Ah, the sights and sounds of spring training. Is there anything appreciably better this side of Heaven?
But before getting off into another syrupy recitation of the joys of renewal associated with this special time of year, allow me to share random reflections on the latest installment of my annual two day pilgrimage to Port St. Lucie.
It has always seemed that late February is the best time to visit camp – after all the players have arrived but before everything starts to revolve around ultimately meaningless practice games. But when the travel reservations were made weeks ago, little did I realize a couple of things. First, that they would have already started games about a week earlier than usual – silly me for not consulting the schedule – and second, that the date we arrived would become “Tebow Day.”
More on Tebow in a moment, but as often happens at these workouts – which is why I so enjoy them – spontaneous moments tend to define the day. We caught Neil Walker working extensively at first base on a side field, which drove home the point of how worried the Mets must be about Lucas Duda’s back and hip issues.
But the most memorable moment happened in the blink of an eye and spoke volumes about the changing face of the franchise. Standing around with other observers casually gazing at players and team officials moving back and forth, along came a golf cart moving swiftly through the heart of camp.
As it approached us, we all wheeled around and saw two players riding in the cart. We realized the guy steering was none other than Noah Syndergaard. So everyone cheered or shouted at him as he passed. No one else seemed to notice the other player. So once they had passed, I asked loudly, “Did anyone notice who the guy was sitting next to Thor?” No one responded.
It was Matt Harvey. Of course, only one year ago, the Dark Knight would have immediately been the focus of attention, and the question would have been who was the big blonde guy sitting next to Harv. But not any more. Noah is now the man.
On to Tebow, and arriving today, the T-Man was all anyone was discussing. The Tebow press conference might have been a presidential briefing for all the media it attracted. It was followed by one of the largest gaggle of journalists and photographers ever to follow a non-roster invitee working out with unknown minor leaguers on a back field. You will notice in the image below that there were about as many writers and photographers as there were players on the field.
Many waited breathlessly for his arrival, after which he proceeded to throw a series of off-the-mark dying quails from centerfield to second and third base. Not even considering the challenges he will face in the batter’s box, Tebow has much work to do on the basics of throwing from the outfield. The most surprising thing was that, as a former NFL Quarterback, one would have thought arm strength and accuracy would be a foundational asset for him. Of course, this just proves that athletic skills are not necessarily transferable from one sport to another.
Equally surprising – or perhaps not considering their faith connection – was Tebow prominently citing in his remarks to the press his extensive offseason work in the batting cage with, of all people, Daniel Murphy.
Left with the choice of waiting much longer to see Tebow do some hitting or catch the start of the game with the Astros, we chose the latter. It was imperative to try the food at Tradition Field, and having spent a ridiculous percentage of my childhood at Shea Stadium, it warmed the cockles of my heart to see knishes on the menu. The beer was a “mere” $7.50, which speaking to the times, seemed like a good deal. And the fries – a cross between steak fries and the crinkle cuts – were outstanding..
We relived 2016 when we saw the almost-regular lineup start the game, and when Asdrubal Cabrera hit an opposite field homer to begin the festivities – lest we forget, he was just so good last year. But in another “only in spring training” moment, Jeurys Familia made his spring debut in the third inning and gave up the tying run – amidst haunting memories of his wildcard game collapse and impending suspension.
It was endearing to see the beleaguered Captain take two at-bats without issue – he looked fine and drove a hard single through the left side in his first trip to the plate. Hansel Robles looked in midseason form. Rafael Montero – remember him? – somehow managed to pitch two innings without walking anyone. Wilmer Buecerra – the last piece of the trade with Toronto that brought Syndergaard and d’Arnaud – got an at-bat and struck out – man, what a long swing he has.
It was another memorable day in Port St. Lucie. But then, they all are. Wish you were here!