JUPITER, Fla. -- Spring Training affords players all sorts of free time in the idle afternoon hours. Some play video games. Some go golfing. Keon Broxton raises puppies.
Broxton, who is quickly becoming adept in the dog-breeding business, spent two and a half weeks earlier this spring bottle-feeding a litter of eight puppies after their mother contracted milk fever. During the day, Broxton’s girlfriend was on bottle duty. When Broxton returned home after a day at the ballpark, he’d take over. Suddenly, taking care of the couple’s own infant baby seemed simple.
“Definitely the baby is easier than the puppies,” Broxton said, laughing.
But Broxton, a center fielder and one of the Mets’ key offseason trade acquisitions, is learning. Growing up, Broxton always had animals -- a couple of dogs, a rabbit and some other critters. So it was a natural progression when, about four or five years ago, he purchased a Jack Russell Terrier. Broxton named it “G,” and made big plans for him.
“Ever since I got him, I wanted him to fulfill his full doggie life,” Broxton said. “I wanted him to have a family, raise his kid. I just wanted him to be happy and do what dogs are supposed to do.”
A year and a half later, Broxton bought two female dogs. (He only intended to purchase one, but they were sisters, and “too cute,” so he made the impulse buy). When one of them mated with G, Broxton kept the first-born male from that litter. He learned how to breed and raise dogs, watching countless YouTube videos about the process. Eight months later, both females produced litters and Broxton suddenly found himself with 16 dogs on his Tampa property. He recently created an Instagram account, @broxtonjacks, to spread the word about selling the younger dogs.
“There’s really not much more I can do besides provide a good, soft space for them to nurse and sleep and stuff,” Broxton said. “It’s pretty simple.”
If nothing else, it’s a diversion from baseball, where Broxton finds himself on interesting ground in his first Mets camp. Because he is out of Minor League options, Broxton is all but a lock to make the Opening Day roster. But he is also in competition with Juan Lagares, whose right-handed bat and elite center-field defense mimic his own skill set. While a trade of Lagares remains possible, such deals can be tricky to complete this time of year.
Now 28 years old, Broxton has flashed less contact skill but more power than Lagares over his first four big league seasons, batting .221 with a .734 OPS overall. In his only full season in 2017, Broxton hit .220 with 20 homers, 21 stolen bases and a .719 OPS, but he struggled last year and spent much of it in the Minors.
Still, the Mets are enticed by what Broxton can provide. In one of their first spring games, Broxton laid down a well-executed bunt to squeeze home a run, earning accolades from manager Mickey Callaway. In Tuesday’s game against the Marlins, Broxton flashed his defensive acumen, ranging in to catch a sinking liner and double a baserunner off second base.
“We know the defense is going to be there,” Callaway said, lauding Broxton and Lagares in tandem. “They’ve both been impressive.”
Some of Broxton’s teammates have added reason to want him around: they’re smitten with his puppies. Broxton, who said he will continue breeding Jack Russell Terriers “as long as G is kicking,” joked that he’d love to keep the whole brood with him when he’s traveling throughout the season. That piqued the attention of teammate and locker neighbor Michael Conforto, who owns a Labrador retriever.
“I would love to bring my puppy,” Conforto said.