Notes: Last Mets trip to Dodgertown
New York has many memories at historic spring facility
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Last licks? No, last looks. Sadly, the Mets make their final visit to Dodgertown on Sunday afternoon. They have played there each year since their inception, whether their headquarters was three hours away in St. Petersburg or 35 minutes away in Port St. Lucie.
The Mets' many visits to Dodgertown provided many memories. Three of the more vivid ones follow:
The power of three: The exhibition game schedule still was under way on April 21, 1995, because Spring Training had been delayed by the players' strike. Manager Dallas Green had said in a staff meeting the previous evening that he wanted Bobby Bonilla and not Rico Brogna to play first base, a sentiment not shared by general manager Joe McIlvaine or his assistant, Gerry Hunsicker. Green even had Bonilla work out secretly at first base on a back field before making the trip to Vero Beach for the afternoon game.
Brogna, who had one single and eight strikeouts in his first 11 at-bats of the spring, hit three home runs, all against Chan Ho Park, that day. After the game, Green turned to the stands, found Hunsicker and gestured with his arms extended and his palms turned upward as if to say, "What can I say?"
Intimidation: Howard Johnson was making a comeback attempt with the Mets in Spring Training 1997. He was playing right field at Dodgertown, and rather than returning to the dugout after an inning, he would walk off to the area in foul territory where players from both teams would congregate and chat. As HoJo was exiting the field after the eighth inning, Dodgers reliever Todd Worrell was walking out to right to begin his running.
Now Johnson had owned Worrell. He finished his career with six hits -- four of them home runs -- and four walks in 17 plate appearances against the one-time Cardinals closer. And Worrell knew it. As he and Johnson passed, Worrell extended his right hand and said, "Good luck with your comeback, Howard." And when Johnson reached foul territory, he smiled and said, "Did you see the fear in his eyes?"
Target practice: Long before being ineffective as a Mets reliever in the 2006 National League Championship Series and last season, Guillermo Mota was persona non grata with some Mets because of circumstances that developed following an incident at Vero Beach on March 28, 2002.
Acquired by the Dodgers five days earlier, Mota hit Mike Piazza in the back with a 3-0 pitch. Piazza waited in the Mets' first-base dugout for Mota to leave the field after being removed from the game. When Mota reached the grass in shallow right field, Piazza intercepted him and grabbed him by the neck. The two were separated by other players, and Piazza eventually was fined.
The following March, Mota hit Piazza again in a game in Port St. Lucie after almost hitting him on the previous pitch. Piazza charged the mound and later tried to confront Mota in the visiting clubhouse.
The strained relationship between the two players made for delicious irony two summers ago when Mota was assigned the locker in the Mets' clubhouse at Shea Stadium that had been assigned to Piazza during his Mets tenure.
Backing up the plate: Without Mike DiFelice in camp or in their plans, the Mets have no obvious understudy for their big league catchers. If either Brian Schneider or Ramon Castro goes down, any one of three players could be promoted from the Minor Leagues to the role of backup -- Raul Casanova, Gustavo Molina or Robinson Cancel.
Clubs typically prefer to have their backup catcher be the most defensively sound of those available. If that were the case with the Mets, Molina -- not related to the three big league brothers who catch: Bengie (Giants), Yadier (Cardinals) and Jose (Yankees) -- would be their first choice. But Minaya indicated Casanova probably would be the club's preference because his defense is comparable to Molina's, and his offense -- Casanova is a switch-hitter -- is more formidable.
Casanova, 35, has a .234 career average, 34 home runs and 124 RBIs in 1,026 career at-bats in the big leagues. After playing parts of three seasons (1996-98) with the Tigers, he appeared in 190 games -- 188 with the Brewers, two with the Orioles -- in 2000-02, but in merely six games, with the White Sox, in the subsequent three seasons. He was in the Minor Leagues with the White Sox, Red Sox, Rockies, Royals and A's. He played last season with the Rays and their Triple-A Durham affiliate.
Molina, 26, played with the White Sox and Orioles last season, his first in the big leagues, batting .111 in 27 at-bats and catching 82 innings. Cancel, unique in baseball history as a member of the all-verb team, is 31, and nine years removed from his 44-at-bat cup of coffee with the Brewers. He played last season with the Mets' Double-A and Triple-A affiliates in Binghamton and New Orleans. Molina has a .263 average and 71 home runs in 3,407 Minor League at-bats and a .182 average in the big leagues.
On this date, March 1: In 1976, Castro was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico.
Coming up: Randolph, a Dodger in 1989 and into 1990 who spent his childhood in Brooklyn, makes his last visit to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., the home for the Dodgers since 1948, on Sunday for a 1:05 p.m. ET game. Lefty Oliver Perez is set to make his first exhibition game start, opposite Dodgers righty Derek Lowe. Scott Schoeneweis and Joe Smith are to follow Perez. Left-handers Eric Stults and Mike Myers are to follow Lowe.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.