2003 NEWS

2003 News > Blue and Orange


By Thomas Stinson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Port St. Lucie, Fla. -- On the first day of the rest of Tom Glavine's life, he wheeled the rental car off Peacock Boulevard, steered onto the grounds of St. Lucie Sports Complex, and next did what came naturally.

He parked in the public lot.

The Mets players lot is over there, sir.

"That's what I just found out," Glavine said, a Braves equipment bag over his left shoulder and just ahead of him, the New York Mets clubhouse and a new life. He found his locker between David Weathers on one side and an empty stall that will go to David Cone, another new Met, sort of. In Glavine's cubicle hung No. 47 in the Mets new alternate jersey, as orange and blue and loud and hideous as it wants to be.

"Pitching for the nemesis," fellow left-hander Al Leiter said, smiling down the row. "For the hated Mets."

Reporting with 27 other New York pitchers, Glavine prepared for this, his 19th spring training, through self-deprivation. He hasn't read a paper all month. He did his early throwing at a northside youth baseball center run by two other ex-Braves, Mark Lemke and Greg McMichael. He remained low profile in Alpharetta until flying south Thursday morning, the better to keep his head down.

"Just kind of distancing myself from the Braves," Glavine said. "That part of my life is over now. There's a new opportunity here and a new beginning. The last 10 days or two weeks, I've been more anxious to get down here and get started than I have been in a long time.

"And that's because I wanted to get out of that atmosphere, get out of listening to people talk about why I left and all that other stuff and get back to playing baseball. Answering questions about my location and my change-up and all that other stuff, and not what happened and why are you playing for another team."

People still ask about that?

"I don't think I've gotten through a conversation without it coming up."

It has been 12 weeks since Glavine signed his three-year, $35 million deal to leave Atlanta, citing the "family feel" around Mets majority owner Fred Wilpon -- and struggling to conceal his anger for the Braves. If the rawness of those feelings has faded, the Mets' sense of wonder remains that Glavine is on their side now.

"I never thought he'd leave there," reliever John Franco said. "But crazier things have happened."

This franchise recently added high-price talent -- Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz -- and fell flat-faced. Before anyone throws the first ball at Friday's first official workout, Glavine helped to repair that memory.

"I think there will be changes in style and approach," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said.

"Tommy's not the first and he's not going to be the last to play for an organization for as long as he did, a future Hall of Famer who left," Leiter said. "There's been a handful of guys. Contemporaries. Unfortunately, it's part of the sport. So I think if he was like the first guy to have done it, it would be a little more of a shocker.

"But. . . I was tired of pitching really well against him and getting no-decision or losing 1-0."

Glavine walks into a franchise rife with change: new ownership (after Wilpon bought out Nelson Doubleday after a bitter dispute), new management (after Art Howe replaced embattled Bobby Valentine) and even a new TV voice (after the excellent Gary Thorne was fired, found to be too critical of the 2002 flop).

Questions arise about catcher Mike Piazza, now 34 after two straight years of statistical decline. Even with Glavine coming aboard, the Mets felt oddly enough about their rotation to sign the 40-year-old Cone. The club even had cast-off free agents Robert Person and Donovan Osborne come in Wednesday to throw for coaches.

Center field is open to three players -- Timo Perez, Roger Cedeno and Tsuyoshi Shinjo -- and third base is open to all comers. Vaughn and Burnitz have been enormous disappointments. But while Glavine still believes the Braves are the team to beat in the NL East, he sees little difference between the pursuers after years as the pursu-ee.

"For years, I had to answer questions about teams trying to catch the Braves and what they had to do," he said. "Now I'm on one of those teams trying to catch the Braves. There's obviously been a lot of change in the National League East, and I don't know that you can look at anybody as head-and-shoulders better than anybody else right now."

He has already held substantial conversations with incoming Mets pitching coach Vern Ruhle about spring goals. And while he is still getting to know Howe, he finds his easy demeanor reminiscent of Braves manager Bobby Cox. He has yet to identify the patsies for his daily spring camp golf outings but, hey, it is the first day.

"I'm sure I'll be able to fill out a foursome everyday," he said. "That is, if we get out early enough. I'll have to talk to Art about that."

He also will learn where the entrance to the players lot is. And the best shortcut from the Greenwich, Conn., home he, wife Chris and four kids will live in periodically during the season. (Glavine, true to his word, will continue to make Atlanta his offseason home.) But where this is all leading, the flight for New York, he cannot tell you. The first day as a Met, all he can tell you about is where he's been.

"With the Braves, we just knew we were going to win," he said. "And that's something that we have to get here."