Another invitation was extended to Carp last week. The club asked him to make the short walk from the Minor League clubhouse to the clubhouse in which he lockered for almost five weeks last year, the walk that covers the gigantic span between big league living and Minor League existence. He was to be cast in the role of professional foil, a left-handed hitter Pedro Martinez needed in the batter's box so that he might experiment with his cutter during his simulated game.
"It was nice to be back," Carp said. "But I knew why I was there."
It was merely a 40-minute visit for the 21-year-old first baseman. It was no part of any grand scheme.
In some ways, Carp was closer to his ultimate destination, the big leagues, last year. He was on the rise then, and even though he had yet to play a game in Double-A, the Mets clearly were aware of him, his power and his potential. That was before the tip of his right ring finger "exploded" -- his term -- in a freak, baserunning accident, putting a roadblock in his path. His ascent was interrupted, his career set back.
A double-play relay intended for first base collided with his finger and his future and ultimately set the stage for Carp's unwanted introduction to adversity and on-the-field disappointment.
"I'd never had to deal with failure before," he said.
He tactfully calls his 2007 a learning experience.
The finger has healed, though it now is misshapen; his career hasn't quite.
"He developed some bad habits," Tim Teufel, manager of the Class A St. Lucie Mets who also managed Carp in the Arizona Fall League.
"More than a couple," Carp said. "But toward the end of the fall league, after I'd looked at a lot video with him [Teufel], I got my swing back. He had broken down my swing completely and we'd started over."
Carp arrived at camp early. His blond hair sticking out under his camp gave him a Bob Horner look. His powerful, rebuilt swing gave him a chance.
"There's talent there, and now you can see it again," Teufel said. "He got off to a slower start last year in Double-A than he'd wanted, and then the injury. And he still hit .250. Now he's fought back. He's worked at it."
Even with the finger injury, Carp amassed 359 at-bats in Double-A. His home run total, 17 with Class A St. Lucie in 2006, dropped to 11. He may have to repeat Double-A because of time missed and the return of Michel Abreu to play first base at Triple-A.
"A lot of stuff has to happen. But I'm still shooting for Triple-A," Carp said, "... and the big leagues, too."
Abreu assigned: After playing first base almost regularly in exhibition games while Carlos Delgado was unavailable, Abreu was reassigned to Minor League camp Thursday morning. Willie Collazo and Carlos Muniz were optioned to the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs' roster. ... Veteran third baseman Fernando Tatis, 33, finally arrived in camp Thursday after weeks of visa issues. He is likely to be the Zephyrs' third baseman again. Tatis played in 131 games with them last year, batting .276 with 21 home runs and 67 RBIs.
They're No. 1: Teufel sees a difference in Eddie Kunz, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound reliever the Mets made a sandwich pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. "When he was in the fall league," Teufel said, "I think he was a little tired. It had been a long year. Now he's fresh and strong. His arm angle is up, and he can snap off his slider and get that downward tilt."
What they're saying: "He's so quick and light on his feet. And he has such soft hands. He's such a pleasure to watch." -- Teufel, on young shortstop Ruben Tejada
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.