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.

White Sox players reportedly did not pay clubhouse dues at Safeco Field to protest

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 21:  Starting pitcher Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners in the seventh inning at Safeco Field on August 21, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Chris Sale was recently suspended five games by the White Sox over a heated confrontation with front office staff over an issue concerning throwback uniforms the team was to wear against the Tigers. Sale was scratched from his scheduled start, forcing Matt Albers to make a spot start.

Ken Rosenthal reports that the White Sox players also collectively protested over another issue. The club was in Seattle for a three-game series at Safeco Field from July 18-20 last week. The Mariners have a new clubhouse policy that, as Rosenthal describes, redirects 60 percent of the dues into an account managed by the team. White Sox players did not agree with the policy because “Mariners management unilaterally entered a financial relationship that historically has existed between only players and ‘clubbies,'” Rosenthal explains.

Clubhouse attendants handle a lot of the players’ needs, typically doing a litany of chores throughout the day. They don’t get paid handsomely for their labor, so players often tip the clubhouse attendants for their hard work. The White Sox were protesting that the money was being redirected from the hardworking clubbies to the front office.

Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto confirmed that the White Sox were the first team to refuse payment to the visiting clubhouse manager Jeff Bopp. DiPoto also noted that other teams have reacted with “curiosity” and that the Giants backtracked after adjusting its clubhouse procedures last year following complaints from visiting players.

This is the third controversy in which the White Sox have been involved. Before the start of the regular season, some members of the club were upset that Adam LaRoche — now retired — often brought his son Drake into the clubhouse. Then there’s the Sale incident, and now this. Needless to say, it’s been an interesting year for the White Sox.

Report: Rangers interested in Royals’ Edinson Volquez

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 29: Starter Edinson Volquez #36 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on June 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that the entire Rangers “inner circle of front office personnel” was on hand to watch Edinson Volquez start for the Royals against the Rangers on Sunday. Volquez went six innings, giving up a lone run on seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts.

Volquez, 33, is earning $9.5 million this season and can become a free agent after the season if his team chooses to buy him out for $3 million instead of picking up their end of his $10 million mutual option for 2017. GM Jon Daniels said he was hoping the club would be able to avoid considering rentals, but as the club has dealt with injuries, the strength of the starting rotation has become a concern. Colby Lewis and Derek Holland are both on the disabled list. Yu Darvish has made only five starts since making his season debut in late May. Meanwhile, Kyle Lohse — who has given up 13 runs in two starts — has occupied the back of the rotation. A reliable starter would go along way towards helping the 57-42 Rangers fight to keep first place in the AL West.

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports also reports that the Rangers have shown interest in young Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez, but they would pay a much higher price for him than for Volquez. Velasquez has a 3.34 ERA with a 103/34 K/BB ratio in 91 2/3 innings for the Phillies this season.