2004-03-19 / Sports

Inside Pitch

By Bryan Hoch
Inside Pitch By Bryan Hoch

New York Mets third base coach Bobby Floyd, left, congratulates Mets second baseman Jose Reyes on his second-inning triple vs. the St. Louis Cardinals Friday March 5, 2004 in Port St. Lucie, Fla.  (AP Photo/Rick Silva).New York Mets third base coach Bobby Floyd, left, congratulates Mets second baseman Jose Reyes on his second-inning triple vs. the St. Louis Cardinals Friday March 5, 2004 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (AP Photo/Rick Silva).

The first week of spring training always feels the brightest. Every player is fresh and healthy, the sun is shining again, and almost everything seems possible. It’s a beautiful time – that is, until the harsh blackness of reality filters in.

That dark cloud has grown comfortable hovering over the Mets’ facilities in Port St. Lucie, where a series of in juries – some nagging, some worse – have all but spoiled the early optimism set forth by new acquisitions like outfielder Mike Cameron.

Cameron was perhaps the sunniest to report to Florida’s Treasure Coast, eager to get off on the right foot with his new club and telling anyone who’d listen that the Mets would "have a great chance of winning" with the roster as currently comprised.

Unfortunately for the Mets, that intact roster has since become a distant memory, with the most glaring absence being that of Jose Reyes. One of the undisputed top prospects to come through the organization in recent years, Reyes has had a tough run staying healthy, suffering another hamstring injury this week that has placed his Opening Day status in doubt.

This appears to be a recurring ailment for the standout infielder, who felt a tweak trying to score from second base in an exhibition game on Sunday. Last season at Triple-A Nor folk, Reyes missed three weeks when he incurred a similar injury trying
to beat out a drag bunt; earlier in
his career, the 20-year-old painfully strain ed a quadriceps muscle while playing in the Dominican Winter League.

"I’ve had a lot of trouble with (injuries)," said Reyes, who also had to sit out the last month of the 2003 season with a sprained ankle. "We have to try to figure it out."

The Mets could probably stomach another Reyes injury on its own, but concern is spread thin through the beat-up clubhouse these days. Cam eron, a Gold Glove presence in center field, will be slowed somewhat by a bone spur in his right big toe, while Cliff Floyd is still burning off scar tissue in his surgically repaired Achilles tendon. Mike Piazza also felt an upper leg tweak while working out at first base and had to cool his guns for a few days. Even worse, the Mets are still yet to see the vaunted double-play matchup of Reyes and Kazuo Matsui in game action – the seven-time Japanese All-Star was unable to play the field until this week due to a split finger – and they may not take the field together until the Mets open up in Atlanta on April 6.

That’s not a good sign for a club that’s relying heavily on Reyes to provide the solid, gritty infield defense that Roberto Alomar, for one, shied away from. The Mets also badly need the offensive output that the team is confident the speedster would provide for their top-heavy batting order.

"He’s a huge catalyst for us, and we need him," Piazza told reporters. "His health is paramount for this team. 85 If he just does what we know he can do, there’s no question he’s going to be a Rookie of the Year candidate. Hopefully he’ll be ready for (Opening Day). If not, it’ll be a little bit of a shame."

95 Red Sox fans cannot be thrilled with having Ben Affleck serving as the media’s favorite unofficial mouthpiece for their club. Affleck’s a decent enough actor, but he’s no more qualified to speak out about Red Sox issues than the next paying patron at Fenway Park.

Appearing on Larry King’s CNN program this week, a caller asked Affleck for his opinion on the Alex Rodriguez trade. Affleck responded like a school child who’d had his favorite toy taken away, rather than formulating an intelligent and informed response:

"You’re in shock. It’s sad for humanity," Affleck said. "I mean, the Yankees

stole A-Rod is what happened. They stole him. It was crookedness. Don’t
ever underestimate the crookedness of (George) Steinbrenner for one thing."

When pressed by King as to what, exactly, Steinbrenner had done that was crooked, Affleck was dumfounded.

"Well, I mean I Don’t know exactly," Afflect responded,"but I know it was crooked. I mean, he had the players union.

He was going...it doesn’t matter, it’s past us. We have a great team."

Contact Bryan Hoch: bryan hoch@yahoo.com.

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