PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — After winding my manic way through Arizona and Florida for the last five springs, I've quickly learned that sometimes you get lucky and show up to a camp on the right day.
Other times you arrive to find a veteran left-handed reliever running around the practice fields dressed as Hulk Hogan in an attempt to teach a lesson about social media.
I'm not complaining about being present for Tim Byrdak's attention grab on Tuesday, but there was little doubt that Monday — the team's first day of full-squad workouts — was the day to be in Port St. Lucie. That was when owner Fred Wilpon showed up and threatened to own the team for the next 500 years. This was after Wilpon took a wad of cash from his pocket so he could demonstrate that the team still had plenty of money — only to find out he was waving around a bunch of $5 bills.
Later, Fred's son Jeff passed out "Underdog" T-shirts to the players in the clubhouse, but the move more or less backfired. David Wright said he didn't want the team viewing themselves as underdogs, while younger players like Ike Davis and Dillon Gee said they were too young to remember the cartoon character. Maybe that wasn't much, but Mets fans griped about the move on Twitter, and the tabloids spun it into a controversy anyway.
So, yeah, I'm a little irked I missed it all because it seemed like such a microcosm of what the Mets' upcoming season will be: A defiant Wilpon reiterates that cash problems won't cause him to sell the team, David Wright is put in the awkward position of commenting on the news (as his words are the only ones that matter in the clubhouse any more) and the media waits for the next odd episode that can steal any headline space from their colleagues in the Bronx.
It's definitely a weird little purgatory that the Wilpons' financial problems have created and a sad one for the dedicated Mets fans out there. But with the slimmed-down Mets payroll competing against four NL East teams that all improved on paper, it doesn't seem like the situation will change much in 2012.
More from my day in Port St. Lucie below ...
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Terry Collins is aboard for his second season of managing the Mets and he remains pretty hands-on. He shuttled between fields offering up-close instruction while presumably telling the team how much the world thinks they stink. Collins is a big company-man proponent of the "Underdog" T-shirts, though he probably doesn't have to be as his option for 2013 has already been exercised. Tell 'em what you really think, Terry!
"I told them, there's 29 other teams that think they're better than you are," Collins told reporters. "How does that make you feel? And what are you going to do about it? Are you going to talk about it or are we going to do something about it?"
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OK, it's not fair to remain so pessimistic about any team while the calendar still says February so here's a picture that has Mets fans hopeful. Well, the left half of it, anyway. First baseman Ike Davis says he's feeling healthy after healing from an ankle injury that sidelined him for most of the 2011 season. He was hitting .300 with seven homers and 25 RBIs when he was injured on May 11. Now the fences at Citi Field have been moved in and Davis can take aim at a great season that's long been expected of him.
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Another reason for hope: When he's not being pegged by star pitching prospect Matt Harvey in live batting practice — like he was on Tuesday — right fielder Lucas Duda has been launching some tape-measure shots, and the Mets want to see what kind of numbers the 26-year-old can post over a full season. One reporter suggested to Collins on Tuesday that fan hype had grown so much that people were expecting a 40-homer season from the man previously best known as saying he hates the song "Camptown Races." That's probably not going to happen as it took Duda 1,952 minor-league plate appearances to post 57 dingers, but there's clearly some promise here.
And possibly a lot of hyperbole, too. As the sponsor on Duda's Baseball-Reference page says, "When [he] becomes New York's white Ryan Howard, remember I told you so."
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The picture is the story of the Mets past few seasons. They wanted Johan Santana, they got R.A. Dickey instead. The good news is that the mountain-climbing Dickey has used the knuckleball to become one of the team's top contributors while Santana is again on the comeback trail. Santana threw long toss on Tuesday, has a bullpen session scheduled for the weekend and is on track to start a Grapefruit League game next week.
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Finally, back to the bad timing bit: I spotted Mets GM Sandy Alderson near a batting cage on Tuesday, but his dog Buddy — arguably baseball's most famous hound and a visitor to the earlier days of camp — was nowhere to be found.
I finished my day by sadly leaving a package of uneaten dog treats by the bullpen.