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Posted by ESPN's Claire Smith
NEW YORK -- Mets manager Jerry Manuel made it official Monday afternoon: Gary Sheffield will get his first outfield start on Wednesday against the San Diego Padres.
Where Sheffield, formerly a designated hitter for Detroit, will play will depend on who's in the lineup with him. "If [Ryan] Church and Sheff play in the same outfield, Church will play right field," Manuel said prior to the Mets' inaugural game at Citi Field.
Sheffield and rookie left fielder Daniel Murphy spent about an hour before formal batting practice taking fly balls in the outfield, Sheffield specifically in right. Sheffield's take on playing the field, specifically Citi Field -- already noted for a footprint filled with nooks and crannies: "It's a difficult outfield, pretty big. I've just got to get out there and work the angles every day."
Noting that Sheffield has been practicing to play the outfield since his acquisition just prior to the season, Manuel said, "In this game of baseball, you can practice, practice and practice, but at some point, you have to get on the field and play."
Manuel likened Sheffield's reintroduction to the field to spring training prep time and said the Mets would likely play him, then give him a day off, then get him back on the field. But make no mistake, the manager said, what the Mets are waiting for is the bat, not the glove.
"It's very important that he get three, four plate appearances in before we can expect anything from his offensively," Manuel said.
Sheffield reiterated that he was more than ready to retire after the Tigers released him near the end of spring training and would not have been swayed by the thought of ending his career with 499 home runs.
"You know me, I've never been a stats guy. I would have had no problem leaving the game to these guys," he said, waving towards a clubhouse full of younger Mets players. "I'm not one to just want to hang around. If it's over, it's over."
Sheffield said that his uncle, former Mets ace Dwight Gooden, helped convince him that he could and should get some more swings in.
Murphy, the rookie, took fly balls and balls off the walls, as well, prior to batting practice.
"We played a couple exhibition games here, but it's important to keep working the field to see what to expect, to keep working on reads," he said. "I'm just trying to get a little more crisp out there."
As for the dimensions, Murphy, like Sheffield, agreed that Citi Field is pretty spacious. "The gaps are a little bigger," he said. "There's a little more room to cover."
Claire Smith is a news editor at ESPN. She covered baseball for 27 years at the Hartford Courant, the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.