2003-08-15 / Sports

•It’s not every day that a former President decides to drop by your place of employment, which made Tuesday’s visit by President Bill Clinton all the more special for the Mets.

•It’s not every day that a former President decides to drop by your place of employment, which made Tuesday’s visit by President Bill Clinton all the more special for the Mets.


After shaking hands with countless players, fans and reporters, Clinton, a self-described "baseball nut," chatted up Mets lefty Al Leiter for about ten minutes.

Leiter has hinted at someday running for the U.S. Senate seat out of New Jersey – following in the footsteps of former big leaguer and current Ken­tucky senator Jim Bun­ning – and Clin­ton came away from their meeting impressed, despite the fact that Leiter is a staunch Re­publican.

"He’s fascinated by politics," Clin­ton said. "We didn’t have any political ar­guments. He’s an interesting man, a bright man. He’s competitive and in­quisitive, and I think both of those things are important. Who knows, maybe if we had a month to work on each other, one of us would switch (affiliations)."

Making his second-ever trip to Shea, Clinton took time out to re­count how his own lifelong love of the game was sparked. The ex-President grew up as a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, as did most of the Midwest, but took a certain affection for the Chicago Cubs when broadcaster Harry Caray switched allegiances.


AL LEITERAL LEITER

"In Arkansas, we all got WLS out of Chicago and KMOX out of St. Louis," Clin­ton recalled, "It came straight down the (Mississippi) River on a clear channel."

Clinton spent many a night huddled under the covers with a transistor radio following the action taking place hundreds of miles away. He also never forgot the time when, at the age of six, his stepfather took him on an overnight train ride to St. Louis’ old Sportsman’s Park to see the Cardinals play.

"I’ll tell you what, when I got there, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven," he said.

•Mets manager Art Howe was asked this week by a pair of Bay Area reporters just how he was responding to the day-to-day pressures of running a team in New York. Per­haps surprisingly, Howe didn’t beg the two scribes to stow him in their luggage and smuggle him back to the West Coast on the next red-eye.

Actually, Howe has held up rather well through the Mets’ trying season, with the only real knock against him being that he just isn’t Bobby Valentine in terms of personality or sound-bite worthiness. The first-year Mets’ manager has had to deal with any number of injuries and currently has a club that bears ab­solutely no resemblance to the one that came north from Port St. Lucie in April.

"If we still had the same club we came into camp with, I’d be upset," Howe said. "But I deal with reality. It’s been refreshing to see the kids playing. I know we’re in the right direction."

•Giants infielder Edgardo Alfon­zo spent the first eight years of his career with the Mets, but through his entire stay at Shea Stadium, he never had the opportunity – sorry, Mike Piazza – to play with any player as talented as Barry Bonds.

"He’s amazing," Alfonzo said. "I mean, to see him from afar, that was great, but it’s a great honor to see him do the job every day. Day in, day out, he’s tremendous."

There’s certainly no question about that. At some point this season, Bonds should pass the legendary Willie Mays for third place all-time on the home run list – that is, if he gets enough pitches to hit. It’s be­come unthinkable to pitch to Bonds with first base open at any point in the game, much less a pressure situation, if only because there’s hardly any place in the strike zone that you can get a pitch past the slugger.

"This guy looks like he’s toying with people at times, like he’s in his backyard hitting off his son with a Wiffle Ball bat," Howe said. "He’s just incredible. He seems to be in a league by himself."

•The Web site baseballprospectus. com, which provides daily updates around the majors and is generally credible, reported this week that Major League Baseball had reached the terms of an agreement with Pete Rose that would remove him from the game’s ineligible list in 2004. The former Reds, Phillies and Expos star would be eligible to manage again in 2005, the report stated.

MLB shot the claims down as "totally unsubstantiated" and "journalistically irresponsible," while the folks at the Web site stood by their story. If the story’s not true, it ought to be.

Expect Rose to be back in the game and eligible for the Hall of Fame by this time next season, although it’d certainly be a stretch to see any team consider giving Rose – who, for the record, never bet against his Reds while he was managing – the opportunity to screw up again.

•Mets outfielder Cliff Floyd, on continuing to play with his painful strained right Achilles: "I’m like ‘Sanford and Son.’ I can’t run. I’m walking around here like Grady."

Bryan Hoch can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.


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