Glavine: Mets accept Rollins' challenge
Lefty, who turned 41 on Sunday, expects to start opener
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Now, all these weeks later, the Mets finally have responded to those comments made by Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Having dismissed Rollins' age-discriminatory comments at the time, the Mets returned volley. And it was Tom Glavine, of all people, who did. He turned 41 on Sunday.
Fearlessly flying in the face of Rollins' comments -- "I think we're the team to beat in the NL East," he said on Jan. 23 -- Glavine became a year older.
"We've accepted his challenge," he said.
And this man with graying hair and false teeth -- albeit only two -- said he was willing to produce certification of his date of birth to prove it.
"Forty-one," Glavine said, "and proud of it."
Forty-one hardly is a primary number for Glavine at this time. Three hundred looms larger, even if it's on the horizon.
"I pretty much took 41 for granted," he said.
For now and once again, one -- as in first -- is his number. The Mets' oldest pitcher -- Glavine is that, if we accept El Duque's year of birth as 1969 -- is to be their first-game starter, too.
"I guess they want to get me in there before I get any older," Glavine said.
Manager Willie Randolph didn't designate Glavine as the Opening Night man on Sunday when he announced the members of the rotation. In fact, he mentioned Glavine after he mentioned El Duque. But since the day the Giants made Barry Zito inordinately wealthy, Glavine has been the Opening Night starter. He pitches against the Cardinals next Sunday.
Glavine had said Saturday, "At this point [in Spring Training], I'd be a little surprised if I wasn't."
Hernandez will start the season's second game, April 3, followed by John Maine and Oliver Perez. Mike Pelfrey is the No. 5 man, but when Randolph told Pelfrey he had made it, he didn't say whether the right-handed rookie would begin the season with the Mets or make starts with their Triple-A New Orleans affiliate until the Mets need a fifth member of the rotation in the third week of April.
No such uncertainty for Glavine, who will be the Mets' Opening Day starter for the fourth time in five seasons and a first-game starter for the eighth time in his career. As much as any starter, he knows his way around the delays, distractions and pomp. Some of the pomp this time will be a tad disconcerting. The Cardinals will raise the World Series banner, a hardly subtle reminder for their guests of what might have been.
It will be Glavine's responsibility to help the Mets turn that page and begin the franchise's 46th season as 28 of the previous 45th have begun -- successfully. Glavine is responsible for two of the 28, beating Braves in Atlanta in 2004 and the Nationals at Shea last year.
His overall record on Opening Day is 4-3, with a 4.01 ERA. He has a 2-1 record and 4.62 ERA in his three first-game starts with the Mets.
Once was the time Glavine would have scoffed at the notion of starting any game at age 41. Only when he reached age 37, in his first spring with the Mets, and found his body was cooperating did his plans involve baseball's golden years. And now he has an eye on -- and a contract that covers -- the 2008 season.
The second year was the Mets' idea, "probably as a way to spread the money," he said. But it now has occurred to him that a contract for '08 also affords Glavine "injury protection," i.e., he could return next year if injury denies the 10 victories he needs to reach 300.
"It's only the last three, four months that I've been thinking about coming back again," he said. "If I win 15 of 16 games [he won 15 and the Mets won 24 of his 32 starts last season], it'd be tough not to come back. So I'm not closing the door on anything. It's not going to be an easy decision, no matter what I do, and no matter when it comes, unless my arm blows out. And now my kids are pretty pumped about next year ... 'You're going to play. Right?'"
He doesn't know, but Glavine points out it's been a good spring. And, as he looks in the direction of Julio Franco's locker, he knows 42 isn't necessarily baseball old.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.