2003-01-25 / Sports

Even On Super Sunday, Spring Is In The Air

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Baseball Columnist

John Franco works out at Shea Stadium as part of his rehab from shoulder surgery in 2002. (Ap/Robert Mecea)John Franco works out at Shea Stadium as part of his rehab from shoulder surgery in 2002. (Ap/Robert Mecea)

Like most of you, I’ll be tuned into the action for the big game Sunday night, going way over the FDA’s daily-recommended allowance of John Madden and his grinning mug.

But with the utterly distressing exits of both New York teams – Chad Pennington looking more like Joe Millionaire than Joe Namath in Oakland’s Black Hole, and 41-year-old Giants long snapper Trey Junkin coming out of retirement just to join Ralph Branca in Gotham goat lore – I’m left to watch Super Bowl action between two teams who hold extremely little appeal.

And that’s why, as soon as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the Jets’ 30-10 loss to the Raiders, the official countdown began: it’s now just four weeks until Florida sunshine, pitchers and catchers, gloves and bats, dirt and grass.

Bet you didn’t expect spring to come so soon, did you?

¦ The Mets, having wrapped up a recent optional mini-camp at their complex in Port St. Lucie, Fl., are coming back to New York this week for a caravan which will include stops at the Late Show with David Letterman and on the Today show. Among those in attendance will be manager Art Howe, Mike Piazza, John Franco, Al Leiter, Cliff Floyd and Tom Glavine.

They’ll be making a fashion statement, too – the geniuses in the Mets’ merchandise department have come up with a brand-new neon orange batting practice jersey for the squad to try on this year, giving new meaning to the term ‘ugly baseball.’

Most of that same group will hang around town until Jan. 30, when Franco will hold his fourth annual charity bowling event to raise money for disadvantaged children. Last year’s event, held on Staten Island, was a rousing success – so much so that Franco and his organizers decided to move the event to Manhattan this year at Chelsea Piers, where it’s expected to go over the $1 million mark for the first time.

And in case you missed it, NL whiff king Jose Hernandez signed a two-year pact with the Rockies this week, scratching another potential third baseman off of Mets GM Steve Phillips’ list. Despite saying publicly that he’s "confident" rookie Ty Wigginton can do the job, Phillips is clearly getting desperate – one published report had Phillips offering young talents Mike Bacsik, Timo Perez and Grant Roberts to the Expos in a three-way trade that would bring the Mets middle-of-the-road third baseman Shea Hillenbrand.

¦ The Yankees, regaining a sense of normalcy after hosting the single largest press event in the team’s century-old history to introduce left fielder Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui, seem to be primed and ready to make the trip down to Tampa.

While the buzz over Godzilla is sure to be deafening, especially with dozens of Japanese media representatives falling over each other to document his every movement and audible noise, keep a close eye also on Cuban sensation Jose Contreras.

Contreras, who says he’s 31 and was given a four-year, $32 million contract by the Yankees before even throwing a pitch in the United States, will be vying for one of the Bombers’ prized rotation slots.

Most likely to get bumped to the bullpen? Righty Jeff Weaver, who struggled so badly upon his acquisition from the Tigers that some are already whispering he doesn’t have "that thing" it takes to make it in New York.

Call it Ed Whitson Disease, or whatever you will, but Contreras represents a new obstacle that’s sure not to please either Weaver, or to a certain extent, Joe Torre, who gave his word to Weaver that he’d get him into the starting rotation in 2003.

¦ Among the more intriguing items at a recent sports collectibles show in White Plains: Credit cards that once belonged to one "Peter E. Rose" and another to "Mickey C. Mantle." On the one hand, it’s sad to see that Charlie Hustle and the Mick had to hock off the most mundane of their personal belongings just to pay a couple of bills (or is it debts?), but if those pieces of plastic could talk…

■ Sitting in the 100 level of Madison Square Garden for Sunday’s 4-2 Rangers loss to the Flyers, the most riveting conversation overheard was between two diehard Rangers fans debating whether or not the Mets should have tendered a contract offer to Edgardo Alfonzo. It’s just been that kind of season for the last-place Blueshirts…

My ability to prognosticate football is about the same as my understanding of nuclear physics (ask my lucky friend, who made me $55 lighter on the Jets) but if you want a score, here it is: Raiders 27, Buccaneers 24. Enjoy the game.

Bryan Hoch appears regularly in the Wave. He can be reached at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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