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After nearly a year of canned fans, Mets experience the real thing in spring training opener

Players are introduced at the start of a

Players are introduced at the start of a spring training game between the Mets and the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on March 1, 2021 in Jupiter, Florida. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

JUPITER, Fla. — Three hundred and fifty-five days later, the Mets played in front of fans again.

Their first spring training game of the year, against the Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, featured a crowd of 1,238, close to 20% of the ballpark’s regular capacity.

"That was exciting. The guys were pumped," manager Luis Rojas said after the Mets lost, 2-0, in seven innings. "Some of them were making comments about the [fake] crowd noise, since we got used to it last year, hearing the tape. But actually having fans, yelling some things, I know the guys were excited for that."

Fans were told to wear masks unless they were eating or drinking, and most seemed to oblige. Under the social-distancing protocols, seats not eligible to be used were covered.

At Clover Park, where the Mets will host the Astros on Tuesday, the unused seats are closed with zip ties.

As is usually the case at Mets-Marlins games here, the crowd seemed to favor the visitors. Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso received the loudest cheers during introductions. After the teams took their spots on the third- and first-base lines, there was a round of applause for health care workers and a moment of silence for those who have died during the pandemic.

During Lindor’s first at-bat, one fan shouted, "Ban the shift!" (seemingly a reference to Lindor’s anti-shift sentiment). Later, another fan reminded plate umpire Andy Fletcher, "If it’s not over that white thing, it’s a ball."

The Mets hadn’t played in front of fans since March 11, 2020, a day before MLB shut down spring training as the pandemic escalated. Their entire regular season took place with the stands empty, aside from cardboard cutouts. New York is allowing crowds into venues at limited capacities, though the Mets haven’t revealed plans for how they’ll handle that come the regular season.

Monday was a start, though, for what Rojas called "the emotion of the game."

"It’s good to have the fans present," he said. "We feel that’s important, just that extra boost."

Signing Syndergaard?

Lindor and Michael Conforto aren’t the only contract extension candidates for the Mets.

The Mets plan to broach the subject of an extension to Noah Syndergaard, a pending free agent.

"It would, I think, be natural for us to at least talk about and explore the possibilities, the options," team president Sandy Alderson said. "I expect we will do that."

Lining up

Rojas said he already has considered about 15 versions of the Mets’ lineup, so expect lots of variety in the batting order and defensive alignment, but heexpects Brandon Nimmo to be the primary leadoff hitter. Nimmo has a .390 career OBP, including .404 last year.

"He does profile as that guy because of his ability to get on base," Rojas said. "He’s going to be mainly hitting kind of like up there, leadoff or second."

Extra bases

Alderson said the Mets’ talks with free-agent centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. didn’t get very far, though "they went far enough for us to have a good feel for what it was going to take." Then the Mets went for cheaper outfielders . . . Righthander Sean Reid-Foley, who has experience in the rotation and bullpen, said the Mets plan to use him as a multi-inning/long reliever . . . On the pitching list for Tuesday against the Astros, the Mets’ first home exhibition game: Jordan Yamamoto, Edwin Diaz, Jerry Blevins, Drew Smith, Franklyn Kilome and Sam McWilliams . . . Rojas on third-base prospect Mark Vientos: "He looks like a grown man."

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