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The unwritten rules of eating a danged sandwich in the Mets' clubhouse

Veterans. A prospect. Unwritten rules. Lunch. This story has everything.

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

On Tuesday, there was baseball. Actual baseball. Green grass. Sun. Crack of the bat. Fans. Play ball. Lemonade here. Steeee-rike. Baseballs getting hit over a fence; baseballs being hit so poorly, the batter still got on base. "Hey, Dad ... you wanna have a catch?" Crack of the bat. Crack of the bat. Crack of the bat.

On Tuesday, the Mets were in the news for something stupid. I think that sentence says everything the preceding paragraph tried to. Baseball's here, everyone.

Because the Mets were in the mood for multiple stupid things on this first day of baseball, we'll have to clarify: Noah Syndergaard was eating lunch in the clubhouse during an intrasquad scrimmage, so he got a talking to and his lunch was thrown away. That might not read like news to you. This might even seem like the dumbest of non-stories, something we'll forget in a week. Do you remember when Ozzie Guillen said that Fidel Castro had full eyebrows or a neat car or whatever he actually said? That was 59,300 times more important than this story, and we still forgot about it before the end of the season.

However, the story linked above included this quote.

"This early in spring training, we haven't had a lot of time to go over clubhouse rules as players, clubhouse rules on and off the field kind of stuff between ourselves,'' Parnell said. "Obviously, the coaches have laid down some rules. There's some unspoken rules that you do.''

Enhance.

"There's some unspoken rules that you do.''

Enhance!

"UNSPOKEN RULES"

Unspoken rules are a synonym for unwritten rules. Syndergaard violated an unwritten rule of the clubhouse, which falls within the purview of this particular website. This is a different kind of unwritten rule, however. This is teammate against teammate, brother against brother. Who was in the (w)right? Who was in the wrong?

You have to do this Rashomon-style and look at it from different perspectives.

David Wright's perspective

It was hot out -- mid-80s with stupid Florida humidity. There were players in the intrasquad game who didn't really want to be there, and there were probably people running around the outfield while the game was going on, doing that drill where they jump around, touching their knees to their opposite palms and twisting like fools. It doesn't look cool. It doesn't feel good. It's hot out. Did we mention the humidity? It can get worse in the summer, but that doesn't mean it's fun in the spring.

According to the article, Wright was lugging a bag of bats around, and he noticed a rookie in the air-conditioned clubhouse, munching on a sandwich. Ategate!

It's at this point that we have to admit we don't know a thing about Syndergaard, personally. He could be quiet. He could have showed up to his first camp last year and asked a veteran if his wife has ever done it with someone who throws 100 mph. There are young 20-somethings who don't understand that a touch of humility can help office relations, and that goes for any job.

Either way, Wright was calm and measured, by all accounts. Smiling, even. "Dude, could you not hang back here and eat a sandwich like your dad owns the Mets? The rest of us are kind of hanging out as a team up there." Something like that. It's a reasonable request, when you put it like that. Firm, unambiguous, respectful. This was not the clubhouse equivalent of an intentional hit-by-pitch. This wasn't even a verbal brushback. It was a first baseman saying, "That was kind of lame" the next time the offender reached base.

Noah Syndergaard's perspective

He was hungry and there were sandwiches and why not eat a sandwich and if spring training doesn't mean anything, then intrasquad games really don't mean anything, so ...

Oh, he shouldn't have done that?

Sorry.

Sorry about that. Seriously. It won't happen again.

Imagine his eyes getting wider and wider as he realized the reporters' questions were all going to be about sandwiches. There are perks to playing in New York. There are also cons.

Bobby Parnell's perspective

This guy.

Parnell took Syndergaard's food and threw it in the trash, possibly while making noises and grunts like Patrick from Spongebob. Plategate!

"If a kid's not playing nice, you take his toys away,'' Parnell told Newsday.

If Syndergaard wasn't literally making jet fighter sounds when he was putting the sandwich into his mouth, this reaction and subsequent quote seems somewhere between lunkheaded and alpha male. If a kid's not playing nice ... come on, man. This is what the veteran from Major League 5: Direct to Video would say in a horribly written scene trying to depict clubhouse dynamics. If a kid's not playing nice, you take his toys away, I mean ...

Can you imagine Parnell's reaction in any other line of work?

"Where's my box of peanut brittle?"

"We were Skyping the regional office and you weren't there, so we SET YOUR PEANUT BRITTLE ON FIRE."

However! The same caveat applies here, too. Maybe Syndergaard is, and has been, a total butt in the clubhouse. You've had co-workers you've wanted to throw scorpions at. Those co-workers eating a sandwich at the wrong time might have been just enough to push you over the edge, too. What Parnell did seems silly, but maybe the veterans were tired of rolling their eyes at this particular prospect. A firmer response was required.

The only problem with this theory is that Syndergaard said all the right things afterward. He seemed rather contrite, even when he could have pulled a full Allen Iverson routine, subbing "sandwich" for "practice." Still, we'll have to plead ignorant on past behavior influencing present reactions.

Verdict

Baseball clubhouses are really, really weird.

Think about it. You have a mix of young hopefuls, millionaires, and multi-millionaires spending an incredible amount of time together. They're on planes, off planes, in hotels, at work, off work, back in hotels, back on planes, back off planes, and they're looking at each other right in the stupid face the whole time. How are they not slapping the lunches out of each other's hands the entire time?

More than that, they're hyper-competitive men, most of whom succeeded their entire lives before being forced to claw their way out of the minors, desperately running away from natural selection at the same time they're watching their friends get hurt, fail, and/or give up. That doesn't sound like a petri dish that breeds perspective. And why should it? Once you get to the majors, winning sure seems like the point of it all. And if some dingus eating a sandwich threatens the all-for-one atmosphere in the slightest, well, maybe it's a big deal after all. Maybe this is exactly why there are unwritten rules in the clubhouse. There isn't always a manager there to tell the rookie to get his head out of his ass.

Or maybe this is a tale of grown men getting upset about a sandwich that threatened their tenuous, invented hierarchy.

Hey, I've never spent time in a clubhouse. This is all just my best guess. I'll bet clubhouses get even weirder and further removed from reality than we can even imagine. The important part is that some Mets fought about lunch, and we all just spent our time on it. What are we doing with our lives? I don't know, but now I'm hungry.