Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Meet the Mets

Game 7, day 7, March 21, 2011 -- Braves vs. Mets @ Port St. Lucie

Monday was one of those interesting days. I get to the ballpark early (like 8:45am early). It's never too early to be at the ballpark. There are people who come to the player parking lot at 7am to try to get autographs of the players as they drive into work. Sometimes, those people will stay through until practice opens up at 9:30, and sometimes, they won't. On this particular day, I heard first-hand witness accounts of the departure of Oliver Perez. He arrived at the ballpark just after 8am (using a driver or car service), went inside, and by all media accounts, he was informed of his release shortly thereafter, his driver came back to pick him up (it didn't sound like he was in there for more than 15-20 minutes), and he was gone.

On to practice...there was stretching and then the group split up to throw and do some baserunning drills before splitting up even more to hit. Carlos Beltran was with the group for everything except the base running. No Earth-shattering revelations from being at practice. No autographs. But still better than sitting around the hotel room (or lobby).

Now for this game, I had been invited to something new this year at Digital Domain Park - an Amazin' Experience meet and greet lunch. It was open to Spring Training season ticket holders and New York/St. Lucie Mets Booster Club members for a small fee at your choice(s) of 2 games this spring. They brought the group to a small tent between the stadium and back fields, but in the area normally off-limits to us, gave us food, had an exclusive raffle for the booster club (as opposed to their raffle that's open to anyone who walks past the front of the stadium), and we could see a slighly different perspective of the ballpark.

If you know the complex in Port St. Lucie, you've seen the secondary practice field, the one with the wall dimensions set up like that of Citi Field, with an exit in the fence in CF that leads to the Mets' clubhouse in the area of the back fields that's off limits to fans (that's part of how they sneak away from us), and this is the area where this picnic was being held, and the bench players were doing some drill on that field with some of the coaches, so as they walked back to the clubhouse, we had access to stop them and ask for autographs. That group of players was pretty good about that. I was able to get Mookie Wilson's autograph and see up close (very up close) him wearing number 1. And I have to say that it's really good just to see Mookie back as a coach with the club, not just back in his number. The only other player that I snagged while stopping for the fans was Brad Emaus. I think there were one or two others who signed, but for various reasons, I didn't run over there.

Part of the meet and greet is that 2 Mets players are brought over to the group to sign autographs and take pictures. Nobody knows ahead of time who it will be (I had heard that Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey were the players at the first event). This time, we got Mike Nickeas and Nick Evans. Not the same brand-names, but both of these guys couldn't have been nicer with the group. We even had them included in a group photo with the fans from the Meet and greet.

One thing we had to deal with was that this is an area right behind the LF fence and the Braves were taking batting practice on the main field while this was going on, and they had one or two players who were hitting some deep to left. At one point, we were basically in a shooting gallery (even to the point where fans and even a player almost got hit). But if was good for anyone who wanted baseballs.

And before it was all over, someone had noticed Johan Santana, our injured ace, working out in the covered bullpen that sits behind the 5-mound bullpen just outside of the stadium. For a few minutes, we were allowed to go over to watch him working on some pitching motion exercies and then some throwing. No autographs, but it was good to be able to see him working. He looked like someone who is NOT going to be out for the entire season, so let's put that debate to rest. Take a look at Santana's workout...

I've concluded that inside the stadium is a no-autograph zone. You try, but you may only succeed once every 4 or 5 games. For the game itself, Pelfrey struggled in the 4th, the Mets were down a touchdown to a field goal, and came back in the 9th to win it (our bench players beat your bench players).

After the game, I decided to try stalking players outside their parking lot rather than sitting in traffic trying to leave. I saw Jerry Seinfeld leave the park, Keith Hernandez sped by (I thought he had his own entrance/exit in both the parking lot and stadium, but I guess not), and a few players also drove by. Some kids did manage to chase down Jose Reyes in his car which was caught in some traffic exiting and he was ok signing for everyone there (I guess as long as traffic was stopped). I don't remember seeing that before.

Overall, not a bad day for autographs considering that I got absolutely nothing inside the stadium.

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