2003-03-15 / Sports

Can Coney Arrive At Shea For Opening Day?

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Can Coney Arrive At Shea For Opening Day?


By Bryan Hoch

Baseball Columnist

David Cone certainly had no idea he’d be standing on a pitcher’s mound in Florida when we last saw him in January. In fact, the righthander was placing a winning bid on a golf trip for four to Hilton Head, South Carolina, and benefiting John Franco’s assistance fund for the March of Dimes.

Hitting the links would have made a nice diversion from his upcoming duties as a broadcaster for the YES Network, but instead Cone is in Port St. Lucie. Now, the only microphones he’s seeing belong to incredulous reporers, all asking the same question: is this for real?

David Cone pitched two scoreless innings against the Dodgers in his last outing.David Cone pitched two scoreless innings against the Dodgers in his last outing.

At age 40 and having not thrown a pitch in a major league game since Oct. 6, 2001, Cone is attempting to do the impossible and make a return to The Show. Believe it or not, he’s got a pretty decent shot, if his arm can hold up.

With Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, Pedro Astacio and Steve Trachsel firmly entrenched to head the Mets’ rotation, Cone’s competition for the Mets’ No. 5 slot consists of a lesser-known trio: lefty Mike Bacsik (3-2, 4.37 ERA in 11 games), righty Jason Middlebrook (1-0, 3.94 in 3 starts for the Mets) and top pitching prospect Aaron Heilman (a combined 6-7 with a 3.63 ERA at Binghamton and Norfolk).

The Cone of 1987 would have dusted these three easily, but age has settled the field evenly these days. The book on Bacsik, 25, is that he’s a soft tosser who relies (perhaps too much) on location, and he was torched by the lackluster Orioles his first time out this spring, allowing seven runs in 1-2/3 innings last Saturday. Middlebrook, 27, has an impressive 93-mph fastball but has been slowed by injury during his career, and Heilman, 23, is generally considered to need some seasoning at Triple-A Norfolk.

Throw that all together, and it leaves the door wide open for Cone: all he has to do now is show that he can still throw the ball. Manager Art Howe and his staff will actually have until April 14 until they’ll need a fifth starter, thanks to a pair of off-days early in the schedule, which is plenty of time for Cone to prove himself – or for the other three to disqualify themselves.

It won’t be easy. But hey, it beats golfing.

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

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