The Mets send Jon Niese to the mound at Disney this afternoon against Atlanta left-hander Mike Minor. It will be a timely visit, since notorious Mets killer Chipper Jones announced Thursday his intention to retire after the season. Also scheduled to pitch for the Mets: Miguel Batista, Josh Edgin and Daniel Herrera.
Friday's news reports:
• Jones, an all-time nemesis, has a career .318 average, 48 homers and 154 RBIs in 812 at-bats against the Mets. David Wright was among the members of the MLB community offering praise in light of Jones' announcement. "He was kind of the model of consistency and the guy they kind of built that team around," Wright said.
ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick recalls how Jones became the first overall pick by the Braves in the 1990 draft. Writes Crasnick:
Jones' legacy is special, of course, because he symbolizes something so rare these days -- the All-American kid who found a home with a franchise and never left. He grew up in Pierson, Fla., the "Fern Capital of the World," and was deemed a can't-miss prospect at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, but the Braves didn't decide to draft him first overall until high school pitcher Todd Van Poppel told them he was determined to attend the University of Texas. [Bobby] Cox, Atlanta's general manager in 1990, traveled to Jacksonville to watch Jones play. In those days, Cox told scouting director Paul Snyder to refrain from identifying which prospect they were looking at during pregame stretching, because it might color his perception from the outset. So Snyder remained silent, Cox scanned the line, and it took him about 10 seconds to pick out the phenom in question.
As for the reaction when Jones travels to New York during his farewell tour, the answer seems a no-brainer. Mets fans nearly universally respect his contribution to the rivalry. As ESPNNewYork.com blog commenter FireWilpon aptly wrote: "I hate him, but I'm going to miss hating him." The Braves visit Citi Field for Opening Day on April 5.
Writes Mike Puma in the Post:
“I think of the years of our battles, when the Mets became legitimate during that period of time,” [Al] Leiter said. “The excitement of when the Braves came in ... and the ‘Larry’ chants, it was kind of fun. The guy enjoyed it. Initially you thought, maybe he didn’t like it, but he named his kid Shea.” Leiter remembers facing Jones in a tight game in the 1990s at Turner Field and throwing what he thought was the perfect pitch — a changeup he didn’t often use -- only to watch Jones “flick it” for a two-run double. “I remember him sliding into second base,” Leiter said. “It was a big moment, the middle of the game, tight game, and I looked at him, ‘Are you [bleeping] kidding me? Really? You were looking for a changeup?’ And he looked at me like, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
• The Mets reassigned Chuck James to minor league camp after Thursday's game, leaving three left-handed relievers -- Garrett Olson, Edgin and Herrera -- in major league camp to keep Tim Byrdak's spot warm. Olson appears the frontrunner, with Edgin the most intriguing because he has not yet pitched above Class A St. Lucie. Byrdak, who underwent March 13 surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee, expects to begin tossing a baseball today and may miss no more than a week or two of the regular season. The Mets now have 39 players in major league camp.
• R.A. Dickey took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning and the Mets beat the Houston Astros, 8-2, Thursday at Digital Domain Park.
• Wright took batting practice with teammates Thursday for the first time since being shut down with an abdominal tear and receiving a cortisone shot in New York. Wright said he came through the session fine. Terry Collins expects Wright will repeat that routine through the weekend and play in a game for the first time on Monday or thereabout. Read more in the Times, Star-Ledger, Daily News, Post, Record, Journal and Newsday.
• Perhaps the Mets will not need left fielder Jason Bay or middle infielder Jordany Valdespin in center field when all is said and done. Andres Torres reported that the left calf strain he suffered Tuesday does not seem severe. Meanwhile, Scott Hairston (left oblique strain) took dry swings for the first time Thursday. Hairston expected to advance to hitting in a cage Friday for the first time -- starting with flips and underhand-tossed balls. Valdespin, who had one game of experience in the outfield in his career, played the final two innings of Thursday's Grapefruit League game in center field. Collins said Valdespin should play in Friday's game in center field as well, although not as the starter there. The manager added that if the Mets' center-field situation stabilizes, with Torres and/or Hairston regaining their health, Valdespin would solely play infield at Triple-A Buffalo and not dabble in the outfield. The logic is that a part-time position change could hamper Valdespin's success at the plate by overwhelming him. Read more on Valdespin in the Record.
Matt den Dekker, already dispatched to minor league camp, was borrowed and started in center field Thursday. He's also on the trip for Friday's game against the Braves. Still, a ton of dominoes likely would have to fall for den Dekker to be an actual consideration for the Opening Day roster. He has only played a half-season at Double-A, and struck out a combined 156 times in 539 at-bats between Binghamton and Class A St. Lucie last season.
Den Dekker is a fifth-round pick in 2010 out of the University of Florida, where he attended classes with Tim Tebow, notes Anthony Rieber in Newsday. "I like Tebow, but I don't like getting caught up in so much Tebowmania," den Dekker told Rieber. "Plus, I'm a Dolphins fan, too. I was kind of hoping Peyton Manning would go to the Dolphins."
• Critic Phil Mushnick in the Post isn't impressed with Fred Wilpon and family's court settlement being labeled a victory, even though the $162 million settlement can be offset by losses from other funds, meaning the Wilpons may part with only a fraction of that amount -- and not for at least four years. Mushnick makes reference to a previous Ponzi scheme, Bayou, in which Sterling Stamos, the Wilpons' hedge fund company, became entangled years earlier, resulting in a multimillion dollar payback settlement. Writes Mushnick:
By the way, how many Ponzi schemes does one have to be part of -- sink hundreds of millions into, no questions asked -- before one confesses that his sense of big-time investing at least leans toward the too-good-to-be-true, toward the crooked? Is it three? Four? How many Ponzis does one fund before he chooses to take a shower -- before he’s forced to take a bath? A or B? A: “I gave Bernie Madoff all my money, but I don’t know how he did it; I never asked.” B: “I gave him all my money and I agreed not to ask, thus I agreed not to know.” Either way, Wilpon and Saul Katz allowed their business to become none of their business? Forgive those of us who just can’t believe that.
• Left-hander Mark Cohoon tossed five no-hit innings as Binghamton beat the Marlins' Double-A affiliate, 14-5, Thursday. Read the full minor league recap here.
• Richard Sandomir in the Times notes that the value of the Mets franchise has tumbled in recent years in Forbes' calculations. The organization is now worth $719 million, according to the magazine, which previously valued the Mets at $912 million in 2009, $858 million in 2010 and $747 million last year. The Mets annually dispute Forbes' calculations.
• Steven Cohen is the frontrunner to have the winning bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bill Madden reports in the Daily News. A successful acquisition would require him to sell his just-purchased $20 million share of the Mets. Of the $240 million infused into the Mets, Cohen's contribution represents 20 percent of the $100 million in "new money," according to the Times; $140 million was infused by the Wilpons as well as SNY partners Time Warner and Comcast, the newspaper reported.
• Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger notes that many Mets pitchers use visualization -- seeing an outcome in your mind you want to happen in the future -- as a way to find success. Writes McCullough regarding Dillon Gee using the practice:
Gee experienced success with the concept as a teenager growing up in Fort Worth, Texas. One winter a friend invited him to go snowboarding. The only other time Gee had tried was disastrous. “How am I going to learn how to snowboard in Texas?” he wondered. So to avoid further embarrassment, he said, every time he took a shower he imagined himself traversing the slopes. “And I swear to God,” Gee said, “the next time I went, I wasn’t awesome, but I was 10 times better.”
TRIVIA: Who was the last Met to finish in the top five in National League MVP balloting?
Thursday's answer: Vinny Rottino represented Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Valentino Pascucci also was on that team, which had Mike Piazza as a coach. Pascucci already has been dispatched to Mets minor league camp.