Early afternoon notes from Lakeland

Just west of an intersection on Florida State Road 60 called Yeehaw Junction, past a wooden sign pointing to an open field advertising “Bluegrass Festival Here: Jan. 26-28,” there’s a leg of highway that I’d like to nominate as the best smelling stretch of road in the United States.

That’s a pretty well-informed opinion, too. I’ve been to 41 states now and driven through huge swatches of many of them and never enjoyed any roadside odor like the combination of honeysuckle and citrus that wafted through my car’s air conditioner this morning. It’d make a hit scented candle — it even sounds like one, Honeysuckle Citrus — but there’s probably no way to make it smell as crisp as it does in real-life citrus country.

After about 17 miles of citrus groves and marshes on 60, with only a few awesome-looking and active pieces of farm equipment to break them up, there’s a huge fenced-in pasture with what appears to be a single grazing cow. One cow. This gets me thinking: What must it be like to be a cow in Florida? I typically associate cows with cooler climates and rolling hills, places like Vermont and Wisconsin. Do Florida cows fatten up due to the flatness of the land, or do they sweat it off in the heat?

And just as I start realizing I know almost nothing about our nation’s cattle diaspora, there are hundreds of them everywhere. Cows near the road chomping on brush and cows way off in the distance, beefy little specks on the horizon. It looks like the contemporary United States’ best answer to the Serengeti: Miles of flat pasture with cows and cows and cows and cows, moving in packs, eating alone, basking in the sun, growing delicious. Apparently this is cow country. Who knew?

(My dad did, apparently. When I told him I made the drive to Lakeland, he said, “Oh yeah, were there lots of cows?” My dad always just knows this stuff.)

Now the important and less important baseball things:

– Tim Byrdak’s examination in New York revealed a torn meniscus. He will have surgery tomorrow morning and Sandy Alderson “guesstimated” it will take the lefty six weeks to return to the big-league club. Like Terry Collins yesterday, Alderson mentioned Josh Edgin first when listing possible replacements for Byrdak. Edgin is in Lakeland today and will join the Mets in Major League camp.

– David Wright will have a cortisone injection tomorrow to relieve the lingering soreness in his ribcage. According to Alderson, doctors said Wright had “plateaued” in his recovery and the cortisone shot will help reduce whatever remaining inflammation he may have. Following Wright and the Mets’ lead, I downplayed Wright’s injury on the podcast last week but I think flights back to New York and cortisone shots are probably good justification for concern.

– No joke: I’m pretty sure I also have lingering soreness in my ribcage. It started bothering me a couple of weeks ago, settled down a bit, then flared up again after I pushed it a little too hard at the gym. This should be way, way, way less concerning to Mets fans than Wright’s injury.

– After picking up my credential and entering Tigertown, the first person I saw was Prince Fielder, in uniform, smiling broadly and stretching out his arms for a hug. Since I’ve never met Prince Fielder before, I was a little confused by this, but he’s a pretty huggable-looking guy and for a moment I thought, “OK, bro, let’s do this.” Luckily I stopped myself just before I realized that some of Fielder’s friends were entering the stadium behind me.

– Every single part of this place is packed. There were no seats left in the press box that faced the field, so I came out to the stands to find someplace. It took about 20 minutes of walking around like a goon before I found this fine seat on the aisle of Row 0 down the third-base line.

– It seems like the consensus among Mets fans and the media says that if Scott Hairston starts the season on the disabled list — which is looking more likely by the day — the Mets will need a right-handed bat for the bench. But I wonder if they’d be better off carrying two left-handed bench bats in Hairston’s absence.

If Terry Collins is going to continue to rely heavily on platoon matchups, why limit the bench to one lefty hitter? If both Adam Loewen and Mike Baxter look good this spring, maybe the team would be best served breaking camp with the pair. Last year, Collins gave 149 pinch-hit at-bats to lefties and 109 to righties (and a handful to switch-hitters). Hairston, known and used as a masher of southpaws, had the platoon advantage in 61% of his at-bats. Lefty-hitting Willie Harris had it in 85%.

There are a lot more right-handed pitchers working late in games, obviously. So if you’re look to optimize the platoon matchups as often as possible, you probably want a second lefty bat on the bench over a fourth righty bat, all else being equal. Plus, if Justin Turner can’t be expected to handle the righty pinch-hitting opportunities until Hairston returns, it really calls into question why he seems inked in for a roster spot.

– All else is not equal, since right-handed hitting Vinny Rottino can serve as an additional catcher, which is worth something. I don’t know how he is defensively.

– Also, it seems entirely possible if not even downright likely the Mets will fill a bench spot or bullpen role with a veteran that gets released five days before Opening Day by a team looking to avoid the collectively bargained $100 thousand bonus for veterans bound for Triple-A.

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