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Overly plugged-in players all thumbs in clubhouse

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The big league clubhouse -- the unifying force, not the brick and mortar -- is dying. It's so sad to say, but it's true. If not dying, then it is, at the very least, seriously ill, infected by the presence and increasing prevalence of electronic gadgets that encourage an existence of solitude and discourage group harmony and awareness of teammates.

You know, the hand-held, battery-operated gizmos -- those things that have the vertical pronoun as their first initials. They don't necessarily prevent the development of relationships among players, but they certainly retard the process. At any given moment on a Spring Training morning, more than half the citizenry of a clubhouse often is disconnected from what's happening in the immediate neighborhood and wirelessly connected to stuff that doesn't matter all that much.

So many thumbs are so busy. Do they know what they're missing?

The Mets' clubhouse is no different from any other, no better, no worse, no more connected and no more deterred from communicating and interacting by electronics. They are, you might say, left to their own devices, like every other team.

At 8:23 Sunday morning -- 7:23 to those who didn't wind their watches -- 26 players were in the Mets' clubhouse proper. Others were in adjacent rooms, eating breakfast, visiting the trainers or taking showers or early, early, early batting practice.

Of the 26, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, John Lannan, Taylor Teagarden, Carlos Torres and Miguel Socolovich were playing with their HHDs (hand-held devices), oblivious to whatever else was happening nearby. Joel Carreno and Cory Vaughn were equipped with headphones and HHDs. Noah Syndergaard was at his locker being tall and filled with potential, but doing nothing in particular.

And -- what's this? -- one young man was reading a newspaper. Alas, it was Jeff Cutler, the interpreter for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Four other players sat in front of their lockers, facing in, not attached to electronics and, therefore, candidates for awareness. And rookies Eric Campbell, Dustin Lawley and Jeff Walters were seated at adjacent lockers, facing the middle of the room -- good for them -- actually involved in genuine conversation. They chatted, cackled and possibly learned about big league life.

And seated at a round table at the more veteran end of the clubhouse, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy and long-time bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello were breaking the fast and talking as well.

* * * * *

Decades ago, Pee Wee Reese, the sage captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, theorized that "If you rush out of the clubhouse [following a game], you rush out of baseball." It was his way of saying embrace the environment, enjoy the camaraderie. Pay attention. You might learn something.

Being kidnapped by electronics these days is tantamount to early postgame departure then. Mets manager Terry Collins recalled an electronics episode from a few years back. Following a game, he walked with his players from dugout to clubhouse, turned and disappeared into his office. He emerged a few moments later and found some 15 players already involved in cell phone calls. Seemingly, the game was not discussed.

The manager said he wasn't alarmed or too troubled by what he considered a distraction, but he didn't reference that episode Sunday morning because he had forgotten it.

Josh Satin, an alert and perceptive 29-year-old man, says it is standard operating procedure for him to contact his wife several times each day. She appreciates it. He's not put out by it. But if he didn't call, what then? "She'd be sad," he said.

More than ever, when players are not on the field or in the dugout, they're all thumbs, and topics not related to the game seem to take precedence. At 11:27 Sunday, 19 players were in the clubhouse proper. Eleven were electronically engaged. Those who were talking also were chewing lunch.

"You can't have a rule against those things in the clubhouse," Collins said. "We don't monitor it because you can't. How are you going to stop a guy from calling someone if he's in the [bathroom]? It's what guys do now, they've grown up with cell phones and those things. They can't put them down."

The manager, incidentally, puts his cell phone in a drawer in his desk when he arrives for a game. He makes more calls than he receives and prefers that ratio.

Major League Baseball has forbidden communication from the clubhouse an hour -- or is it 30 minutes? -- before the game. The Mets' hierarchy was unsure of the number. Why know it if the rule is unenforceable?

Collins wants his players to use the minutes -- be they 30 or 60 -- to prepare for the game. In the Utopian League they might. But in the National League and American League, personal lives seep in. "What are they going to do if the baby gets sick?" Collins said.

And what suffers is the communication and eventually the camaraderie. Electronics have the same impact on flights and bus rides. Willie Randolph didn't allow music in the clubhouse in his first year as Mets manager. Carlos Delgado forced him to change his plan, and the Mets won the division. So what does it mean? Contented cows give better milk.

But Randolph wanted his players talking -- baseball, preferably, but any topic would do. He thought English-speaking players might pick up some Spanish, and Spanish players might pick up some English vocabulary that would help on road trips."Talk the game," Randolph said. "You don't have to take it home, but talk it while you're in here."

The Mets scored seven runs in the eighth inning Sunday. Bobby Parnell pitched a mostly uneventful ninth, his first appearance in a game since July. At 3:59 p.m., three minutes after the final out, 21 players were in the Mets' clubhouse, and 12 had electronic gadgets in the hands.

Marty Noble is a reporter for