Major Leagues, Minor Men

Life Is a Perpetual State of Audition for Players on the Fringe

"Like anything else the mental part of the game is very important," he answers. "Although you generally don't come into contact with the player, you usually just see him from the stands. It's mostly what you see on the field—the walk, the way they carry themselves."

It becomes clear that no great attention is paid to these guys' inner qualities. For Minaya, the club's priorities are more straightforward: "We look for guys that fit in; guys who fit in financially and can be productive. Those guys are important to organizations right now."

Shane Halter has reason to feel he holds the inside track with the powers that be, having been called up last September for seven games with the Mets and having played parts of two seasons with Kansas City. He is seated at his locker on Wednesday, a split squad day, when we ask whether he will make the trip to Viera to play the Marlins.

Headin’ home: Shane Halter was briefly in the bigs, but recently cut by the Mets.
photo: AFP
Headin’ home: Shane Halter was briefly in the bigs, but recently cut by the Mets.

"No," he answers curtly.

"So you're going to play at home?"

"No." Pause. "I just got released."

"Just now?"

"Yeah," he looks up, his eyes on fire. "I really think you're talking to the wrong guy." He goes back to cramming his gear into a duffel bag. We assure him that he is exactly the guy we want to talk to.

"Was this unexpected?"

"No," he says quietly, looking down at the carpet. "I just thought I'd get more of a shot than this." His voice is one of choked anger, trying to hold back the bile that accumulates over the course of an uneven career. He looks at us and says no more.

So, after days of observing players talk about how they've come to accept the uncertainty of their plight with equanimity, reality intrudes. The anguish of sitting astride the fence that separates the two worlds here—the big leagues and the minors—is palpable.

Later that day, people in the Mets' front office need Halter to sign some papers, but are having surprising difficulty locating him or even finding out where he lives or who his friends might be. It's disquieting to hear and underlines the idea that Shane Halter is little more than a commodity, a name on a board whose number is up.

Within a week, he has been picked up by the Detroit Tigers, so that he can enjoy the opportunity of going through this all over again.

On his way out of the clubhouse and into oblivion, Halter hurries past Bill Devaney, a contrary old codger who mans the side door to the Mets clubhouse. He has little love for most of the bigger names that pass through his door and likes to minimize contact with them, so as to, in his words, "Give them fewer chances to look down their noses at me." Devaney expresses surprise over Halter's release, and he warms up considerably at the mention of the non-roster guys.

"They're hungry and they're nice. I hope to God they never change." He pulls off his Mets cap and wipes his brow. "A lot of times, you don't know who they are. They're just numbers and names on a uniform. In another week, they'll be gone."

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