|Tradition Field's beautiful facade. (Photo: Stephen Guilbert)|
To be clear, no one was sliding into second or running through the bag at second base. Everyone was approaching this as if a ball were up the gap--accelerate through the turn at first then coast into second. No point in getting hurt, no need to slide, just keep the line moving, get through it a couple times, then hit the showers for the day. Juan Lagares ran hard nearly all the way through the bag. So did Granderson. Some players slowed up a bit earlier, at times because of traffic in the way.
However, after Dilson Herrera slowed up earlier than the fans next to me seemed to want him to, I heard something that shocked me.
"Lazy. Don't want him."
"Wasn't running hard through the bag. Young player like that?"
"I don't want him on my team".
Okay, critical Met fan singling out one player for seemingly no reason, don't put him on your team. I'll have him on my team and my team will beat your team.
I get it. These were some old school fans who wanted to see their team get gritty and tough in spring training. However, this was a running drill. When David Wright slowed up at the same spot as Herrera, they should have gotten the idea but the comments kept coming. Spring training is not about players killing themselves in some baseball version of a military boot camp. It's about getting ready for the season. Getting ready for the season doesn't involve pulling hamstrings, sliding into second base unnecessarily, and running into your teammates on a base running drill.
All in all, there was quite a mix of fans at the complex on Monday. Parents with young children, fanboys with albums of baseball cards in need of signing, middle age couples, seniors sitting on the bleachers complaining that their view was blocked by the fans standing on the fence, and the ubiquitous "obnoxious sports guy" who seemed to have every answer for fixing the Mets. Overall, I enjoyed the fans I chatted with but there is certainly a disconnect between what fans think should happen in practice and what is or what is best. Mets fans also know their minor league players and that made me proud.
Personally, I was a bit surprised there was no criticism from the coaches--at least not that I could hear. Murphy and Flores booted plenty ground balls during infield practice. Some of the younger players struggled with batting practice drills and infield pop-up practice. PFP was ugly for some pitchers. Never did I hear a coach say "Gotta be better" or "Get it together 76" or "Not good enough, do it again". Perhaps it's the former rower in me who had too many coaches embody Gunnery Sergeant Hartman a bit too well but I expected something different than what I saw. I don't mean to suggest that they should be nasty or disrespectful, just that maybe a bit more pressure could yield better results.
Then again, at that point maybe I am no better than the old school fan saying he doesn't want a player on his team because he thinks he doesn't hustle.
After the base running drill, the infielders went to a more secluded practice field well away from the fans. Terry Collins held up there rear (until, of course, he realized that Ruben Tejada was trudging behind him). Collins saw Ruben, waited for him with his arm out, then gave Ruben a smack on the behind and said, "You did good today". Ruben smiled and jogged onto the field. I watched that practice for about 15 minutes and Ruben was the only infielder who looked like he belonged on a major league infield. Murphy and Flores booted easy grounders, made errant throws, and made matters worse for themselves with sloppy footwork. Yes, it was at the end of a long practice and they were the only players still out in the sun on a hot day, but it does not change the fact that the projected middle infield for the Mets has two guys who have little business playing the positions they play.
I like what Collins said to Tejada. Way too much has been said about Ruben Tejada's work ethic. Some players respond better to positive reinforcement and it seems like Terry has that figured out. He could have easily said "Let's go, you're the last one on the field" or some version of calling him out publicly like Sandy Alderson has done in the past. Terry Collins really does look like a general watching over his troops at these practices. He stands with his hands clasped behind him, often barking one word encouragements or instructions. The players respect him. I admire him. Hopefully with this team, he'll win a lot of games and silence the critics.
One last post about my day at spring training coming up later tonight. It involves our young prospects, moon shot home runs, and opposite field batting practice. Stay tuned. That post will be up by 11 PM.