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Ojeda debut with Yankees comes against old friends

Saturday was one of those days that the tourists pay for _ bright sunshine, clear skies, zero humidity. Bobby Ojeda couldn't have asked for a better setting in his mission to move forward and away from the gloom of last year.

He talked to former New York Mets teammates Dwight Gooden and John Franco and said with a sly smile, "We discussed the meaning of life, things like that. They looked old."

There were chats with Mets owner Nelson Doubleday and general manager Joe McIlvaine. Another old Mets teammate, Los Angeles reliever Roger McDowell, excused from the Dodgers' road trip to Melbourne, drove down from Vero Beach.

"Nice to be on familiar ground," said Ojeda, who trained in Port St. Lucie from 1988-90. "There were a lot of friendly faces."

The Mets became the enemy, however, when Ojeda took the mound to open the New York Yankees' exhibition season and his quest for a spot in their rotation. The first audition went well. Ojeda, trying to become the fourth left-hander in the rotation, allowed three singles and one walk with one strikeout in three innings and was the winning pitcher in an 8-0 victory.

"I did what I wanted," Ojeda said. "I threw strikes, I got some people out. I was nervous, but I usually am before I pitch. I'm glad it's over."

McDowell watched from his seat in the stands behind the plate and said, "Bobby's changeup is there. He never had a great fastball but was able to spot it well and mix it with his off-speed stuff."

Ojeda and McDowell were teammates with the Mets for 3{ seasons (1986-89) and with the Dodgers for another 1{ seasons (1991-92). Their friendship grew stronger last year when Ojeda struggled physically and emotionally to come back after he suffered severe head wounds in a March 22 boating accident that killed Cleveland Indians teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews. Ojeda spent a month at McDowell's home in Stuart before camp.

"He invited us down for a weekend and we stayed a month," Ojeda said.

"It was good for both of us," McDowell said. "We pushed ourselves into shape."