August 15, 2022

Buck Showalter doesn’t want to go there. He wants to avoid living in the past or making connections to it, especially when it involves a negative or sounding ungrateful.

So he insists he did not spend frustrated days and wakeless nights wondering if the 2022 Mets were going to mirror the 1994 Yankees. If his first best chance to be a champion, and possibly his last were going to have a familiar tinge. Those 1994 Yankees had the American League’s best record when a player strike arrived in August, wiping out the rest of the season and postseason and leaving that large World Series-less hole on MLB’s historic ledger. Showalter’s first of three Manager of the Year awards for his work that season resides somewhere between a consolation and booby prize.

But he was 38 then. Young enough to see the promise, wise enough even then to know nothing is guaranteed. And here he was at 65, both hired during a lockout and a hostage to it. Steve Cohen’s bank statement and the presence of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer provided the kind of — here is that word again — promise of October. Of that still long-for first World Series championship ring. Of a parade. But as one nasty labor negotiating session ebbed into another concern mounted — and not only for losing games. But perhaps all of the games if the hawks on both sides won out.

It would have been natural for just about anyone involved in the game to visit a dark region; certainly someone who was so close, so far in 1994 as well.

“I don’t live in that world,” Showalter said. “I don’t. I live in the world where I am lucky and honored every day to wake up and have this job.”

See also  Rangers keep putting newfound resiliency on display
Buck Showalter talks with reporters on Feb. 18, 2022
Buck Showalter talks with reporters on Feb. 18, 2022
Larry Marano

Thus, Showalter insists, he remained optimistic and Thursday the players and owners reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement and Friday Showalter was on the phone with a reporter who watched the 1994 season crumble with him, “It’s go time.”

For Showalter that meant connecting first with his players. Officials from teams were not allowed to converse with their players during the three-month lockout. So Showalter had a lot of catching up to do. He reached out to key veterans such as Pete Alonso, Robinson Cano, Jacob deGrom and Francisco Lindor. He had a half-hour conversation in person Friday with Max Scherzer, a meaningful talk not just because it was the first between manager and ace starter since both took employment with the Mets, but because of the symbolism. Showalter has spent four decades now in some form of major league management. And Scherzer just completed a negotiation as perhaps the No. 1 firebrand of the union’s eight-player executive council.

But an agreement was reached between the contentious sides and this conversation was a reminder of just how much both factions wanted to get back to the game. The page was so quickly turned from labor strife to the game. Showalter was adrenalized by the chat.

Scherzer was among the Mets players in Port St. Lucie on March 11, 2022
Scherzer was among the Mets players in Port St. Lucie on March 11, 2022
Tom DiPace

“It doesn’t take long to know this is a competitive guy,” Showalter said. “I loved talking to him. He and Jacob deGrom they have it in common, they are baseball players who are pitchers, not pitchers who are baseball players. I will let you know this: Both guys were not happy that they won’t be hitting any more.”

See also  Kyler Murray auctioning off Snickers bling for frontline workers

The universal designated hitter is part of the new CBA. Showalter mentioned what a blessing it was to have Scherzer — in the negotiating room to the end — help him understand what could impact the 2022 Mets from this agreement. Showalter said he discussed the significance of pitching Opening Day, considering that the tenured deGrom is probably a more appropriate choice. The Mets manager said he would not disclose the contents of that part of the conversation, putting it on public ice for a later date.

It was all part of a fury and flurry of activity that will persist in the immediate aftermath of labor peace.

Showalter had stayed at Clover Park until about 9:30 p.m. on Thursday night, using the first few hours where he could communicate with his squad to send out a group text with some of his general thoughts before calling a few individuals. He got with his bench coach, Glenn Sherlock, who was part of his Yankee staff in 1994 as well. They compared nearly three-decade-old camp notes and realized that this 24-day abridged camp is about what they had after the strike broke in 1995. They realized many of the tactics they used to ready a team then can be re-applied now.

One element that Showalter wants to avoid is rushing because of the condensed time. He said even though camp officially opens Sunday he told the players in the e-mail that it will be more informal with who is there. He recognizes there will be physicals being done and COVID intake and players still scrambling from various places and countries to get to Port St. Lucie. He said a formal workout Sunday would be “eyewash.” So the intention is to begin for real Monday and then have a two-hour, off-campus meeting Monday night with the whole squad; a kind of first true bonding moment. Showalter noted how much he thinks Scherzer can help with forming a winning culture.

See also  2022 Belmont Stakes: Horses, odds, post time and picks

Showalter also cited another meeting. He said that in his conversation with Cano that the veteran second baseman said he wants to address the whole team when he arrives. Cano was suspended all of last season after failing a PED-related test for the second time in his career. He has not explained what happened publicly yet or widely to teammates. Cano did play Winter Ball and, yes, Showalter said he has watched every one of those at-bats and believes Cano can still hit.

jacob degrom
Showalter spoke with Jacob deGrom
Getty Images

As for deGrom, Showalter’s initial take: “Jake is a guy who is a ‘show me when the games start’ type. He doesn’t need bells and whistles and thrills. He wants to take the ball and pitch well for the Mets.”

And Showalter wants to take the ball now too. Get started. Not look back. He said how much it elates him to “be attached again to people who are emotionally attached to the game.”

“I’m not ashamed to say I love spring training,” added Showalter, about to manage for the first time since with the 2018 Orioles.

“I’m looking forward to bunt drills and infield practice and do I want to see a well-run relay play?” There was a pause as if all the possibilities of the 2022 Mets really had re-opened again for a baseball lifer.

“Yes.”