NEW YORK -- The Mets began filtering into their clubhouse wearing various hockey jerseys early this week, part of a team-bonding exercise they began with Western outfits last month in Houston.
The occasion this time? The dawn of Interleague Play, which begins Friday in Toronto for the Mets.
The Mets will battle four of the five American League East teams in Interleague Play this season, taking on the Blue Jays in Toronto, the Rays in Tampa Bay, the Orioles at Citi Field and -- of course -- the Yankees at both Citi and Yankee Stadium.
It all begins Friday against a Blue Jays club the Mets have not faced since 2006. New York is 14-4 all time against the Blue Jays, who play about a two-hour drive from their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y. The Mets boast two Canadian-born players on their roster in outfielder Jason Bay (a rabid hockey fan) and catcher Mike Nickeas (more of a golfer), though Bay's fractured left rib will prevent him from traveling to Toronto.
For the Mets, Friday's series will also afford them an opportunity to use a designated hitter, temporarily relieving the playing-time crunch they have experienced at some positions. The DH should allow rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis to play every game of the series, perhaps with Lucas Duda, Scott Hairston or Justin Turner manning DH responsibilities. It could also give manager Terry Collins an opportunity to find more consistent playing time for another rookie, Jordany Valdespin.
From Toronto, the Mets will then delve back into National League play, before traveling to the Bronx for three games against the Yankees on June 8-10. They will follow that up with a stop in Tampa Bay from June 12-14, then host the Orioles on June 18-20, and the Yankees on June 22-24.
It is a daunting schedule, considering all four of those AL East opponents were sitting above .500 in the days leading up to Interleague Play. The only AL East team below .500 as of May 17, the Red Sox, just so happens to be the only AL East team the Mets will not play this year.
Then again, the Mets held their own during a similarly difficult Interleague slate last year, taking four of six from the first-place Rangers and Tigers, and dropping four of six to the Yankees.
Players to watch
David Wright, 3B (.314, 18 HR, 80 RBIs): Wright and Interleague Play seem to get along; the third baseman has done that damage in just 353 career at-bats.
Scott Hairston, OF (.158, 0 HR, 3 RBIs): The DH rule should give the lefty-mashing Hairston plenty of extra playing time. Can he take advantage of it?
R.A. Dickey, RHP (5-0, 1.72 ERA): The knuckleball plays well against hitters who have never seen it. Perhaps that's the secret to Dickey's Interleague success?
Johan Santana, LHP (4-7, 4.97 ERA): Compare those numbers to Santana's 130-64 record and 3.02 ERA in intraleague competition.
Last year: The high point of the Mets' season came during Interleague Play last year, when the Mets put up 52 runs during four consecutive victories against the first-place (and eventual division-winning) Rangers and Tigers. But they lost Jose Reyes to a hamstring injury during their subsequent Interleague series against the Yankees, marking the beginning of a slow decline.
All time: The Mets were 9-9 in Interleague Play last year, moving their all-time record to 127-120. That includes a 35-49 mark against the Yankees.
at Blue Jays, May 18-20: The Mets will receive a first-hand look at one of baseball's other surprise teams, the talented young Blue Jays -- a club that has managed to win despite a slow start from All-Star third baseman Jose Bautista. New York has never lost to Toronto at Citi Field, but is just 5-4 all time at Rogers Centre.
at Yankees, June 8-10: The same old cast of characters will be in place when the Mets make their annual pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium, with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and others set to suit up for the Bombers. These two teams share a long common history; 111 players have appeared in uniform for both the Mets and Yankees.
at Rays, June 12-14: After going seven years between meetings with the Rays last decade, the Mets will now face Tampa Bay for the second time in four seasons. They should manage to avoid All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria, who is sidelined with a torn left hamstring, but they will not be able to avoid Tampa Bay's vaunted rotation or bullpen.
vs. Orioles, June 18-20: In a quirk of the Interleague schedule, the Mets will face the Orioles for the third time in four years. They swept Baltimore during a three-game set in 2010, but lost two of three the year before. Since the dawn of Interleague Play, the Mets are 16-9 against the Orioles.
vs. Yankees, June 22-24: The Mets used to hold their own against the Yankees on a regular basis at Shea Stadium, but they have dropped six of their first nine games against the Bombers at Citi Field. These two teams already met this year during a rare home-and-home Spring Training series in Florida.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.