Camp Report: Leading off with Reyes

Camp Report: Leading off with Reyes

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Thoughts of baseball's all-time greatest leadoff hitter were in the air Thursday at Mets camp, with the typical glee of the first day of Spring Training.

February and March are the months where every team is tied for first place, division also-rans consider themselves pennant contenders and burned-out phenoms threaten to regain their lost form.

And, oh yes, these are also the times when Jose Reyes dreams of becoming like Rickey Henderson.

The 22-year-old Reyes has been a sight to behold in his brief Major League career, but even though he led the National League in stolen bases last season with 60, he's still far from becoming a premier leadoff hitter. His .300 on-base percentage in a big league-leading 696 at-bats last season are sure enough indications of that.

Enter Henderson, the 47-year-old baseball icon who probably believes he could still set the table for at least a dozen Major League clubs. Instead, Henderson will set the tone for the Mets' Spring Training during a 10-day stint next month, tutoring Reyes in much the same way he coddled Roger Cedeno to a career-high 66 stolen bases in 1999.

"It's going to be exciting," Reyes said. "He's one of the best."

Held out of winter baseball after playing all but one of the Mets' 162 games last season, Reyes trained in the Dominican Republic, running every day except Sundays and doing light weight training.

He isn't noticeably bigger - Reyes said he added just three pounds - but he could be tougher for catchers to nail.

"I want to work on everything," Reyes said. "I'm still learning at this level. Last year I didn't get on base a lot and I still stole bases."

  • Days of reports concerning Pedro Martinez's Nike cleat finally got a reprieve Thursday, as 33-year-old right-hander Jose Lima made the grandest entrance of camp.

    Decked to the nines in an expensive gray three-piece suit, a tie and a black fedora, Lima proclaimed himself a much better pitcher than the hurler who went 5-16 with a 6.99 ERA in 32 starts for the Kansas City Royals last season.

    There's plenty of Lima Time left, if we're to believe the pitcher, and he's intent on proving it this spring.

    "Jose Lima's not done yet," he said.

    Lima made a Los Angeles Dodgers club that appeared to be all but set in 2004 with a strong spring, and seems confident the same can happen with the Mets.

    "Whatever they do with me, I will do it," Lima said. "I'm not picky. I'm proud to wear this uniform. Every time I cross that white line, I want to be proud to be a New York Met. I just want a chance. I know I can make this club."

    If Lima were to make it to New York as a starter, that would mean Victor Zambrano or Aaron Heilman flopped badly; if he is to make the Mets as a reliever, he'd have to outpitch contenders like Heath Bell, Bartolome Fortunato, Yusaku Iriki, John Maine and Juan Padilla, as well as non-roster invitees like Jeremi Gonzalez and Darren Oliver.

    "It's been kind of like a rollercoaster," Lima said. "But I'm not going to give up. I've still got it."

  • Mike Piazza's familiar parking spot at the edge of the complex has been taken by Carlos Beltran. In fact, all things Piazza seem to have been erased from the complex, what with the long-time Met icon taking up residence in Arizona with the San Diego Padres this week.

    The man stepping in for Piazza, catcher Paul Lo Duca, arrived in town Thursday and downplayed the task of filling Piazza's shoes in the eyes of Mets fans.

    "It's the third time I've done it," said Lo Duca, who followed Piazza in Los Angeles, Florida and now New York. "It doesn't feel weird any more."

    Lo Duca will have the task of coming to know and support the Mets' pitching staff during the first few weeks of Spring Training, a task made more complicated by the World Baseball Classic. The WBC threatens to take a number of pitchers away from camp, including Martinez and Billy Wagner.

    "You don't develop [trust]," Lo Duca said. "You've got to earn it."

  • Quotable: "Oh, mama mia. Things are going to go crazy over here. This is going to be a crazy clubhouse." -- Pedro Martinez, after learning Jose Lima was on his way to Tradition Field.

  • Notes: GM Omar Minaya said he feels comfortable leaving the issue of Martinez and the WBC in the ace's hands. Martinez has said he will not pitch for the Dominican Republic unless all systems are go. "I'm pretty sure he's wise enough to make the decision for himself," Minaya said. ...

    Lima must have an expensive hobby - donating hand-me-downs. The hurler said he never repeats a suit, instead passing on outfits to two brothers who share his size. Luckily for the siblings, Lima also shares their shoe size and is similarly 'generous' with footwear ...

    Minaya said Heilman will be given every opportunity to win the fifth starter's job, although he conceded it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if he doesn't begin the season in the rotation. In that event, Heilman could slide back to the bullpen, where he posted an 0.68 ERA after the All-Star Break last year.

    Contact Inside Pitch's Bryan Hoch at metsinsidepitch@aol.com.

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