deck circle before each bottom half inning, I had to remember to get every bat after each player on the team hit, and I had to remember to feed the umpire five more baseballs every half inning.

In the first couple innings I was apparantely running a bit close to the on-deck batter, prompting David Wright to tell me to watch out so that I don’t get hurt. There were a few times in the first few innings where I couldn’t hear the umpire call my name. Put together the fact that I am hearing-impaired with the fact that I was looking the opposite direction to put each player’s bat back after their at-bats made it almost impossible for me to understand any umpires calling me.

After one of the times that the umpire called for baseballs but I was looking away, manager Jerry Manuel looked at Sandy Alomar, Sr and asked, in reference to me, “Does he know what he is doing?” Sandy looked back at Manuel, and quickly replied, “Jerry, he’s got it. Everything is fine.”

I soon told the umpire that I was hearing-impaired, and he said he’d do his best to look at me and show how many baseballs are needed rather than say my name. It worked out well from then on. It became routine. I was grabbing each player’s bat, setting up the on-deck circle each half inning, grabbing foul balls close to me, feeding the umpires baseballs, and other small things that a bat boy would do.

Being back in the dugout in the MLB atmosphere was almost identical to how it was in 2007, and with the same players. As the Mets were about to take the field prior to the first pitch, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, and other players started to get fired up, hopping around and yelling in Spanish. I was often standing between two coaches or players who would speak in Spanish, making me wonder if they were talking garbage about me. Just kidding, but the first part of that sentence was true.

As for the game, I wasn’t paying much attention to how each player did, but I did watch Jose Reyes knock multiple home runs to what I believe was both sides of the field. Of course, the crowd erupted into a “Joosee Jooose Jose Jooose,” just as they have for the past few years at Shea Stadium.

I don’t have the stats up right now, as I am sitting in SuperPlay USA’s Duffy’s sports grill in Port St. Lucie, right at the bowling alley… not exactly your everyday blogging location, but fun nevertheless. The great thing that I have noticed in my three years of being in the St. Lucie area is that it is full of Mets fans, Mets memorabilia, Mets shirts, Mets, Mets, and more Mets. Even Mets players are crawling the area, as I watched Jose Valentin walk out of here when we were entering.

We will be attending tomorrow’s game when the Mets host the Cardinals at 1:10 PM at Tradition Field. We are waiting to hear back from Baseball Youth on whether we will have press passes for that game. If so, I won’t be able to blog live from my iPod Touch, as the WordPress app suddenly decided it doesn’t feel like publishing any more of my posts. Perfect luck. Instead I’ll update from the press box during the game. Again, that is all depending on whether we get press passes for the game. If not, we’ll make the best of it and I’ll be more than satisified with what we’ve done thus far.

MattTracy.com's live updates from Spring Training

Be sure to check MattTracy.com throughout the tail end of the week, because I’ll be covering the Mets for Baseball Youth magazine on Thursday and Friday in Port St. Lucie. This will be my third season with a press pass at spring training, and each time ranks near the top of the best experiences of my life.

The Mets will face the Marlins at 1:10 p.m. at Tradition Field on Thursday, where I will be arriving a few hours before gametime at the complex in order to interview players and take photographs. I will be doing the same thing on Friday, when the Mets take on the Cardinals.

I’ll be updating the site live from my iTouch in pre-game, and then from a laptop in the press box during the game.

Whether you are a Mets fan or just a baseball fan looking for something to read about at Spring Training, this site should give you all of the updated information surrounding the Mets and their opponents (Marlins, Cardinals).

Venezuela's Chavez slams Mets, MLB

Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez trashed the MLB, specifically the New York Mets organization, blaming them for keeping their players out of the World Baseball Classic.

“They take away the athlete’s right and duty … to represent Venezuela,” said Chavez, who spoke from a ceremony that honored a Venezuelan Soccer team.

Edwin Zerpa, president of the Venezuelan Baseball Federation, explained further:

“What’s most worrisome is that they attempt to stop the pitchers, who are in excellent condition, from playing. Without good pitching, you cannot win in baseball.”

Zerpa said that Chavez’s concerns with the Mets were stemming from ace Johan Santana’s withdrawal from the classic. What Chavez doesn’t understand is that these players have a job that they get paid a lot of money for. This is an important part of the season as far as assembling the team, and if a player decides not to play in the classic, it shouldn’t be a big deal. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t even think Santana really cared for playing on the Venezuela WBC team. He did not have a fun time in 2006, as he criticized the team for serving him fast food and forcing him to sleep in a car during the tournament.

Blogger updates from Port St. Lucie

Several New York newspaper reporters are in Port St. Lucie as the players begin to flock into camp. Many of these reporters, as they do each year, are maintaining a Spring Training blog to keep fans updated.

One of the main reasons why I love Spring Training more than any other time in baseball is because the players are so laid-back, which leads them to do silly, funny things.

This morning, pitcher Mike Pelfrey came onto the field with a helmet on, which immediately caught the attention of each reporter. After reporters wondered whether Pelfrey lost a bet, etc., since Spring Training can be full of jokes at times, it turned out that Pelfrey wore it because he crashed a golf cart yesterday and flipped it. Interesting.

Ben Sphigel reported today that Jon Niese and Tim Redding, who will both be fighting for the number five spot in the Mets 2009 rotation, drove 20 hours from the Midwest to Port St. Lucie, and arrived this morning.

Sphigel also added:

“Another Mets pitcher, J.J. Putz, has been throwing for a few weeks, and he had his first session this morning with his new catcher, Brian Schneider. With the pitching coach Dan Warthen watching, Putz threw about 40 pitches, including a few that had some of the nastiest spin I’ve ever seen. The bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello was kneeling a few steps away from Schneider, and he said it was a splitter — “a really, really good one.”

These reporters will be updating their blogs throughout the course of Spring Training. We’ll see what crazy things Jose Reyes or Ramon Castro will be giving these guys to write about. It should be fun to watch.

By the way, I’ll be at camp for the Mets Spring Training home opener on Feb. 26, along with the following day, the 27th against the Marlins,  in Port St. Lucie. I’ll be covering for Baseball Youth, where I’ll be interviewing players and posting the transcripts, along with photos, on MattTracy.com. Be sure to check this site when the time rolls around.

Delgado should be handed 2003 MVP award

David Lennon, from Newsday, made a great point earlier today regarding the 2003 MVP award:

If I was Carlos Delgado, I’d be pretty angry right now.

Remember, it was Delgado who finished second to Alex Rodriguez in the 2003 AL MVP vote.

A-Rod was first with 242 points, including six first-place votes. Delgado was second with 213 points, including five first-place votes.

Of course, in the past 72 hours we’ve learned that A-Rod cheated in 2003, and he admitted Monday that he took banned substances — without specifying the concoction.

Should A-Rod now be stripped of that MVP award? Should Delgado be awarded it by default?

This whole mess just gets messier and messier.

Although A-Rod wasn’t exactly breaking rules as the steroid policy wasn’t yet in effect, he still had an unfair advantage over Delgado. This award certainly deserves to be handed over to Carlos Delgado.

Mets prepared for battle as season nears

Mets fans, it is nearly time to come out from hiding. Yes, that means all of you who have been hiding in a dark corner ever since the final pitch of Shea Stadium’s disgraceful 2008 closing, it is almost time to come out of hibernation. Open those shades and turn on that light — because pitchers and catchers report in only a week.

You can go ahead and buy your favorite player’s jerseys because they won’t be going anywhere. Mets General Manager Omar Minaya made it clear in yesterday’s press conference to announce the return of Oliver Perez that the Mets are finished making big deals and are satisfied with what their roster looks like as the season nears.

The Mets spent the early off-season fortifying their then-disastrous bullpen, especially in the set-up and closer roles. Following a second consecutive September flop, the Mets were forced to make some serious changes to their bullpen-in-peril.

The Mets turned around and acquired two of MLB’s best closers in J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. With these moves, the Mets also shipped out two relief pitchers who loved to make life miserable for Mets fans: Scott Schoeneweis and Aaron Heilman.

These series of moves significantly improved the Mets’ bullpen, even as the long-relief options remain scarce. More importantly, The Mets were able to patch up the area that needed the most help.

As far as the starting rotation goes, I’m very happy that Omar Minaya didn’t end up acquiring Derek Lowe — it is quite obvious that Lowe too old for a three-year contract, making it a risky move. Oliver Perez was re-signed yesterday, in a deal that was very poorly designed by Omar Minaya. Minaya gave Perez, who is represented by Scott Boras, a 3-year $36 million contract, which is far too generous. When you compile all of Perez’s gems with all of his shellings, it basically adds up to make him a middle to back-end of the rotation starter, certainly not one worth $36 million. Was it a good move? Yes, the Mets were at the point where they had to make this move. Was it a good deal? Of course not. The Mets had virtually no competition for Perez, meaning that there was no reason to go as high as $36 million.

What many Mets fans probably don’t realize is that the re-signing of Perez took some risk off the back end of the rotation, which consisted of possibly Tim Redding at number 4 and Freddy Garcia at number 5. That wouldn’t have been pretty. Now with Perez holding the number four spot, the Mets can push the young Jon Niese by forcing him to compete with Garcia and Redding. With that said, I’m sure that whoever wins the fifth spot out of Spring Training will not keep it for long. Expect it flip flop throughout the entire season.

If only Johan Santana could get some run support from his Mets teammates, he would probably win at least 20 games. In 2008, Santana was 1st in the Major Leagues in ERA. There is not much else he can do. As far as John Maine goes — he had some late-season arm problems last year that could stem from the fact that he hasn’t pitched as many innings in a season in his life, but he has proved to be one of the best in the business.

I was totally against the June of 2008 firing of manager Willie Randolph and pitching coach Rick Peterson. Not only was the whole idea of firing a manager on a west-coast trip AFTER A WIN at around 1 a.m. eastern time absurd, but firing a manger mid-season, unless you are in 30 games out of the wild-card at the All-Star break, has to be one of the worst things you coud do. There are too many factors that need to stay in constant in baseball, and when you mess with routine, you mess with a season. This firing, in my mind, was the main reason why the Mets didn’t make the playoffs in 2008. Here are a few reasons why:

There was talk that former pitching coach Rick Peterson had John Maine on a specific schedule that helped save his arm for the long season. When new pitching coach Dan Warthen took over, Maine’s arm seemed to break down later in the season. I’m not specifically blaming Warthen, but he probably had a big hand in the end result. We’ll see how that turns out in 2009. Mike Pelfrey, who won the fifth starter job out of Spring Training last year, won 13 games in 2008 but was also undergoing changes with the new pitching coach. Warthen worked a curveball back into Pelfrey’s pitch selection, something that Pelfrey used in his earlier years. Pelfrey, who began the year with an amazing start, ended up losing 10 games. I’m not saying Warthen is destroying this rotation. I’m saying that he broke routine a tad bit too much. On a positive note, Oliver Perez, who we all know is rolling in dough for no reason right now, underwent an adjustment to his wind-up that erased his routine of staring down at the rubber when he began his wind-up. This change, which was made by Warthen, will likely be for the better. Perez will now stare at the catcher’s target throughout the course of his wind-up. Another thing that Warthen improved with Perez was his momentum to home plate. As many Mets fans know, Perez would take a step to the side as soon as he began his wind-up. Instead, he now steps back in an attempt to gain momentum.  We’ll see how that works and if he will keep these quirks throughout the course of the season.

Only time will tell if Dan Warthen is the right man for the job as pitching coach in New York. With Rick Peterson’s situation, we all learned that you can go from being known as one of the best pitching coaches in the business, to unemployment, in the blink of an eye.

If the Mets want CitiField to light up in October of 2009, they’re going to have to play to their potential at the plate. The starting pitching will hit their bumps in the road, as will the middle relief. If the Mets are planning on overcoming these problems, this highly-regarded lineup needs to produce. Losing Endy Chavez won’t hurt this team too much, as he was getting worse at the plate with every passing day. If he would only produce some decent numbers at the plate, he would probably be a perennial All-Star. I’d say he’s in the top five in outfielders in the majors. I italicized outfielders for a reason: he’s only good for defense.

On the other hand, does Omar Minaya really think Brian Schneider will automatically poof into a .300 hitter? I don’t think so. The Mets need to let Ramon Castro split the catching duties with Schneider, who hit .253 in 2008. Ramon Castro has a lot of money in his contract, and the Mets should make some of it go to use.

Speaking of putting money to use…Omar Minaya even has admitted that the contract that he gave second-baseman Luis Castillo was his mistake. Castillo and the Mets were locked into a four-year contract, and at this point the Mets are trying to explore other options and figure out what to do with this injury-prone, aging middle infielder. How are the Mets supposed to expect him to be a long-term second baseman when he admitted last season that he would probably only stay in halfway decent shape if he was able to take every other day off. Sorry, Luis, but if that is true, you are screwed.

Let’s hope that young outfielder Daniel Murphy will be able to keep up his lights-out magic from 2008. Murphy, who hit .313 in 49 games for New York last season, was called up in the beginning of August. He played very well this off-season at second base, which makes me wonder whether he will be the one who bumps Luis Castillo to the curb. He was a huge boost to the outfield that lost Moises Alou (no surprise there). Speaking of Alou… who would want him at this point? If only he was able to ride a wheelchair to first base when he hits the ball, he would be amazing. Of course, we all know that isn’t possible. It’s just that Alou is arguably the best hitter in the game when he is healthy.

At first base, Carlos Delgado will be one of the media’s most magnified players of 2009. He slumped his way through the first few months of 2008, bringing his critics to the conclusion that he had nothing left. They argued that his bat speed could no longer catch up with fastballs. He then proved them all wrong by having a breakout second half that brought his home run total to nearly 40 on the season.

Look for Alex Cora, who hit .270 in 75 games in the 2008 season, to take over Damion Easley’s place on the roster. They seem like twins, especially being the veterans they are. If I were him, I’d be prepared for an early-season injury from Castillo. Castillo cannot be trusted.

Overall, I expect this team to compete with a tight NL East in 2009, and expect them to build their confidence with the new stadium. As the Mets get used to the somewhat-odd outfield dimensions of CitiField, look for them to use it as a home-field advantage against teams who haven’t yet stepped foot in the stadium.

With CitiField receiving its finishing touches, Francisco Rodriguez and  J.J. Putz heading to town, and the media watching for another collapse, the 2009 season will certainly be entertaining. How will the players react?

It all begins in Port St. Lucie. We’ll see where it all ends.

Mets closing in on Perez, says FOX

Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports is reporting that the Mets are “moving closer to re-signing free-agent left-hander Oliver Perez, according to major-league sources.”

Perez is one of the top starters in the majors when he is at the top of his game. Perez worked closely with his new pitching coach last season, Dan Warthen, who tweaked the right hander’s wind-up in an attempt to produce some more consistent results.

In other news, pitchers and catchers report in 11 days.