If anybody might add "fuel to the fire," as manager Jerry Manuel said in reference to recent squabbles between his Mets and the Phillies, it's apt to be K-Rod. Known for his demonstrative celebrations after a save, Rodriguez -- even without throwing a pitch -- has already become one of the most fiery players on the Mets.
Likewise, he may become one of the more outwardly abrasive.
Rodriguez was not present for the past two seasons, ones that last week prompted Phillies starter Cole Hamels to call the Mets "choke artists." But he is nonetheless aware of what his role in this rivalry might become.
"I'm not trying to show up anybody, I'm not trying to offend the other team with that," Rodriguez said of his fist pumps and finger-pointing. "It's just a passion that I have -- me. Sometimes people take it the wrong way."
On this day, at least, his passions lay elsewhere. K-Rod joined Manuel, general manager Omar Minaya, John Maine and "Santa" Pelfrey at Citi headquarters in Queens, where the Mets hosted their holiday party for children in seven New York City public schools throughout the five boroughs.
The Mets handed out presents to children and sang carols, before stepping aside to lavish compliments on K-Rod and send volleys to the Phillies.
"I don't really care, but I just don't get it," Maine said. "At the end of the year, they won the World Series. Congratulations. Let's focus on the things they accomplished. Don't worry about what's going on up in New York."
Maine's other words meant even more, largely because they spoke to his health. Out for all of September with a bony growth in his right shoulder, Maine underwent surgery at season's end and has since resumed a throwing program. He should be back to form within two weeks.
"It's a little tight, but that's to be expected," Maine said, before adding the two words of most interest to the Mets: "No pain."
Then Maine added his thoughts on Rodriguez, the day's other topic of choice.
"K-Rod is the best in the game, and Omar got him," Maine said. "That's a great thing. And now we've got another closer in the eighth inning. That's unbelievable, too."
The latter acquisition, a trade for J.J. Putz, struck something of a personal chord for both Maine and Pelfrey, who were close friends with one of the players traded away in the three-team deal. Joe Smith, according to Maine, had only recently purchased a home in West Palm Beach, Fla., within commuting distance of the Mets' Spring Training complex in Port St. Lucie.
Now, Smith will be spending his spring in Arizona with the Indians, and despite Maine's interest in the home -- "maybe he'll give me rent free down there," he said -- his greater curiosities lie within the area of personnel.
The Mets still need at least one starting pitcher, and they remain in the market for other minor parts. Lacking two left-handers, they're not even done reworking the bullpen, despite the dimensions provided by both Rodriguez and Putz.
Manuel, for one, might even experiment with how he uses his two new closers. Though Rodriguez will, without question, be his primary closer, Manuel said he would be open to giving Putz sporadic save opportunities throughout the season.
"What Omar has provided for us, it gives us that opportunity not to miss a step," Manuel said, referring to the acquisitions of Rodriguez and Putz. "We feel very confident that we could use [Putz] in that same particular role, because he's had success in that role. I think that's very, very huge for us in the course of a 162-game schedule, to have guys that can close games."
It was the team's most conspicuous weakness a season ago, and now it appears to be something of a strength. Which, perhaps, is the reason for K-Rod's confidence regarding a rival he has yet to meet.
"I still feel like we're the team to beat in our division," he said. "Once again, I don't want people to take it the wrong way, I don't want people to get offended by this, but it's how I'm feeling. Hopefully it doesn't cause any controversy."