Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tales from Spring Training

First thing Saturday morning we boarded the plane decked out in Mets jerseys, jackets, scarves and shoes. Even the security guard checking my Mets bag asked "So, you guys are really big fans, huh?" We checked in at the hotel and all the workers were wearing Mets jerseys. Mets fans were everywhere you turned. The town was seriously the most Mets dominated place I've ever been, which made me a little sad considering I've lived in Queens my whole life. This is how it should be all the time.

We got to Tradition Field and headed to the bleachers to watch the Mets take on the Dodgers. It felt so good just to be sitting at a ballpark taking in a game. It was strange to be watching a game so close to the players that they could hear you when you heckled. It would not have been fun to be Chan Ho Park in that bullpen. We were right up front for the big Marlon Anderson/Ryan Church collision and it looked pretty brutal. I'd been talking some smack about Ryan Church the whole game, so my brother of course turns to me and accuses me of wishing it upon him. Regardless of my personal feelings about him I wouldn't want to see any of our guys go through that. Some great pitching by Jonathan Niese, heroics in the outfield by Big #86 (the name Ezequiel Carerra made for some obligatory Pulp Fiction jokes) and Brady Clark taking one for the team led to the first Mets win of the spring. It didn't matter that they won on a hit by pitch, it didn't matter that it was a meaningless spring training game. It just felt good to see them win again.

Later we hung out at the bowling alley/arcade where they filmed the Mets Weekly segment last year. Sadly I can't bowl to save my life so I didn't get the chance to bust out my Paul Lo Duca victory dance.

We got to the park early Sunday to try to see some of the players arriving. Carlos Delgado confirmed everything I believed about him as a person when someone yelled into the parking lot to ask how he was feeling and he replied "I'm fine, thank you for asking." Alot of players would have just ignored the fans and went about their business, but he actually stopped to thank the guy. How polite is that?

Onwards to victory!

The brain trust.

The open workouts were so much fun to watch. It's crazy to see all the superstars lined up just a few feet away from you stretching and running around the cones like it's gym class. Pedro spent the whole time clowning around, Jose Valentin was making everyone laugh, and Jose Reyes was all smiles the whole time. Even if it was just running drills, it was so exciting to see Johan Santana up close and in person. When the players split up to head to different fields they crossed on the paths right next to us. It was surreal to turn around and have El Duque and Rick Peterson walking right behind me.

My favorite part of the workouts was how getting to see all the players so loose and joking around. Carlos Beltran doubling over with laughter is not a sight I ever though I'd get the chance to see. He was animatedly telling a story in batting practice and just cracking up Luis Castillo, Moises Alou and Jose Reyes. It really made me wish I understood Spanish... I think David Wright was wishing the same thing.

He got back in on the fun when Hojo showed up on his golf cart and he helped Jose steal his keys. Troublemakers.

While we were over watching infield practice Omar Minaya drove his golf cart right by us. I managed to restrain myself from bowing down shouting 'we're not worthy.' He had the longest conversation with Moises Alou and again I was really wishing I spoke Spanish. Jose Valentin was playing first and cracking jokes left and right. I also picked up a new Jose Reyes nickname from one of the coaches, who kept yelling out Rey-Rey when he hit him the ball.

I probably had the best time watching a bunch of the young pitchers take batting practice. They all went nuts when someone would get a big hit. Matt Wise was imitating someone's swing and told everyone "I am going to tell that story everyday because it was the funniest thing I've ever seen in my life." And then when they went to clean up the balls, the Big Pelf decided to push Jason Vargas in a shopping cart across the field.

Good guy award goes to John Maine who spent the most time signing for fans hands down. The next morning when he came out he joked that he was going to have to pitch with his other arm.

My favorite part of spring training is getting a first look at the players while they're still young and excited to be there. Eddie Kunz, who is a giant in person, was running to his next workout but turned aroung to sign for us when he heard his first name. Later I sent the little sis running up to Brant Rustich yelling "Brant, we love you!" He got a good laugh from that one. It's just the truth, Brant. You're a Met now so you should get used to hearing it. Some of the guys we'd seen play for the Cyclones last year so it was exciting to see playing with all the big stars.

After the workouts we drove to Vero Beach to see the Mets play the Dodgers. With all the history in Dodgertown, we were excited to get the chance to see a game there before the Dodgers leave next year. The crowd was much bigger and livelier than at Tradition Field. We missed the first two innings so we didn't get to see Ollie pitch, but we got to see newly appointed my boy Angel Pagan hit the game winning single. (As I'm typing this Ron Darling's just declared that he has "mad skills.") I was psyched to see our A-minus boys beat all the Dodger stars, and the fact that Joe Torre was trying so hard to win made it even sweeter. We had guys out there with no names on their jerseys and they got the job done.

It turned out a bunch of the younger players were staying at our hotel, including Anderson Hernandez, who was a total sweetheart even though I think he was terrified he had stalkers. We found him in the parking lot Monday morning and he was kind enough to patiently pose with Brooklyn while I spent forever getting my camera to work. There were also some frequent Tom Glavine sightings, but it kept turning out they were just old ladies.

On Monday they kicked us out of workouts pretty early so they could open the stadium, but we did get to watch the pitchers for a while. Pedro Martinez walked right by to get to his next workout and he was absolutely swarmed. People were trying to hug him from behind, some lady who didn't even have a pen was trying to get him to sign her shirt but he just laughed the whole time. He kept trying to tell everyone he needed to go, but he signed the whole time he was walking. You can tell he's just so happy to be back right now.

We watched the Mets/Braves game from out on the berm, which was great for the experience (even though at one point a stroller came crashing on my head) and because it gave us a great view of Fernando Martinez. I'd been trying not to get too attached to the kid over the winter for fear he'd get traded, but now there's no reason not to be excited for his future. Pelfrey was looking strong and pitched 3 shutout innings. Once again the Mets made things dramatic with Michel Abreu scoring on a Ruben Tejada double in the 10th to win it 3-2.

Heading home I was just the best kind of exhausted. On the way to the airport we stopped off for dinner and I had some fried okra in honor of Johnny Maine. We also had a nice toast to Guillermo Mota no longer being a Met. The second I got off the plane I was hit with a huge burst of cold air and I was missing Florida already.

All together, it was just the most fun I've ever crammed into a weekend in my life. I'm so glad we got the chance to go and that I have such an amazin brother for taking me. Being up close to the team and starting off the year 3-0 has me so psyched for the season to begin. Spending time around so many Mets fans has me missing Shea Stadium in a major way. I can't wait for the boys to get back in town and the regular season to start up.

If you want to see the rest of my pictures, I have my full album up here.


will said...

this is an excellent post, well done. i really wish i was there, i love getting a sense of the players just being themselves and goofing off. david and jose stealing hojo's keys is awesome.

mary said...

love the post megs...Aside from the birthdays, that's one more thing we have in common: great brothers!
Tell the "borough" she looks great and say hey to everyone there...

MP said...

Great post - I need to go to spring training. Do you mind if I steal the pictures of the Professor for my blog?

egb said...

Megan - your blog got to Texas! Sounds like you had a great trip. Good blog. I'm going to call one of your aunt's to find out who the borough is - I got in a lot of trouble on your Gene's blog when I asked who someone was. We don't get the inside stories on the Mets (hardly get anything on the Rangers for that matter), so I'll check every so often to see what's new in Metland. Bye.