2004 NEWS

2004 News > 3/15/04

GLAVINE COMING OFF DOWN YEAR, BUT HE'S NOT DONE

By Jack Wilkinson, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution

Port St. Lucie, Fla. -- In the color-coded world and family ccalendar of Chris Glavine and her husband, Tom, the primary colors are orange, green and, at least for last season, red. Or maybe last year was just a blur.

Orange? That's the alternative spring training and batting practice jersey the New York Mets wear. Glavine still looks odd in orange. Yet orange also indicates those calendar days when all four Glavine children -- Chris and Tom's young sons Peyton and Mason; Tom's daughter Amber by his first wife; Chris' son Jonathan from her first marriage -- are together under one roof.

Green? Those rare, in-season days when Tom is home in Alpharetta and all's right in Peyton's world. Early last season, Peyton would call his father's cellphone, wake-up calls for Tom that began, "Why aren't you here, Daddy? When are you coming home?" On Monday, Aug. 9, an off-day on the Mets' schedule, Peyton's father will be home for his son's first day of kindergarten.

And red? That's last year, Glavine's first as a Met after spending his first 16 big-league seasons in Atlanta. That's red, as in seeing red. It wasn't just a 9-14 record (Glavine's worst since going 7-17 in 1988, his first full season). It was the family upheaval engendered by the move, and what prompted Glavine to leave the Braves for a three-year, $35 million contract in the first place.

And now? At the moment, Glavine's world is relatively black and white. As in, "Night and day." That's how he describes this spring training and last year's. How this offseason compared with the previous winter's tumult. How Glavine, his teammates and his manager contrast this season's expectations with last year's disappointment.

"Oh, it's night and day, all of it," Glavine said, sitting at his locker in the Mets clubhouse after a recent workout. "So much of last winter was trying to figure everything out on a personal level, get [his family] situated. This winter was a normal winter, doing my normal workouts; come down here, see the guys again and just fit in. Now, everybody looks forward to me having a better year."

In February, when full-squad workouts began, Mets manager Art Howe named Glavine his opening day starter April 6 at Turner Field. "The old Tommy" is what Howe anticipates this season, the left-hander who won 242 games and two NL Cy Young awards with Atlanta. Not the guy who was 0-4 with a 10.35 ERA against the Braves last year.

"That's history," Howe said. "He's our guy and he's going to have a big year for us."

"Tom had a bad time to have an off year," said veteran Mets reliever John Franco. "We're expecting him to bounce back. He's expecting to bounce back."

An unfriendly reception

Glavine started 5-3 last year. Then came his first appearance against his old team. He was shelled by the Braves on May 24, his first time back at Turner Field. Glavine got just 10 outs, giving up six earned runs and eight hits (including two homers) in 3 1/3 innings of a 10-4 loss. "That was the start of [his decline]," Glavine said. "Everything went downhill from there."

He was booed and jeered unmercifully by some of the crowd of 40,912, many upset that Glavine left Atlanta via free agency. Peyton Glavine was reduced to tears that afternoon; his mother didn't bring any of the kids to Turner Field the rest of the season.

"Maybe last year it was stylish to boo him [in Atlanta]," Chris Glavine said. "I know that's not the quality fan Atlanta has. I'm sure it's just a handful of people. Let's hope so. As a [Braves] home-team wife, we didn't ever treat anybody on the other team the way they treated Tommy."

Glavine's travails included a lack of run support, poor defense behind him (that should improve significantly with Mike Cameron now in center field for the Mets) and a series of nagging injuries. "We couldn't get a break," Chris said. "A blister on his fingers. Or an elbow [an injury which caused Glavine to miss a scheduled start for just the second time in his career]."

"It was just one of those years where there was never a point when I felt that every start I'd go out there and feel comfortable and just make pitches," Glavine said. "It felt like every start, something wasn't right. Every game was a battle.

"I'm 37 years old," said Glavine, who turns 38 on March 25. "I have a bad year and everybody's talking about you're on the downside of your career. You know what? I am. But there's a difference between being a down year and being done."

Glavine was partly a victim of the QuesTec strike zone that baseball adopted, influencing umpires. He was also his own worst enemy.

"You look up at the [radar] gun, and the [speed] numbers are all the same," he said. "I don't believe fixing my location is a product of my age. I tried to do too many things."

Hard on family

The most trying moments, though, often came off the mound. "You can't minimize the emotional part," Chris Glavine said. For such an extraordinarily close-knit family, it was emotionally wrenching for Glavine to be pitching in New York -- even once school let out and Chris and the kids spent the summer in Greenwich, Conn., where the Glavines bought a second home 14 months ago. For Glavine himself, the separation from his family was, at times, traumatic.

"That was the hardest part to deal with, and why it was such a tough decision [to leave the Braves]," Glavine said. "You try to ease [the children's] minds as much as you can. That's why I [flew] home every off-day I had the chance. Baseball's a hard enough game to play when everything is in place. When you're a little out of your element, some adjustments have to be made, and it's a little more difficult. By no means do I think that was the whole reason I had an off-year. But we're creatures of habit; part of us being successful is what we're used to. At least I had my mom and dad around."

Even before Chris and the kids came up for the summer, Millie and Fred Glavine drove down from Billerica, Mass., and spent much of the season at their son's house. They missed just one Mets homestand.

"I tell him, 'Yeah, you're living with your parents again. They cook for you, do your laundry,'" Chris said, laughing. Yet their presence was also therapeutic.

"I had someone to keep me busy," Glavine said. "To talk to, to keep me from feeling bad about living [away from his wife and children]."

There was also the glare, and expectations, of New York. "I wasn't prepared for the amount of attention I got from the get-go," said Glavine. "Every day, it was my first practice, first side session, first game, first road trip. Every game. There are nine or 10 beat writers, columnists, TV. I had that every day.

"Then you have the added pressures of you're around new teammates, a new team," he continued. "You try to impress everybody. It all adds up. It's like you're dropping all this stuff into a pot, and you're mixing it up and you don't know what you'll get."

You get a 9-14 record for Glavine and a last-place finish in the NL East for the Mets. "The only saving grace for my season," Glavine said, smiling, "was I wasn't the sole reason why we didn't beat the Braves."

This spring, Glavine is 0-1 in three outings, working seven innings, with a 2.57 ERA. He knows opening day in Atlanta "won't be the media event it would've been last year." For that, he's grateful.

Chris Glavine is grateful for this: "This year, he's got the mental thing going for him. I don't know if he was a Met [at the start of] last season.

"Mentally, he's a Met now."