PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — In moving from Kansas City to New York, from Main Street to Mean Street, Bret Saberhagen faces a major adjustment in lifestyle.
"I've told Bret that with the New York media, every day is like it is in the postseason," said pitcher David Cone, who has prospered in every way since making the same transition from the Royals to the Mets.
Saberhagen doesn't have to be told. He knows not to believe everything he reads.
"I was sitting home in Kansas City on the Sunday before the winter meetings and I read a quote by (Royal General Manager) Herk Robinson in the paper that I was the one guy who wouldn't be traded," Saberhagen recalled, sitting at his locker in the Met clubhouse. "Four days later, Herk called and said I'd been traded to the Mets. If that's not being a hypocrite I don't know what is."
Saberhagen laughed and said he is neither.
"The way I look at it, the Royals treated me well when I was there and they treated me well when they traded me," he said. "I'm with a great group of guys, and we have a chance to go all the way.
"In fact, I hope we play the Royals in the World Series and I hope I have the type year I'm capable of. I'd like to make the Royals look bad. Any time you're thrown out like that, it's human nature to want to stick it to them. The way I felt, they were saying they didn't want me.
"I mean, Herk and (Manager) Hal (McRae) both made a point of saying they had finished sixth for two straight years with me. Well, they also won two division titles and a World Series with me, so let's see how they do without me."
The Royals thought they wouldn't have been able to compete by maintaining the status quo. The signing of Wally Joyner gave them a run producer to replace Danny Tartabull and opened the door to the trade with the Mets in which they received Gregg Jefferies, who will play third base; Kevin McReynolds, who will play right field, and Keith Miller, who will play left field.
McRae and Robinson believe they can win the American League West title now. Said Saberhagen: "They could finish first or they could finish last. It's a tough division."
The Mets, in turn, think Saberhagen represents impressive insurance if Dwight Gooden is not ready to start the season after September rotator cuff surgery.
"Opposing teams are going to hate to see the Mets come to town," Saberhagen said in reference to a possible rotation of Gooden, Cone, Sid Fernandez and himself. "They'll have to face two or three of us every series, and it doesn't matter which two or three."
After a remarkable season in 1989, when he was 23-6, had an earned-run average of 2.16 for 262 1/3 innings and won his second Cy Young award, Saberhagen went 5-9 in 1990, when he had bone chips removed from his elbow, then finished 13-8 last season, when he missed a month because of shoulder tendinitis.
"The last two years were frustrating because we had high expectations as a team and I had high expectations personally," Saberhagen said. "People have said to me, 'Well, you won 13 games last year, you had a great year.' A great year to me is 19 or more wins, and a good year is 15 or more.
"I had neither a great year nor a good year, but I feel fine physically again and I regard the trade as a change for the best.
"I'm 28 and feel like I'm just hitting my prime. I feel like a rookie again."
Saberhagen joined the Royals as a rookie in 1984, just two years after having been the high school player of the year in Los Angeles. He pitched a no-hitter for Reseda's Cleveland High in the City championship game against Palisades High at Dodger Stadium.
He and his wife, Janeane, own a house in Thousand Oaks, but they have made their home in Kansas City, where Janeane recently opened a beauty salon and gave birth to their third child on March 4.
Saberhagen, who is under contract through 1993, will have a year to see how he likes New York. As a player traded with a multi-year contract, he can demand a trade at the end of the first year with a new team and the Mets would have to comply.
"I had two opportunities to become a free agent with Kansas City and stayed both times," he said. "I'll certainly listen if the Mets want to discuss an extension."
Said Cone: "Bret was kind of traumatized (by the trade) at first because his roots are in Kansas City now, but I think he regards it as a blessing in disguise, a chance to get the exposure he didn't always receive in Kansas City. He's been through pressure and should be able to handle it. He's the kind of guy who's loose off the field and intense on it, and New York fans seem to go for that. I think he's ready."
At the Kansas City training camp in Baseball City near Orlando, Fla., McRae said, "If we don't trade Sabes, we don't compete. The status quo in this division wasn't going to get it. We took a chance trading one of the best right-handed pitchers in baseball, but I shouldn't be here if I'm afraid to take a chance.