Not Kidding Around : Mets’ Doug Simons Finds That It Is Easier to Get Batters Out Than It Is to Get In


The kid, looking to be perhaps 16 or 17, pulled his car up to the entrance to Dodger Stadium two hours before the Dodgers were to play the New York Mets. He was promptly stopped by a security guard.

“I’m with the Mets,” the youngster said. “I’m a pitcher with the Mets.”

Now, if this had been Shea Stadium, the guard would have had a proper New York response, something like, “Right. And I’m da queen of England. Now get outta heah before I whack ya one!”

But this was L.A., and the guard was polite. He was extremely sorry, he told the boy, but he was required to see some sort of proof of that “I’m with the Mets” declaration.


The boy fished into his back pocket and pulled out a wallet--not a slingshot, or a frog. And from the wallet the boy extracted a baseball card, a Topps baseball card. It had the name Doug Simons on the bottom. And the picture looked exactly like the little squirt sitting behind the wheel of the car.

The guard took the card. He examined it. He looked at the back where it lists the statistics. “Age: 24,” it said, and the guard could hardly believe it.

But he bit.

“Go ahead,” he said, smiling. “Good luck today.”

Doug Simons stuffed his baseball card back into his pocket and drove on. A few moments later, at the entrance to the players’ parking lot, the scene was repeated. This guard also looked at the baseball card. It was good enough for him.

At the players’ door to the stadium, where dozens of youngsters had gathered for a shot at an autograph, many of the boys looked older than Simons. Another guard. Another trip into Simons’ wallet for the baseball card. Another close examination. And another entry.

Simons, who is 24 and is a relief pitcher for the Mets, having learned his trade at Calabasas High School and Pepperdine, was finally inside the stadium. Down on the field, his teammates had already begun batting practice. He was late.

Quickly, he made his way to the escalator that takes the players down to the locker rooms. At the escalator, there was a guard.


“Players and press only,” he announced as Simons approached.

“I’m with the Mets,” Simons pleaded. “I’m late. I’m a pitcher with the Mets.”

His hand darted instinctively for his wallet and out came the baseball card. Down the escalator went the guy who must be the youngest-looking player in the major leagues. He had encountered four guards and a fifth awaited below. At the entrance to the visiting locker room, the biggest guard of all put up a thick hand and said, “Whoa!”

Simons stopped and took out the card.

“That’s me,” he told the guard, who examined it, comparing the face on the card to the one in front of him. He smiled and opened the heavy metal door.

And Simons, whose deceptive fastball, pinpoint control and wicked split-fingered fastball won him a ticket to the major leagues this spring, had run another obstacle course.

“Happens all the time,” Simons said. “Philadelphia was bad. San Diego was really bad. They won’t let me in.”

His teammates have not helped. In a sport in which 35-year-old men get enormous satisfaction from crawling along the floor of the dugout, inserting a match into a teammate’s baseball shoe and then lighting it, sending another fully grown man hopping away with smoldering toes, the Mets have taken big delight in Simons’ tribulations.

One player--Simons did not want to name him, probably because he feared having his own toes engulfed in flames--walked with Simons into Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. As they approached the guard to the locker room, the teammate suddenly dashed ahead, told the guard this kid, pointing back at the startled Simons, had been following him from the parking lot, and quickly ducked inside the door.


The guard, quite alarmed at what was possibly his first real action in weeks, demanded lengthy explanations from Simons. The slightly frayed-at-the-edges baseball card finally convinced the guard, but it was a battle.

The Mets’ press guide lists Simons as 6 feet and 170 pounds. He is neither. And atop the boyish body is that innocent face.

“I guess I really do look pretty young,” Simons said, sitting safely now at his locker in Dodger Stadium.

No kidding.

His game, however, is not young. Before a brief and unpleasant recent appearance against the Dodgers, the wispy left-hander had impressed everyone with his talents. He picked up his first major league victory in his first major league appearance, holding the Philadelphia Phillies scoreless for two innings.

His role is a specific and limited one, to trot in from the bullpen and extinguish a left-handed batter. He has been good at it but he does not exactly own the National League just yet.

All in all, other than the getting-into-the-stadium thing, Simons is living a happy life.

“I’ve been playing in the major leagues . . . but coming here, to Dodger Stadium, makes me realize for the first time that I’m actually a major league pitcher,” Simons said.

“Until now, it’s all been like a fantasy. But here, this is what major league baseball is to me. This is the only major league stadium I had ever seen before I pitched in the major leagues. I must have come to 50 games here, growing up.”


Those, of course, were mostly night games. Because by day, Simons was a bit preoccupied with mowing down batters, from Little League through college. At Calabasas High, he was an all-league and All-City pitcher.

Simons also was a solid hitter, and in one season at Oxnard Community College he led the Western States Athletic Conference in batting. He transferred to Pepperdine and in his final season there was named the most valuable pitcher of the West Coast Athletic Conference.

Simons was selected in the ninth round of the free-agent draft by the Minnesota Twins in June 1988 and quickly impressed. In August, he struck out 16 batters in a game against Modesto in the California League and finished the season with six double-figure strikeout games and an average of more than 10 strikeouts a game.

In 1989, he was promoted to the Twins’ Double-A team in Orlando, Fla., and in 1990 he led the Southern League with 15 victories, allowing two or fewer runs in 21 of his 28 starts.

The Twins, obviously, liked what they saw. So they traded him to the Mets in December 1990.

And when he got an invitation to spring training this year, Simons packed his shaving kit--yes, he does shave--and headed to the Mets’ camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla., a town either 120 miles from Orlando, the site of his last pitching assignment, or a million miles from Orlando, depending on your perspective.


“We knew what we had in Doug when we got him from the Twins,” said Bud Harrelson, the Mets’ manager. “At spring training, we told him to keep doing what he had been doing. And he did. What he did was get left-handers out, and he’s still doing it today.”

Simons does it with an assortment of pitches. Met catcher Rick Cerone said Simons has “no outstanding pitch.”

But Cerone added: “He has decent control that lets him keep batters off balance, and a decent changeup that sets up his split-finger. And his fastball fools people. He’s able to make it ride in on right-handers, forcing a lot of ground balls. And against left-handers, it tails away so sharply that they miss it. Sometimes by a lot.”

Basically, Simons said, it’s the same stuff he’s been throwing for the last few years. He added the split-fingered fastball a few years ago after reading a magazine article on the pitch, complete with photos showing how to hold it.

“The first day I tried it, at a practice at Pepperdine, it was unbelievable,” Simons said. “It was just snapping off the edge, dropping so far and so fast right at home plate. I couldn’t believe it. So the next day I find the coach and drag him over to watch. And now it’s going as straight as an arrow. Nothing.

“The coach says, ‘Stick to your regular fastball’ and he walks away.”

Simons didn’t, though, and now he uses the split-finger extensively.

But the biggest change and the major key to his success, Simons said, is his attitude. He used to pitch with the personality of a koala bear. He was cute. His strikeout ratio shows that he could bite, too. But mostly, hitters would dig in tight and try to outguess him. Now, he said, he is trying to become a grizzly bear.


Harrelson has noticed. “Doug is what we call a (gutsy) kid,” Harrelson said. “He has a great mental approach to the game and the kid has no fear, no fear at all.”

The transition from one bear to the other occurred recently, Simons said.

“It was just last year in Orlando when I started learning how to be aggressive,” he said. “Before that I was crafty and all those other words they use to describe someone who pitched tentatively. That was me. I pitched scared. It was always successful for me, but last year I decided I didn’t want to be that way anymore.

“Today when I stand on the mound, I think I’m the boss. I’m aggressive. I pitch aggressive. I’m not afraid to throw a cutter inside on a guy’s hands. And I like pitching a lot more like this.”

Now, if the Mets can just find a way to get Simons and his kid’s face into the ballpark. Perhaps a fake mustache. Or a bit of gray hair dye.

Or perhaps . . .

“I told him to just keep his damn uniform on all the time,” Harrelson said. “Sleep in it and wear it back to the park. Maybe they’d let him in then.”