Sunday, February 28, 2010

#203) LEON BROWN

Leon Brown was traded by the San Francisco Giants to the New York Mets in exchange for Bob Gallagher on March 16, 1976. The fleet-footed outfielder started the season with the Triple-A Tidewater Tides. Leon had spent ten years in the minor leagues before making his major league debut with the New York Mets on May 19, 1976. He appeared as a pinch-hitter leading off the 9th inning facing Philadelphia at Shea Stadium. Brown would stroke a double to right field off the Phillies, Gene Garber in his first major league at-bat. The charismatic reserve outfielder was often used as a pinch-runner during his single season with the Mets. A year that proved to be Leon's only one in the major leagues. He was traded along with Brock Pemberton to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Ed Kurpiel on December 9, 1976.

While in the Giants farm system Brown was married and had a notable friend capturing the ceremony. "I was the photographer with a video camera at his wedding," Dusty Baker, major league player and manager said, "No kidding, I was. Never done it before. But, he couldn't afford a real photographer so I did it. You should see all the shots of the floor and ceiling that I got for him."

After retiring from baseball, Leon became a member of the Arizona Major League Alumni Association. Serving as a committee member and infield skills instructor for the organization. He has been featured along with fellow former Met, Lou Klimchock at many schools in the Phoenix area working with local youth clinics and various other charity functions.

I created Leon Brown's card in the set from a signed item returned from an autograph request sent to his home on November 18, 2005.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

#594) BOBBY JONES

Bobby M. Jones was traded with Lariel Gonzalez by the Colorado Rockies to the New York Mets in exchange for Masato Yoshii on January 14, 2000. It was a trade welcomed by the left-hander, who grew up in East Rutherford, New Jersey as a Mets fan idolizing Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. "It's a dream come true," said Jones, who had struggled the previous year. "I wasn't real focused. I think my mind was on a lot of different things outside of baseball itself. I really missed home and my family a lot. Being in New York solves that real quick." During spring training of 2000 he lost the battle for the fifth starter in the rotation to Glendon Rusch. He was to begin the season with Triple-A Norfolk.

Although not on the active roster Bobby was traveling with the New York Mets on Opening Day of the 2000 campaign. The Mets faced the Chicago Cubs in Japan to start the season. Jones was taken along as insurance in case of injury. He would pitch in an exhibition game facing the Yomiuri Giants on March 28th. Surrendering a two-run home run that day to Yoshinobu Takahashi in New York's 9-5 loss. Jones would have to wait until June 16, 2000 for his official Mets debut. One of his three stints on the major league roster that summer. The second of these ended quite dramatically in a verbal exchange with manager Bobby Valentine. Jones chose to voice his displeasure over being optioned back to Norfolk with the press and referred to Valentine as a "joke". The fiery manager caught word of it and confronted Jones in the clubhouse following a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 19th. Players separated the two men to avoid a physical altercation and Bobby Jones was sent down the next day.

When rosters expanded in September he was promoted to New York with two other players. "I think it is definitely a blessing in disguise, kind of," Jones said. "We got to express what we had to. I'm going to treat it like it didn't even happen, even though it did happen." Manager Valentine had this comment, "It was a professional situation that he immaturely took as personal. I told him I don't have a problem with him as long as he's ready to pitch."

Bobby would spend the 2001 season on the disabled list with a rotator cuff injury, but came back to the Mets in 2002. He would pitch in 12 games from the bullpen before being traded along with Jason Bay to the San Diego Padres for Jason Middlebrook and Steve Reed on July 31st.

After his active baseball career he started his own academy named "Bobby Jones Sports" in Montville, New Jersey. He would also serve as a pitching coach for both the Don Bosco Preparatory and Montclair High School varsity baseball teams. Most recently taking a position of pitching instructor at Pro Player Baseball Academy in Hawthorne, New Jersey.

Bobby Jones signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to the Pro Player facility on February 26, 2010.

Friday, February 26, 2010

#666) MIKE GLAVINE

Mike Glavine was signed as a minor league free agent by the New York Mets on February 4, 2003. He was the younger brother of then Mets' pitcher, Tom Glavine who had only joined the team three months earlier. Mike was a left-handed hitting first baseman who had played eight years in minor league baseball. "I'm very realistic. and I know the situation," Mike would say. "Obviously, I'm not a young prospect coming up through the organization. I'm going in there ready to battle and looking forward to the opportunity to show what I can do." Glavine would play the season with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. He was hitting .266 with five home runs and 17 RBIs when New York purchased his contract on September 12th. Thus making the Glavines the first brothers in Mets history. So it was only fitting that when Mike finally made his major league debut it would be pinch-hitting for his older brother Tom on September 14, 2003. He would ground out to second base, and the Mets eventually lost to the Montreal Expos 7-3. "I waited eight years for that at-bat." Mike explained. "I'm happy for him obviously." Tom would comment, "But not so happy for me and the team and the way things went. You look for a silver lining in all things, and today, I guess that was the silver lining." Mike appeared in a total of six games to close the season, and would register his first major league hit in his final at-bat of 2003. He would return to the Norfolk Tides to play the 2004 season.

After retiring from his playing career, Mike joined with fellow baseball player and friend, Marc Deschenes in opening a training facility in Dracut, Massachusetts. Future Stars was established in April of 2006 to teach baseball and softball skills to local youth. "We try to create a family atmosphere, so parents don't dread bringing their children here." Glavine explained, "They might even be able to get some work done." The state of the art facility is equipped with wireless internet.

Mike was inducted into the Northeastern University Hall of Fame on November 16, 2006. Beginning in 2007, he would take the position of assistant coach with his alma mater's baseball team.

Mike Glavine signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on February 27, 2010.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

#653) TONY CLARK

Tony Clark became a New York Met when he left the Boston Red Sox and signed with them as a free agent on February 20, 2003. He agreed to a minor league contract and was given an invitation to major league camp for spring training. The 6-foot-7, former college basketball star, was excited for the possibility of joining the Mets, but had a deep concern. Currently the Mets' had veteran Mo Vaughn at that position and Tony would not come aboard without the slugger's blessing. The two men were friends and Clark did not want the perception that he was attempting to unseat Vaughn. "He's a good dude," Mo said, "and he has to do whatever he can do to make the team." Tony explained it, "This is a situation where, being a Christian, I prayed about my future quite a bit. I simply prayed that things would fall into place and as quickly as things came together, I figured this would be the place to be. I saw the guys that I was familiar with here and that I'm comfortable with, and this club has the opportunity to be successful in October."

When the team broke camp and headed north, Tony would find himself left behind in Florida. He worked out with the Single-A team in St. Lucie until a roster spot could be opened. Mike Piazza was serving a four-game suspension, and the Mets added Jason Phillips to temporarily provide a second catcher in New York. On April 6, 2003, he would be activated and make his Mets' debut. Clark was the starting first baseman and hit a tape measure two-run home run off Montreal Expos' pitcher, T.J. Tucker. "I am not trying to get caught up in being a superhero at the end of the day." Clark would humbly say, "I'm just trying to do my job. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn't. Once you start patting yourself on the back, that's when something (bad) usually finds you." In his first game the switch-hitter wore uniform number "00". The "double-zero" had been assigned to him earlier during spring training. Significant because it was the first time a player had worn the uniform number made famous by team mascot, "Mr. Met" during the regular season. Clark switched to number "52" after schoolchildren in Queens, New York asked him what had happened to the beloved Mr. Met. The change made him the first player to wear number "52".

Tony fit well into a less accustomed role of a part-time player and pinch-hitter. He delivered many significant hits coming off the bench. Several of which were game-winners. After slugging such a home run on July 7th to defeat the Reds in Cincinnati teammate Ty Wigginton said, "Everytime you see Tony come up late in a ballgame, you feel like he is going to come through with the big knock." A knee injury to Mo Vaughn provided an opportunity for the Mets to place Clark as the starting first baseman more than originally planned. He would get 50 starts at first base in 2003, and finished strong. Hitting five home runs and collecting 14 RBIs while posting a .313 batting average in his final 19 starts of the year.

Clark left the Mets when he was granted free agency and signed with the cross-town Yankees on January 12, 2004. Upon retiring from active baseball he joined ESPN network as a studio analyst in August 2009 .

Tony Clark signed his card in the set for me when the San Diego Padres faced the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 15, 2008.

"I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

#109) JOE MOOCK

Joe Moock, Jr. was selected by the New York Mets organization in the third round of the free agent draft on June 8, 1965. He was the first player ever selected by a major league team from Louisiana State University. Moock posted an impressive .294 batting average in the New York Penn League and received a late season call-up to New York in 1967. He made his major league debut, as a New York Met, at Wrigley Field facing the Chicago Cubs on September 1, 1967. Joe struck out as a pinch-hitter that afternoon. Moock did later help the Mets to record back to back wins against the Dodgers with a key hit in each game. He would play in a total of 13 games before being returned to the minor leagues in 1968. After a tough year in Double-A Memphis he left the Mets and moved into the Washington Senators organization.

The Moocks are a baseball family. Joe Moock, Sr. was a member of the LSU baseball team in the 1940s. Pat Moock, (brother of Joe, Jr.) was the winning pitcher in LSU's first NCAA tournament victory. Chris Moock (son of Joe, Jr.) was the third baseman who made the throw to get the final out in LSU's first National Championship in 1991.

After his active baseball career Joe Moock became a baseball and football coach at Central High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for 22 years. "I had the opportunity to play a lot of different positions." Moock told writer, Mark Simon, "Every one, including catcher. So I was conscious of how to teach the game."

Joe Moock signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on July 16, 2009.

Monday, February 22, 2010

#581) DEREK BELL

Derek Bell was traded along with Mike Hampton by the Houston Astros to the New York Mets in exchange for Roger Cedeño, Octavio Dotel, and Kyle Kessel on December 23, 1999. It was reported that the Astros insisted that the flamboyant outfielder, and his $5 million contract be included in the deal to land the pitching ace Hampton. "One thing that you are going to like about Derek Bell is that I am going to tell you the truth," Bell offered at his introduction to the New York media, "I'm not afraid to say I'm excited. I'm just a humble person from Tampa, Florida." Derek was childhood friends with Gary Sheffield while growing up in the rough Belmont Heights area of the city. They were known to shadow Gary's famous uncle during spring training in St. Petersburg. "That's all we knew was Dwight Gooden and the Mets," said Bell who played in two Little League World Series with Sheffield. "I loved the Mets."

Derek was famous for living on a 63-foot yacht and brought it with him to New York. His infectious attitude came as well. General manager, Steve Philips described Bell's daily arrival as a hurricane coming in to a serenade of "Yo, yo, yo!". Derek was able to establish himself as the club's starting right-fielder as the 2000 season opened. Officially the Mets began that season in Japan for a two-game series, but once back in New York for the home opener a Bell family tradition continued. With his mother in the stands, Derek delivered a tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning that produced a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres. After circling the bases he stepped on home plate and pointed at his mother in the stands. "Every time I do something I point to her, especially when I hit a home run," said Bell, whose father left when he was ten years old. "It's just been me and my Mom for the past 21 years." The Shea Stadium crowd gave him a curtain call ovation. A tribute the veteran said he had never experienced in his career before. "I go to all of the opening games," Derek's mother, Chestine Bell, still a resident of Tampa, said in the Mets' dugout after the game. "This is the first time he hit a home run and won the game. That's exciting. I got chills."

After a strong start "D. Bell" became quite popular with the Mets' fans. First for his 100 pair collection of various alligator shoes, and then his exploits with stadium vendors. During a pitching change he once purchased cotton candy and then gave it to a child in the crowd. Unfortunately his average would fall throughout the season as a result of prolonged slumps. His teammate Hampton observed, "The big thing about Derek is as long as he's confident and believes in himself, he's going to be a great player."

The oddities of Bell's season might have reached a zenith on August 23rd facing the San Diego Padres. Having last pitched in high school, he volunteered to become the emergency pitcher and took the mound as the Mets trailed 10-1. Wearing sunglasses he used a modest fastball and 40-mph "eephus" pitch to record the three outs. "I was sweating all over my glasses." Derek recalled, "I couldn't see home plate."

An injury to his knee kept Derek out of the lineup throughout parts of the last month of the regular season. In Game One of the National League Division Series, facing the San Francisco Giants, the outfielder would sprain his right angle while fielding a triple off the bat of Barry Bonds. He was unable to return from that injury and was unavailable for any of the eventual World Series against the New York Yankees. He watched the series from his home in Tampa, and summed up his experience with the Mets, "All that stuff about how hard it is to play in New York, it's a myth. They're the best fans in baseball when you've got them on your side, and you're playing hard."

Derek Bell signed his card in the set for me from a private signing in Florida with Christopher Allen on February 20, 2010.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

#689) BARTOLOME FORTUNATO

Bartolome Fortunato was traded along with Victor Zambrano from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to the New York Mets in exchange for prized prospect Scott Kazmir and Jose Diaz on July 30, 2004. He was first assigned to Triple-A Norfolk, but soon recalled to New York on August 19th. Bartolome made his Mets debut on August 20, 2004. He would throw two innings of scoreless relief against the Giants in San Francisco. The next day he would pitch a scoreless 12th inning to record his first major league save. Bartolome credited his lively arm to an interesting liniment. "Snake oil." He would tell a reporter. "In the Dominican they actually use snake oil on their arm," said Mets' bullpen catcher Nelson Silverio. "They think it makes them loose like a snake. It's not just him. A lot of players down there use that." Fortunato finished the season with the Mets, and appeared in a total of 15 games with a 3.86 ERA.

The right-hander would dash the club's hopes for him pitching in the 2005 campaign when he developed a back strain during spring training camp. Fortunato was officially placed on the disabled list on April 4, 2005, and eventually had season-ending surgery for a herniated disk in his lower back on June 2nd. The Mets resigned Bartolome to a one-year contract on March 3, 2006 in hopes that he might return from the injury to his previous form. He was invited to major league spring training camp initially, but started the season back with Triple-A Norfolk.

Bartolome performed well with the Tides. Posting a 1-0 record, with 21 strikeouts, and a 2.70 ERA in 16.2 innings of work. An injury to pitcher, John Maine created an open roster spot and New York did not hesitate to recall Fortunato on May 6, 2006 to provide needed bullpen depth. His return to the Mets ended two days later. In only his second appearance of the season, Bartolome was hit hard by the Braves at Shea Stadium. He allowed eight runs on six hits in just an inning and a third of relief work during a 3-13 loss to Atlanta. The next day he was returned to Norfolk and replaced on the New York roster by Heath Bell. Unfortunately the worst had happened. It was determined on May 13th that Tommy John surgery would be required on his right elbow. After the surgery was completed, the Mets released Fortunato on May 20, 2006.

Bartolome Fortunato signed a game program for my good friend Patrick, when the Norfolk Tides visited the Indianapolis Indians on August 17, 2004. I converted the cut signature into his card in the set.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

#154) JIM BEAUCHAMP

Jim Beauchamp was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals along with Harry Parker, Chuck Taylor, and Tom Coulter to the New York Mets in exchange for Art Shamsky, Jim Bibby, Rich Folkers, and Charlie Hudson on October 18, 1971. The veteran joined the club at the end of his career. His role in New York was primarily as a pinch-hitter. Jim hit two home runs for the Mets on August 21, 1972 at Shea Stadium. It was on the slugger's 33rd birthday and powered the team to a 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros that day. Originally assigned uniform number "24" he switched to number "5" to allow future Hall of Famer, Willie Mays to keep his legendary number when he joined the team. His generosity to the Say Hey Kid only continued during their time together in New York. Jim's son, Kash revealed, "Willie hit his last major league home run with my Dad's bat." During the 1973 National League Championship season Beauchamp batted .279 and made 43 pinch hitting appearances for the Mets. It would prove to be his last year in the major leagues as New York released him on March 27, 1974.

After his ten year playing career concluded, Jim became a coach in the minor leagues. Beauchamp was the bench coach for the Atlanta Braves between 1991 and 1998, during the team's transformation from a last-place team to a perennial contender. He was part of the club's World Series Championship in 1995 and later became the supervisor of minor league field operations for the Braves.

The "Jim Beauchamp Celebrity Golf Classic" was founded in 1993 and continues to financially benefit Southwest Christian Care, a hospice in Union City, Georgia. Jim became involved after touring the facility and being especially taken with the children being served by the Hope House Children's Respite Center, a service area of Southwest Christian Care. His long dedication to their efforts was recognized when he was presented with the 2007 Servant Leadership Award. "Jim is always thinking of others and how he can help out." Braves manager and longtime friend, Bobby Cox said at the time, "He is one of our most loved employees, and that spirit and drive we see in him is what makes him so special."

In 2002, "Jim Beauchamp Field" in his hometown of Grove, Oklahoma was dedicated in his name. The baseball field is located just across the street from Beauchamp's boyhood home.

After a long battle with luekemia, Jim Beauchamp passed away on December 25, 2007. He spent his last days in the very hospice to which he had raised over a million dollars for during his lifetime. His son, Kash Beauchamp said, "As tough as he was as a competitor and a baseball man, he had a very soft side when it came to being a father." The Atlanta Braves honored his memory by wearing a patch reading "Beach" during the 2008 season.

I purchased this signed index card from the legendary autograph guy, Jack Smalling and converted it into Jim Beauchamp's card in the set in January 2009.

Friday, February 19, 2010

#439) DAVE TELGHEDER

Dave Telgheder was selected by the New York Mets in the 31st round of the free agent draft on June 5, 1989. He made his major league debut at Shea Stadium on June 12, 1993. Throwing the final inning in relief of Dwight Gooden during a 3-0 Mets victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. The Mets team would lose 100 games that year, but Telgheder personally had a fine 6-2 record. "You learn from it," Dave would explain, "You learn how much it sucks, and you do not want to do it anymore." The right-hander started the 1994 season with New York, but after struggling in four straight appearances in April was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. He finished the season there used entirely as a starting pitcher. Dave compiled a 8-10 record and 3.40 ERA in 23 starts. His assignment to the minors proved quite important as Major League Baseball went on strike and that season was never completed.

With the ongoing work stoppage the 1995 spring training camp could have provided a dilemma for Telgheder. As he was not on the Mets' 40-man roster it was not required by the Player's Union for him to strike. Major League Baseball's plan was to start the exhibition season using replacement and minor league players. "If the only way for me to get back is to play (with replacements), then I don't want to do it." Dave was quoted. Mets' management was angered by his stance. "The team I want to play for is on strike." Telgheder continued, "There's no way I will play (with replacements) once the season starts. I'll be in Norfolk enjoying myself on the beach, playing some golf and pitching." To his word he did not participate and when the major leaguers returned from the strike on April 25, 1995, he was again pitching for the Triple-A Tides. In August of that season, Telgheder was recalled to New York and pitched in seven games. He was granted free agency at the close of the year and signed with the Oakland Athletics on November 21, 1995.

Dave retired from professional baseball in 1998 and worked with his family on their apple orchard in his hometown of Middleton, New York. Later, he took a position with the local Minisink Valley High School as a business teacher.

As a boy he had played youth baseball for the "Humn' birds" club. In 2007 he became a Little League camp instructor. "It's a lot of fun," Dave said, "This is a pure as it gets. What's great about this is that you get to follow these kids down the road in the paper. Maybe one of them will even make the majors."

I created Dave Telgheder's card in the set from a cut signature given to me by my friend Tom Tessier on April 30, 2009.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

#629) JEFF D'AMICO

Jeff D'Amico was traded by the Milwaukee Brewers along with Jeromy Burnitz, Mark Sweeney, and Lou Collier to the New York Mets in exchange for Alex Ochoa, Lenny Harris and Glendon Rusch on January 21, 2002. The man nicknamed, "Big Daddy" had struggled with various injuries during his career, but when healthy performed as one of the most dominating starting pitchers in the National League. "Certainly since my injuries I have lost some velocity," D'Amico said, "so what I rely on now is my command. I can throw the ball where I want to, and I have a decent curve. And of course I try not to give up any walks." His command was evident during a successful run to start the 2002 season. Jeff threw eight scoreless innings, scattering three hits and two walks, in his first victory as a Met on April 13th. Then dominated the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 16th during a two-hit complete game shutout win.

His season took a decided turn during the month of June. The man that had been throwing well into the later innings of games earlier was now surrendering large leads early. "I have never felt this good and pitched this bad," Jeff offered at the time, "Everything feels great. I'm just not getting the job done out there." After not registering a win in eight consecutive starts by D'Amico the Mets agreed. A deal for another pitcher was made at the trading deadline, and Jeff was moved to the bullpen on August 11th. He regained success within the unfamiliar role of a relief pitcher. Finishing the season with a 1-0 record and 2.22 ERA during 16.2 innings of relief work. Leading to the speculation that his preseason shoulder surgery may have been a contributing factor to his previous struggles. "I don't know. I am sure (running into a wall) is a possibility," D'Amico said, "Physically and mentally I am right there though. I go out and I am prepared every time. There are no excuses."

D'Amico was granted free agency and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates on January 17, 2003. After retiring from the game he has been spending time with his family and coaching Little League baseball in Florida.

Jeff D'Amico signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on February 20, 2009.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#147) FRANCISCO ESTRADA

Francisco "Paquin" Estrada joined the New York Mets from the Mexico City Reds (of the Mexican Baseball League) on January 13, 1971. He would appear in a single Major League Baseball game. That coming at Shea Stadium on September 14, 1971. Estrada went on to become a legend in his native Mexico and is enshrined in the Salon de la Fama del Beisbol.

His story as a "Moonlight Graham Met" is told here.

Paquin Estrada signed the index card that was used to create his card in the set from a private signing conducted by Vincente Romo in Mexico on January 19, 2010.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

#193) RANDY TATE

Randy Tate was selected by the New York Mets organization in the fifth round of the free agent draft on January 12, 1972. The right-hander would spend his first years in the Mets' minor league system. Even though he was progressing through the system Tate was disenchanted with his minor league assignment. "I had a good job here and considered not going back." Randy would tell the Florence Times in March of 1974, "I thought about settling down and forgetting it." His strong finish that year with Triple-A Tidewater (2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in two starts) earned him a spot in the New York starting rotation for 1975. Randy made his major league debut starting for the Mets at Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia on April 14, 1975 . Although his best performance came on August 4th facing the Montreal Expos. That day Tate became yet another Mets pitcher to come close to tossing a no-hitter only to fall short. He had pitched beautifully at Shea Stadium that evening. Hurling seven innings without yielding a hit and striking out 13 batters. Unfortunately in the eighth inning the Expos would plate four runs on three hits including a Mike Jorgensen three-run home run. It was enough for Montreal to ruin his performance and edge the Mets 4-3.

Randy remained in the rotation the entire 1975 season posting a record of 5-13 with a 4.45 ERA. He was optioned to Tidewater for 1976 and traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1978. It was during that season he suffered a torn rotator cuff and retired from professional baseball.

In October of 2007 he would again make headlines, but for the wrong reason. Randy was one of three Colbert County men that were arrested for copper theft. Tate was charged with first-degree theft of property. He was accused of stealing over $20,000 worth of copper from the Occidental Chemical Corporation in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Reports indicated that Randy, who was working as a contractor at the plant, was taking numerous copper plates and bolts from the facility and selling them to a salvage yard.

I created Randy Tate's card in the set from a signed index card given to me by my friend Wally on February 7, 2010.

Monday, February 15, 2010

#180) BROCK PEMBERTON

Brock Pemberton joined the New York Mets when he was selected in the sixth round of the 1972 amateur draft. The high school star from Tulsa, Oklahoma was part of a baseball family. His father, Cliff Pemberton had played in the Brooklyn Dodgers minor league system during the 1940s. After he was drafted Brock sat down with his parents and discussed his options. "It was the matter that I had scholarships to go to the universities, good ones, and what was I going to do?" Brock explained. "I think it was a lifelong dream to play major league baseball. I had been tutored to play the game, and this is what I wanted to do."

Pemberton was a key member of the Victoria Toros club that had just won the Texas League Double-A Championship in three straight games over the El Paso Diablos. It was there that team manager, Joe Frazier would give him the news. "He told me that I was going to the big leagues with Nino Espinosa." Brock said, "I was like, 'Whoa. Hold on here we go!'" A phone call to his parents was followed by a drive to collect his things in Victoria. Then back home to Tulsa for some impromptu clothes shopping. "You are supposed to wear suits and ties on the airplane I found out." He then boarded a flight to LaGuardia that brought him to New York City for the first time in his young life.

The next morning his new team roommate, Bruce Boisclair brought him to Shea Stadium. "We went out at three o'-clock. Got there early, early." Pemberton remembers being awestruck even before the game crowd arrived, "I used to go to San Diego when I was in high school...but Shea Stadium was amazing. It was beautiful." Brock made his major league debut on September 10, 1974 facing the Montreal Expos at Shea. He was called in to pinch-hit in the ninth inning with the bases loaded. "I mean I didn't have anything. I borrowed a bat from Bud Harrelson." Brock said, "The first pitch was way below my knees, and the umpire (Frank Pulli) looked at me and said, 'Hey rookie. Welcome to the National League.' I struck out."

His favorite memory of a brief major league career came the next day. On September 11th a marathon contest between the Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals occurred. Brock recalled, "We were winning. I sat there, and I sat there. They tied the game up in the ninth. Kenny Reitz hit a home run, and tied the game. I sat there, and I sat there, and I kept looking around. There was nobody left on the bench except me. Yogi goes, 'Go in and hit.' It was the bottom of the 25th with two outs. I got a base hit off of Sonny Seibert that almost took his head off with it. From what I understand I was the youngest rookie to get a base hit after three-o’clock in the morning." New York would lose in the 25th inning at 3:13 AM, in what was technically the next day. This was the longest game in history played to a decision without a suspension. It was also the game that yielded Brock Pemberton's first major league hit.

A baseball strike would hinder the start of spring training the next year. When play resumed Brock found himself back in minor league camp almost immediately. He was told that at 20 years of age he was "just too young". Pemberton was given a second September call-up in 1975. This time he would only manage two game appearances, and was traded with Leon Brown to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Ed Kurpiel on December 9, 1976.

After his active playing career, Brock became the player/manager for the Macon Peaches of the South Atlantic League in 1980. Then he left baseball and joined a national landscaping company based in Tucson, Arizona as a construction foreman.

Brock Pemberton signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on January 28, 2010.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

#515) BARRY MANUEL

Barry Manuel joined the New York Mets when he was acquired from the Montreal Expos for cash considerations on March 28, 1997. The former 1986 College Baseball All-American had made his major league debut under manager Bobby Valentine with the Texas Rangers in 1991. In New York he joined Toby Borland and Greg McMichael to become the third right-hander in the bullpen. "Barry's an experienced relief pitcher," Mets' general manager Joe McIlvaine said at the time, "We keep trying to upgrade our bullpen and I think that we have done that in this instance." Manuel became ill during the week after the acquisition. He battled a virus for several days that diminished his appetite and his strength. His Mets debut came on Opening Day in San Diego on April 1, 1997. Coming in as the third reliever of the sixth inning he surrendered five runs. Only a part of the 11 total runs that the Padres would score in that single frame. Resulting in a 12-4 loss. "Let's hope it was the worst inning of the season and we've got it out of the way." Manager Bobby Valentine said, "Hopefully that was opening day jitters." The following day, McIlvaine uncharacteristically lambasted the relievers, saying they pitched "like Little Leaguers," prompting a complaint from a Little League official on Long Island who threatened not to accept complementary tickets to Mets home games.

Manuel would pitch in 19 games for the Mets finishing with a 5.26 ERA. In the middle of June he was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk where he completed the season. On October 15th he was granted free agency and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks on December 18, 1997.

After his major league playing career, Barry became the head baseball coach and gameday football coordinator at Westminster Christian Academy in Opelousas, Louisiana. He also pitched for a local team, the Lafayette Bayou Bullfrogs of the Texas-Louisiana Professional Baseball league.

Barry Manuel signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on February 12, 2009.

Friday, February 12, 2010

#371) JULIO MACHADO

Julio Machado was signed by the New York Mets as a free agent on April 5, 1989. The hard throwing right-handed reliever made his major league debut on September 7, 1989 at Shea Stadium. He acquired the nickname "Iguanaman" due to his affection for eating the lizards. During the 1989 and 1990 seasons he would appear in 37 games with a 4-2 record and 3.18 ERA. At the trading deadline on July 31, 1990 the Mets were struggling and manager, Bud Harrelson was asked if the club was going to make a deal. "We're not working any deal at this time." Harrelson was quoted, " We're looking for a third catcher, maybe from Tidewater, and maybe a left-handed hitter. But I don't see any imminent deals." They would fill one of those needs when Machado along with Kevin Brown was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for catcher, Charlie O'Brien and Kevin Carmody on August 30th.

Julio's life took an abrupt turn on December 8, 1991. While home for the off-season, in his native Venezuela, Machado shot and killed Edicta Vazquez after a late-night traffic accident. He was charged for the murder of the woman in addition to the illegal possession of a handgun. The sentence carried a maximum of 30 years in prison. Julio was neither fined nor suspended by Major League Baseball. The Brewers simply transferred him to the "restricted list" on April 1, 1992.

Machado continued to pitch in the Venezuelan League from 1992-1996, as the case went through the courts, often to cries of "assassin" from opposing fans. In 1996, he was finally sentenced to 12 years in prison. Julio served almost four years before being released early for good behavior in late December 2000. While in prison he organized a baseball league among the inmates. Upon release he returned to pitching for Zulia of the Venezuelan League.

I created Julio Machado's card in the set from an autographed index card that I purchased from Bob Dowen on January 6, 2010.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

#21) ROD KANEHL

Rod Kanehl was drafted from the New York Yankees by the newly formed New York Mets on November 27, 1961 in the minor league draft. He made his major league debut with the Mets on April 15, 1962 becoming a member of the Original Mets. Casey Stengel had urged the Mets to sign the man he affectionately called, "my little scavenger" out of the Yankees system. Kanehl had an uncommonly close bond with Stengel, who constantly used him when he wanted to offer instruction on the game's finer points. "I was the only one who could understand him and demonstrate what he was saying," Rod said. "Everybody was wondering, 'Who the beep is this Kanehl guy, and where did he come from?" Kanehl was the only former Mets player that attended his funeral when Casey Stengel died in 1975.

Kanehl's energetic play earned him the nickname, "Hot Rod" among his teammates. A true fan favorite who finished his short career during the first year of Shea Stadium. Rod was aptly described as, "valued not for his ability but for his determination despite of it." The fact is that Kanehl was the first man in Mets' history to hit a grand slam and also scored the winning run in their first ever home victory. So when the 1964 season ended and Kanehl simply received a letter offering a minor league contract he was understandably upset. "I know the game from underneath. I know what goes on in the mind of a mediocre ballplayer. I know what it's like to be a bad hitter. I know what it's like to have to battle every time you go up to the plate." Rod would tell Sports Illustrated magazine in 1966. "I think that the Mets were stupid for not keeping me. And you know what hurt the most? They gave away my uniform number even before spring training started. They couldn't wait." Rod never returned a response to the team's letter and his time with the Mets was ended.

After his major league baseball career Kanehl further built his construction business in Springfield, Missouri. A trade in which he had worked during the off-seasons while playing professional ball. Rod also continued to play the game he loved for an idependent team called the Dreamliners out of Wichita, Kansas. (The club also featured former New York Met, Charlie Neal.) Later he would work for the Ollis Insurance Company, and become a caddy with the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles and the Quarry Golf Club in Palm Dessert, California before retiring. With fewer than five years major league service he was never eligible for a baseball pension.

Rod suffered a great loss when the youngest of his four children, Tom Kanehl, died from AIDS in 1991. He was present throughout the long and sad process of his illness.

In 1996, during an interview reflecting on his time with the Mets, Kanehl would tell the New York Daily News, "I was kind of the toast of the town there for a little while. It was a great experience."

Rod Kanehl was stricken with a heart attack and passed away on December 14, 2004 in Palm Springs, California at the age of 70.

I created Rod Kanehl's card from an autographed index card given to me by my friend Wally on February 7, 2010.

PS: Please read the entire Sports Illustrated article (Leonard Shecter-August 8, 1966) at this link. It is one of the better things I have read in quite some time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

#155) WILLIE MAYS

The greatest baseball player of all-time returned to New York when Willie Mays was traded by the San Francisco Giants to the Mets in exchange for Charlie Williams and $50,000 on May 11, 1972. The "Say Hey Kid" arrived to much fanfare, but did not disappoint. On May 14th, at Shea Stadium he would play his first game as a Met. In a magical moment, the 41 year-old slugged a tie-breaking home run in the fifth inning off pitcher Don Carrithers. The drive would prove to be the game winner as the Amazins' triumphed over the San Francisco Giants by a score of 5-4.

The veteran was brought in to be an option from the bench that season, but ended up playing in 69 games. A rib-cage injury to center fielder Tommie Agee forced Willie into the unexpected starting role. Mays had lost some of his youthful speed, but still impressed new teammate Tom Seaver. "One thing that surprised me when Willie joined the Mets was how well thought-out his defensive play was. You'd think, here was a guy that ran so fast and got such a jump on the ball that playing center field was easy for him. It might have been, but he thought about it too. He'd come up to me with a list before a game I was pitching and ask me how I was going to pitch each batter. I'd tell him in detail and he'd decide just what he'd do with each player in each circumstance. He'd put the list in his back pocket, and if I looked around during the game, there he was, just like he said he would be."

Willie entered spring training the next year questioning if he was capable of another season. He brought an old friend, Herman Franks to Florida with him to observe and offer judgement. Despite a slow start in the grapefruit league it was decided that Mays would indeed try one more season. Willie and the entire Mets team struggled in the first half of the 1973 season. New York would still find themselves in last place of the Eastern Division on August 30th. Willie had experienced knee problems that required fluid to be drained and was then out of the lineup due to cracked ribs. Things did indeed look bleak. Miraculously the Mets finished strong and mounted a surprising 21-8 run to clinch the division title. The baseball legend publicly verified his decision when the team announced his retirement on September 20, 1973. Five days later Shea Stadium hosted, "Willie Mays Day". It was there that Willie would explain that if the club did indeed make the post season he would figure a way to play. "Anybody who has seen my play," Mays said, "knows that I loved what I was doing. I didn't play for me. Americans deserve a 100% ballplayer on the field. The ball club is moving now. Somebody else is doing it, and I'm not going to interfere with who's doing it."

The Mets would defeat the Cincinnati Reds and reach the World Series in 1973. Willie had made a brief appearance in the victory over the heavily favored "Big Red Machine". He would collect a hit in the deciding Game Five. However, it was more difficult facing the Oakland A's. The man who had once simply stated, "I don't make history. I catch fly balls." was seen stumbling in the outfield he had once ruled. Mays' did manage to make his last hit a game-winner, but ultimately New York would fall to Oakland in seven games. A great career was over. Willie put it into words best when he said, "Baseball and me, we had what you would call a love affair."

Willie was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. After his playing career he would remain with the Mets for a time before becoming a public relations executive for Bally's Resorts and Colgate-Palmolive. In 1986, he returned to the San Francisco Giants organization where he serves as special assistant to the president of the club. The Giants made this a lifetime appointment in 1993.

I created Willie Mays' card in the set from an autographed index card that was a gift from my good friend Jessie on January 26, 2010.

Monday, February 8, 2010

#553) TONY PHILLIPS

Tony Phillips was traded by the Toronto Blue Jays to the New York Mets in exchange for Leo Estrella on July 31, 1998. It seems that he was destined to wear the Mets' blue and orange that year. The team had been in contract talks with the free agent prior to the start of the season. A discussion that ended when an agreement over compensation could not be reached. Complicating things was the fact that the 15-year veteran had been arrested for cocaine possession while a member of the Anaheim Angels on August 10, 1997. Tony pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was now beginning to turn his life around. The Mets wanted to ensure their investment with several guarantees he was indeed doing just that. "If he (Mets general manager, Steve Phillips) wanted me to be a Met, I could have been a Met." Tony would say at the time, "That's the bottom line. We are not talking about millions and millions of dollars here."

Tony would not get a contract offer until he joined the Blue Jays on July 1, 1998. "He's lived up to every aspect of his after-care program." Steve Phillips would report. So after 12 days playing for Toronto he was finally heading to New York to end the season. "I made a mistake." the fiery infielder told the New York Press, "But I still have my dignity." Tony appeared in 52 games to finish the year with a .223 batting average. Phillips left as a free agent to the Oakland A's after he felt the Mets were unwilling to offer an appropriate contract for 1999.

Tony Phillips signed his card in the set for my friend Tony at the Molina Jewelers Celebrity Baseball Game in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 31, 2010.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

#493) LANCE JOHNSON

Lance Johnson became a member of the New York Mets when he signed as a free agent on December 14, 1995. The high energy center fielder became available when the Chicago White Sox deemed him too expensive during a payroll reduction. "I think that the Mets made a great decision." Lance said the day of his signing, "I think the people in New York are going to love me. I play hard old-time baseball. I'm a blue collar player. And I've got a great personality. I'm going to help build a winner here." The 1996 season did not prove to be a winning one for the Mets team, but was an astounding one for the man known as "One Dog". He seemingly did everything from the lead-off spot in the batting order. Johnson lead the National League in hits (227), triples (21), and at-bats (682). He added to that 50 stolen bases, and a .333 batting average that was fourth best in the National League. His 117 runs scored, 327 total bases, hits, triples, and at-bats all established New York Mets single season team records. Lance was quite deservedly selected to the 1996 National League All-Star team. "He has certainly exceeded our expectations." assistant general manager, Steve Phillips was quoted, "...he has thrived in New York."

The second year of Johnson's career with the Mets began differently. He was hampered by shin splints that forced him to play on sore legs throughout spring training and the month of April. Lance was eventually placed on the disabled list May 3, 1997. "The most important thing to the team is whether I am here for the last three months." Johnson responded to inquires about the date of his return. He would come back to the lineup on June 16th, and post a batting average of .301. At the same time the Mets began to see the real possibility of winning a Wild Card entry into the post-season. So in an effort to address a dire deficiency with the bullpen the Mets made a trade. Now general manager, Steve Phillips sent Johnson along with Mark Clark and Manny Alexander to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Turk Wendell, Mel Rojas, and Brian McRae on August 8, 1997. The move was not popular with Lance or his teammates. "Lance meant a lot to this team." Bernard Gilkey said at the time, "People didn't really see how much. Seeing him traded makes it hard." Johnson's personal disappointment was obvious when he was quoted, "I came in with class. I left with class. You just go away and let people live with their mistakes." The Mets would finish in third place of the National League Eastern Division and once again miss the playoffs.

Lance owned One Dog Records, a label that recorded rap artists, during his playing career. In the past Johnson often returned to the University of Alabama to work out with his alma mater's baseball program. While there he tutored fellow major leaguer, Juan Pierre. "He always preached being a lead-off hitter, not a lead-off man." Pierre said, "You are not up there just trying to walk, but you should try to do damage." Today Lance is focusing on his family. Ironically, Johnson (the man of the three base hits) and his wife welcomed triplets in 2005.

Lance Johnson beautifully signed his card from the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on February 17, 2009.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

#58) ROB GARDNER

Rob Gardner came to the New York Mets when he was selected from the Minnesota Twins in the 1963 first-year draft. The 20-year old left-hander would make his major league debut as a Met 0n September 1, 1965. A late season roster call-up who got the start, but only lasted three innings at Shea Stadium that day. His start at the end of that year on October 2nd would be a different story. A four hour and twenty nine minute one. Gardner would take the ball for the second game of a double-header facing the Philadelphia Phillies. The rookie tossed 15 innings of shut-out ball, allowing just seven base runners along the way. Rob wound up with a no-decision as the game was called (due to a New York City curfew) after eighteen scoreless frames. It was made up as part of a second double-header the following day.

Rob pitched for the Mets the entire 1966 season, but was starting the next year back in the minors when he was traded by New York with Johnny Stephenson to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Bob Hendley on June 12, 1967.

Rob Gardner signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on February 5, 2010.

Friday, February 5, 2010

#484) BILL PULSIPHER

Bill Pulsipher was selected by the New York Mets in the second round of the free agent draft on June 3, 1991. It was his first step in fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a major league baseball player. "It's all I ever wanted to be," Pulsipher said, "I love to watch it and talk about it." Bill was part of the trio of superb pitching prospects (Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen, and Paul Wilson) that were being billed by the Mets as "Generation K". It appeared that the young hurlers would turn around the fortunes of the franchise. "Pulse" was an exciting free spirit that brought his passion to the game. "I have always had the image of being the big-mouth, the hot shot," he explained, " That's the way I come across. I look a certain way. I wear baggy clothes and stuff, but that doesn't have anything to do with what I do on the baseball field. I'll work as hard as anybody." Pulispher made his major league debut on June 17, 1995 at Shea Stadium. The young left-hander had been the first of the three to reach New York. His rookie season finished with a 5-7 record and 3.98 ERA. Actually that season was cut three weeks short in September when the prized prospect was diagnosed with a ligament strain in his valuable left elbow. It was a foreshadow of things to come. Pulsipher would receive dreadful news at the beginning of the 1996 season. Before opening day an MRI determined that he had torn the ligament and would need season-ending surgery. "It's the worst thing that has ever happened to me," he would say at the time, "But, I am going to be the same guy that I was."

A long rehabilitation followed the elbow surgery. In April of 1997 he was finally ready to take the mound and begin the process of returning to New York. Bill suffered another problem while with the Mets' Triple-A Norfolk Tides. The once confident pitcher was overcome with clinical anxiety that finally was treated with medication. "The Bill Pulsipher everyone knew, I knew, was gone forever." he would share in a 2005 interview, "It's taken me all of the eight years since to figure that out. I've spent all that time learning the hard way that I am one of the thousands, probably millions, of Americans who live with clinical depression and/or anxiety. I've learned that using a prescription such as Prozac or Paxil is not a sign of weakness, but of self-understanding and strength."

Pulsipher would make it back to the New York Mets for the start of the 1998 season. It was not a good one for the once promising pitcher. He was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Mike Kinkade on July 31, 1998. In a strange turn of events the Mets found themselves in need of a left-handed pitcher coming into the 2000 season. Bill was brought back to the Mets when the Brewers returned him in a trade to New York for Luis Lopez on January 21, 2000. It would be a short stay that ended on June 2nd that same year when he was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Lenny Harris. Bill left baseball after being released by the Columbus Clippers in 2002. He returned to his home in Port St. Lucie, Florida and for a short time was being paid eight dollars an hour as a groundskeeper for the St. Lucie Mets.

Bill was determined to return to pitching and in truth had never left it. As of 2009, in the 12 seasons that have passed since his major league debut, Pulsipher has played for at least 15 minor-league teams in nine leagues at seven levels. He has played in five different countries. Bill explained, "The big thing that has brought me back quite a few times is just letting my kids at least know what their father did and who their father was for such a large period of his life."

In a July 2004 interview Bill was asked if he still followed the Mets. "Yeah, I grew up a Mets fan. That's my baseball team regardless of who I am playing for." Pulsipher stated, "When I am done playing baseball, I will be a Mets fan again."

Bill Pulsipher signed his card in the set for my friend Noel when the Lobos de Arecibo faced the Indios de Mayaguez in a Puerto Rican Winter League game on November 18, 2009.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

#431) MIKE MADDUX

Mike Maddux was traded to the New York Mets from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Roger Mason and Mike Frietas on December 17, 1992. He is the older brother of four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux. Mike pitched two seasons in New York enjoying much better success the first of those. In 1993 the right-hander finished with five saves and a 3.60 ERA. The next season that ballooned to a 5.11 ERA. So after the 1994 season Maddux was granted free agency and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 10, 1995.

While Mike was with the Houston Astros their general manager, Gerry Hinsicker convinced Maddux to retire as a player and explore coaching. He began his coaching career within the same week in July 2000. "Back when we were both with the Mets in the 1990s, it was pretty obvious this is what he wanted to do." Hunsicker said, "And it was pretty obvious he had a knack for it." After two successful minor league seasons Maddux became the pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers, and then the Texas Rangers.

Mike Maddux signed his card in the set for my friend Tom during the Rangers Fan Fest in Arlington, Texas on January 30, 2010.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

#789) RAMON MARTINEZ

Ramon Martinez signed as a free agent on August 2, 2008. He was placed in Triple-A New Orleans until the roster expansion occurred to close the season. Ramon made his Mets' debut on September 7, 2008. It came as a pinch-hitting performance in a Mets loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium. Just one of the critical losses that would allow the Phillies to eclipse the Mets and claim the National League Eastern Division title. Martinez's inspired play gave Mets' manager, Jerry Manuel reason to insert Ramon into the lineup. "Why? I just like the way he performed," Manuel said, "You reward guys who come in and give you good at-bats, starting double plays, those types of things." Actually the veteran infielder played so well that he received a majority of the starts at second base to finish the 2008 campaign. Moving ahead of the injured Damion Easley and slumping Luis Castillo on the depth chart. Ramon even drew the starting assignment at second base for the final game in Shea Stadium history. The seventh game appearance for him during his first season in New York.

Ramon Martinez signed his card in the set for my friend Noel when the Leones de Ponce faced the Indios de Mayaguez in a Puerto Rican Winter League game on December 17, 2009.