PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- If letter-writing is indeed a lost art, then how to explain the scene on a recent morning inside the Mets' spring training clubhouse at Tradition Field?
Two clubhouse attendants sit at a table making piles. Of dozens of pieces of mail sent to Mets players by fans.
Not email, not Gmail, but good old-fashioned "snail mail" -- stacks and stacks of envelopes large and small, some with adult handwriting, some with what appeared to be the handwriting of children.
One with "DO NOT BEND" written in red across the bottom. One mistakenly addressed to "David Murphy" -- either a combination of the names of Mets players David Wright and Daniel Murphy, or a misrouted letter for a former Texas Rangers outfielder who is now with the Cleveland Indians.
As the clubbies sort, a Wright pile grows. As does a Matt Harvey pile and a Noah Syndergaard pile and a Zack Wheeler pile -- proof that fans dig hard-throwing phenoms. Even Mr. Met gets fan mail.
In the introduction to his autobiography, Mark Twain once wrote, " 'The frankest and freest product of the human mind and heart is a love letter."
If this is so, the table inside the Mets' spring training clubhouse is as full of love as you can find at 8 a.m. on a Monday.
Eventually, the mail is sorted and the clubbies begin their appointed rounds, leaving the envelopes in the players' lockers. Or, in the case of the Mets captain, leaving only a small fraction of the mail he gets in his locker.
"I've got some big boxes in the back," Wright said. "I've got some in the laundry room. I try to get to as much of it as I can. It's impossible to do it all, but I make sure to set aside some free time during spring training, during the season, where I'll grab a handful or two and try to go through and sign and send some of the stuff back. It's kind of an uphill battle. Whatever you try to do, you go back and it's an even bigger pile."
The Mets receive thousands of pieces of mail a year in Florida and at Citi Field. No doubt the Yankees, with all of their stars, receive even more. It's enough to make you wonder how the Postal Service keeps losing money every year.
Curtis Granderson, the Mets rightfielder who spent the last four seasons in the Bronx, said the biggest piles he saw at Yankee Stadium last season weren't for Derek Jeter -- as you might expect -- but for the retiring Mariano Rivera.
"The mail bins, he had multiple," Granderson said. "And they were all full."
Most of the envelopes sent to players include requests for an autograph. But that's not all Wright has received over the years. Every now and then he gets a much-needed lift.
"You get some cool stuff from kids," he said. "You get kids who draw you pictures and stuff like that. That means a lot when kids take the time out to draw you a picture, write you a nice note.
"Sometimes when you're in the monotony of the baseball season every day it's kind of refreshing to open up a letter from some kid. It kind of reminds you that it is a game, what you're doing, and kind of puts some things in perspective. I remember what it's like to be a kid. I always try to make time to sign for kids."
But sometimes, inevitably, there can be a dark side to fan behavior lurking inside those envelopes. As Wright put it, "One person can ruin it for everyone else."
Granderson said he can tell when someone is writing to berate him -- there won't be a return address. "They like to be anonymous," he said.
Granderson also said he tries to weed out those he believes are only trying to get his signature on a particular item to turn around and sell it.
"Unfortunately, there was a time period where I saw a lot of people selling the stuff," he said. "If a request comes in for an autograph, I still fulfill that request. It may not just be on the item they want."
Players get happy letters, angry letters, letters full of advice. Granderson said "everyone assumes" they get racy letters from female fans, but added, "I've never gotten that still to this day. I've had food -- brownies, cookies and things like that. Little gifts like things that might be a good-luck charm for someone else."
One of the more popular Mets (by mail volume, at least, according to a team spokesman) is pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who only made seven starts with the club at the end of last season. Matsuzaka said some of that mail is from his native Japan, but most is from fans in the U.S.
It may be a rare thing these days, but who doesn't love to get a hand-written letter? Long Beach native John Lannan, who like Matsuzaka is in camp on a minor-league contract, joyfully went through his stack after it was delivered to his locker on Monday morning.
"Let's take a look," he said, flipping through while scanning the return addresses. "We've got New York, N.Y . . . Minnesota . . . Lindenhurst, Long Island . . . Rockville Centre . . . "
Lannan, a seven-year veteran, was asked if he answers every letter.
"Yeah, of course," he said. "Why wouldn't I? It's pretty cool."