Scenes from Spring Training: Meet The Mets Part 1

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Niesen PFP.jpgSunday was spent at Tradition Field for the Mets-Nationals game. There’s so much more going on than just a game, however, so why don’t we run it down.  Lots of bite-sized observations, so this will be in multiple parts throughout the day.

I arrived at the ballpark early, hoping to get my bearings before it got too crowded. As I pulled into the parking lot and approached a woman in a Mets jacket to ask her where I could park she started yelling at me: “MOVE TO THE SIDE! MOVE TO THE SIDE!  THERE’S A PLAYER COMING!”  Sure enough, a player in a Chrysler 300 was behind me — no idea who it was, to be honest — and apparently players aren’t expected to have to deal with traffic.  Once the player passed the lady was nice enough to tell me where to.  Again.

I got my media credentials and started wandering. First stop: indoor batting cages. After seeing Bay and Francoeur hit, first base prospect Ike Davis stepped in. He’s quite tall and hits the ball really, really hard.  He stepped out of the cage and onto the walkway near where I was standing. As Nick Evans started taking his hacks, Davis took a couple of swings. He was nowhere close to hitting me, but because I’m a nervous newbie not used to gigantic people swinging bats in my vicinity, I flinched noticeably. Davis stifled a laugh and said “Don’t worry. I’m a professional.”

Past the batting cages are the back fields where players drill and a big grassy common area where fans can watch the action.  There weren’t too many people there yet. I asked a security guard if this was a typical crowd for a Sunday morning. He said “yeah, it’s uush-ally smawler on Sunday until around noon. You know. Choich.”  Probably worth noting that just about every employee at Tradition Field is a New Yorker.

I watched pitcher’s fielding practice for about ten minutes.  It’s kind of hypnotic. One after the other, faking a pitch, turning and running towards first, fielding the coach’s throw and then jogging to the back of the line again. After a while I started making a game of it in my mind, trying to see who was the fastest to first and who was the slowest. Bobby Parnell was pretty quick. Eric Neisen, as you can see in the pic above, was catching the throw farther from the bag than you usually see pitchers do, so I’m going to call him the slow poke.

From PFP it was over to the bullpen, where Nelson Figueroa was throwing his scheduled session.  Figueroa seems like a fun guy.  A coach was standing behind the catcher calling each pitch a ball, a strike, a hit, or whatever, and each time it was anything but a strike Figueroa would jaw things back at him like “you’re blind,” or “like you’d know what a strike is,” or “that wasn’t a hit, Carlos dove for it in the gap and caught it. I got a no-hitter going.”  The catcher and the coach were dying laughing. When Figueroa was done he signed autographs for approximately 117 hours, smiling and saying something nice and personalized to every kid that was hanging around.

After watching Figueroa, I noticed David Wright was walking from a back field towards the clubhouse. As he did, a mother prodded her David Wright jersey-wearing son — who was no more than seven years old — to say hello to him.  The boy hesitated and looked back at his mom, unsure of himself. She nodded encouragement. He turned around and said “Mr. Wright!”  Wright slowed down, gave the boy a little finger pistol, a wink, and a “hey kiddo!” and continued jogging toward the clubhouse.  The boy broke out into the biggest smile you’ve ever seen, turned to his mom and said “Did you see that! Did you see that!” That boy will remember that moment until the day he dies.

It and the Figueroa thing were moments I needed. Why? Because I was about to hit the media room and press box, and as you’ll see in our next couple of installments, there aren’t many aw-gosh, aw-gee warm and fuzzy baseball moments when you’re on the turf of the professional sporting press.

Video: Holliday’s home run a fitting goodbye for Cardinals

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 30: Matt Holliday #7 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a solo home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium on September 30, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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If tonight was his last night in a Cardinals uniform, Matt Holliday made the most of it.

After sitting out most of the second half with a fractured thumb, the 36-year-old was activated from the disabled list on Friday and slotted in as a pinch-hitter during the seventh inning of the Cardinals’ 7-0 shutout. What happened next could hardly have elicited more sentiment had it been scripted:

The solo shot was Holliday’s first home run as a pinch-hitter, and his first home run of any kind since August 9. The triumphant moment might have been the last of its kind in St. Louis, as it was reported earlier today that the Cardinals do not plan to exercise Holliday’s option in 2017.

Prior to the game, the left fielder released a statement in which he expressed his gratitude for the past eight seasons with the Cardinals’ organization:

I would like to thank Mr. Dewitt, Mo and the entire ownership group for the opportunity to play for the St. Louis Cardinals.

I am proud of what we have accomplished on and off the field during the past seven years. I have also been humbled by the incredible support and participation in our Homers for Health program.

It has been an honor to play in front of such great fans and for such a historic organization. I can honestly say it has been a dream come true.

While I’m disappointed this could be it here in St. Louis, I understand that it might be time to move on.

I’d like to express my love and admiration for Tony, Mike and all of the coaches and staff that I have had the pleasure to do life with these past seven-plus years.

The most emotional part of this is my teammates and the relationships I’ve built with some of these guys over the years. Particularly, Adam and Yadi, to be considered part of the core with two of the finest human beings I’ve ever known.

Finally, I’m eternally thankful for the Lord bringing me to the city of St. Louis in August of 2008. Lots of cool stuff has happened since then. On behalf of my wife Leslee and our children Jackson, Ethan, Gracyn and Reed: Thank you!

Angel Pagan body-slammed a fan on the field

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Angel Pagan #16 of the San Francisco Giants argues with umpire Jerry Meals #41 after a called third strike during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park on September 13, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Don’t interrupt Angel Pagan in the middle of a wild card race. Better yet, don’t interrupt him at all.

A fan learned that the hard way during Friday’s Giants-Dodgers game. In the fourth inning, a group of fans ran onto the field with white flowers in their hands, presumably to hand to Giants players. According to eyewitness accounts, one player was reprimanded by San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner, while Buster Posey fended off another.

Angel Pagan, however, took more extreme and inventive measures.

On-field security started closing in on the fan as he approached Pagan, but didn’t appear to pick up the pace until the outfielder dropped him on the field.

Vin Scully, who was wrapping up the third-to-last game of his career, provided play-by-play of the incident.

A couple of kids, trying to steal a moment, slow down the game, running on the field and just taking a big moment on the big stage. They’ve got one of them in right field, and the other one is nailed down by Pagan in left field. And the crowd loved that! They went up to do something with Angel Pagan, but [Pagan] grabbed him and slammed him to the ground, and they’re taking him off the field. […] Doesn’t that bring you back to the ’60s, and the flower children? Oh what, you don’t remember the ’60s? Okay.

The next time you want to send a message to a player, maybe try a tweet (throw in a flower emoji or two if you feel so inclined). Just don’t make a showy display of affection in the middle of a game. It’s bound to go badly, at least where Angel Pagan is concerned.