Down, Nieto added to coaching staff

Rick Down finally joined the Mets on Friday, weeks after the club's intentions to bring the former Yankees hitting instructor aboard became public.

The final pieces of manager Willie Randolph's first coaching staff settled into place only after the Yankees issued the Mets permission to hire Down, who was under contract with the Yankees through Dec. 31.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was reportedly irked when Randolph and Down met for lunch at a Tampa restaurant, believing that they had official permission to do so. The mix-up was later attributed to a misunderstanding on the part of Mets GM Omar Minaya.

After Down was fired as the Yankees' hitting coach at the end of the 2003 season, the second time he had been dismissed from that post, Down spent the 2004 season serving as a coordinator of minor league instruction.

Down has been widely well-regarded throughout his career for his work with young hitters, but high expectations and the Yankees' six-game World Series loss to the Florida Marlins led to his dismissal.

Down has also worked as a hitting coach with the Baltimore Orioles (1995-1998), Los Angeles Dodgers (1999-2000) and Boston Red Sox (2001).

The Mets also tabbed former major league catcher Tom Nieto as the club's catching instructor.

Nieto, a career backup catcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, Montreal Expos, Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies, was Torre's catching coach from 2000-01. He spent the last two seasons managing the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, compiling a 127-145 record.

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