Meet the newest member of the Mets' Hall of Fame

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Meet the newest member of the Mets' Hall of Fame

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- There's always been something about John Franco that made him the quintessential New Yorker. Now, the feisty little lefty from Brooklyn is a member of the Mets' Hall of Fame. Once an All-Star closer and New York Mets captain, Franco was inducted during a 35-minute ceremony at Citi Field before Sunday night's game against St. Louis. Wiping tears from his eyes at the podium behind second base, he thanked just about everyone he could think of and said pitching for his boyhood team was a dream come true. "For those 14 years that I played here, I gave it my best," a smiling Franco told fans who arrived early for the festivities. "It wasn't always easy, and I'm sure I kept a lot of you on the edge of your seats. But I had it under control all the time." Franco's family, friends and several former teammates from the Mets and nearby St. John's University were on hand for his big night. Dressed in a sharp suit and orange tie, he walked in from the right-field bullpen to the song "Johnny Be Good" and waved to the crowd. He was presented with his Hall of Fame plaque, to be displayed alongside the others inside Citi Field's main entrance. The ceremony started with New York City Department of Sanitation bagpipers playing in left-center field. Franco's dad was a sanitation worker for nearly two decades and a union shop steward in Brooklyn. In a touching tribute, the reliever wore his late father's orange Department of Sanitation T-shirt under his uniform when he pitched for the Mets, and he got choked up Sunday night when talking about his parents. "The sanitation department was like my second family," Franco said. His salute featured a 2-minute video tribute and concluded with Franco throwing out the first pitch to son J.J., who wore his father's No. 45 Mets jersey. J.J. Franco was drafted by the Mets out of high school and just completed his sophomore season as a college infielder at Brown. "Second-team all-Ivy," his dad said proudly. Franco is the Mets' career leader in saves (276) and games pitched (695). He joined the team in 1990 after a trade from Cincinnati and stayed in New York until 2004, making him the second-longest tenured player in team history, behind Ed Kranepool. The four-time All-Star finished with 424 major league saves, fourth on the career list and the most by a left-hander. "Great changeup," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who faced Franco during their playing days. "Great competitor." Highlights of Franco's stint with the Mets include a World Series win and a 1.88 ERA in 15 postseason appearances. Twice he struck out home run king Barry Bonds in crucial situations during the 2000 NL playoffs, helping the Mets advance to a Subway Series won by the New York Yankees in five games. One of only three captains in Mets history, Franco became the 26th member of the team's Hall of Fame, joining such luminaries as Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges, Ralph Kiner, Tom Seaver, Gary Carter and Tug McGraw -- another lefty reliever with a bubbly personality who was Franco's favorite player as a kid. "To be on the wall with those guys, it means an awful lot to me," said Franco, now a club ambassador with the Mets. "It's humbling. I'm very honored." Some of those Hall of Famers were on the field for the ceremony, including ex-teammates Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. "You deserve this as much as anybody," former Mets lefty Al Leiter told Franco, who pitched at the same Brooklyn high school (Lafayette) as Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax and team owner Fred Wilpon. Small for a pitcher at 5-foot-10, Franco was drafted in the fifth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers and beat the baseball odds to last 21 seasons in the majors. He did it with a crafty circle change and a fearless, fiery mindset on the mound. "You can't judge a person by his size, but you could judge em by the heart he has. And I have always had a big heart. Every time I went out there I gave 150 percent. It wasn't pretty at times," Franco said, "but I was under control and I knew what I was doing. And I enjoyed every minute of it, through the good times and the bad times." The surprising Mets are enjoying good times right now. Franco was in attendance with his son Friday night when Johan Santana pitched the franchise's first no-hitter and said it was "very, very satisfying" to see that. "I think the fans are starting to believe a little bit," Franco said before the ceremony. "It seems like there's something special going on here." When he stepped to the podium about two hours later, he told the crowd the same thing. "The 2012 Mets, they remind me of the 2000 Mets. Nobody gave us a chance at the beginning of the season," Franco said. "This team right now, with the leadership of David Wright and (manager) Terry Collins, watch out for those guys."

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.