On opening day at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Tom Seaver smiled impishly when the color guard from the local Marine Corps battalion appeared in the Mets dugout before their game with the Cardinals. "Feeyorre-herrd harrch!" barked Seaver, who was a gentleman and a noncom in the Marines for six months some 20 years ago. "Hyefff, rye, hyeff, rye..." Seaver then got nose-to-nose with one of the Marines, brushed some imaginary dust off his hat and commanded, "Preeesent harrrms!"
Present arms is exactly what the Mets should be doing this year, presenting guys like Rick Ownbey, Ron Darling, Tim Leary, Jeff Bittiger, Scott Holman and Doug Sisk. "They remind me of the Mets of the '60s," says Seaver. " Seaver, Koosman, Ryan, McGraw, Gentry, Matlack."
The young arms are the main reason Manager George Bamberger, who doubles as his own pitching coach, decided to return after the Mets' disappointing '82 season. Says Bamberger, "We may have a better staff in Tidewater—potentially, I'm talking about—than we do here in New York."
There's the rub. Whereas Seaver, Koosman, et al. were thrown into the fray those many years ago, most of the new group will be nurtured for another year in Triple A. The Mets, in their infinite wisdom, will rely on veteran pitchers to hold the fort. Ironically, one of them is Seaver, back for his second tour of duty. His acquisition was at least understandable for the sake of promotion. But Mike Torrez? The ace of the staff is Craig Swan, who gave up 11 runs in 1? innings in a spring game against the White Sox. Thus, 10 rookies were competing for two spots on the staff. The best bets to win regular jobs are Holman and Ownbey.
Darling, Bamberger says, "can be the next Jim Palmer." Leary, Bamberger says, "can be the next Jim Palmer." Both Jim Palmers will pitch in the International League, however.
The Mets are applying the same thinking to rightfield, which Bob Bailor, Danny Heep and Gary Rajsich are keeping warm for the arrival of Darryl Strawberry. "I understand that they don't want to rush me," says Strawberry, "but I can play in New York right now." But can anyone else? Strawberry, who is actually shaped more like rhubarb, probably won't be called up from Tidewater until the end of the summer.
In the meantime, fans at Shea can witness the attempted comebacks of Catcher John Stearns (from a sore elbow) and Leftfielder George Foster and Third Baseman Hubie Brooks (from sickly batting). Foster had better start paying off on the huge contract the Mets gave him before last season because so far, he has cost them $150,000 a homer.
If the Mets are ever to make an about-face—which is another thing Seaver ordered the Marine to do—they had better commit themselves to the future.