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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Best: Ojeda doesn't hold back - with words or preparation

Bobby Ojeda became SNY's lead studio analyst last

Bobby Ojeda became SNY's lead studio analyst last year. Credit: SNY

The locker room at old Huggins-Stengel Field was comically tiny and spare for the major leagues, and ideally suited to bonding with teammates if you were a new man in town.

That was especially so if you were a Bobby Ojeda kind of guy, inclined to "keep his mouth shut and learn and listen," as former and current teammate Ron Darling described him.

"It was all wood, a little bench around the outside; it was the coolest locker room," Ojeda said of the Mets' old spring training home in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Back in the day you had a smoke or a soda and there was nothing to do but get to know each other."

Fortunately for the 1986 Mets, the new lefthander fit in soon enough - on and off the field - and went 18-5, then won the essential third game of the World Series.

A quarter-century later, he has repeated the process, with SNY, and with a more daunting task:

Ojeda was a six-year major-leaguer when he became a Met in '86. He was a TV novice when he became SNY's lead studio analyst last year.

"I would say this was more challenging," he said Wednesday after a pre-pregame production meeting at SNY's studios. "I was a fish on a bike."

Darling has seen the same things this time from Ojeda, who joined the network last season as the latest member of its 1986 Mets Alumni Club, replacing yet another member, the lackluster Lee Mazzilli.

Ojeda has seemed more at ease this year and more willing to be critical. "No one has gotten better quicker than Bobby Ojeda," Darling said.

Keith Hernandez, Darling's partner in the game booth, said he was off and watching at home Tuesday when the Braves won on an errant throw to first by David Wright.

On the postgame, Ojeda said Ike Davis should have moved off the bag to catch the ball. "That was a comment I would have made,'' Hernandez said.

SNY twice this season has brought on Ojeda from the studio during games, allowing him to interact with his counterparts in the booth. On May 9, with Darling off, Ojeda joined Hernandez to offer a pitcher's perspective on the Ollie Perez follies. He questioned Perez's focus and concentration and wondered out loud if the Mets could afford to keep him in the rotation.

"I'm trying to be a little more of myself and not be so structured and, quite honestly, guarded," he said.

As important as he was in '86, Ojeda spent only five years with the Mets and is not as associated with them as are Hernandez and Darling. But he has lived in Rumson, N.J., since retiring after a brief stint with the Yankees in 1994 and said he views the Mets as "like my alma mater."

That has not led him to sugarcoat their struggles, and he said it was made clear to him from the start he would not be expected to hold back.

Ojeda, 52, was a pitching coach in the Mets' organization in the early 2000s, but for now, his preferred career path is this one.

Four of his six children are grown and two are getting there, so this was a good time for a new gig. He is known for showing up early (after his daily five-mile run) and preparing thoroughly.

"I've done more homework, watched more baseball, than I've done in my entire 52 years,'' Ojeda said, "and it hasn't bored me for one second."

Said his partner, Chris Carlin: "When you're going to work with a former athlete, you never really know how seriously they'll take it ... He may as well just sleep here."

Ojeda said the '86 Mets have been the franchise's most recent champions for long enough.

"I can't wait until the Mets win the World Series again," he said. "The town deserves it; the Mets fans most definitely deserve it.

"To be on this side and be able to report it would be probably like my personality. I'd be a little bit of a fly on the wall."

Andrews, Lysacek face off in finals

Five of the past seven winners of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” have been sports figures, and there is a good chance figure skater Evan Lysacek will join them next week. But ESPN’s Erin Andrews also is a finalist, and even though she is a sports figure, she is not a pro jock.

Perhaps an upset victory would open the door for future entrants from sports media. Jeff Van Gundy? Chris Carlin? John Kruk? John Sterling?

Speaking of Andrews, her contract soon will be up at ESPN, and she and the network must try to agree on compensation for a higher-profile-than-most sideline reporter — and perhaps on other roles for her. Said executive VP John Skipper: “We think Erin is terrific on the sidelines. She clearly has some interest in some things beyond just sports. We’ve had some interest in Erin for things beyond the sidelines.

“Obviously it works out great when we have ABC and she can do some of the things she’s interested in on a sister network . . . We need to see what we can do in the future.”

Just wondering: ESPN’s NCAA loss opens Olympic door

Other networks view ESPN much the way the rest of baseball views the Yankees: A financial behemoth that can buy anything it wants badly enough.

So it was natural to wonder when ESPN was outbid by CBS and Turner for the NCAA Tournament whether its top priority actually is the 2014 and ’16 Olympics.

John Skipper, the network’s top executive for content, said the properties were considered separately. But he also said ESPN “probably would not have bought both,” meaning if it had secured the NCAAs, NBC would have had a far clearer path to keeping the Games beyond 2012. Now anything could happen. (Fox is interested, too.)

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