Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
Let's face it, "pitchers and catchers" always has been an overrated harbinger of spring.
The first full, televised spring training games are a more meaningful milestone, what with their several hours' worth of announcers in golf shirts and swaying palm trees and other reasons to grow insanely jealous of those in attendance.
Speaking of which, how's the weather down there, Bobby Ojeda?
"Probably about 80 and humid," the SNY analyst said Thursday as he drove around Port St. Lucie after another day of Mets spring training. Aargh.
Ojeda will be part of the SNY telecast Saturday when the gang reunites to bring you Mets-Nationals at 12:10 p.m., the first of 16 spring training games on the network.
Can April 1 be far behind? Well, actually, it can. But we are inching closer.
Anyway, back to Ojeda, who recently signed a new multiyear deal with SNY and is starting his fifth season with the network. He has been an especially interested observer this week. That is because during the season, he mostly watches on television in the network's Manhattan studios. This is his chance to get a feel for the players as human beings.
"It's all the little things that aren't on the screen that help me identify and understand what and who a guy is," he said.
No two guys have been more important to understand than Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, the young pitchers around whom the near-future rotation figures to be built.
Ojeda hesitates to lump them together, primarily because Harvey already proved last season that he can handle the big stage, even if it was not over a full season.
In addition to his skills, Ojeda raved about his makeup. "You're looking at a tough guy, a guy who doesn't like the other team, who is not intimidated," he said. "I've watched him take that intimidation and give it right back."
Wheeler is more of a mystery because he has not yet had the chance to prove he can make the leap to the majors.
"I watched him throw live BP and loved what I saw," Ojeda said. "Great motion, great delivery, a long, lanky kid, effortless. The ball comes out of his hand very nicely. I'm looking forward to seeing how he handles the environment."
Ojeda, 55, who called himself "socially awkward and socially challenged," would not have guessed he could make a living spouting opinions on television and was wary when he joined SNY in 2009. "It's something I never, ever, ever envisioned doing," he said.
But he has emerged as a respected, bluntly candid analyst for a team that has earned bluntly candid criticism -- even if he does work for a team-owned channel.
"I like to be honest," he said. "I can't lie to the Mets fans. Then I lose my credibility. I can't tell them one and one is four. They're not going to believe me and then I'm wasting everyone's time."
Nevertheless, Ojeda would love for the Mets to improve. Colleagues Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling at least had a contending team to talk about in 2006, '07 and '08.
"I can't wait for them to start playing really good, solid baseball for 162," Ojeda said. "I look forward to this club winning 94 ballgames. That makes my life easier. When they win, the shows write themselves."
Wait, did he just predict the Mets would win 94 games?
"Someday," he said. "I'll bet you everything I own that someday they'll win 94."