lametfan1956: How do you see the bullpen shaping up for 2006?
Darling: With the addition of Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll from the Dodgers -- Sanchez is a bulldog who pitches in a lot of games and Matt Perisho is a left-hander who did a fine job out of the bullpen for Florida last year -- I see the bullpen being much stronger. I see Billy Wagner being the stud of that group as the closer, which might allow Aaron Heilman to go to the rotation.
Base_Ball_2: How does the current Mets team compare to the 1986 team?
Darling: It is hard to compare the '86 starting pitching staff with this team. But the offense for the 2006 Mets, with Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Cliff Floyd, David Wright, etc., seems as strong or maybe stronger than that '86 team.
lametfan1956: By the way, it is great to have you back with the Mets again. How soon do you think that Michael Pelfrey will be with the club? Sure seems like a lot of money for someone that hasn't pitched in the Majors yet.
Darling: Well, I'm glad to be back, too! And I'm jealous of that money, too! But Pelfrey seems like a sure shot for the Major Leagues -- 33-7 at Wichita State, which has always been known as a hitter's park, and he can throw at 100 mph. Those are the guys that you can't pass up. He has a chance to be in the big leagues within two years.
rgnsgg: Should the age of the starting pitching and the lack of a quality setup man in the bullpen worry Mets fans in regards to how far this team can actually go?
Darling: Well, I'm not bothered by the age of the starting pitching. Arguably Tom Glavine was the Mets' best pitcher in the second half, winning seven games with an ERA just over 2.00. Pedro (Martinez) is always going to be Pedro. He can beat you with an 82 mph fastball or a 92 mph fastball. But I believe Kris Benson is the key to this year's rotation. He had 10 wins last year, but is capable of much more.
wang923: Ron, nice work in "Shallow Hal." I wasn't expecting to see you in a movie. How do you think the Mets squad compares to the '86 Mets? Do we have enough pitching to bring home the World Series this season?
Darling: Well, thanks for the compliment on "Shallow Hal." My part was small, but it was a great movie. The Farrelly brothers are the best. I think it's hard to compare the '86 team with any other Mets team. That team was a special team. But as a fan here in the winter, I can't wait for the 2006 team to debut. With the acquisition of Delgado, which should protect some of the Mets' hitters, and Wagner, who just solidifies that bullpen -- a problem in the past.
jerseyfan015: I was born after the '86 World Series, but I've always enjoyed watching the highlights of the season. What game do you remember the most from the 1986 team?
Darling: Game 6 vs. Houston in the National League Championship Series. A 16-inning affair that the Mets had to win because Mike Scott was going to pitch Game 7 for the Astros. To me, that was the finest game I've ever watched. (I didn't play in it).
Jake_Long: Who did you hate to pitch to the most in your career?
Darling: Tony Gwynn, EASILY! I did my best to get him to 3,000 hits quicker, and I think his lifetime batting average against me was .450.
Base_Ball: It's great to have you back, Ron! I was wondering if you have any aspirations to coach or manage?
Darling: I believe the coaches and managers do a fine job. I don't think it's for everyone. They lead a difficult life, and I don't know that it would be right for me. But I do know that this opportunity at SportsNet New York (SNY) is a perfect fit for me, and I get to coach and manage from the booth!
Kevin_Lynch: What will the Mets do with Victor Zambrano? Seems to me they are reluctant to cut ties with him because it would admit it was a terrible deal.
Darling: Victor Zambrano has a fine arm, great fastball, great breaking ball. Everyone knows that he struggled with his control, and it's an interesting question. Because of the trade, you might think the Mets are holding onto him to justify the trade, but I believe they are keeping Zambrano because sometimes power pitchers take a little longer to develop, and I believe he'll develop into a strong Major League pitcher some day.
Jake_Long: Are you looking forward to announcing Mets games?
Darling: Yes. There is a great new team on the field, which makes it very exciting for me, because I believe we have a great new team in the booth. Who wouldn't want to work with Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, Siafa Lewis and Curt Gowdy Jr. and the entire staff that will be working "Baseball Night in New York" for SportsNet NY.
shorty28kk: Who do you think the best players in baseball are?
Darling: Beltran, Albert Pujols, Andruw Jones, Miguel Cabrera, Manny Ramirez, A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Wright.
mike_k: Where do you think Beltran should bat in the order?
Darling: The most success that Beltran has had in the big leagues was in the 2004 playoffs. In those playoffs, he batted second, so he got a lot of fastballs, a lot of strikes, and he could be aggressive. I think that's the kind of hitter he is.
Jake_Long: What do you think was the greatest move the Mets made this postseason?
Darling: Other than the new baseball-analyst team of Hernandez and Darling? (Kidding) I think the best move they made was the acquisition of Wagner. I watched him pitch 15 times last year -- every single time a success. And now he ensures that the games the Mets are winning after eight innings will go in the "W" column.
VIVA_SANTOS: Hey Ron, I am glad you are going to be the Mets' TV announcer. Have you wanted the job in the past with the Mets?
Darling: I've always wanted to play a part with the New York Mets, and I've been very fortunate that Jon Litner, Curt Gowdy Jr. and SportsNet NY have given me the opportunity of not only being part of the network team, but also a part of my old team, the Mets baseball team.
tonimarievac: Ron, it made my day to see that you were back with the Mets. Welcome Back.
Darling: Thank you. It is great to be back.
mike_k: Are you excited to be working with Keith again? Have you guys kept in touch since leaving the Mets?
Darling: We have kept in touch and have seen each other off and on over these 20 years. And I'm excited to have the opportunity to occasionally share the booth with Keith, to be the Mets' color analyst with Keith, and to learn from Keith, since he has a lot of experience doing Mets games. That's going to help me develop in the long run.
jerseyfan015: Who on the current pitching staff do you consider close to your style of delivery?
Darling: Benson probably has some of the same stuff I had -- sinking fastball, slurvey breaking ball, and I think the only difference between Benson and myself is that I was always fortunate enough to stay healthy. If Benson can stay healthy and put three, four, five years together, he can have quite a run.
mcgowan128: What was your favorite park to pitch in away from Shea?
Darling: Wrigley Field, because of the history of the ballpark, the beauty of the ballpark. And it is one of the last ballparks that's right inside the neighborhood. That gives it that old Ebbetts Field charm.
Kevin_Lynch: David Wright comes in with a ton of pressure on him. Can he handle it and have even a better year?
Darling: Well, so far so good! I don't think anyone has handled pressure better as a young player than Wright. As he gets bigger, stronger and more confident, he is one of those few players that you could say might one day be a captain of the team. That's how special his personality and his talent are.
Jake_Long: What do you think of Julio Franco? Will he be a force off the bench or are his golden days over?
Darling: I believe his golden days are not over. I watched him play many games last season in Washington, and I think he is in better shape now than he was as a rookie for the Phillies. He'll have a great right-handed bat off the bench. He'll be able to spell Delgado at first base occasionally. And everyone I know has said that he is a great presence in the clubhouse.
cgroovin: Who is the most exciting player for you to watch today?
Darling: Well there are many. If I have to put it down to one, I'll have to say Pujols. I played for La Russa in St. Louis, and he said that no one on his teams have ever worked harder than Pujols. When your superstar is outworking everyone else, you've got something very special.
dave_parrott_2: What is your greatest single on-field accomplishment?
Darling: The fourth game of the World Series against the Red Sox in 1986. It was a game we had to win, and it was in Boston, which was my hometown. I had left 50 tickets for friends and family that night, and although no one will admit it, I think only my mother wanted me to win the game.
shorty28kk: What two teams do you think will go to the World Series, if the Mets don't make the playoffs?
Darling: I reject the premise of the question! I do think the Mets will make the playoffs, so I'll give my American League prediction. Because of the great manager and the blend of young and old players -- plus the X-factor, Vladimir Guerrero -- it's hard for me not to go with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
mcgowan128: Who were you closest to as a friend on the '86 Mets?
Darling: My closest friend on the Mets was Eddie Lynch, which became difficult when he was traded midseason to the Cubs. But Lynchie was the kind of guy who invited me to stay at his house in Florida, took me out to dinner, and taught me how to be a pro. Just a great guy.
Chuck_Buono: I'm looking forward to your work in the booth with Gary (the best play-by-play man in the business) and Keith. Will the Mets finally throw a no-hitter this year? If so, who will do it?
Darling: Thanks, I can't wait to get to Spring Training to cover the team. To answer your question on the no-hitter, it's hard to predict when, but when it comes, the crew at SNY will be there to cover it. So stay tuned all season long!
Darling: Thanks everybody for joining me today. I hope to do this again in the future, and I'm glad to be back in New York, working for SNY and covering the Mets this season. Have a great weekend everybody. And to Cactus86, sorry, I stopped being a wingman at age 40!