PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- About an hour before the start of the Mets' 5-5 tie with the Cardinals on Friday, Keith Hernandez -- wearing a favored pair of shorts with a blue lobster pattern -- took a seat next to Wilmer Flores in the clubhouse. One was an 11-time Gold Glove Award winner at first base. The other was about to play his first innings ever at the position in a Major League game.
The two spoke mostly about footwork, with Hernandez doing the talking and Flores the listening. Then Flores went out and made all the routine plays against the Cardinals, including one hard chopper that required a tricky feed to pitcher Noah Syndergaard at the bag.
"He played well," Hernandez said afterward. "He's just got to do what he did today, make all the plays."
Easier said than done, perhaps, even if the Mets seem content to ease Flores into the position. The team's desire for a six-man bench to open the regular season means that Eric Campbell should make the roster, giving manager Terry Collins a far more experienced first-base backup than Flores.
But first may soon become a significant part of Flores' defensive arsenal. Because they envision Flores as a super sub this season, the Mets want him to achieve defensive proficiency at all four infield positions. That includes first base, which Flores -- a natural shortstop who spent many of his formative years at second and third base -- only manned 20 times during a seven-year Minor League career, and not at all since 2014.
Friday, Flores played the position because starting first baseman Lucas Duda woke up with a stiff neck. But after Flores had a spring full of daily fielding drills at the position, including a one-on-one tutorial with Hernandez earlier this week, Collins also felt it was time to see what the infielder could do in a game.
"I felt weird, but it's still the infield," Flores said. "It's just a different angle. I got used to it as the game went on. Not hard, not easy. It was just different."
Comfort at the position, Hernandez says, will come with experience. The key is to keep gathering those reps on a daily basis.
"He's just got to learn the footwork around the bag -- that's the most important thing," Hernandez said. "A ground ball is a ground ball, as an infielder. It's just getting comfortable around the bag."