Notes: Valentin returns to new haunts

Notes: Valentin makes return to first

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The first baseman of the scouts' fantasies has the bat of Greenberg, the attendance record of Gehrig, the hands of Biletnikoff, the wingspread of the Challenger, the savvy of Keith Hernandez, the height of Manute Bol and the range of Frankie Valli.

And Jose Valentin is 5-foot-10 -- when he's wearing high-heeled spikes.

As targets go, Valentin is as serviceable as a midget amoeba. He's got a bum knee, a brace that restricts his movement and, in all his 38-plus years -- on the planet and 14 years as a professional -- he has played first base for three -- count 'em -- big league innings.

The only drawback to his first-baseman resume, Valentin said, is his height. John Olerud, he ain't. He's not even as tall as Mo Vaughn -- before Mo became Mo' Vaughn. But as Valentin said rather proudly on Sunday, "I've got heart."

It was heart and certainly not height that had him back in the Mets' lineup on Sunday afternoon and on the outskirts of their plans for 2008. Almost a month before people had predicted, Valentin was active and relatively able-bodied. The right knee brace, not quite as restrictive as the one he wore last season, was in place, and below it was a soccer shinguard.

And three feet to the north of the healed fracture in his right tibia is the heart that manager Willie Randolph wants in his clubhouse and, on occasion, in his lineup.

Valentin knows how it works.

"The regular season is all about winning," Valentin said. "Now is the time to experiment. If I waited, I probably wouldn't get my chance."

So he made himself available to play, and, in the absence of Carlos Delgado, Randolph made him the first baseman at least for a day. If Valentin gets himself to 100 percent -- his calculations have him at about 80 percent -- some second base and outfield assignments could be his as well.

Returning to Triple-A would have some benefit, but none beyond May 1, he is sure. So his contract obligates the Mets to decide on whether they want him around by that date -- Randolph clearly does. "But I don't want to wait till then," Valentin said.

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Valentin was a tad tired after playing his first five innings since July 20. And he already was curious about the message his body would send him on Monday morning. He's confident -- "I can run faster than a couple of guys already" -- and sure he won't be asked to play more than twice a week if he does win a roster spot.

"But I want a chance to play that much," Valentin said.

Actions and reactions: After pitching four hitless innings against the Astros on Sunday, John Maine characterized his performance as "my best [in three starts] so far." But he felt, "a little off." Randolph said, "He had great velocity. I have a good feeling about John, that he's going to have a big year for us." ... Angel Pagan ran a bloop into a double in the second inning for his daily hit, and it prompted this from his could-be manager: "That's how you make the team. I told them early, 'Average isn't going to make the club.'" ... Switch-hitting and light-hitting Anderson Hernandez discussed abandoning batting left-handed with Randolph early in camp. The manager encouraged him to stay with it. The backup-middle-infield wannabe squeezed in a run batting left-handed, and it pleased Randolph on Sunday.

Eight letters, meaning gigantic: A package of unknown origin and addressed to Maine arrived in the clubhouse on Saturday. It was an on-the-wall crossword puzzle for the Mets' foremost down-and-across practioner. It's 6 1/2-feet square with 24,718 clues. "It'll take us until the All-Star break," Aaron Heilman said.

Up next: Tradition Field may list to the left a tad on Monday, when the Red Sox make their lone visit of the spring to "Port St. Lefty" or "Portside Lucie." Johan Santana, decidedly left-handed, is to make this third exhibition game start for the Mets opposite Jon Lester, who is equally left-handed, at 1:10 p.m. ET. The scheduled relievers include the Mets' Pedro Feliciano and the Sox's Hideki Okajima and Javier Lopez, all left-handers.

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