PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Fighting back tears, outfielder Mike Baxter recalled fond memories of his legendary high school coach, Jack Curran, who passed away this week at age 83.
Curran coached for 55 years at Archbishop Molly in Queens, not far from the Whitestone neighborhood where Baxter grew up. His 1,708 career victories in baseball and 972 in basketball made him the winningest coach in New York state history.
"Everyone calls him 'legendary' and things like that," Baxter said Thursday, after taking a moment to compose himself. "He was more. I think when you knew him and knew what kind of guy he was, he was selfless. He put everybody first, all the kids. He was just an incredible guy."
In addition to Baxter and former MLB pitcher Mike Jerzembeck, Curran coached NBA players Kenny Anderson, Kenny Smith, Brian Winters and Kevin Joyce at Molloy.
Baxter laughed as he recalled Curran urging his baseball players to "just hit the straight ball."
"Back then he used to coach third," Baxter said. "He'd get in the box and you'd take a fastball and he'd go, 'Yo, what are you doing? Don't take the straight ball. You've got to swing at the straight ball.' I guess from high school he kind of taught me you try to hit the fastballs."
After high school, Curran stayed in close touch with Baxter as he advanced from Columbia University to Vanderbilt, to San Diego's Minor League system and finally the Mets.
"He really put the lives of the kids that he had first," Baxter said. "That's kind of why he was around forever. It meant everything to him, that school and the kids. It's just a sad day."
Southpaw trio vying for non-guaranteed 'pen job
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Three lefty relievers remain in competition to break camp with the Mets, though there is an outside chance that none of them will make the roster.
Pedro Feliciano, Scott Rice and Robert Carson all fired scoreless innings in Thursday's 9-1 loss to the Tigers, keeping them afloat in the race to join fellow left-hander Josh Edgin in the Opening Day bullpen. The Mets recently demoted rookie Darin Gorski to Minor League camp, and plan to stretch Aaron Laffey out as a starter, leaving Feliciano, Rice and Carson to battle for a maximum of one spot.
"There are certainly some things they've got to get better at," manager Terry Collins said. "Time is starting to run out, but yet we've still got enough days to get those guys some more innings."
Carson had not thrown a clean inning all spring until Thursday. And his performance at Tradition Field, which came against a quartet of Tigers Minor Leaguers, only lowered his Grapefruit League ERA to 5.63. Though Carson has the built-in advantage of a 40-man roster spot, the Mets will not place him on the Opening Day roster for that reason alone.
Rice, a 14-year Minor League veteran who has never cracked the Majors, has impressed the Mets throughout the first half of camp. Following the lefty's scoreless inning on Thursday, executive J.P. Ricciardi stopped by his locker to congratulate him, lauding the sink on his fastball. But Rice is not on the 40-man roster, and will need to do more for the Mets to consider adding him.
The final left-hander vying for a job is Feliciano, another non-roster invitee, who has rebounded from a health scare to pitch two scoreless spring innings with a heart monitor strapped to his chest. But coming back from shoulder surgery, Feliciano's velocity has yet to rise from the low-80s, a range that even he admits must improve -- if only slightly.
"Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux threw low 90s, high 80s always," Feliciano said. "For me, I just want to be 85, 86, like I was before, maybe 86, 87, 88. As long as I can perform and get some outs, I don't care about velocity."
Because a 40-man roster crunch looms at the end of Spring Training, there is a chance the Mets may forego a second lefty altogether and carry right-hander Jeurys Familia on the Opening Day roster. Familia has been untouchable for five straight Grapefruit League outings since struggling in his debut, giving up a total of one hit and one walk. His continued success could make the lefty competition moot.
But Collins still craves a second left-hander to reduce Edgin's workload. For now, three candidates remain with no guarantees for any of them.
Gee perplexed over wildly disappointing start
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Dillon Gee called it an exhibition in "how not to pitch." Gee's line against the Tigers on Thursday included six runs on four walks, two hit batsmen and three wild pitches. The right-hander came away so disgusted with his outing that he did not even top off his pitch count afterward in the bullpen.
"I felt great all week," Gee said. "Your guess is as good as mine as to what happened today. But we'll figure it out."
Classifying all his pitches as "terrible," Gee could not concoct any theories or hypotheses as to why his control and command so completely deserted him. He had been stellar in his first two Grapefruit League outings, allowing just one run over seven innings, and said he felt fine throwing between starts this week.
Asked to guess the source of his seemingly random struggles, Gee said: "Don't have one right now. Don't even want to think about it."
Gee's next rotation turn is scheduled for Tuesday, a team off-day. He could pitch in a Minor League game that day to stay on turn.