BY MARC MATURO
PORT ST. LUICE, FLA. — Mets fans — and there are many, despite rumors and various reports to the contrary — are often among the most dedicated and loyal, and this dedication and loyalty are often put to the test.
But not to worry, because even in the worst of times Liz Vitacco of New City will be there to root, root, root for the home team.
One thing you can never say about Vitacco, a mother of three daughters whose rooting interests were spawned as a Maspeth, Queens resident in the 1960s, is that she is a frontrunner. Rooting for the Mets, not exactly a dynasty, takes some heart and soul, and a willingness to go the extra mile or 1,185 miles.
Vitacco, who has period autographs from legendary cranky backstop Jerry Grote and another from third baseman Wayne Garrett — “The red-headed guy” — but who is still trying to get her favorite’s, Tom Seaver — made her first spring training trip here with her husband, Tony, a retired New York City policeman, to see her beloved club take on the Washington Nationals.
Liz’s precious player from the current contingent is third baseman David Wright, whose jersey she proudly wore for her debut at Tradition Field.
“I was so happy he was named captain,” Mrs. Vitacco gushed. “He always had great team spirit. I think he’s the heart and soul of the team.”
One in the family
Tony, the ex-cop, was stationed in the Bronx, and often took groups of kids to Yankee Stadium. He roots, you guessed it, for the Yankees, and has rooted for the Yankees over the course of his 36-year marriage. Their daughters Lynn, Laura and Amanda also root for, you guessed it, the Yankees.
“Even my grandkids are Yankee fans,” Liz said, with a quizzical smile. “We met them in Orlando, and they were wearing Yankee jerseys. I said ‘What is this?’ ”
“She has been a Mets fan forever, yes she has, and she has never wavered even when they suck,” said Tony, almost in awe.
“I take him to all the Mets games. He’s a loyal husband,” countered Liz, who has already secured regular-season tickets to a Mets-Yankees game, and has two tickets to a game in each month of the season. If Tony doesn’t go, usually Laura will accompany her mom, out of familial courtesy.
Liz’s prized Mets possession until she can maneuver her way into getting David Wright to autograph her jersey, is a 1969 Mets reunion jersey.
“It’s beige, beautiful, I got it at Citi Field,” Liz said. “At that game I met Buddy Harrelson, and he was wearing the same jersey, with the 1969 emblem. The Mets will win again, and I’ll be there when they do — that’s a promise.”
THE DOCTOR’S IN THE HOUSE: Dr. David Kurzman, a longtime former Suffern resident, who taught psychology at Rockland Community College for 32 years, was at Tradition Field in support of his team, the Metsies, and also to visit his nephew Josh Lewin, who is into his second season as the team’s radio voice, handling play-by-play alongside veteran Howie Rose. A resident of Delray Beach, Fla., since 2000, Dr. Kurzman said he is a dedicated Mets fan. “When the Dodgers left Brooklyn, I was so disappointed. They left me without a team; thankfully, the Mets came into the (National) league, and that’s always been my team.” The Mets connection goes further than Lewin’s role, as Benny DiStefano, now a minor-league hitting instructor, was a student of Kurzman’s at RCC. DiStefano’s capabilities as a student were sidestepped, but Kurzman’s wife, Andrea, heaped high praise on DiStefano’s generosity. “When I was running a women’s family shelter, he took the entire shopping list from me. He’s a good man,” Andrea offered.
WEISS WATCH – Suffern native Walt Weiss, who went from coaching at Regis Jesuit HS in Aurora, Co. to being named skipper of the Colorado Rockies, makes his big-league debut of another sort on April 1 when the Rockies visit the Milwaukee Brewers. Weiss, a shortstop who was named rookie of the year in 1987 with the Oakland A’s, later played with the Florida Marlins and then the Rockies. Following his retirement in 2000, Weiss joined the Rockies’ front office, and also kept his hand in the game as a high school coach. Weiss is another example of a guy who applied himself, made the most of his talents, and enjoyed a yeoman-like big-league career.
FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY: Lost in the well-deserved hoopla surrounding pitchers Matt Harvey and even Zack Wheeler, who will open at Triple-A Las Vegas, Dillon Gee could emerge as No. 2 behind opening-day starter Jonathon Niese as an important member of the rotation. Gee knows what he’s doing, is never flustered, and keeps you in games. Gee went six scoreless innings against the Atlanta Braves on March 25. … Catcher Travis d’Arnaud, already assigned to the minors, will also make the big club this year as the Mets are not exactly stacked behind the plate. … Shortstop Ruben Tejada, having a brutal spring at bat, should watch some films of former Mets great Felix Milan, who knew he was not a home-run hitter, choked well up on the bat, sprayed the ball around and generally drove opposing pitchers nuts. The late Nellie Fox, of Chicago White Sox championship fame, did the same thing from the left side, with a knack for fouling off tough pitches until he found one he could handle.
EXTRA INNINGS – Named the fourth team captain in Mets history with little fanfare, almost reflecting his quiet, low-key personality, David Wright is now taking ground balls and batting practice as he recovers from a pulled muscle in his rib cage. Wright, who will not wear the letter “C” on his jersey — “I’m proud enough just to wear the jersey,” he said — follows accomplished first baseman Keith Hernandez, the late Hall of Fame backstop Gary Carter and closer John Franco as a team captain, of which
there are only two others in the big leagues: Derek Jeter with the Yankees and Paul Konerko of the Chicago White Sox. Wright, a steady, veteran presence, who has already amassed several offensive team career records, signed an eight-year $138 million contract extension this winter. … The San Diego Padres will provide the opposition on April 1 at Citi Field when the Mets usher in the new season with left-hander Jonathon Niese on the hill. In line to start for manager Bud Black’s Padres are Tim Stauffer or Edinson Volquez, the winning pitcher for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic championship game. Volquez got the opening-day nod last year when scheduled starter Stauffer suffered an injury to his triceps. … Justin Turner, who had been out with an injured right ankle, was quickly put to the test against the Washington Nationals on March 23. Turner, who can also play the outfield, started at second base and in the first inning turned a nifty double play despite a hard slide. … Add Hernandez, now a team announcer, to a growing list of people in the know who expect big things from right-hand pitcher Matt Harvey. Hernandez, looking a bit younger without his trademark mustache, said: “I like him a lot. He’s got an attitude, he’s tough. I like him.” … It looks more and more as if Collin Cowgill will open the season in center field. … Zach Wheeler, another highly touted young right-hander, was clocked at 97 mph on the gun in an intra-squad game taking place on a back field. If all goes according to Hoyle, Wheeler will join the big club sometime this summer. … Right-hand pitcher Rafael Montero, 22, who only turned pro at 20, has shown the ability to throw strikes, something often lacking not only in a raw professional but some veterans. Which brings to mind the late Mets manager George Bamberger, who achieved his biggest fame as the pitching coach to Orioles manager Earl Weaver and as manager of the “Brew Crew” in Milwaukee. When a veteran pitcher on the Mets flirted with the strike zone, Bambi would say, with no love lost and with a certain adverbial adjective thrown in for effect: “Either he can’t throw a strike or he’s afraid to throw a strike. Either one ain’t good.” … Stationed at his familiar position midway down the right-field line was usher Ray Bisesto, a former Pomona resident who has spent the last 10 years in Port St. Luice. Bisesto’s stepson Peter McGuire owns Antoine McGuire’s Oyster & Ale House by the river in Haverstraw. Stop by and say hello.