Monday, July 14, 2014

#444) JOSIAS MANZANILLO

Josias Manzanillo joined the New York Mets when he was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Wayne Housie on June 12, 1993. The right handed pitcher from San Pedro de Macoris of the Dominican Republic is the 17th of 18 children in his family. Josias was assigned to Triple-A Norfok after the trade, and primarily served as a starting pitcher for the Tides. He earned a promotion to New York to make his Mets debut at Coors Field in Colorado on August 21, 1993. He would make six appearances with the club to record a 3.00 ERA over 12 innings of relief work.

Manzanillo was unable to retain a spot in the Mets bullpen during spring training the following season. A disappointed Josias almost refused his assignment to Norfolk but reconsidered. "I didn't want to start over and rebuild with another club," Manzanillo told The New York Times. "I felt like what I had to do was show them here what I can do." Less than a month into the season he was rewarded for that decision when the Mets added him to the major league roster.

The spirited pitcher was known for ending innings in an unusual way. Josias would place his head down and sprint full speed into his team's dugout whenever the third out of an inning was recorded. This bold display would occasionally irritate the opposing batter who had created that out. Something which might encourage an opposing pitcher to retaliate. "It's my nature. It's the way I play the game. It's nothing I plan," explained Manzanillo. "It's not to show anybody up or to be a hot dog. I don't want to do anything that would put my teammates at risk. That's not good for the team, either."

"Manzy" fit well into the job of a major league reliever. Mets manager, Dallas Green established him as the set-up man to the club's closer, John Franco. "This is all new to me," Josias observed. "but I like the idea of throwing one inning. I like the idea of setting up for Johnnie, because he's one of the best in the game at that role." His season took a bad turn when an MRI on August 2nd revealed a bone spur in his right shoulder. The injury ended his 1994 campaign with 37 appearances over 47.1 innings, with a 3-2 record, 48 strikeouts, and a 2.66 ERA.

He returned to pitch the beginning of the 1995 season with much different results. "I think it's a matter of confidence as much as anything," Green said in mid-May. "Manzy breeds on confidence, and he doesn't have it right now." Josias was designated for assignment and selected off waivers by the New York Yankees on June 5, 1995. His 12 appearances for the Mets finished with a 7.88 ERA over 16 innings.

The Mets returned Manzanillo to the organization when he resigned on July 3, 1998 following his release by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It was not until Opening Day the next season before he pitched for New York in a major league game. He threw two scoreless innings of a 2-6 loss to the Miami Marlins at Dolphin Stadium on April 5, 1999. "I see myself as a guy that needs a job in the big leagues and will pitch in any type of role that throws me out there," Josias told the NY Daily News. Pitching for the Seattle Mariners two years earlier, Manzanillo had been struck in the groin by a Manny Ramirez line drive. He was not wearing a protective cup. The extreme injury forced emergency reconstructive surgery to both testicles. "I came back and I wasn't the same guy," Manzanillo offered. "My confidence was tough because I was trying to protect myself before I threw the ball." His work during the 1999 season was brief as the Mets designated the right hander on May 10th. His final run with the Mets ended with a 4.90 ERA over 18.2 innings of work.

Josias pitched for three other clubs before retiring from baseball in 2005. "I love baseball. I have a passion for the game," Manzanillo said. "I enjoy every single time I walk on that field." He remained around baseball by establishing Manzys Pitching Farm in Florida. HIs program offers pitching instruction to prepare youth for high school and college programs.

Josias Manzanillo signed his card in the set at a private signing in Florida by Signatures4U on July 2, 2014.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#283) TOM VERYZER

Tom Veryzer was traded to the New York Mets from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Ray Searage on January 8, 1982. "With the trade of Frank Taveras, we were looking for an experienced infielder to team with our youngsters like Ron Gardenhire and Wally Backman," Mets general manager, Frank Cashen told the New York Times. "Tom Veryzer provides us that infielder."

The 29-year-old Long Island native was glad to join the Mets. "I'm thrilled about the trade," Veryzer said from his Islip home. "Nothing could be better than going home to play. I was a regular for four years in Cleveland and I know there is a chance to play here too."

Veryzer made his Mets debut on April 9, 1982 facing the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. He entered as a replacement for the starting shortstop Gardenhire. Tom was used primarily as the backup to the younger infielder until an injury essentially ended his season. Veryzer fractured his leg when Atlanta Braves outfielder, Claudell Washington slid into him at second base on June 1st. Tom was unable to return to play until September. "I've played long enough to know you accept these things," Veryzer reflected later. "You can't change what has happened. A lot of things could be worse." He appeared in a total of 40 games with 54 plate appearances and a .333 batting average.

Veryzer returned to battle for one of the starting middle infielder jobs the next spring. Although the veteran really considered himself a shortstop. "Everybody says that if you can play shortstop you can play second base," Tom explained. "My problem is that while I'm at shortstop I don't have to think. But at second, a little thing like a ground ball to third, I'm supposed to run to first. But half the time, I just stand there." The club valued his bat but decided to remain with their two younger options. They traded Veryzer to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for minor leaguers, Rob Schilling and Craig Weissmann on April 2, 1983.

Tom continued his major league career two more seasons before retiring from the game following the 1984 campaign. He was inducted into the Suffolk County Hall of Fame in 1995.

Veryzer suffered a stroke and passed away at the young age of 61 on Tuesday July 8, 2014.

Tom signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on January 28, 2009.

Monday, June 9, 2014

#658) DAN WHEELER

Dan Wheeler joined the New York Mets when he signed a free agent contract on January 27, 2003. The right-hander struggled in the early years of his major league career as a starting pitcher with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Mets brought him into the organization with the plan to convert him into a full-time relief pitcher.

He would successfully begin that season with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides and be promoted to New York in June. It was on June 18, 2003 that Wheeler made his Mets debut at Dolphin Stadium facing the Marlins. Dan threw scoreless ball over the final three innings of the Mets 10-5 victory over Florida. He earned his first major league save. Wheeler would remain a part of the bullpen for the remainder of the season posting a 1-3 record, 35 strikeouts, two saves, and a 3.71 ERA over 51 innings of work.

Dan made the major league team out of spring training for the 2004 season. He was a favorite of Mets manager, Art Howe due to his ability to consistently throw strikes. Wheeler was 3-1 with a 4.80 ERA working out of the bullpen when New York attempted to demote him to Norfolk. The Mets needed his roster spot for starting pitcher, Jae Seo. Dan was traded to the Houston Astros in exchange for minor league outfielder, Adam Seuss on August 27, 2004. "I was very surprised," said Wheeler. "I understand that they had to make a move, but a trade was the last thing I thought of. I talked to Jim Duquette and he said they put a claim in on me, so they had to make a move to keep me in the big leagues. So they did this out of respect to me."

Following 13 seasons in the major leagues, Wheeler retired from baseball in 2014.

Dan Wheeler signed his card in the set for my friend Lou at the Major League Baseball offices in New York City before Draft Day on June 5, 2014.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#330) LARRY BOWA

Larry Bowa came to the New York Mets when he was signed as a free agent on August 20, 1985. The 16-year veteran had been released from the Chicago Cubs eight days earlier. Bowa came to a first place New York team that found themselves unexpectedly in need of a reserve shortstop. Rafael Santana had been backed up by Ron Gardenhire that season, but a groin strain forced him to the disabled list. "When Gardy went down I got on the phone and said: 'Get me Bowa'. He's an ideal player of experience for a pennant race." Mets manager, Davey Johnson told the New York Times.

"I didn't expect to get any calls, what with the age factor, and most of the clubs are pretty solid at shortstop," the 39-year old Bowa told the Chicago Tribune. "The only thing that made it easier was the chance to play with a contender." Larry would make his Mets debut at Shea Stadium on August 23rd. Bowa was the starting shortstop for the 3-0 loss to the San Diego Padres.

The switch-hitting infielder would appear in a total of 14 games for New York and record two hits in 19 plate appearances for a .105 batting average. The Mets would finish the season with 25 wins against 17 losses, but their 98 wins placed them three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for second place in the N.L. Eastern Division. Larry was granted free agency at the end of the season.

After his retirement following the 1985 season, Bowa went into coaching, serving as the manager of the San Diego Padres for two years. He also served as a coach with the Phillies, Anaheim Angels, and Seattle Mariners before returning to Philadelphia for a four-year stint as the manager of the Phillies. He was named the National League Manager of the Year in 2001 after guiding the Phillies to within two games of the division title after a last-place finish the year before. He followed that by serving as a third base coach for Joe Torre with both the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Larry Bowa signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on January 22, 2009.

Monday, May 26, 2014

#697) PEDRO MARTINEZ

Pedro Martinez joined the New York Mets as a celebrated free agent on December 16, 2004. The three-time Cy Young award winner left the Boston Red Sox after helping them win their first World Series title in 86 years. "It was more of a commitment from this team than it was money, actually," Martinez said when introduced to the New York media at Shea Stadium. "I gave Boston every opportunity to actually get me."

He became the ace of the staff and posted a tremendous first season with the Mets in 2005. Proving to be the fierce competitor on the mound that made him famous in the American League and the perfect teammate that endeared him to the Boston Red Sox organization. Pedro would strut around the clubhouse adorned in a garish orange two-piece suit before each game of a three-game winning streak. Then wore a trash can upon his head to celebrate a game-winning hit delivered by large-noggined back up catcher, Ramon Castro. Most importantly he ended with a 15-3 record, 208 strikeouts, and a 2.82 ERA for the year. "Carlos Beltran, Cliff Floyd, Jose Reyes...they all play better when I pitch," Pedro bragged following a victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Maybe it's my tempo out there. Maybe they just like me and like playing behind me. But our team seems to be doing better when I pitch." The Mets would finish in third place in the National League East with 83 wins, and a renewed optimism.

Pedro's next three years with the Mets were broken up with a series of injuries. His trips to the disabled list began with losing the month of July 2006 due to right hip inflammation. Then back to the DL in mid-August for a month to nurse a strained right calf muscle. Martinez would lose most of the 2007 season rehabilitating from rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder. He returned to the team on September 3, 2007 to make his first start of that season in Cincinnati. Pedro became part of a very exclusive club recording his 3,000 career strikeout in the 10-4 victory. "It's been awhile since I could say that I'm good enough to pick up a ball tomorrow and go right back out there and do it again, " Martinez was quoted after the game. "I'm going to continue to work hard. If I work hard, it will obviously pay off. I'm not done yet."

Pedro suffered a strained left hamstring two days into the 2008 season that placed him back on the disabled list. Once back in the rotation he registered his weakest season in a New York uniform. Finishing with a 5-6 record, 87 strikeouts in 109 innings and a 5.61 ERA. His time with the team ended when the Mets granted him free agency on October 31, 2008.

Martinez earned $52 million dollars to pitch in the 79 games of his Mets career. Omar Minaya, who was the Mets general manager that signed Pedro defended that decision in 2013. He argued that the Dominican star brought another value by attracting other players and boosting interest in the team. "I don't think there are too many contracts where you get four, five full years, especially with veteran guys."

Pedro Martinez signed his card in the set through legendary promoter Jack Berke at the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular Convention Boston Show in Marlborough, Massachusetts on May 18, 2014.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

#488) DAMON BUFORD

Damon Buford became a member of the New York Mets when he was traded from the Baltimore Orioles along with Alex Ochoa, and Jimmy Williams in exchange for Bobby Bonilla on July 28, 1995. He had the unusual experience of actually being traded by his father, former major leaguer Don Buford.  The elder Buford held the position of assistant director of player development with the Orioles and had orchestrated the deal with New York. "The trade came out of the blue, but my dad sees it as an opportunity," Damon said. "He's my dad first." It was a chance to return from Triple-A Rochester back to the major leagues.

The Mets inserted Damon into the starting lineup immediately. He made his debut with the team as the left fielder at Shea Stadium that same day. Buford delivered a base hit in the 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The new player found a friend in the Mets veteran center fielder Brett Butler. "The first couple of games I was nervous," Damon said. "I felt like it was spring training all over again. But it was great to be around Butler. I sat next to him on the bench and I talked to him in the outfield. I learned more from him in the past two weeks than I have in the last couple of years."

Buford inherited the leadoff spot in the batting order when Butler was forced to temporarily leave the club to address the death of his mother. Following his return to New York, Brett was later traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 18th. His departure made Damon's move permanent.

On September 13th he recorded the first multiple home run game of his career. Buford slugged two blasts while driving in five runs during the 10-5 win over the Houston Astros at Shea. "I just felt I was in a comfort zone." Damon said. "I felt I could do anything, that if I took a short, quick swing, I could hit the ball out. I've got that feeling at the plate now"

Unfortunately he did not finish the season as strongly. He collected just five base hits in his final 25 at-bats of the year. Damon finished with a .235 batting average, four home runs, 12 RBIs and seven stolen bases during his 44 games with New York.

The Mets traded Buford to the Texas Rangers in exchange for minor league outfielder, Terrell Lowery on January 25, 1996. Damon would play for the Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs until 2001.

After baseball, Buford has operated several tanning salons in Arizona with his wife, Sara Neeley-Buford. The couple are also part of 2nd Serving Foundation a mobile food bank serving the Phoenix community. Damon was named their Chairman of the Board of Directors in January 2013.

Damon Buford signed his card in the set through a private signing held by Signatures4U on March 12, 2014.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

#584) RICH RODRIGUEZ

Rich Rodriguez was first a part of the New York Mets organization when they drafted the native Californian out of the University of Tennessee in the 9th round of the 1984 amateur draft. He would pitch as high as Double-A Jackson in 1988 before the Mets traded him to the San Diego Padres for two other minor leaguers on January 13, 1989.

The left-hander returned to the Mets as a major league veteran when they signed him to a two-year, $1.5 million contract in January of 2000. He was officially added to the 40-man roster on February 8th.

Rodriguez made his New York Mets debut during the very unusual "Opening Day" on March 29th at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. He would allow a home run to Mark Grace during his inning of work in the 5-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs. His first appearance at Shea Stadium came days later on April 5th. Rich was effective that game. Striking out four and scattering two hits across three innings of work facing the San Diego Padres.

The southpaw began to struggle with surrendering the long ball after that. He has victimized for three home runs from the Philadelphia Phillies in his next two appearances. "It's only May, and I am going to turn it around," Rodriguez said at the end of the month. "It is going to get better; it will happen soon." Rich had allowed runs in eight consecutive relief appearances before the Mets relegated him to limited bullpen duty. The veteran accepted a demotion to Triple-A Norfolk on June 28th. "After so many years, that adrenaline flow needs to be there to have a real competitive edge," Mets manager Bobby Valentine explained to The New York Times. Bobby felt that the lack of use in critical spots may have contributed to the 7.67 ERA of Rodriguez.

Rich was recalled in July and continued to struggle. That resulted in a return to the Norfolk Tides which lasted until rosters expanded in September. Rodriguez was brought back to a Mets club playing for a postseason appearance. He would pitch in four more games and allow runs in three of those. During the 2000 campaign he threw 37 innings allowing 59 hits with a 7.78 ERA.

The Mets released Rodriguez on March 29, 2001. Exactly one year to the day of his debut with the club in Japan.

He would pitch more effectively with three different American League teams before retiring from professional baseball in 2003 at the age of 40. At that point he began work on the High School level as a pitching coach in California. In January of 2012 he joined Elite Nine Baseball Camps and Clinics as a pitching instructor. He is joined there by fellow former Met player, Gregg Jefferies.

I created Rich Rodriguez's card in the set from an autographed index card given to me by my friend, Jessie through the good people at City Liquidators on March 8, 2014.