Yet something changed between the waning moments of last September's collapse and the opening notes of this spring. No longer did Alou feel tired, old or jaded. Suddenly, he began boasting the passion and zeal of a rookie.
"I don't know what happened to me," Alou said. "Maybe New York is the fountain of youth. Seriously, the past three years I've been looking forward for the season to be over, for me to go home and retire. But now I'm looking forward to having a good season, so they can ask me to come back and play another year."
Those thoughts of retirement are gone. Now Alou's worried about winning a title, about anchoring the middle of the Mets' lineup, about staying healthy enough to amass 500 at-bats. The guy who seriously considered retiring after last summer has vanished.
"I really had a great time in the offseason -- hunting, fishing, going to the beach," Alou said. "But that's not what I like doing the most. Playing baseball is what I like doing the most, and I would love to do that hopefully for another year, another couple of years."
He feels old, of course. He is old, by baseball standards. Yet, while Alou will turn 42 in July, that's really not cause for alarm -- at least not for a guy who hit .341 at the age of 41.
What does prompt worry is his health. Not since 2004 has Alou played in even 125 games, and he's well aware that last summer's renaissance -- he hit .402 in September -- may have stemmed from the fact that he missed two and a half months due to injury. If Alou indeed has found the fountain of youth, he forgot to splash his medical records.
Alou did, however, remember to wash his hands -- those lightning-quick hands that can still turn on any fastball this side of Nolan Ryan. They're what got him here in the first place, and they're what's kept him here since.
"Some guys just have a knack," manager Willie Randolph said. "They just have that gift, man. He's just one of those rare people who can roll out of bed and hit a line drive somewhere."
That's a good talent to have for a baseball player who admits that every time he rolls out of that bed, he struggles a little more to make it to the bathroom. Joints creak. Bones crack. And critics snicker.
That's why Alou began working out earlier this offseason -- so early, in fact, that his trainer in the Dominican Republic looked twice when he saw Alou stride into the gym not two weeks removed from the end of the season.
What else was Alou going to do with all his free time? He wasn't about to watch any of the playoffs -- "I hate watching baseball," he said -- and all that hunting, fishing and sunbathing wasn't cutting it, either. He enjoys that stuff, sure. But he's since realized that he enjoys other things more.
"I love baseball," Alou said. "That's why I'm still here."
Police blotter: Reliever Ambiorix Burgos lost approximately $270,000 worth of jewelry and other valuables when burglars broke into his room at the SpringHill Suites in Port St. Lucie on Sunday.
Burgos said he didn't realize anything had been taken until Tuesday, and that authorities have since recovered a portion of what was stolen. He planned to visit the police station after his workout on Wednesday to see what the police had recovered.
Speechless: Randolph said he hadn't addressed the topic of last season with his team yet this spring, and he didn't plan on doing so until he pared the roster down well below its current size. As long as rookies and non-roster invitees -- and even new additions, such as Ryan Church and Brian Schneider -- continue to float around, Randolph said he wouldn't broach the topic.
"Why express something that was painful to a bunch of guys who weren't even there?" Randolph said. "They can't understand or feel what that is."
Mets bits: Reliever Scott Schoeneweis was absent on Wednesday for personal reasons. He's due back in camp on Thursday. ... Infielder Fernando Tatis and pitcher Tony Armas still haven't reported to Mets camp due to visa problems.Just visiting: Veteran pitcher Freddy Garcia, once said to be prominent on the Mets' pre-Johan Santana wish list, was in camp on Wednesday, speaking with his friends Santana and Pedro Martinez. And Garcia, a free agent recuperating from right shoulder surgery, and his agents spoke with general manager Omar Minaya as well. But the Mets' sense of his availability is that he won't be ready until late in the season.
"He's like Pedro was last year -- late," Minaya said. "There's nothing there now."
The problem is catching: The first day of live batting practice -- i.e., big league hitters facing big league batters -- provided a few moments and a few minor problems.
"Lots of foul tips," catcher Ramon Castro said before he caught BP. "I'll be all black and blue."
It also brought blinking: "The first day, you always blink," Castro said. "I don't care who you are, you blink the first day. Any catcher who says he doesn't is lying."
Indicative of? The first day of infield practice had the starting infielders working together on one field, with Anderson Hernandez backing up Jose Reyes at shortstop and Jose Valentin backing up Luis Castillo at second base. Ruben Gotay was otherwise situated. Nonetheless, Randolph holds out little hope that Valentin will be ready to help the big league team until weeks after the season begins. But Randolph has a special place in his heart for the veteran.