-- As fate would have it, on the precise day the New York Mets wanted veteran left-hander Tom Glavine to make his first appearance this spring -- in order to line up his schedule for his anticipated Opening Day start March 31 -- the Grapefruit League schedule provided a juicy little split-squad dilemma for the team's brass:
Send Glavine to Orlando with the "A" squad -- including the team's new manager, Art Howe -- and subject him to a circus atmosphere, as Glavine would have been facing Greg Maddux and the Atlanta Braves, the only organization he knew for the first 18 years of his professional career?
Or send him along with the "B" squad to play the Baltimore Orioles in Fort Lauderdale, where the only circus element was the unsightly spectacle of some 70 players from both teams wearing garish orange uniform tops?
In the end, good player-relations sense won out over good sartorial taste. And so it was that Glavine found himself standing in the visitor's clubhouse at Fort Lauderdale Stadium this afternoon, following a shaky two-inning debut in the Mets' 7-6 loss to the Orioles, calmly answering question after question about newness.
"I had an anticipation for spring training that I probably hadn't had in a while," said Glavine, who allowed six hits, a walk and four earned runs in two innings. "That's not to say I wasn't always excited about the upcoming season. But like anything else, when you do it over and over again, you get used to it. For me, there is nothing [this spring] I was used to. Everything is new. It's been fun."
The Mets' camp is full of players hoping to enjoy a second baseball life -- from un-retired pitcher David Cone, to newly streamlined first baseman Mo Vaughn, to cross-town defector Mike Stanton.
But none is as important to the Mets' fortunes as Glavine, who left the Braves this winter after 16 seasons, 11 straight division titles, two Cy Young Awards and a World Series championship. He signed a three-year, $35 million deal with the Mets. It was a signing that turned the National League East upside-down, and positioned the Mets alongside the Philadelphia Phillies as serious threats to the Braves' run of dominance.
Glavine brought to the Mets a reputation for professionalism and a career's worth of mental notes taken at one of the most prestigious universities in baseball -- the Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone School of Pitching Arts. The endless educational possibilities were not lost on the Mets.
Pitching coach Vern Ruhle called Glavine soon after the signing to hear the details of Glavine's routine with the Braves in springs past, which included such unusual practices as throwing batting practice to live hitters on the first day of camp -- a policy that was suddenly incorporated by the Mets.
Veteran left-hander Al Leiter, after picking Glavine's brain, began working on a two-seamed fastball similar to Glavine's, and he vows to adopt Glavine's strategy of throwing two bullpen sessions (instead of one) between each start, the way Braves pitchers have for years.
"I don't know what impact I expected to have," Glavine said today. "I talked to Al in the winter, so I knew he had some interest in talking to me and having me help with some stuff. If I can help make him better, that's fantastic because we'll be better as a result. As far as everyone else goes, I don't know what guys will get out of watching me or talking to me. I have a pretty set routine about how I go about my stuff, and it's not to impress anybody. But if guys pick up on that and see something they like, that's great."
Despite his lofty credentials and despite the fact he had spent his entire career to this point breaking the Mets' collective heart year after year, Glavine is the one feeling the natural pressure of the new guy to impress his new mates and justify his contract.
"People are watching to see, 'Hey, what's the big deal with this guy?' I know that," Glavine said. "You try to fight the urge to try to impress everybody. You've been playing against these guys all these years, but it's different when they're your teammates."
Notes: Cone was supposed to have followed Glavine to the mound today for the Mets, but his first spring start was pushed back a few days because he missed two days of practice earlier in the week to be with his wife, Lynn, who had a minor surgical procedure. Cone, attempting to come back with the Mets at age 40, is expected to start on Wednesday against the Florida Marlins. . . .
Left-hander Eric DuBose was the most impressive of the Orioles' pitchers in today's game, and Manager Mike Hargrove called the 26-year-old reliever a leading candidate to earn a bullpen spot as the third left-hander behind Buddy Groom and B.J. Ryan.