Scenes from Spring Training: Meet The Mets Part 3

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Press Box View.jpgOver the weekend, the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez said that he overheard another reporter in the press box of the Dodgers’ game say “I hate this job. I want to go work in a factory.”  I suppose it’s possible to get tired of anything, but I’m not sure how you can get tired of watching a game from up in the press box.

They’re not the best seats in the house — a little higher than I’d like — but they’re still excellent.  You can’t get a beer, but there’s free soda and no one is patting you down and finding your hip flask if you’re that desperate for booze. You can’t cheer, but you can snark and complain “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-style, and that’s almost as fun, especially given that the people sitting next to you are likely to get the most obscure and inside baseball references you throw out there.  Really, it’s a sweet, sweet deal, and that’s before you even take into account that the reason you’re up there is because you have a job writing about baseball.  After practicing law for 11 years I’m going to say it would take, oh, 59 years of going to the press box every day before I’d get tired of it.

I got up there early, wanting to make sure I got a good seat.  There were name plates on the tables for the Daily News, New York Times, the Post and most of the other outlets that cover the Mets. One guy was already sitting in the only “visiting press” seat I could see, so I sat in the one marked “visiting PR,” figuring that the Nationals wouldn’t send a public relations guy to a road spring training game.

As it got closer and closer to the game starting, something funny happened: the press box didn’t really fill up. There were five or six Nats’ beat writers there and a couple of New York guys, but the majority of the New York guys I’d been watching all morning didn’t even bother.  Most of them were columnist types and not the ones who would have to write the game story, but I still assumed that they’d actually watch the game.

The last guy to come in was Knox Bardeen of AOL FanHouse.  He sat next to me and we talked all game, bonding over the fact that we’re both Internet guys doing something that print-guys still dominate and the fact that we’re both new to press boxes.  Knox has covered a few Braves games and some NFL, but we’re both green as hell when it comes to the beat and are both taking our first working swings through spring training. I was glad to have Knox next to me all game.  Random observations from the box during the game:

  • Reporters do rise for the National Anthem, but they also heckle the singer. It wasn’t the best rendition you’ve ever heard, but man, tough crowd.

  • The official scorer sat in the same box — not sure if they sit separately at major league parks — and helpfully shouts out pitch counts, scoring decisions and player substitutions to the reporters. The informality of spring training was apparent, however, as some of the writers would tell him when they saw a substitution happening before he saw it or would check his pitch counts against theirs and stuff.  Neat dynamic.

  • It was Oliver Perez’s first outing of the spring.  If it’s any indication of how his summer will go, you may want to sell your “Oliver Perez is going to bounce back in 2010” stock right now.  Nothing on his pitches. He threw strikes, but most of them were hammered.

  • Jeff Francoeuer took five straight pitches from Jason Marquis in the second inning to work the walk. Knox and I speculated that we each would have bet something on the order of $750 that we’d never see such a thing.

  • A couple of batters later Omir Santos hit what would be scored as an inside-the-park grand slam. Regardless, what were Mets thinking not signing Molina? this guy can play.  After that play the Mets had five runs on three hits, which I take as a sign that their 2010 offense will be built around lots of walks and inside the park grand slams. It might not work, but hey, at least it’s a philosophy. If you’re curious, here’s video of the Santos slam. It obviously had more to do with the ball getting caught in the corner and Willie Tavares having a bit of a brain lock, but hey, the scorer’s ruling stands.
  • Francoeur gunned down two runners at the plate during the game.  As you all know I’m not much of a Jeff Francoeur fan, but I’ll always love good baseball 100 times more than I’ll dislike anything about it or anyone in it, and there aren’t many more exciting plays in baseball than someone getting nailed at the plate. On the first one I let out a choked cheer, doing everything I could to not break the “no cheering in the press box” rule.  The second time was hopeless — I whooped. No one seemed to care.
  • Hisanori Takahashi is a non-roster invitee of the Mets, and given the presence of Ryota Igarashi, he isn’t even the most celebrated Japanese newcomer on the team.  But he was simply fantastic yesterday, striking out six in three very efficient innings.  I know very little about the guy and you obviously can’t base much on just one outing, but I was pretty impressed.
  • The press box started to clear out around the fifth inning as the clubhouses open up in the middle of the game during spring training so that the veterans can give their quotes to the beat writers and then take off for the golf course or wherever they’re going.  Why anyone wanted to get quotes from Oliver Perez and his ilk is beyond me, because from my perspective that was about the time of the game things got interesting. Why? Because it was when some young prospects who may actually help the Nats and Mets win a lot of ballgames one day got their chances.
  • First up was the Nats’ other first round pick from last year — Drew Storen — who pitched the sixth inning and got three ground ball outs. He may be closing games for the Nats before the year is done. Then came the Mets’ Ike Davis, who entered the game in the seventh and hit a double off Ron Villone. My granny could probably hit a double off Villone these days, but Davis’ was hit to the opposite field, so technically that makes him a “professional hitter,” just like he said earlier in the day. Not a professional base runner, however. After making it to third, he thought about tagging up on a shallow fly ball, changed his mind about 15 feet towards home and then got nailed at the bag while trying to retreat to third.  But did I mention that he’s tall and hits the ball really, really hard?

The game ended with the Mets winning 6-5. The reporters quickly packed up and made a beeline for the elevator. I followed them, a little nervously to be honest. Why? We were on our way to my first ever gang bang.  Curious? Come back in about an hour and I’ll explain.

Twins’ minor league pitcher Landa dies in Venezuela

FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 05:  Yorman Landa #81 of the Minnesota Twins makes a throw to first base during the fourth inning of a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles at Hammond Stadium on March 5, 2016 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins say minor league pitcher Yorman Landa has died in Venezuela. He was 22.

The club said in a statement that the Twins are “deeply saddened by the heartbreaking loss.” The team did not say how he died.

Landa pitched in the 2016 season with the Fort Meyers Miracle, going 2-2 with 7 saves and a 3.24 ERA in 41 2/3 innings pitched. His career minor-league ERA was 2.66.

Landa had been on the Twins’ 40-man roster, but was dropped after the season. The organization signed him to a minor-league contract last week.

Landa was signed by the Twins in 2010 as a 16-year old from Santa Teresa, Venezuela.

Orioles are eying Welington Castillo as their primary catcher target

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 25: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up prior to taking an at bat against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 25, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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A report from the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly suggests that free agent catcher Welington Castillo currently tops the Orioles’ list of potential backstop targets for the 2017 season. With Matt Wieters on the market, the Orioles lack a suitable platoon partner for Caleb Joseph behind the dish, and Connolly adds that the club has been discussing a multi-year deal with Castillo’s representatives since the Winter Meetings.

Castillo batted .264/.322/.423 with the Diamondbacks in 2016, racking up 14 home runs and driving in a career-high 68 RBI in 457 PA. His bat provides much of his upside, and Connolly quoted an anonymous National League scout who believes that the 29-year-old’s defensive profile has fallen short of his potential in recent years.

For better or worse, both the Orioles and Castillo appear far from locking in a deal for 2017. Both the Rays and Braves have expressed interest in the veteran catcher during the past week, while the Orioles are reportedly considering Wieters, Nick Hundley and Chris Iannetta as alternatives behind the plate.