It happens every spring. But no more this year, not in the Mets' camp. Games begin Monday -- albeit intrasquad games. But the first game of any kind signals the elimination of those screens that almost every pitcher hates, those L-shaped things -- L-shaped for left-handed pitchers, the opposite for right-handers -- that stand between the pitchers and the hitters in the first days of full-squad workouts.
They are protection for the pitchers and they are mandated by the club, the lone line of defense against a line drive or rocket ground ball up the middle.
When the coaches throw batting practice, it's called "dead-arm BP." How tactless. And the screens are preferred.
"Better to be called dead-arm than dead," former Mets coach Mike Cubbage said. "Even if the hitters don't have their timing, then can send one through the middle."
When the pitchers throw, it's "live arm BP," and though they are days of weeks ahead of the hitters, the danger persists.
"They know what's coming," pitcher Tom Glavine said. "It is dangerous."
That said, Glavine could be heard muttering that well-known, present participle followed by "screen" as he walked off the mound -- and from behind the screen -- Saturday. His next pitch will be thrown Thursday against the Cardinals in a game without consequences and -- thankfully -- screens.
"I can't see where my pitches move with the screen in the way," Glavine says. "It's a real problem."
Philip Humber, whose spring camps are 20 fewer than Glavine's, has the same sense of it. For all the protection the screen provide, they also slow pitchers' progress.
That's why veteran Aaron Sele identifies them as "necessary evils" ... or evil necessities. He hates them. Almost every pitcher does.
Minor League coach Randy Neimann recalls one who actually preferred them -- his former Astros teammate Ken Forsch. Former Astros manager Bill Virdon forbid them though. And late in Spring Training, a batted ball struck Forsch and kept him from pitching early in the season.
It wasn't quite the same with Mets reliever Scott Schoeneweis, who wanted nothing to do with the screen when he threw BP with the Angels one spring. He asked not to use it, but manager Mike Scioscia insisted. "I told him I'm ready for batted balls, and if one comes back at me and there's no screen, at least I can brace myself for it," Schoeneweis said, demonstrating how a slight adjustment can turn a potentially blow into a glancing blow.
Scioscia wouldn't hear of it, so Schoeneweis worked with a screen, only to have a hot ground ball by Jeff Da Vanon scoot under the screen and strike him in the shin. Angered, Schoeneweis said nothing to his manager. But his next pitch hit Da Vanon in the shin.
"He was young," Schoeneweis said. "He wasn't going to say anything."
In his first camp with the Mets, Schoeneweis has been assigned the same locker once assigned to Wally Whitehurst, a Mets pitcher from 1989 through 1992, and a magnet for batted balls.
Whitehurst once took a line drive from Kevin Mitchell in his right thigh. In the days that followed -- days he couldn't walk normally, much less pitch -- Whitehurst saw his thigh developed a basketball-sized bruise that John Franco said "looks like a Crayola box."
When Whitehurst was struck by a batted ball in an intrasquad game the following spring, Franco had the clubhouse kids drag one of the BP screens into the clubhouse and put in front of Whitehurst's locker.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.