Diversity finds unity in Mets' clubhouse
Blend of personalities at many stages jelling under Randolph
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Ruben Sierra entered the Mets' Spring Training clubhouse attired in white from sneakers to fedora. He is new to the environment, but many eyes follow him because he is who he is.
Not everyone can identify Anderson Hernandez so readily, even though he is a third-time Mets camper. Eyes follow him, regardless, because he is styling, dressed in black from head to toe, except for the white pinstripes on his fedora.
Several lockers to Hernandez's right, Ambiorix Burgos sits, his hair-don't reduced to a hairdo accepted by manager Willie Randolph. Twenty feet away, Damion Easley bears evidence of a trip to the Delilah barbershop.
And in the same clubhouse are Fernando Martinez, the prized Mets prospect who was the youngest player in the Arizona Fall League, and Julio Franco, the oldest active Major League player.
"Everyone knows we have lots of different kinds of people in our clubhouse," Mets closer Billy Wagner said. "And if they don't know, just come in here and look around."
The 23 pitchers on the 40-man roster alone represent seven countries, nine states, an air force base, and they include Wagner, whose birthplace was, officially, The Sticks.
And David Newhan is the son of a Hall of Fame baseball writer.
Different types, different ages, different backgrounds. But not many differences.
They speak different languages. Most say hello with words. Others use different means. Reliever Scott Schoeneweis passes by the locker of second baseman Jose Valentin, extends his rigid left leg to the side and lightly taps the stool on which his onetime White Sox teammate sits. His greeting is little more than a nod. Valentin nods in response. Enough said.
Many players execute the more ambitious three-stage handshake that veteran left-hander Tom Glavine hasn't learned, much less adopted. And first baseman Carlos Delgado acts likes he hasn't seen Franco in years. A bear hug and a lift off the clubhouse floor ensue, even though the two were together 23 days ago on the dais of an annual dinner staged by the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Outfielder Moises Alou is new, but he seems to fit. Players are struck by how fit he looks at 40. Right-hander Alay Soler is back for a second camp and looks lost, but he looks more fit than last year.
And third baseman David Wright walks through the obstacle course of teammates, reporters, clubhouse workers, trash cans, laundry baskets and stools as if he is a one-man welcome wagon. He has hellos, handshakes, backslaps and embraces for everyone.
The Mets are coming together.
That was the scene on Tuesday, the day before their first official workout -- a day for physicals, unpacking and learning the route around the "facilities."
And Wednesday was scarcely different. The team dynamic was developing, even as introductions remain necessary for some.
Wright touches people, team comedian Ramon Castro entertains them and Juan Padilla is a master of card tricks. He stunned a mostly English-speaking audience on Monday with his magic. The audience was mostly Latino the following day. His specialty translates well, and players who speak different languages begin to communicate in wonder.
"Neighborhoods" still exist within the clubhouse.
The office of equipment manager is often a refuge for veteran players who want to escape the din and the crowds. The younger guys seldom venture inside.
But Glavine, 40, lockers next to John Maine, 25.
Even during drills, pockets of players, based on ethnicity and language, form. But then there is Delgado lockering next to his longtime friend Shawn Green, the union of a Latino and a Jew.
Wright and fellow rising star Jose Reyes are hardly inseparable. But they know, like and trust each other. They can communicate by no more than a glance and a smile.
They have already shared so much as teammates, they have the same points of reference now. They laugh at the same things. And when either becomes more proficient in the other's language, he will begin to complete the other's sentences.
"You see the two of them, and, in some ways, they almost could be brothers," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "They have influence on each other and influence on everyone around them. You hear that one of them or the other one is the face of the organization. But you can say [that] together, they are the face of our organization. Now, and in the future."
The differences in the clubhouses were never denied -- not in private -- for years. Some were lamented. But more and more, they were tolerated.
For a while, they were celebrated. Words and labels that would have offended outsiders and visitors were used openly -- but only within the clubhouse.
Most times, it worked; sometimes, it didn't.
The Pirates of the early 1970s were being undermined by racial strife until Dock Ellis (who was African-American), Manny Sanguillen (a Latino) and Dave Guisti (a white) had a summit. Afterward, Ellis reminded the entire team that all of the keys -- the black and white ones -- are used to play the piano.
The Mets are well beyond that. If there have been rough edges in the two years of Randolph's managership, they have been smoothed out by the presence of veteran players. One of them said Wednesday, "If we have a clash in here, it's because one guy's a jerk -- not because of the language that he speaks."
Delgado says that he never considered exercising his right to demand a trade after last season because "This is the best clubhouse I've ever been in." And Alou said he heard "only good things" about life as a Met.
"This," Alou said, "is good place to be, no matter who you are."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.