The Week That Was: What About Zack?

     One of the more intriguing stories out of the Mets’ spring training camp is “How will Mets manager Mickey Callaway employ Zack Wheeler?”

      Mets general manager Sandy Alderson signed veteran free agent starting pitcher and a brief one-time Met, Jason Vargas just as the team was opening camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida last month. Alderson and everyone else affiliated with the Mets learned the hard way last season that the old baseball adage about never having enough pitching was all too true.

      The Mets are expecting that their key four starters: Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz will be healthy and ready to contribute from the start of the season. The fifth starter slot will fall to either be Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, or the aforementioned Jason Vargas.

       In an ideal world the Mets would love to see Zack Wheeler be either their fourth or fifth starter but the injury-prone Wheeler has spent more time on the disabled list than any other Mets pitcher. That’s saying something given how brittle their arms have been over the last few years.

      Mickey Callaway would be smart to keep Wheeler in the bullpen for at least the first month of the season. The April weather in New York is generally cold and damp which can only aggravate old injuries. Letting Wheeler pitch in short spurts may allow him to regain confidence in terms of velocity, control, and most importantly, being able to stay healthy.

     Not surprisingly, Wheeler was not very happy about either the Mets’ acquisition of Jason Vargas or the notion of starting the season in the bullpen. While I admire Zack’s competitive spirit, his opinions are irrelevant. Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch has written “The Baby Bombers” (Diversion Books) which is the most comprehensive book about the team in the nearly eight years since George Steinbrenner passed away in 2010.

      Yes, the Yankees still sign free agents and get big name players in trades but the primary focus for team general manager Brian Cashman and his boss, Yankees CEO Hal Steinbrenner, has been developing a minor league pipeline that is the jewel of the big leagues. The farm system has borne fruit as is evidenced by Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Ronald Torreyes, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar. Hoch gets insights from all of the homegrown Yanks.

     He doesn’t shy away from discussing former manager Joe Girardi’s surprise dismissal last October. Hoch claims that Girardi’s public frustrations with Gary Sanchez’s defense behind the plate may have been his Waterloo. Cashman was also concerned that Girardi’s old-school tight-lipped ways, which used to be an ideal trait for a Yankees manager, was becoming increasingly ineffective with today’s younger players. Hal Steinbrenner is even quoted as saying that even if the Yankees had won the 2017 World Series he would have axed Girardi.  

      The Islanders re-signed their longtime right winger Josh Bailey to a six-year deal last week. Bailey has been a late bloomer. A lot was expected of him when he came up with the Isles a decade ago but he was a disappointment for most of his NHL career. He even spent some time playing for the minor league Bridgeport Sound-Tigers when most expected him to be a star playing in front of the fans at the Nassau Coliseum.

     Bailey’s play has markedly improved over the last two seasons and last month he played in his first NHL All-Star Game.

     It will be interesting to see whether Josh Bailey’s deal will help make Islanders franchise star, center John Tavares, sign his own long-term deal with the team. 

     Former Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire has spent parts of the last three years in Israel which has quietly become one of the world’s biggest wine exporters. Stoudemire has long been an oenophile so it’s not surprising that last week he launched his eponymous line red wines at a Jewish National Fund event. The wines are produced in association with Royal Wine Corporation (the folks behind Baron Herzog and Kedem).

   Stoudemire is not completely retired from the hoops world. He will be playing half-court basketball this summer in the Big 3 League which had a very successful maiden season in 2017.

    The New York Historical Society, which is located across the street from the American Museum of Natural History, is having an exhibition of the works of Madison Square Garden’s official photographer of 50 years, George Kalinsky. Former Knicks guards John Starks and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe as well as retired NBA Commissioner David Stern were among those who attended the opening night reception last Wednesday.

      In addition to capturing the many boxers, basketball, and hockey stars who have played at the Garden, George Kalinsky has photographed Pope John Paul II, and rock legends as the Rolling Stones, Elton John, and Elvis Presley. The exhibition will run through June.

     The annual New York Toy Fair that was held at the Javits Center last week had a number exhibitors who showcased products dedicated to helping young people become better athletes. Franklin Sports’ Pop Rocket and Little Kids’ Junk Ball are wiffle ball fungo products are very good for eye-hand coordination. Alex Brands’ Lacrosse Launcher is in the same vein for budding players of America’s oldest sport.

     An Australian company, Hunter Products, teamed up with the Worldwide Leader in Sports to create ESPN Future Pro Collection. Hunter/ESPN’s basketball shows players the best place to put their hands when shooting and they have markings for both lefties and righties. Their football has similar illustrations to help you throw the perfect spiral.

     Jakks Pacific displayed their latest Morf skateboard for youngsters while Carrom Sports was celebrating the 75th anniversary of one the most beloved interactive basement games of all-time, Nok Hockey.         

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