If you are thinking of booking a trip to Mets spring training, then stop thinking and just do it. How to capture all the stories of Mets Town USA (aka Port. St. Lucie, FL) in one blog post? For now, I’ll tell you to expect mention of John Maine, Joe Smith, Duaner Sanchez, Ruben Gotay, Anderson Hernandez, Jose Valentin,Omar Minaya, blog buddies Coop, SNK, Matt, Metstradamus, and Joe, awesome SNY dudes Kevin Burkhardt and Matt Yallof, and perhaps even a cameo from a legend or two! The full, exciting photo album can be found HERE.
Friday, the delightful Coop and I arrived at Port St. Lucie for the first home game, and among other thrills, we swooned that our 2nd row seats were right by the bullpen. If you have the opportunity to watch Johan Santana warm up for a game, I would recommend it. Also, if you can pick winning lottery numbers, I recommend that too. I’ll upload a quick video I took of Santana in the bullpen tomorrow. One thing I learned sitting just feet away: Good Lord those balls fly crazy hard. Coop and I vowed to have more sympathy whenever a player gets hit by a pitch, because OUCH. You don’t get it until you see in person.
Immediately, we began our own spring training of sorts, warming up our fan calls in the surprisingly tame stands. We got a few Jose chants going, and were pleased to see Moises Alou recognize our rhythmic "A-Lou! A-Lou!" Johan didn’t have the best outing, but honestly we didn’t really care. It’s just spring training, and we got to see his first time on the mound in a Mets uni. Pretty special. Also that day, I began my quest to make Joe Smith blush. As he walked by, I shouted "Joe, I wouldn’t have cropped you out of the Sports Illustrated cover!" He shrugged one shoulder and laughed, but wouldn’t stop for an autograph or look our way. I didn’t give it much thought, but Joe would earn himself quite a little reputation at spring training, and more on that later. Juan Padilla and Pedro Feliciano graciously signed for fans, which we appreciated.
That evening Coop and I headed to Hurricane Wings, which had been recommended by new facebook buddy Charles. He said to get the raspberry chipotle wings, and although I confess it sounded very wrong, it was very, very right. Apparently I can eat 12 boneless wings in 5 minutes. Who knew.
Out for a drink afterwards, we had the pleasure of running into some fantastic SNY folks. First we saw Ron Darling, who graciously signed my baseball and seemed very sweet. Then we joined Matt Yallof, Greg "the stats guy," Danny "who works in the truck," and Gerard, a producer for the pre- and post-shows. I hope to see these fun dudes again, especially Matt Yallof, who may have to become my new best friend. He’s funny, easy-going, and you can tell how much he cares–as they all do–about giving us the best broadcast possible. Kudos, SNY buddies. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know they couldn’t have run into a more appreciative viewer. Don’t get me wrong, I still heart me some Kevin Burkhardt, but more on that still to come.
Saturday morning we arrived at Tradition Field to watch the pre-game warm up. Mostly this involved me trying to be tall enough to take pictures over the fence, which you can browse through in the album. Pedro Martinez seemed particularly festive and jocular, Mike Pelfrey looked like he needed some sunscreen, and yes, it’s possible I took a tushy shot or two for the album, don’t hate. Watching El Duque run off the field with Johan Santana after the warm up, you know I could only think one thing: "RUN CAREFULLY ORLANDO!" We caught him, Maine, Pedro, and Ollie tossing in another field nearby, and we were just feet away. Coop may have taken nine thousand pictures of her "OP" Ollie Perez, but you’d have to ask her 🙂
Right after warm up, once in the ball park, we hung by the left field corner to watch the players go in from practice. Pedro waved and signed a couple balls, Omar smiled and waved, and Joe Smith cracked a smile when I yelled "I’m not done making you blush yet," but he still wouldn’t even look at the fans. I’d heard from several people–some I knew, some I didn’t–that they were surprised Joe wouldn’t interact at all with fans. I wondered if something had happened in the past to make him reluctant. Here’s a pic of Juan Padilla trying to make Joe Smith look at the fans so we can take pics. As you can see, he ain’t budging.
After watching Jon Niese pitch–which was quite impressive, kid!–Coop and I left our bullpen area seats to join Stefi (aka SNK) and her friend (and now ours!) Rebecca, along with Stefi’s swell parents, in their awesome right-behind-home-plate seats. Stefi told us she’d just met Kevin Burkhardt, and they bonded. "I told him he’d met my friend Zoe last season," she said to me, "and he totally remembered. He said he’d taken a picture with you." Word is that Burkie remembers most or all of the fans he meets, and I think that’s just so very cool. What a good guy. Also, he is cuter than he seems in this pic. Just sayin’.
Later on, we would see Sandy Koufax sitting with Omar and Koufax’s high school buddy Fred Wilpon. For a Jewish girl from Brooklyn (as in, ME), seeing Koufax was just a total thrill. My aunt calls him her "first boyfriend"; she had pictures of him all over her room as a kid. Security guards prevented me from getting an autograph, but Koufax ignored them at times and did sign a few balls for fans.
After the game, we 4 girls headed to Duffy’s and met up with Anthony (aka "Dykstraw," not De Rosa) and his girlfriend Nicole for Matt Cerrone’s Metsblog bash. I hadn’t seen Matty at all during the off-season–well, except for on SNY’s Hot Stove, of course 🙂 Go Confidence Rating! We would wind up at Duffy’s from about 4:30 until around midnight, and it would be a highlight of our trip. Here’s where I got all my autographs and pics, so get ready!
First we saw Anderson Hernandez, whom we went up to right after he arrived for a table of 1. He signed and posed. Next was Jose Valentin, who chatted with us briefly. It’s possible I told him "You have such a nice smile, can you smile for a pic?" When we met Duaner Sanchez, he bought our table buckets of beers and ordered us a tray of appetizers. As he ate a chicken wing, I found it endearing that he said "There’s an extra half hour on the treadmill tomorrow." Coop asked about his uniform number, 50, and Duaner said that it reminds him that as far as he’s come, he’s still only half-way there. Quite profound! We found Duaner to have a great, playful sense of humor, and we enjoyed hanging out with him for a bit.
Do you see me and Johnny Maine? That’s my "John Maine’s pitching hand is on my shoulder!!!" face. Not too pretty there. Maine, however, looks as sweet and gracious as anything, and that’s because he is. When I approached him talking to a guy and said "Sorry to interrupt," he smiled and said I wasn’t interrupting at all. "You’re one of my favorites," I told him, "and I was so sorry to miss you pitching yesterday." He gave an aw-shux chuckle and said "You didn’t miss much." Later, after seeing the highlights, I’d realize he hadn’t had the best inning out there. But still, he seemed so humble and sweet, and more outgoing than I’d imagine. While taking our picture, John crouched down to try and make me look less shrimpy (dude’s TALL!), but when that didn’t work, with his slightly awkward grin, he joked "Stand on your tip-toes." John Maine definitely gets the Nicest Met award of that night. And I thought I loved him before.
Joe Smith was nice enough to sign my baseball, but for some reason, he was the only player who refused to pose for a picture. I figure maybe he’s signed away his photo rights. Maybe he’s pulling a Derek-Jeter-for-Avon type deal and modeling for Revlon for Men or something. Watch out for possible ad spreads. Sounds super hot.
Sunday brought us to historic Dodgertown for an away game. SNY Danny had told me an interesting bit of trivia–Dodgertown was created because the black players on the Brooklyn Dodgers couldn’t stay in any of the hotels. They needed their own accomodations, and so Dodgertown was born. Coop and I picked up Matty–who was given a Metsblog press pass–and off we went on a 40-minute road trip to Vero Beach. By sheer coincidence, we ran into Metstradamus on the way in and swapped blogger stories like the seasoned veterans that we are 🙂
It was **** hot at the ball park, and I’m running out of blog steam, so check out the album for cool pics. We wound up leaving the game early because of the extreme, pounding, relentless sun. Turns out Matty’s an awesome shopper, which we found out at the local Target. Coop and I walked away with new clothes and shoes, and Matty got a hot pair of shades and a Ghostbusters t-shirt. Heaven. Of course, we wound up missing a come-from-behind-win, but we didn’t weep over it. Spring training games really do have less urgency to them. It’s about sitting and enjoying, and pretty much nothing else.
That night back at Duffy’s, Matt taught me how to play air hockey, we indulged in some skee ball, and I learned he has a Keith-Hernandez-with-the-tootsie-pops type love for Sour Patch Kids. We got him 4 packs with our ticket winnings. Coop and I also saw Ruben Gotay briefly at Duffy’s. With crutches. And a boot. And his cherubic baby face. The first thing out of my mouth–to him, mind you–was "Ohhhhhhhhh no, what happened?" We had left the game before he got hurt. He waved it away, saying "Couple days." Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I would like to believe that Coop and I had nothing to do with jinxing the health of this team. And like all of us, I hope the team’s bad injury luck turns itself heartily around quickly.
On Monday, Coop and I would run into major airport drama. I’d nearly miss the plane (that was me running so hard I was hyperventilating and yelling "sorry, sorry, sorry" as I skipped every line). Coop DID miss the plane, despite my desperate pleas at the gate for them to hold it. Fortunately, the next flight was only half an hour away, and she made it home just fine.
I think Coop, like me, can’t wait for next year. And perhaps PSL can’t wait to once again host the Girls of Spring. If it can handle us 😉