Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Alay Soler signed with the New York Mets as an international free agent on September 1, 2004. The right-hander fled his native Cuba by boat in November 2003 with three other players and established residency in the Dominican Republic. Soler's debut was slowed when his agent failed to give him immigration papers that would allow Alay to complete the visa process and enter the United States. Things were finally cleared up and he joined the Mets in spring training camp for the 2006 season.

Once in the United States he was able to reunite with his wife, Ana Laura and 23-month old son, Alain. He had been separated from the two upon his defection. Little Alain knew his dad only from photos, and videos, but immediately shouted, "Papa" and ran toward Alay at the airport. "Imagine it," Soler said in Spanish when asked to recount the scene. "Just imagine it."

Soler was assigned to the minor-leagues to begin the season. He recorded a 3-0 record with a 1.51 ERA over eight starts between Class-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. Alay was promoted to New York to make his major-league debut on May 24, 2006. "Anytime you go from the minor leagues and come to the big leagues, there's always butterflies and you always have a bit of pressure, but as soon as you take the mound, that pressure I'm going to forget about it," Soler said, with instructor Juan Lopez serving as translator. "Every time I go out on the day I have to pitch, I'm always excited."

Alay was far from dominant in that first start at Shea Stadium facing the Philadelphia Phillies. The Mets would win 5-4, but Soler was not in the decision. He looked worse in his next start allowing seven runs in a loss. Things changed for the rookie when the club staked him to a three-run lead in Los Angeles facing the Dodgers. "I was more relaxed today, especially when the team gave me three runs," Alay said, "My concentration was much better, and I had much better rhythm." The result was a seven-inning performance where he allowed one run and struck out seven on way to his first major-league win.

He threw the best game of his Mets career the next time out. A complete-game two-hit shutout over the Diamondbacks in Arizona on June 10th. Soler became the first Mets rookie to toss a shutout since Jason Jacome blanked the Dodgers on July 7, 1994. "He pitched the way he was advertised coming in," said manager Willie Randolph. "After the first couple shaky starts, it was nice to watch. Hopefully that end of the rotation will start to really fill in a little bit."

Soler's next start came at Shea Stadium, where he was the starting pitcher for the only game I personally attended there. He received a no-decision in the interleague loss to the Baltimore Orioles, but would see the Mets lose that and the next three games he started. On July 3rd he was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk with a 2-3 record and 6.00 ERA. Alay argued that a right calf injury should place him on the disabled list. A team doctor disagreed. "I didn't have enough confidence," Soler said through an interperter. "I was thinking about the calf instead of making pitches."

The Mets released him on March 12, 2007.

I created Alay Soler's card in the set from an autographed index card given to me by my good friend, Jessie on November 3, 2010.

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