By Mike Steffanos
An exciting off-season for Mets fans is drawing to an end as the eagerly anticipated baseball season gets ready to take its first baby steps. Pitchers and catchers will report on Wednesday, with the first workouts beginning the following day. GM Omar Minaya's frenetic winter has the Mets poised for a serious run at the post season for the first time in 6 years. All of the hot air generated by his dealing will do nothing to float the hopes of the Met faithful -- only the hard work that begins Thursday matters now.
The Mets farm system has been stripped down, ready to be made over in Minaya's image. Mike Jacobs now carries the hopes of south Florida baseball fans, with former top ten prospects Yusmeiro Petit and Gaby Hernandez accompanying him south on I-95.
Mike Piazza and Mike Cameron are Padres, while Marlon Anderson is a Nat. Doug Mientkiewicz has taken his ball and gone to Kansas City. Miguel Cairo has moved back to the Bronx. Anna Benson has rejoined the Duke in Baltimore, and brought Kris along with her. Jae Seo has gone Hollywood, while Braden Looper has returned to his mid-American roots in St. Louis. Roberto Hernandez will be pitching the eighth in PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Kaz Ishii, Danny Graves, Felix Heredia and Shingo Takatsu have all been firmly but politely shown the door, while Mr. Koo has been brought back to camp on a minor-league contract -- in case a pinch hitter is needed to face the Big Eunuch.
Carlos Delgado will be swinging his big left-handed stick in Queens, while Billy Wagner will be blowing triple-digit heat past batters in the ninth. Xavier Nady will fight for the RF job against fellow underachiever Victor Diaz. Endy Chavez will no longer hurt the Mets in 2006, though he's unlikely to help them much, either. Jose Valentin will be able to chat about the "good old days" with Julio Franco. Chad Bradford, Steve Schmoll and leftie Mike Venafro will try to bring sidewinding "funk" out of the bullpen. Duaner Sanchez brings guts and stuff with him from LA, and will compete for the eighth inning with Jorge Julio, who brings a plummeting reputation with him from Baltimore.
Cuban defector Alay Soler, Japanese import Yusaku Iriki and faded Oriole prospect John Maine will battle for a rotation slot. Brett Boone will battle for his vanishing career. Retreads Jose Parra and Pedro Feliciano will try to help out in the bullpen. First round draft pick Mike Pelfrey will try to prove that he can be a factor in Flushing by late next year.
Willie Randolph will try to prove that he is a legitimate major league manager. Many fans are already convinced that he needs to go, Willie is hoping not to convince Omar Minaya and the Wilpons of the same.
Welcome to Metsmania 2006, where less than two years after Cliff Floyd failed to see a light at the end of the tunnel, the Mets are bathed in the glow of realistic hopes of post-season glory.
Note: A sincere thanks to those of you that sent the kind emails and Kevin for the flattering comment on yesterday's Sandlot post. As grateful as I was for the compliments, I was equally gratified that the piece managed to bring back some memories for others.
Daily News: The St. Lucie Petrie Dish
Ian Begley reports that GM Omar Minaya is looking to make another deal during spring training, possibly for a reliever or a number five starter. Omar is quoted listing the primary candidates for the fifth starter slot:
We owe ... some of the guys we're bringing in a chance to step up. From Aaron Heilman to John Maine to (Brian) Bannister, to (Yusaki) Iriki.
We'll keep an eye as to what's going on around the marketplace, but we're looking more towards an experimental spring training.
Begley also reports that single-game tickets will go on sale February 26. More information on that can be found at Mets.com.
Mets Inside Pitch: Spring Fever
Bryan Hoch recaps the off-season and quotes some Mets players looking ahead to 2006:
Cliff Floyd (on going this spring as a playoff favorite):
It's a thrill. That's what it's supposed to be about. You're not supposed to go into Spring Training hoping and wishing. You're supposed to go in knowing that you're going to win and have a good squad.
David Wright (On the new feeling around the team):
You've got all the guys coming together for the first time [at the Mets winter caravan]. Everybody was in suits, together for a nice evening, and it all ends up with everybody gathered around talking about baseball. That's just what it's all about.
Guys gathering up in suits in the middle of January, getting all emotional about baseball. That's what's going to make it so special this year, that we have that chemistry.
I'm here because I want to win. I want to become part of the New York community and I want to try to help the Mets go to the next level. I've never had the opportunity to be in a playoff race, so I'm really looking forward to this.
Billy Wagner (on signing with the Mets):
I wasn't looking for the world. It's about trying to be on the best team, and trying to win a World Series. I want the best opportunity to be a part of something special, and this was the right place to be.
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