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WELCOME TO FLORIDA! 

     This METSWATCH reporter was glad to get out of the cold and go south to . . . warm temperatures, blue skies, no overcoats and of course the start of spring training.  Last night I spoke briefly with bullpen and catchers coach John Stearns, who agreed to meet with me this morning and chat about the upcoming season.

      "Hey Dude, what's up?"

     Stearns replied, "I see that you are!"

     "So how does the team look so far?"

     John said, "This week it's only pitchers and catchers so let's just talk about them."

     "Since you spent most of your career behind the plate tell me about the catching department.

     John crossed his arms as he began, "Last year the core group was Todd Pratt, Tom Lampkin and Brook Fordyce.  They played solid defense, worked well with the pitchers and take a look at their stats: together 30 Homeruns and over 100 RBIs batting about .275.  Combined they were like an All-Star catcher but did not get the recognition.  I was impressed with Fordyce's batting and see the potential for more power and higher average this year.  Behind the dish he gained the respect of pitching Coach Jimmy Key as he worked on controlling the game for our young pitchers while learning from the veterans.  I'm going to miss Tom (Lampkin) and Todd (Pratt) because both played their roles so well and knew what had to be done without being told.  Tom was a free agent who moved on during the off-season.   Todd was traded to Cook County before the rookie draft.  The Mets welcome John Flaherty as the new #2 backstop.  He brings to Glen Allen a fine reputation as a solid veteran to complement Brook.  In the minors we have Paul Mirabelli another notable defensive catcher who needs to work on his hitting if he hopes to stick at the majors.  Also Hector Ortiz and Giuseppe Chiaramonte both need to work on their defense to get more of a chance.  Again no one is going to the All-Star game, but our pitchers will not complain about their battery mate."

      "Thanks for all the great in-site about the catchers.  Now how does your bullpen look?"

      Stearns stretched his arms as if getting ready to throw a ball, continuing "As you know Roberto Hernandez our closer since I've been here has moved on as a Free Agent.   Roberto did a solid job and will be missed in the clubhouse, but we welcome Bob Wickman another veteran to close games for the Mets.   Joining him will be Wayne Gomes, who was inconsistent last year but capable of saving a game or set up.  The new lefties set up are Felix Heridia and Chuck McElroy.  Chuck has more experience, but I think Felix can throw harder.   Mikes Magnante and Venafro will share duties with the other southpaws.  Marc Wilkins and Bronson Arroyo are the two new right-handed pitchers.  Since the starting rotation has not been determined, I'm not sure who else will be joining us.  Maybe Chuck, I mean Charles Nagy, Scott Erickson or Lance Painter are all veterans who can provide middle inning relief."

   "So Dude will the Mets return to the World Series?"

   "Wow!   I'd like to hope that we can, but first let's start spring training, play the season, win the Eastern Division again and then sees what happens. OK?"

    "OK, John help the Mets to have a great season!"