Originally created 02/21/00

Garth Brooks breaks in with Mets



Garth Brooks had trouble in a bunting drill, yet it did not matter. He still was a big hit on his first day with the New York Mets.

Brooks made his spring training debut for the Mets on Saturday, and hundreds of fans followed him from field to field at Port St. Lucie, Fla.

"We were headed to the mall when we heard he was going to be here," said Carla Adelsperger, 30, who brought her 3-year-old daughter, Malloree, to see the two-time Grammy Award winner. "He's a lot better than I thought."

Brooks, who went 1-for-22 with the San Diego Padres last spring, was humbled when he had to hit after All-Star Mike Piazza in batting practice.

"It was like, `Welcome to camp,"' Brooks said.

Brooks, 38, will spend 34 days with the Mets in an attempt to raise more money for his Touch 'em All Foundation, which gave $1.8 million to children's charities in 1999. The country singer will leave the team when it travels to Japan for the 2000 major league opener against the Chicago Cubs in Tokyo.

"I know he will be great in the locker room with the guys, and the people in Florida will find him as entertaining in a baseball uniform as he is on stage," Mets third baseman Robin Ventura said.

After a light warmup, Brooks was at third base fielding grounders. He flawlessly scooped up the first 20 or so before making his first error.

Brooks got a handful of would-be hits during batting practice. But the toughest part for the non-roster player wearing No. 1 was the bunting drill. He whiffed on the first few from the pitching machine before getting some tips from Piazza.

"The first thing you want to be is not a distraction," Brooks said. "My goal last year was for someone to look at me and say, `Hey, if you would have put 17 years of your life into baseball like you did your music, you would have played."'

Mets manager Bobby Valentine was eager to see more of Brooks.

"I can't wait to get him into the lineup," Valentine said. "He'll play some third base and left field. You might see him on the bases and you'll see him at the plate."

Also excited about spring training are Jason and Jeremy Giambi. The brothers were reunited Friday when the Oakland Athletics got Jeremy in a trade that sent pitcher Brett Laxton to Kansas City.

"We've never played together. It'll be the first time," said Jeremy, who at 25 is four years younger than Jason. "In Little League, he was always at the next level and so on through high school."

The Giambis celebrated the deal by going to see a movie, "The Whole Nine Yards," and then packing for their trip to A's camp in Phoenix.

Jeremy is an outfielder and Jason is Oakland's first baseman.

"I'm sure people will make comparisons, but I hope they'll give me a chance to be myself. Jason is more of a power hitter. My game is more left-center to right-center, gap to gap. My biggest game is getting on base," Jeremy said.

"I've always looked up to Jason. It kind of made it easier on me, him preparing me and showing the way to do it."

The Montreal Expos, meanwhile, seem settled on what to do with Rondell White -- he will play left field and bat third.

A day earlier, manager Felipe Alou assured White he would be in center and hit leadoff. White said Friday he wants to play center field, despite concerns that the position -- and Montreal's rugged artificial turf -- were taking a toll on his knees.

"We believe it is preferable to use Rondell in left field," Alou said after a meeting with team officials. "For the moment, youngsters Peter Bergeron and Milton Bradley will battle for the center field and leadoff job."

Pitcher Hideki Irabu, traded from the New York Yankees to Montreal in the offseason, had a MRI on his right elbow.

"It's a precautionary measure," Expos general manager Jim Beattie said.

During an exam Friday, doctors saw that Irabu wasn't able to complete all the prescribed exercises.

"We're not worried," said Beattie. "But we want to know exactly what it is."