Boone aiming to revive career

Boone aiming to revive career with Mets

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Ego is an essential element in every athlete's makeup, even for over-the-top, I-me-mine guys like Keyshawn Johnson and Deion Sanders. They wouldn't have become the successful athletes they have become without ego, the not-so-distant cousin of confidence. It's necessary for all of us, even those who don't refer to ourselves by name.

Bret Boone made his first appearance in the Mets' Spring Training camp on Tuesday and never once referred to himself as Bret Boone. That said, he is in the Mets' camp and clubhouse and, perhaps, in their picture as well because of ego.

When his baseball employment was interrupted Aug. 31 by an unceremonious release by the Twins, Boone left the game he had played professionally for 16 summers for some serious looking in the mirror and some casual baseball viewing. It was then, as he watched others perform that his ego flexed its muscle.

"He's still playing, and I'm not?" Boone said to himself on more than one occasion, his inner voice speaking in an incredulous tone.

Soon after, Boone decided he would stand for no such ending; for no ending at all, actually. That decision was the first step toward his arrival at camp Tuesday. The others involved soul seaching, re-evalution of his skills, refurbishing the swing that once produced 37 home runs and 141 RBIs in a season and learning the Mets' second base assignment had no name next to it.

So here he is, assigned an end-of-the-row locker befitting his veteran status and All-Star resume and a single-digit uniform number, 9.

And here are the Mets, with uncertainty playing second in their projected lineup for 2006. They intend to chose a double play partner for Jose Reyes from among Anderson Hernandez, a 23-year-old switch-hitter with speed, quickness, hands and 18 big-league at-bats; Jeff Keppinger, a 25-year-old right-handed hitter with rookie status, Jay Bell characteristics, instincts and less range than Hernandez; Kaz Matsui, the 30-year-old, one-time Japanese All-Star, who has disappointed the Mets in successive seasons; and Boone, who soon turns 37 and who has turned more double plays than his competition and turned around fastballs for 15 big-league seasons.

All four were in camp Tuesday. Boone was the one with muscle, platinum hair, an outlook that mixes optimism with realism and enough life experience to accept the skepticism he knows exists in the baseball community about him.

"I can't blame anyone for being skeptical," he said. "I had a tough time last year."

"Tough" is best described in numbers: a .221 batting average, .290 on-base percentage .350 slugging percentage produced in 326 at-bats with the Mariners, his team for 4 1/2 seasons and the Twins. This for a player who had averaged 30 home runs and 112 RBIs in the previous four seasons.

Boone lost his swing, his fire, his job and finally, his status as a big leaguer.

Now, his fire restored, he has a Minor League contract, a plan to "get my career back on track" and a chance to earn $1 million and some self-satisfaction.

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By his own words, he will be either the Mets' regular second baseman or a former player.

"Being a role player," he said, "just isn't me. I can't do that. I don't want to. Some guys can. They're comfortable. Shawon Dunston had a great career as an everyday player, and when he couldn't play everyday anymore, he was a role player, and a good one. Nothing wrong with that. It's just not for me. I like to go Spring Training, planning to have a good year and trying to make the All-Star team."

Boone said he had that sense last spring, but it began to fade as the Mariners became a non-factor in the American League West.

"I'm not saying that was the only reason or even the main reason," he said. "But I know I lost the fire at some point last year. I fell pretty hard. ... I have no one to blame but myself for what happened. I put myself in this position."

Retirement was a consideration.

"I'd hit the wall. It was very humbling," he said. But he was uncomfortable with his last chapter. "I never got to say goodbye in Seattle [the city he considers his baseball home, even though he has played for the Reds, Braves, Padres and Twins.]" Since his release, monitoring games, his ego and the passion Mets general manager Omar Minaya expressed in telephone conversations re-lit the fire.

"If it's going to be over, I want to end it my way," he says. He wants to be the one who decides.

So he is in an unfamiliar camp in an unfamiliar role -- a player trying to win a job.

"It's weird. I haven't had to do this since my rookie year," he said. "I've got to see what I've got left. Hopefully, I'm up to the challenge and can open some eyes."

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.