Carroll: Mets Spring Training Stories To Watch

     Early March always puts a smile on the fans of baseball fans no matter what the weather is outside (and yes, we’ve been rather fortunate this winter so far) because spring training if officially underway.

     Mets fans have reason to be both optimistic and worried at this early juncture. Yes, their team has a talented roster but there are a number of issues that temper enthusiasm with health concerns being the biggest damper.

     Third baseman and team captain David Wright has played in only 75 games over the past two seasons as he has battled both neck issues and spinal stenosis. At age 34 it’s only natural to wonder how much Wright can contribute in 2017.

     There are even more question marks regarding the health of starting pitchers. One-time unquestioned Mets ace Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz all missed significant stretches of the 2016 season. Zach Wheeler, who underwent arm ligament surgery two years ago was expected to return to action after last year’s All-Star Game. The Mets are still waiting for his return. Wheeler is in camp at Port St. Lucie but there were early reports that he still felt some pain in his throwing arm.

     Spring training is a time for players who had off-years to begin redeeming themselves. The Mets had high hopes for both catcher Travis d’Arnaud and sophomore outfielder Michael Conforto. Both players struggled at the plate and it seemed as if d’Arnaud’s offensive struggles affected his work behind the plate.

    Mets general manager Sandy Alderson acquired Jay Bruce from the Reds at the July 31 trade deadline to bolster the Mets’ struggling offense at the time. The hope was that Bruce could make up for the slugging punch that was missing when Yoenis Cespedes was out of the lineup because of his nagging quadriceps injury. Unfortunately, Bruce struggled his first two months in a Mets uniform. Alderson is hoping that Bruce can have a productive spring if for no other reason than to use him as a trade chip.

      Then there is the matter of the team’s closer, Jeurys Familia, who was arrested last fall in Fort Lee on a domestic disturbance charge. Happily for both Familia and the Mets the Bergen County district attorney’s office declines to press charges. Nonetheless, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred can still suspend Familia for a part of the season.

     Manfred has been slow to issue his sentence and it’s now obvious that he’ll wait until after the World Baseball Classic concludes in late March. Familia will be on the roster of the Dominican Republic team.

     My guess is that Manfred’s delay is good news for Familia and his Mets teammates. I surmise that if Manfred was really going to throw the book at Jeurys he would have issued his sentence already and it would have prohibited him from taking part in the WBC.

     Along with the start of spring training comes the first round of baseball books of the year. It would be understandable if you were to yawn hearing the title “The New Baseball Bible” (Sports Publishing) but you would be mistaken. Veteran baseball author Dan Schlossberg knows better than to just provide names, a dull list of records, and endless statistics. He instead provides a lively 400-page paperback compendium that tackles everything from how equipment has changed over the years; the history of spring training sites; superstitions; professional baseball leagues other than Major League Baseball; the best players ever taken in expansion drafts and so much more.

      There is some tennis news to report. The New York Empire of World Team Tennis will be coming back for a second season but they will be shifting their home games from Forest Hills Stadium. Among the name players who will be competing for the Empire will be John Isner, Eugenie Bouchard, and one of my all-time favorites, Mardy Fish.

     The annual BNP Paribas Showdown takes place at Madison Square Garden this coming Monday night. Among the participating tennis stars will be Venus Williams, Jack Sock, Kei Nishikori, Juan del Potro, and Nick Kyrgios. In the traditional old-timers match, Andy Roddick will take on Lleyton Hewitt.

     Toy Fair, one of the biggest trade shows of the year in New York, took place last week at the Javits Center. Sports as usual was well-represented in the collectibles area. Party Animal’s displayed Mets and Yankees-logo giant drinking tankards while Fremont Die, which has long manufactured novelty items such as “Parking for Mets fans only!” signs, is expanding into MLB team insignia serving trays and there will be a Mets-themed one this spring.

      IDNA Brands has created intricate jigsaw puzzles featuring a fictitious character named Joe Journeyman who has played for every single MLB and NFL team. This allows fans to complete a puzzle of their favorite teams’ stadiums.

     World Wrestling Entertainment has always been a leader in licensing their brand to companies. Wicked Cool Toys has been manufacturing 31″ tall likenesses of WWE stars such as John Cena and Brock Lesnar. Their newest figure is AJ Styles. The company is also producing a blue tooth microphone with the WWE trademark on it that resembles the one used by announcers in the ring before and after a match. It can also be used for Karaoke.

      The warmer weather of late spring combined with a return to daylight savings time means that more young people will want to play outdoors even after the sun goes down. Franklin Sports is debuting a line of Light Strike battery-powered basketballs and footballs that light up for up to 80 hours. Tangle Creations has been a leader in the light-up sports equipment industry. Its Night Bat is designed for after-dark fungoes while Night Disk is their version of a Frisbee that glows in the dark.

    One very encouraging trend that I saw at this year’s Toy Fair was that there was less emphasis on toys and games that are operated via smartphone apps and more on old school eye-hand coordination. In the world of marksmanship, Zing uses foam-tipped arrows in its various archery games while Alex Brands’ Buzz Bee Walking Dead blasters uses foam for its projectiles that one can aim at character cutouts from the popular AMC TV show.

    For those who prefer cutting edge technology, Nintendo is about its Switch console which will allow users to play countless games that take very little time to complete.

     If you are a novice skier and have been waiting for the end of winter to hit the slopes, New Hampshire’s  Ragged Mountain Resort has a deal for you. Ragged Mountain is offering three free lessons, equipment rental, and lift tickets. For more info, log onto 

     CBS apparently had fast doubts about “Doubt,” that starred Katherine Heigl as a do-good attorney who works for a law firm that always helps the underdog regardless of a client’s ability to pay. The show was pulled from the Tiffany Network’s schedule after two Wednesday airings.

     Katherine Heigl has been in a serious career slump as her recent films have bombed and her NBC show, “State of Affairs,” was cancelled after just one season. It wouldn’t be fair however to pin the blame on the failure of “Doubt” on her as critics generally praised her work here. My guess is that the show, which had a liberal political bent, probably felt very unrealistic and out of touch in the first year of the Trump Administration. It also didn’t help “Doubt” that CBS was pushing another legal eagle show, “The Good Fight,” a spinoff of the recently concluded “The Good Wife” for CBS All Access, its digital subscription service that is trying to be a competitor to Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix.

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