Mets stay loyal to travel protocol
Good-natured rookie hazing confined to the friendly skies
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Conspicuous in almost any setting, Mike Pelfrey moved his 6-foot-7 frame through the door of the Mets' jet and toward the rear of the plane. The team was headed for Chicago, and he for trouble. Pelfrey reached a row that appeared safe enough when the exaggerated evil eye of the flight steward sent a message from the last row. Words followed:
"Whoa, rookie. Sitting in the back? Sitting with the veterans?"
Tom Glavine had spoken. And Pelfrey had learned one the first lessons of big-league travel protocol. He had trespassed. Unwittingly, he had crossed the border. The Mets' plane still was at the gate at LaGuardia, but Pelfrey was in a different kind of air space.
He had won his first big-league start the previous night. But that hardly constituted a resume that would give him entrance into the "Wine Connoisseurs' Section" of the team's charter. How dare he think he could sit among Steve "The Sommelier" Trachsel, Billy "Beaujolais" Wagner and Chad "The Cab" Bradford?
Silly rookie. He was urged to stick a cork in it and sit with the sediment.
Though unassigned, select seating on charter flights is one of the last vestiges of rookie hazing that was once so prevalent in the game. The caste system has disappeared from the clubhouse, where plebes openly mingle with the salt-and-pepper crowd and neophytes with guys who once played -- or at least heard of -- pepper.
But the Mets' charter flights are a throwback. Indeed, gated communities still exist within a fuselage.
Last year, before the FAA prohibited carry-on liquids, the Mets operated what must be called a cask system. Fine wine was served in the rear, and it was served for only a chosen few, the elitists -- the preferred pitchers.
Let the others eat cake -- or play dominoes or fiddle with their electronic gadgets. Burgundy in the back. It was the place for only the rich and the pour.
Neighborhoods existed on the Mets' charter flights. Each man -- except the occasional rookie, evidently -- knew his place. And the veterans were quite territorial.
"We don't want their kind back here," Wagner said with a smirk. "If they haven't pitched a couple of hundred innings, what are they gonna say to Glavine or me or Trachs?"
But a new season is about to unfold. New rosters are in place. New neighborhoods soon will form. The fuselage will be rezoned. How will that work?
The Mets are to fly from Tampa to St. Louis on Saturday. Who will sit where? Trachsel, the wine aficionado, is gone. So, too, is Darren Oliver. And what are the connoisseurs without a fine bottle of something? Scott Schoeneweis and Aaron Sele probably will assume their positions. But what else?
Will Moises Alou, a respected veteran, be cut some slack? Who will be the 500-pound gorilla and sit "anywhere he wants?"
If seating similar to last year prevails, the electronic guys will sit a few rows closer to first class, "up" where Willie Randolph and his coaches will luxuriate. They will include but not be restricted to Paul Lo Duca, David Wright, Shawn Green -- the self-proclaimed "gadget-geek-game guy" -- and an as-yet-undetermined replacement for Chris Woodward.
A card game may break out. But with Cliff Floyd gone, that's not as likely now.
Wright must sit port side. He can't sleep when he's starboard.
Moving forward, there will be Delgado and his Dominoes. Sounds like a '50s group. Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Jose Valentin and Julio Franco. "And all you hear is 'clack, clack, clack' of the dominoes," Wright says.
If Pedro were aboard, he'd be close by but lost in a DVD.
Dominoes clacking is audible because the plane is relatively quiet. With the connoisseurs denied their merlot, they now refer to their area as The Quiet Zone. It's another reason rookies aren't permitted.
"They make noise," Wagner said. "If someone's going to make noise, it should be us. We've earned the right."
When boom boxes were big, music was a charter staple. Now iPods and headphones keep the decibels to a minimum. Just as well. How could a population as diverse as the Mets agree on anything? Glavine might pick Led Zeppelin, hardly a favorite of Delgado and his Dominoes. And who knows what country song Wagner would choose?
What passes for music that all can hear often comes from Ramon Castro. He sings, or at least claims to. He croons four or five words of any one of 100 songs.
The seats in front of the clack-clack section are occupied by everyone else -- a mishmash of readers, sleepers, rookies, veterans, trainers, guys named Joe Smith and those admonished for protocol felonies.
"No one told me where to sit," is Pelfrey's protest all these months later. "I think they want you to mess up so they can get on you."
Jay Horwitz, the Mets' vice president and media relation director, always sits in the first coach seat portside.
"But only for 28 years," he said.
But what about Alou? He has credentials. He commands respect. Will the Mets be rigid or accommodating to the new veteran? Will they defer? Will he be forced to sit in an upright and locked position?
"I always sit near the back," Alou said. "Three rows up, near the bathroom."
"But that's pitchers territory back there," Alou was told.
"I guess someone will just have to move," he said. "Unless it's Glavine."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.