Pitchers row laughs are par for course

Pitchers row laughs are par for course

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Long, narrow cardboard boxes that had arrived during the one-day absence of Pedro Martinez leaned against his locker and pressed against the curiosity of his fellow pitchers. It was early Friday morning, and the pitchers neighborhood of the Mets clubhouse was abuzz when Martinez uttered the word "golf."

Big league pitchers golf like bartenders listen; it's an unofficial avocation. But not Martinez. He recalled "not playing" in Juan Marichal's tournament a few years ago. He swung an imaginary club and said, "I did this a couple of times. But I didn't really play. I don't play."

Hence, the curiosity among his colleagues who never had heard Martinez discuss his driver or utter about his putter. But there he was, opening boxes, throwing around the name Tiger as if he were on a first-name basis and saying, "You guys are going to teach me. If someone can tell me where to put my feet, I'll be all right."

The others were all ears. Martinez had returned from a quick trip to the Dominican. He had attended the the funeral of a family friend who had died unexpectedly.

Martinez brought back with him the same energy he had provided in earlier days. His sudden golf interest piqued the permanent golf interest of his fellow pitchers and created another episode in this ongoing and quite unexpected in camp development -- Martinez being more of a teammate to more of his teammates. The difference between Martinez now and the pitcher who attended the preceding three Mets camps is more conspicuous each day. Martinez is more engaging, more approachable, more fun. More popular.

He slid his new driver from its box and posed with it, addressing the ball as Ed Norton did with Ralph Kramden in the classic "Honeymooners" moment -- "Hello ball" -- and laughed out loud. "The head is as big as [Ramon] Castro's," Martinez said. He hardly was the only one laughing. Castro has lost at least 10 pounds since last year, none from his "cabeza grande."

It all made for more of a good morning on pitchers row.

The row already had reviewed the hit produced by Mike Pelfrey against the Cardinals on Thursday. Matt Wise described it to John Maine as if it had won the pennant. Pelfrey glowed. Only hitting matters more than golf on pitchers row.

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And before Martinez arrived, the area had enjoyed another skirmish in the friendly war between Maine and Oliver Perez, occupant of the adjacent locker. Overturned stools, trashed lockers and such are the usual maneuvers. But Perez apparently had raised the bar, stuffing Maine's mail into his equipment bag seemingly to conceal his other act of sabotage.

He had unscrewed the cap of a large, three-quarters full bottle of mouthwash and placed it in the bag, the cap slightly askew.

The scope of the damage shocked Maine.

"There are puddles in my shoe ... puddles of mouthwash," he said, his level of annoyance diluted the hint of a smile.

"But now they'll be minty fresh," Scott Schoeneweis said as Perez stifled a smile.

Maine, who was to pitch in the afternoon, wanted to respond. But on several levels, he enjoys the back and forth with Perez, and he wanted to do something more playful than vengeful, something he could plot.

Perez may find frozen clothing in his locker Saturday morning.

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