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.

Drew Smyly brings youth and experience to Mariners rotation

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PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) Trades don’t surprise Drew Smyly anymore.

At age 27, the Seattle Mariners left-hander has been dealt twice. The first swap sent him from the team that drafted and developed Smyly, the Detroit Tigers, to the Tampa Bay Rays in midseason 2014. That trade landed star pitcher David Price in Detroit.

“I was surprised by that one,” Smyly said.

The most recent trade involving him came in January, when the Rays shipped Smyly to Seattle for three prospects in one of many moves by Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. Smyly immediately joined the Mariners’ projected starting rotation, and is having fun getting to know his new teammates at spring training by way of manager Scott Servais’ clubhouse icebreakers.

Servais thinks Smyly is a solid fit as a still young yet experienced pitcher.

“One, being where he’s at in his career age-wise and service time, he’s kind of at the point where, put him in the right environment … very good defensive outfield, he’s a fly ball guy, maybe he does step up and take the next step,” Servais said. “Getting out of the American League East certainly should help him, but there’s no guarantees. Our division’s pretty tough.”

Servais suggested that another Arkansas native, ex-big leaguer Cliff Lee, might have helped sell Seattle on Smyly. Lee is a former Mariner and the two share an agent.

Smyly went 7-12 in a career-high 30 starts last season in Tampa, but won five games from July 30 to the end of the season after starting out 2-11. From May 21 to July 18, he lost seven straight starts.

“Pitching’s tough, you know,” Smyly said. “To manipulate the ball, to make it do different things, to put it in the strike zone with hitters that know what they’re doing. … I just had a rough stretch but I show up at the field every day, play catch and work on my craft and you know, that’s going to turn around one day.”

The 32 home runs Smyly surrendered in 2016 figure to be reduced in Seattle’s pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.

“It can only help,” he said. “But it’s still going to be up to me to execute pitches and pitch well.”

Smyly is set to join the U.S. World Baseball Classic team shortly. Before that, he’ll make his first spring training start in the middle of next week.

“It’s an honor to be able to put your country on your chest and play with some of the guys on that team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it big time.”

NOTES: Servais plans to roll out what figures to be Seattle’s opening day lineup in the spring training opener Saturday against San Diego. It’s OF Jarrod Dyson, SS Jean Segura, 2B Robinson Cano, DH Nelson Cruz, 3B Kyle Seager, OF Mitch Haniger, 1B Dan Vogelbach, C Mike Zunino and OF Leonys Martin. … Servais said Cano and Cruz will play a little more than is typical for early spring games, as the two will depart for the World Baseball Classic in early March. … LHP Ariel Miranda will start Saturday, then RHP Chris Heston Sunday, RHP Yovani Gallardo on Monday and ace Felix Hernandez on Tuesday.

Mitt Romney’s sons are trying to buy a stake in the Yankees

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 30:  Tagg Romney son of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gives an interview during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 30, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate during the RNC which will conclude today.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Mitt Romney built his professional life in Massachusetts and was once the governor of the state. As such, it is not surprising that he has long identified as a Red Sox fan. So this has to be troubling to him from a fan’s perspective. From Jon Heyman:

The Romney family is bidding to buy a small stake in the Yankees months after their try for the Marlins stalled. If the deal goes through, it is expected to be $25 million to $30 million per percentage point and thought to be interested in one or two percentage points. The Yankees are valued around $3 billion or more.

The effort is being led by Mitt’s son Tagg, one of his brothers and their business partners. Mitt’s spokesman tells Jon Heyman that he has nothing to do with it personally. Tagg Romney is reported to have been planning a bid for controlling interest in the Marlins, but that has fallen through.

I find this interesting insofar as the M.O. for the Steinbrenners has, for years, been to buy out minority shareholders in the Yankees, not seek more. Indeed, when George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees back in 1973 he held just a bare controlling interest and there were a ton of silent partners, most of which were back in Ohio and knew Steinbrenner from his shipping business. I’ve personally gotten to know some of them over the years as there are a handful of them in Columbus and I crossed paths with them in my legal career. They have almost all been bought out in the past couple of decades. They still get season tickets and World Series rings and stuff. You can tell them by their personalized Yankees plates and the fact that, within the first ten minutes of meeting them, they will tell you that they once owned a piece of the Yankees but got pushed out.

In light of all of that it’s interesting that the Steinbrenners are once again accepting bids for small stakes in the team. Especially from someone whose interest in controlling the Marlins suggests that they do not consider it to be a mere vanity investment. Makes me wonder what the Steinbrenners’ long term plans are.