The Mets’ first spring telecast from Port St. Lucie was this past Saturday (2/24). This was good news on several fronts. It pointed out that spring – the actual season, spring – is, indeed, on the way, that we here in the chilly Northeast will shortly be freed from this bleak midwinter. It evoked a coming time of short sleeves and short pants, those days of soda and pretzels and beer, according to Nat “King” Cole. It gave us a February taste of the best TV team in the biz, garykeithandron – this cries out to be written as a unit, much like lindseybobandralph. Obviously, it marked the return of Mets baseball in tangible form. Right there on my screen, there were real baseball players, doing real baseball things in a real baseball competition – even if it was “only” the first Spring Training game. It gave us interested parties a brief glimpse of what all the future fuss may be about.
Out front of that last point was Zack Wheeler, the prize ransom from the San Francisco Giants for the surrender of Carlos Beltran the year before last. We’ve heard a lot about this kid, how his stuff is electric, how he’s wowed the higher-ups during his bullpen and live batting practice sessions, how he’s the future of this franchise and well worth a player of Beltran’s stature. Your intrepid columnist listened, intrigued. Wheeler needed to be seen and seen right. now. Lo and behold, there he was on our TVs on Saturday afternoon. Relieving Shaun Marcum in the fourth, he walked the leadoff hitter, but ended up stranding him at third, striking out the last hitter. He gave up a base hit in his second inning of work, resulting in an overall line of 2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 K. According to garykeithandron, he hit a high of 98 MPH on the ol’ radar gun and snapped off several noticeably down-dipping curves. Afterward, the rave reviews began. Garykeithandron waxed poetic, Bob Ojeda – camped out behind the plate to get an up-close look at the Wheeleric stuff – praised the movement on the breaking ball, and one scout even went so far as to do the unthinkable: compare Zack Wheeler favorably to Stephen Strasburg.
As far as your intrepid columnist is concerned, there hasn’t been this much buzz about a pitcher’s debut since 1984, when a teenager named Dwight Gooden lit up our screens from St. Petersburg. We were all convinced then that young Mr. Gooden was a major league caliber pitcher – that much was obvious to even the untrained eye – and that he would be best served burnishing his skills at AAA Tidewater. Rookie skipper Davey Johnson would have none of it, of course, and prevailed upon his supervisors to allow the future-Doc to break camp with the big club. Does a similar fate await Zack Wheeler? Not likely, especially in light of his contracting the latest fashionable injury – an oblique strain – this week. Even before the strain came to light, Wheeler was ticketed for Las Vegas for a myriad of reasons: experience, service time, arbitration clock, etc. And Terry Collins is in a far different position now than Davey Johnson was in the days of ’84. Collins is looking to keep his job, whereas Johnson was just starting his. The temptation will be strong and the pressure mounting from various sides to bring Wheeler to Flushing.
Best to let the excitement ferment in Vegas for a little bit.
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