The Homegrown Talent

It happens every spring. Each year, when the Mets report to Port St. Lucie for Spring Training, a select group of players can exchange knowing glances. You can call them the 'graduates' of the farm system. These players are the ones who have clocked time at Tradition Field not just in March, but sweating out the mid-summer months, leaving it all on the diamond while wearing the colors of the St. Lucie Mets.

With players like David Wright, Jose Reyes, Aaron Heilman and Heath Bell filing through the Florida State League and making it all the way to Shea Stadium, there is an apparent bond between players who have progressed through the system.

There's also a thrill in identification for fans, watching players grow from draft picks and free-agent signings into bonafide Major League stars.

"It's important to have homegrown guys," Wright said. "Guys take a lot of pride in making it to the big leagues with the team that gave them their first opportunity."

Selected in 2001 as a compensation pick for losing pitcher Mike Hampton to the Rockies, Wright progressed through the Mets' system and made it to St. Lucie by 2003, when he was 20 years old.

In 133 games, Wright batted .270 with 15 home runs and 75 RBI, stealing 19 bases in a precursor to the blistering 2004 that would shoot him all the way from Double-A Binghamton to the big leagues.

"I had 29 other teams pass me up in the first round in 2001, and for the Mets to give me that opportunity, I take a lot of pride in that," Wright said. "Not a lot of guys get to make it to the big leagues with the team that gave you that first opportunity."

A lifelong Mets fan from Norfolk, Va. – home of the club's Triple-A affiliate – Wright already held a certain bond with the organization. His allegiance that only grew with a four-year journey to the big leagues.

"I have a passion for the New York Mets," Wright said. "I grew up idolizing Darryl Strawberry, and getting a chance to shake his hand and talk about the '86 team is something I take very seriously. I'm a Met through and through. That's what I want to be and that's how I want to finish my career."

As Wright's infield mate, Reyes tells a similar story of progress.

Signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic, the speedy shortstop began earning his Mets stripes as a 17-year-old with Rookie-league Kingsport in 2000. Reyes rocketed through the organization, stopping in St. Lucie for 69 games to begin 2002 before debuting with the Mets in June 2003, stroking a hit in his first big league at-bat.

From Kingsport on up, teammates who played with Reyes seem to rave not about his impressive speed or exceptionally strong throwing arm, though they are certainly noteworthy. Instead, the first topic people seem to bring up regarding Reyes is his positive attitude and ever-present smile.

"Can't beat that smile," said Cliff Floyd. "That smile is tremendous. But he has a presence - he's at a point where he knows what's at stake. He understands what we expect out of him."

"I always smile," Reyes said. "When I came through the minor leagues, I played like that. I love this game and I enjoy this game. That's why I'm so happy every day. Even if I go 0-for-5, if we win the game, I'm going to be happy like that."

Tradition Field has also served as the beginning point for a number of pro careers. Most recently, the club's No. 1 draft pick last June, right-hander Philip Humber, began his rise through the system with an assignment to St. Lucie. The Mets' 2005 first-round pick, pitcher Mike Pelfrey, is likely to also begin this April on Northwest Peacock Boulevard.

Those pitchers need look no further than Heilman to see what can happen from here. A first-round pick in 2001 from Notre Dame University, Heilman kicked off his professional career with seven starts for St. Lucie in 2001, going 0-1 with a 2.35 ERA and striking out 39 batters in 38.1 innings.

By 2003, Heilman was in New York, finding regular assignments as a starting pitcher. Though he continued to show signs of the brilliance that moved him through the farm system, Heilman hit rough patches and was just 3-10 in 19 big league appearances entering 2005.

That all turned around last year, as Heilman one-hit the Florida Marlins in April and adapted by converting into one of the Major Leagues' most effective relievers, posting a 0.68 ERA after the All-Star Break.

"The first two years I was up here, I struggled a little bit," Heilman said. "I hit some bumps and it was definitely tough. It's not that you ever doubt your ability, but there's an area where you feel like you should be. That was really the first major bump in the road I hit."

Heilman's preference is to start, and he'll compete in that role this spring.

"You definitely have more time inbetween starts, and since that's been the majority of my career, I don't think it'll be a big adjustment," Heilman said.

Competing for a job in the Mets' bullpen this spring is 28-year-old right-hander Heath Bell, who has been in the organization longer than just about anybody – a non-drafted free agent, Bell signed with the Mets in 1998 and finally debuted with New York in 2004, appearing in 59 games the last two seasons.

It has been an uphill climb for Bell, who saved 23 games for St. Lucie in 2000, but the experience has fostered a familiarity with the organization. In fact, the California native moved to Port St. Lucie year-round and raised eyebrows by Rollerblading six miles back and forth to camp each day last year.

"Trust me, I don't want to be anywhere else," Bell said. "There might be a better opportunity somewhere else, but I want to stay here and I want to show people I can win the job. I can help the team win in New York.

"We're going to have a great team this year. I would really like to be a part of it."

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nWith players like David Wright, Jose Reyes, Aaron Heilman and Heath Bell filing through the Florida State League and making it all the way to Shea Stadium, there is an apparent bond between players who have progressed through the system.
\r\n
\r\nThere's also a thrill in identification for fans, watching players grow from draft picks and free-agent signings into bonafide Major League stars.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's important to have homegrown guys,\" Wright said. \"Guys take a lot of pride in making it to the big leagues with the team that gave them their first opportunity.\"
\r\n
\r\nSelected in 2001 as a compensation pick for losing pitcher Mike Hampton to the Rockies, Wright progressed through the Mets' system and made it to St. Lucie by 2003, when he was 20 years old.
\r\n
\r\nIn 133 games, Wright batted .270 with 15 home runs and 75 RBI, stealing 19 bases in a precursor to the blistering 2004 that would shoot him all the way from Double-A Binghamton to the big leagues.
\r\n
\r\n\"I had 29 other teams pass me up in the first round in 2001, and for the Mets to give me that opportunity, I take a lot of pride in that,\" Wright said. \"Not a lot of guys get to make it to the big leagues with the team that gave you that first opportunity.\"
\r\n
\r\nA lifelong Mets fan from Norfolk, Va. – home of the club's Triple-A affiliate – Wright already held a certain bond with the organization. His allegiance that only grew with a four-year journey to the big leagues.
\r\n
\r\n\"I have a passion for the New York Mets,\" Wright said. \"I grew up idolizing Darryl Strawberry, and getting a chance to shake his hand and talk about the '86 team is something I take very seriously. I'm a Met through and through. That's what I want to be and that's how I want to finish my career.\"
\r\n
\r\nAs Wright's infield mate, Reyes tells a similar story of progress.
\r\n
\r\nSigned as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic, the speedy shortstop began earning his Mets stripes as a 17-year-old with Rookie-league Kingsport in 2000. Reyes rocketed through the organization, stopping in St. Lucie for 69 games to begin 2002 before debuting with the Mets in June 2003, stroking a hit in his first big league at-bat.
\r\n
\r\nFrom Kingsport on up, teammates who played with Reyes seem to rave not about his impressive speed or exceptionally strong throwing arm, though they are certainly noteworthy. Instead, the first topic people seem to bring up regarding Reyes is his positive attitude and ever-present smile.
\r\n
\r\n\"Can't beat that smile,\" said Cliff Floyd. \"That smile is tremendous. But he has a presence - he's at a point where he knows what's at stake. He understands what we expect out of him.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I always smile,\" Reyes said. \"When I came through the minor leagues, I played like that. I love this game and I enjoy this game. That's why I'm so happy every day. Even if I go 0-for-5, if we win the game, I'm going to be happy like that.\"
\r\n
\r\nTradition Field has also served as the beginning point for a number of pro careers. Most recently, the club's No. 1 draft pick last June, right-hander Philip Humber, began his rise through the system with an assignment to St. Lucie. The Mets' 2005 first-round pick, pitcher Mike Pelfrey, is likely to also begin this April on Northwest Peacock Boulevard.
\r\n
\r\nThose pitchers need look no further than Heilman to see what can happen from here. A first-round pick in 2001 from Notre Dame University, Heilman kicked off his professional career with seven starts for St. Lucie in 2001, going 0-1 with a 2.35 ERA and striking out 39 batters in 38.1 innings.
\r\n
\r\nBy 2003, Heilman was in New York, finding regular assignments as a starting pitcher. Though he continued to show signs of the brilliance that moved him through the farm system, Heilman hit rough patches and was just 3-10 in 19 big league appearances entering 2005.
\r\n
\r\nThat all turned around last year, as Heilman one-hit the Florida Marlins in April and adapted by converting into one of the Major Leagues' most effective relievers, posting a 0.68 ERA after the All-Star Break.
\r\n
\r\n\"The first two years I was up here, I struggled a little bit,\" Heilman said. \"I hit some bumps and it was definitely tough. It's not that you ever doubt your ability, but there's an area where you feel like you should be. That was really the first major bump in the road I hit.\"
\r\n
\r\nHeilman's preference is to start, and he'll compete in that role this spring.
\r\n
\r\n\"You definitely have more time inbetween starts, and since that's been the majority of my career, I don't think it'll be a big adjustment,\" Heilman said.
\r\n
\r\nCompeting for a job in the Mets' bullpen this spring is 28-year-old right-hander Heath Bell, who has been in the organization longer than just about anybody – a non-drafted free agent, Bell signed with the Mets in 1998 and finally debuted with New York in 2004, appearing in 59 games the last two seasons.
\r\n
\r\nIt has been an uphill climb for Bell, who saved 23 games for St. Lucie in 2000, but the experience has fostered a familiarity with the organization. In fact, the California native moved to Port St. Lucie year-round and raised eyebrows by Rollerblading six miles back and forth to camp each day last year.
\r\n
\r\n\"Trust me, I don't want to be anywhere else,\" Bell said. \"There might be a better opportunity somewhere else, but I want to stay here and I want to show people I can win the job. I can help the team win in New York.
\r\n
\r\n\"We're going to have a great team this year. I would really like to be a part of it.\"
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