FLUSHING, NY – It is Wednesday evening, a few hours before the New York Mets take the field to conclude their next to final home stand of the season against the Atlanta Braves. They have already lost their last five games to Atlanta, the last two at Citi Field, and with nine games remaining this Mets team is destined to lose more than the 91 games that was accomplished by the 2004 Mets.
There are not many fans in the ballpark as some Mets players took their pre game swings around the batting cage. Some would take their cuts, leave the field and take the walk to their new spacious clubhouse. Other players are in the back room players lounge, a sanctuary in new modern ballparks such as Citi Field.
Otherwise, inside it is quiet. Mets players are going about their business realizing that a lost season of misery is almost over. The bags are already packed for their last road trip to Florida and Washington and equipment manager Charlie Samuels does his last minute check. This time of year, with expanded rosters, Samuels has to make sure nothing is left behind.
Alex Cora, the veteran, who played a vital role in the infield for the injured Jose Reyes, was on a couch at the end of the clubhouse situated near an entrance to the player’s lounge. He interestingly watched the Yankees afternoon encounter with the Angels on a high definition television above the locker of Angel Pagan.
His left thumb in a cast from recent ligament surgery, Cora was doing exercises to his right hand where ligament surgery was successfully done on the right thumb five weeks ago. It has been that type of season for Cora and the Mets, injuries that may have set a Major League record for a team.
“Here they come,” said Cora to yours truly and another reporter about the Angels as they rallied against the New York Yankees. “They are good, “he said. After the Angels failed to score Cora retreated to his spacious quarters to the left. “It has been a bad year,” he said. “I am coming along and hope to be here next year. These are a great bunch of guys.”
But the Mets hope Reyes returns to form and recovers from a torn hamstring tendon behind the right knee that has kept him on the disabled list since May 26th. Cora may or may not be in their plans, though before going on the DL on August 18th he became a valuable player in the infield and at the plate.
One hour before game time now and the clubhouse is getting busier, though still quiet. Pagan changes into his game jersey, Gary Sheffield walks to his dressing area by the clubhouse entrance, checks his blackberry e-mail. Anderson Hernandez, not far from Sheffield quietly gets dressed and Wilson Valdez goes from one end of the clubhouse to the other.
Anderson and Valdez are two of those other Mets infielders who have tried to fill the void with the absence of Reyes. A lost season for the Mets and both wonder where they will be in February when the Mets convene for spring training in Port St. Lucie Florida.
“I hope to be here but it is not up to me,” says Valdez who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians in late May. He has seen more playing time the past month hoping the Mets will give him an opportunity. Valdez has been used also off the bench, but the problem for the Mets, besides the injuries, has been the lack of production from guys like Valdez and Sheffield;
Off the bench, they are a combined 1-for-24 as pinch hitters. The only hit was the 500th career home run hit by Sheffield at Citi Field back on April 17th against the Milwaukee Brewers. Anderson is going about his business also starting at short with Valdez/. They are looking ahead to the off-season and preparing to play with the Mets or another team.
“Winter ball in Dominican,” said Anderson about plans when the season concludes in a week or so. A product of the Mets organization, Anderson was reacquired from the Washington Nationals on August 6th, another of the infielders GM Omar Minaya sought when Cora went down.
Carlos Beltran, he too hindered by the amazing amount of injures this season quickly enters the clubhouse and to the lounge. He is in the lineup again for manager Jerry Manuel and playing out the season as he continues to gain more strength on the injured right knee.
“Cotto of course,’ he says when asked his view as to who will win the upcoming Miguel Cotto-Manny Pacquiao welterweight championship fight. Of course Beltran will go with Cotto, They are good friends and speak often, while Sheffield, an avid boxing fan plans to train this off season with former champion Winky Wright down in Tampa Florida and favors Pacquiao.
Sheffield knows this is a business. He doesn’t say much, though it can be seen that he offers veteran leadership, has made it known he would like to pay for this team next season and wants to continue his career.
He discusses his future as Pagan, Omir Santos, Anderson and Luis Castillo sit on a couch in the middle of the clubhouse and have a friendly card game. More chatter in the clubhouse, a very loose one, though much of the talk is in Spanish as a majority of the Mets roster is of Latino descent.
Game time is getting close and soon the clubhouse will be closed to the media. Usually there are throngs of media personnel in the clubhouse looking for stories of interest. We clutter in the middle of the clubhouse seeking out a player or two. However, the Mets really have no story lines as the late September stretch comes to a close.
Getting an item of interest is slim or none so the media presence is sparse and the players seem to be more relaxed as to talking about their off season conditioning plans and maybe what went wrong n 2009. Of course, as Valdez said, “This is baseball. No, I can’t remember so many guys being injured.”
Yeah, 14 or more players at one time on the disabled list, including pitcher Oliver Perez who saw his season shut down August 26th with tendonitis in his right knee. He quickly makes a cameo in the clubhouse in street clothes. No site of Jose Reyes, or Carlos Delgado, and talk is Delgado is suffering now from back spasms and has probably seen his last days as a New York Met.
The only questions that can be asked, is where do you hope to be with this team next season? Said Sheffield, “Don’t know what they’re thinking,” commenting about Mets management plans for him. “I know what I can do,’ he said.
So it is a Mets clubhouse with uncertainty as to where they will be next season. And a clubhouse of players ready to play the final games of a lost season, and obviously trying to enjoy their final days together They will say their goodbyes and clean their lockers out a week from Sunday when the season concludes at Citi Field with a weekend series against the Houston Astros.
But inside that modern Mets clubhouse there is the feeling. Had they been injury free it could have still been a race with the Phillies. Every one expected it to be that way with a season of optimism. But this is baseball and a long season of misery is almost over..
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]