Sunday, April 25, 2010
#718) PAUL LO DUCA
Paul Lo Duca was traded by the Florida Marlins to the New York Mets in exchange for Dante Brinkley and Gaby Hernandez on December 5, 2005. It brought him to the team for which he had rooted for as a boy growing up in Phoenix, Arizona. Without a local team there the future major-leaguer chose the club playing closest to his birthplace of Brooklyn. "When Jesse Orosco threw up his glove in '86, I was jumping up and down on my bed." remembers Lo Duca.
The addition of Lo Duca not only brought an All-Star catcher to the club (He would be voted a starter again in 2006), but also another character to their unique clubhouse chemistry. In the cover article for Sports Illustrated in July 2006, Paul said, "Welcome to Rip City, where we get on each other all the time." An explanation of the loose, and teasing atmosphere enjoyed by the Mets teammates. The club played well as a result. Paul effectively handled the pitching staff while also maintaining a .319 batting average for the season.
On July 3rd, the Mets faced the New York Yankees in a Subway Series matchup. Yankees slugger, Alex Rodriguez hit two home runs that day. During the second one, a grand slam, A-Rod was a bit too celebratory for Lo Duca's taste. He felt Rodriguez was showing up his pitcher, Alay Soler and provided a heated exchange as he crossed home plate. The two had to be separated by the home plate umpire. "It upset me a little bit that he threw his bat. I want to protect my pitcher, and I didn't like the way he showed him up," Paul said. "You want to stare at it, that's fine. But don't toss your bat and stare at your dugout like that. Act like you've hit one before."
Off-field issues took center stage for Lo Duca in August of 2006. His personal life became a cavalcade of tabloid accusations ranging from marriage infidelities to gambling issues. In response to the media attention Paul said, "The issue here is my daughter. I love my daughter more than anything in the world, and I love my wife. We just decided that we're parting ways, bottom line. We're great friends, and to drag her through what's been going on is disappointing to me." His fellow Mets supported him as evidenced by David Wright's statement, "I think it's important to have the guys stick behind him. He's a great guy...I think it's important for him to know that he's got guys in here that care about him and guys that are going to have his back."
Paul's second season in New York allowed baseball to again become the major story. The Mets were facing the Oakland A's at Shea Stadium on June 23, 2007. An enraged Lo Duca was called out on strikes and followed with an epic tirade. He was fined and suspended two games for throwing equipment on the field as he exited. "Obviously, I overreacted," he said. "I called my ex-wife. Hopefully my daughter was not watching. I didn't realize that my eyes looked like that."
Lo Duca fell to a right hamstring injury and had to be placed on the disabled list on August 12th. He had played through the injury in order to be available to catch Mets' pitcher, Tom Glavine's 300th career victory on August 5th. Glavine had struggled in earlier starts using backup catcher, Ramon Castro. So Paul wanted to be in there to give him his best chance for success. "It felt good to contribute and just be a part of it." Lo Duca said after the victory was achieved in Chicago's Wrigley Field. A baseball from that game was signed by both Glavine and Lo Duca and presented to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The catcher was a part of the Brooklyn and Queens Borough Public Library's program, "Get in the Game...Read!" Paul is a huge advocate of reading and made appearances in which he conducted public readings to area children.
Paul had hoped the Mets would offer him a chance to return with a new contract in 2008. He was a weekly guest on radio station WFAN during his time in New York. During one broadcast he said, "I want to come back here. They have the core to go a long way and be winners for a long time." After no contract was offered he signed as a free agent with the Washington Nationals on December 10, 2007.
I created Paul Lo Duca's card in the set from an autographed index card that I received from Nick Diunte of Baseball Happenings on March 27, 2010.