Sunday, November 28, 2010
Gregg Jefferies was selected by the New York Mets organization in the first round (20th overall pick) of the free agent draft on June 3, 1985. The San Mateo Serra High School product was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in both 1986 and 1987. The first player to ever earn the honor twice. He was almost as famous for his aggressive daily workout that included swinging a bat in a swimming pool. Expectations continued to grow for the 19 year-old at an unachievable level. "Being compared to Mickey Mantle, one of the greatest players ever, when I heard the comparison, I just laughed to myself," recalls Gregg today. "The only thing Mickey and I had in common is that we were both switch-hitters and we both were male."
Jefferies made his major-league debut on September 6, 1987. He was promoted to New York when the rosters expanded to close the year. Gregg would have three hits in his six at-bats, while driving in two runs during limited time. Despite the fast start it was determined that he would return to Triple-A Tidewater for the next season.
Gregg would replace the veteran Wally Backman as the Mets starting second baseman on August 28, 1988. The move was ill-received by his teammates who did not seem to appreciate the hype surrounding Jefferies. His talent as a major-league hitter was shown with a .321 batting average in 29 games. Including a streak that earned him the National League Player of the Week honor on September 11, 1988. The Mets won the National League Eastern Division and faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs. The young infielder had earned a spot on the postseason roster. "It's living a dream," Jefferies was quoted before the series. "Five weeks ago I was in the minor league, and now this." New York would fall to the Dodgers in a hard fought Championship Series. While playing third base, Gregg made a key error fielding a bunt from Orel Hershiser that led to a five-run second inning in the deciding seventh game. The mistake seemed to overshadow his nine hits in the series.
The young hitter struggled in his first full season, and recorded a .258 batting average in 1989. Things did not get much better the next year, and soon the once promising star was under fire from the fans, press and his fellow teammates. All of which became unbearable for the young ballplayer. "I don't believe anyone can deny the fact that I have consistently taken it on the chin for the last three years," wrote Gregg in an infamous letter that he read aloud to listeners of the New York radio station, WFAN on May 24, 1991. "I can only hope that one day those teammates who have found it convenient to criticize me will realize that we are all in this together." The Mets called a players-only meeting in response that "was heated at times, but Gregg had his say and some people were able to talk to him." reported Mets pitcher, David Cone. The situation continued to deteriorate and in August there was discussion of moving Jefferies into the outfield or to trade him. "Whatever happens, happens," he was quoted. "It's still the early part of my career, and I'm not going to give up on myself yet. I'd like to stay in New York, but if I get traded, I'll play the best I can wherever I go."
Gregg was traded to the Kansas City Royals along with Kevin McReynolds and Keith Miller in exchange for Bret Saberhagen and Bill Pecota on December 6, 1991. He became a two-time Major League All-Star with the St. Louis Cardinals and retired with a .289 batting average in 14 years of professional baseball.
Looking back on his career, Jefferies says, "There was stuff I wouldn't have changed and stuff I would've. I would've loved to win the World Series. I was spoiled on the Mets in 1988, getting to the playoffs that early. I broke in early; I had some immaturities. I had a temper and I wish I had learned to tone that down. I did later. But I had a great time in New York. It gave me my name."
After his playing career he became the varsity baseball coach at Pleasanton Foothill High School with his father serving as his assistant coach. "It's fun coaching and getting that competitive edge again," Gregg said. "As a coach I'd say I'm kind of a mixture between my dad and Joe Torre." He taught his team the pool drill that brought him so much attention. "They love it."
"I was always very fiery. I had to be because I wasn't good enough to just throw the bat out there," Jefferies explained. "Did it hurt me sometimes, being an emotional player? Yeah. But people tell me now that I always played hard and that they loved the intensity. It's always like that—the longer you're retired, the better player you were."
Gregg Jefferies signed his card in the set for my friend, Adam of City-Liquidators at the MAB Show in Secaucus, New Jersey on November 13, 2010.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Joe Orsulak signed with the New York Mets as a free agent on December 18, 1992. The veteran outfielder grew up in Parsippany, New Jersey, which was about a 45-minute drive to Shea Stadium. He was a Yankees fan as a kid. "I'm happy to be with the Mets," he said. "They made an effort to sign me. The main thing was to go with a team that really wanted me." Joe made his debut with the Mets on April 5, 1993. Getting a base hit in New York's 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Shea Stadium. He left the team for 10 days in July when the family learned that his youngest son, Michael had to undergo heart surgery. The one-year old was born with a disease called Williams syndrome which will continue to cause complications for life. Battling through the adversity, Orsulak would finish his first season in New York batting .284 in 134 games.
Joe was again given grave news mid-season on July 26, 1994. After suffering from severe headaches an MRI determined that Adrianna Orsulak suffered from an inoperable brain tumor. He returned home to tend to his wife, but returned to New York shortly afterward. "She was in the hospital for a week and the hardest part for her was being away from the kids," said Orsulak. "She has the kids now, her sister is with her, she's not going through any treatments now, she's not in any pain." Joe was relieved when the Major League Baseball Players went on strike August 12th. Adrianna started radiation and he accompanied her to the hospital every day. "I needed to be there for her," he said. "The medication was brutal, as far as the side effects."
Orsulak returned to baseball with the conclusion of the strike in 1995. "She's doing so well right now, she wanted me to come and play," Joe said during spring training. "If things were different, health-wise, I wouldn't be here." The entire Mets organization remained extremely supportive of Orsulak. "Part of the reason we feel special about him is the way he is handling it," said manager Dallas Green. "He's being typical Joe. He appreciates the thoughts, but I think he just wants to approach his work like he always has and contribute where he can." On August 7, 1995 that contribution came in the way of his one home run of the year. A three-run pinch-hit roundtripper that was the 5-2 game-winner facing the Florida Marlins at Shea Stadium. In total he appeared in 108 games during 1995, with a .283 batting average while driving in 37 runs.
When asked his favorite memory of Shea Stadium, Joe replied, "One time, I hit a foul ball, and my best friend caught it in the stands!"
At the end of the year he became a free agent and signed a two-year contract with the Florida Marlins on December 5, 1995. Joe retired from baseball following the 1997 season. After years fighting the disease, Adrianna Orsulak passed away from brain cancer on February 9, 2004. "She was a great mother who cared about her kids more than anything. The doctors gave her one to two years to live, and she lived 10," Joe said at the time of her death. "Her goal was to live long enough so her sons would remember her. She was tough."
In retirement Joe has enjoyed time with his family, "kids occupy a lot of my time." He also enjoys hunting and fishing and does his own landscaping. Orsulak even cooks "like normal people do."
Joe Orsulak signed his card in the set from an autograph signing held at Wyoming Methodist Church on November 20, 2010 in Wyoming, Delaware.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
John Hudek joined the New York Mets when he was traded from the Houston Astros in exchange for Carl Everett on December 22, 1997. The former all-star closer was brought over to assist in removing Everett from the roster. Everett had become involved in a controversy when a Shea Stadium child-care worker noticed bruises on his two children. A New York Family Court judge dropped child-abuse charges against Carl and his wife, but ruled that Linda Everett had inflicted "excessive corporal punishment". The children were placed in foster care.
Almost immediately after joining the team, trade rumors surrounded Hudek. He was assigned to the New York bullpen to begin the 1998 season. John made his Mets debut pitching the final two innings of the 6-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium on April 2nd. The right-hander would throw a total of 27 innings in 28 appearances. Compling a 1-4 record, 28 strikeouts, and a 4.00 ERA.
Pinch-hitter Matt Franco broke his toe during batting practice making the Mets short a left-handed bench player. Hudek was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Lenny Harris on July 3rd. "We thought he was a catch-lightning-in-a-bottle type of guy," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. "It's been like this all the way since spring training," Hudek said of the trade. "It wasn't a total shock."
John left professional baseball in 1999. To remain around the game that he loves he operated the John Hudek All-Star Baseball Academy in Sugar Land, Texas from 2001-2008. During that same time he served as the manager and pitching coach for the Fort Bend Texans until being hired to serve as varsity coach and run the baseball program at Emery/Weiner School in 2010. A father of twin girls who the Hudeks often take to Houston Astros games. "It's hard to watch, because I want to be out there," John said. "But I take the kids, they will both go and watch them. They want to go —Sarah likes to go more than Haven."
John Hudek signed his card in the set for my friend, Wendy at the Houston Astros Alumni Golf Classic in Houston, Texas on November 16, 2010.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Garry Templeton was traded by the San Diego Padres to the New York Mets in exchange for Tim Teufel on May 31, 1991. A major clash with the veteran and the Padres manager Greg Riddoch seemed to have a great deal with Templeton's availability. "I'm happy to be going to a situation where they will let me play," Garry said. "But after 10 years, you would think you would have a chance to do more for the organization before you leave." Templeton would make his Mets debut the next day in St. Louis.
In July the Mets faced off against the San Diego club at Shea Stadium. Templeton was the center of discussion. "We've had so many guys come and go around here," Padre right fielder, Tony Gwynn said, "but seeing him in another uniform was the strangest. He was here for so many years, and then to see him in a different uniform, wearing a different number, it just wasn't right." Garry agreed. "That's the part that hurts me so bad," Templeton was quoted that day. "I wanted to stay in San Diego. I wanted to retire a Padre. I wanted to go out just like Flan (Tim Flannery) and Garv (Steve Garvey). But all it takes is one person to spoil the party."
Garry appeared in 80 games for the Mets in 1991. During which he hit two home runs, drove in 20 runs and registered a .228 batting average in 219 plate appearances. New York chose to grant him free agency on November 4, 1991.
After his playing career ended he became a coach and minor-league manager. He managed within the Anaheim Angels organization beginning in 1998. More recently he has skippered the Gary Railcats of the Northern League and several different clubs in the Golden Baseball League.
Garry Templeton signed an index card from a friend who attended a Long Beach Armada game in 2009. The autograph was converted into his card in the set.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Doug Henry joined the New York Mets when he was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Fernando Viña and Javier Gonzales on November 30, 1994. He was one of five new pitchers that was added that winter. "He's another veteran addition to our bullpen who has had success on the major league level in both set-up and closer roles," Mets General Manager Joe McIlvaine explained. The 31 year-old made his Mets debut at Coors Field throwing a scoreless inning of relief against the Colorado Rockies on April 26, 1995. Doug had a good first season in New York recording four saves with a 2.96 ERA in 51 appearances.
The right-hander struggled a bit more during the 1996 campaign. Where he increased his saves total to nine it was at the expense of an increased 4.68 ERA in 58 games. The Mets chose to release Henry on November 25, 1996. Doug was signed as a free agent by the San Francisco Giants in January.
It was while a member of the Giants that Henry's favorite memory of Shea Stadium occurred. During the 2000 National League Division Series facing the New York Mets in front of a crowd of 52,000 people. San Francisco manager, Dusty Baker had seen Doug's son catching and asked if he could assist in the bullpen during the playoffs. The occasion called for both a right-hander and left-hander to ready themselves in the bullpen. So the younger Henry prepared his father to enter he game. "I'm going to face Mike Piazza...I walk through the gate and my whole thing was that my son just warmed me up to go into a playoff game," remembers Doug. "That is my best memory in baseball."
A father of four and strong Christian who has enjoyed spending time with his wife and children after his pitching career. Doug also enjoys playing golf and hunting on his land in Wisconsin.
Henry became the pitching coach for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2002. Moving to the minor-leagues in 2006 and elevating to the Triple-A Omaha Royals coach in 2010.
Doug Henry signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on June 1, 2009.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Frank Taveras was traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the New York Mets in exchange for Tim Foli and Greg Field on April 19, 1979. The speedy veteran had broken the Pirates single season record for stolen bases with a National League leading 70 in 1977.
Taveras was involved in possibly the most odd ending to a game at Shea Stadium. The Mets were defeating the Houston Astros behind a 5-0 shutout by Pete Falcone. Astros hitter, Jeff Leonard filed out to centerfield for the last out of the game. However, prior to the pitch umpire Doug Harvey had granted "time" to Frank Taveras. Given a second chance, Leonard singled, but drew a protest from Mets' manager, Joe Torre. He argued that Leonard's at-bat did not count as the Mets did not have nine players on the field. New York first baseman, Ed Kranepool had thought the game over and headed to the clubhouse. The umpires, to Houston's dismay agreed with Torre and in his third at-bat Leonard flied out to apparently end the game once more. Not so. National League President Chub Feeney upheld the Astros protest and ordered the game resumed the following evening. With Jeff Leonard on first base, the next batter Jose Cruz grounded out to end the game a third time on August 22, 1979.
In 1979, Taveras tied the Mets single-season record for triples with nine, and established a then club record of 42 steals. Frank was named the National League Player of the Week on May 25, 1980. The light-hitting shortstop finished with one home run, 69 RBIs, and a .263 batting average during the 378 games of his three years with the Mets. New York traded Taveras to the Montreal Expos in exchange for Steve Ratzer on December 11, 1981.
Frank Taveras signed his card in the set for my friend, John Guzman during one of his trips to the Dominican Republic. Added to the collection on November 15, 2010.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Dave Eilers joined the New York Mets when they purchased his contract from the Milwaukee Braves on August 18, 1965. The right-hander made his Mets debut throwing a scoreless ninth-inning of New York's 7-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea Stadium on August 22nd. He finished the season from the bullpen and registered a 1-1 record, and 4.00 ERA for the 11 games he pitched.
Having always been used as a relief pitcher in the major-leagues it was not until reaching New York that Dave got his first big-league at-bat. The pitcher came to the plate in the top of the ninth-inning at Forbes Field on September 22, 1965. Eilers delivered a single to centerfield off Pirates pitcher, Roy Face. Unfortunately he would surrender a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning to give Pittsburgh a 7-5 victory.
Dave made 23 appearances at the beginning of the 1966 season, but struggled with a 4.67 ERA. He was optioned to Triple-A Jacksonville after June 26th. Eilers was 3-3 with a 4.38 ERA in 24 games with the Suns. The Houston Astros selected him from the Mets organization in the minor league draft on November 29, 1966.
"You just need a break," Dave said of pitchers reaching the major-leagues. "Somebody might even be having a bad year in the minors, but somebody else gets hurt and they get called up and take off from there, maybe doing better than they did in Triple-A. I think it's all a matter of getting the right breaks at the right time."
Dave Eilers signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on October 30, 2008.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Ted Martinez was signed by the New York Mets as a free agent on October 6, 1966. The Dominican Republic native was selected from the Mets minor-league system by the Houston Astros in the 1967 minor league draft. Houston decided to return him to New York before the start of that season on April 5, 1968. Martinez would make his major league debut on July 18, 1970 when the Mets faced the Dodgers in Los Angeles. He was the starting second baseman, but went hitless in the 4-3 victory. Teddy would appear in just three more games during which he appeared overmatched at the plate. So after managing just one hit in 16 at-bats he was sent back to Triple-A Tidewater to finish the season.
Martinez returned to New York the next season on July 5, 1971. Rotating between three infield positions he provided some fine offensive numbers. This time hitting for a .288 batting average in 38 games during the second half or 1971. His performance earned him a spot on the Mets major-league roster from the start of the 1972 campaign. When new third baseman, Jim Fregosi was assessing the club to Baseball Digest he said, "There's a lot of depth on this team...We can alternate Ken Boswell and Ted Martinez at second base and don't lose anything."
In an unheralded role, Martinez was a part of the success of the 1973 National League Champions. The Mets acquired Felix Millan to play second base, which meant Teddy became primarily a backup for Bud Harrelson at shortstop. During the pennant race he had the biggest game of his career. Martinez went 4-for-4, with a home run and four RBIs facing Steve Carlton and the Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium on September 3rd. The victory important as the Mets won the National League Eastern Division by a slim 1-1/2 game margin. Teddy would see very limited action in the postseason. Appearing in two World Series games as a pinch-runner.
An injury forced Harrelson to the disabled list for much of the 1974 season and Martinez appeared in 116 games. His batting average fell to a low .219. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Mike Vail and Jack Heidemann on December 11, 1974.
After his playing career Teddy served as the hititng coach for the Sinon Bulls in the Chinese Professional Baseball league, before returning home to the Dominican Republic.
I created Ted Martinez's card in the set from an autographed index card that my friend, John Guzman got for me from Ted during a trip to the Dominican Republic on September 18, 2009.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Bob Bailor was traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the New York Mets in exchange for Roy Lee Jackson on December 12, 1980. The versatile player made his first appearance for the Mets at Shea Stadium on April 29, 1981. He entered the game replacing Frank Taveras at shortstop during the lop-sided 10-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was just one of three infield positions that he would play for the club during his years in New York. Also serving time in each of the three outfield positions as well.
Although missing most of the month of April to a pulled rib cage muscle he appeared in 51 games for the Mets that first season. Hitting for a .284 average in 81 at-bats, and proving his worth from the bench. Bailor had actually began to be used as the Mets starting shortstop in May. Replacing the struggling Taveras, until the baseball strike stopped the 1981 season on June 12th. When play resumed on August 10th he returned to his valuable reserve role.
Baltimore Orioles manager, Earl Weaver had said of Bailor, "His ticket to the Major Leagues is his wheels." The Mets saw more of those in 1982 when he stole 20 bases and became more of a regular in the lineup. Always known for his tremendous effort, Bob was part of the Mets first triple play in 16 years on August 3, 1982 at Wrigley Field. The alert shortstop Bailor caught a pop fly off the bat of Chicago Cub, Larry Bowa that started the play. Bob then threw to Wally Backman who relayed to Dave Kingman for the three outs.
Bailor still holds the backcovers of two New York Post editions in his memorabilia collection. The first showcased a Mets extra-inning win in San Francisco delivered by pinch-hitter, Rusty Staub. The headline: "Rusty does it Again!" The second from the home game on September 3, 1983. Bob singled in the bottom of the 15th-inning and scored on a Brian Giles sacrifice fly. Resulting in a 4-3 victory over the San Diego Padres. "We had to have been out of players, if I hit!" jokes Bailor. The newspaper headline read: "Miracle at Shea!"
Bob was the final player named in the trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with Carlos Diaz to bring Sid Fernandez and Ross Jones to the Mets on December 8, 1983.
After his successful playing career, he became a minor-league manager in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. While with the Syracuse Sky Chiefs he was named Triple-A Manager of the Year in 1989. He became the Blue Jays first base coach, and was a part of the 1992 and 1993 World Series Champions. In retirement he enjoys hunting in Colorado and fishing in Florida.
Bailor was inducted into the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame in June of 2010. "It's a big thing for me," Bob said. "Being from Fayette County and growing up there and playing a lot of sports, this means a lot to me."
I created Bob Bailor's card in the set from an autographed index card purchased from the legendary autograph guy, Jack Smalling in January 2009.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Chuck Estrada signed with the New York Mets as a free agent on November 30, 1966. The veteran right-hander had his best season as a rookie in 1960. That year he won 18 games for the Baltimore Orioles and was named to the Major League All-Star team. In New York he was broought in to serve as an option from the bullpen. He made his Mets debut on the second game of the season, April 13, 1967. Chuck entered during the sixth-inning in relief of Tom Seaver. The then rookie Seaver was also making his Mets debut that same day. Estrada was credited with the victory in the 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium.
Chuck generated inconsistent results as a reliever and was given two starting assignments. The first was a disasterous assignment facing the Los Angeles Dodgers at Shea on May 23rd. Estrada was removed after failing to record the third out in the first-inning, but yielding four runs, by walking four batters and allowing a single hit. Following an long-relief appearance, he was given his last start in the major-leagues. Losing to the San Francisco Giants on June 4th at Candlestick Park. His control issues continued and resulted in too many walks to pitch effectively. Chuck made his final pitching appearance in the major-leagues on June 11, 1967.
Estrada pitched in the Mets' minor-league system for Triple-A Jacksonville until 1968. His last season he would post a 1-7 record and 8.07 ERA. In 1969, serving as a player/coach he went all the way down to Single-A Visalia and finished with a 9-3 record and 4.09 ERA.
Chuck found that he enjoyed teaching and reached the major-leagues once again with the Texas Rangers in 1973 as their assistant pitching coach. He accepted the position of pitching coach for the San Diego Padres in 1978 and served there until 1981. Followed by a season coaching the Cleveland Indians (1983) and six years with Triple-A Tacoma (1985-1990). His last season as a pitching coach was with the Double-A New Haven Ravens in 1995.
Estrada reflecting on his days as the Rangers pitching coach in the November 1974 issue of Baseball Digest said, "We had a very scientific system of bringing in relief pitchers. We used the first one that answered the phone."
Chuck Estrada signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on November 6, 2008.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Eddie Murray joined the New York Mets when he signed a free agent contract on November 27, 1991. The 36 year-old veteran came with Hall of Fame credentials. "The Mets have the makings of being a good ball club," said Murray upon signing. "And Al Harazin (general manager) said he wasn't done working on them." New York would sign free agent Bobby Bonilla to create a formidable pair in the middle of their batting lineup. "When he comes up, he comes through," Bonilla said of Murray. "He ain't going to do it forever. But when he does it, it's special."
On May 3, 1992, he would hit his second home run of the season for the Mets, but it was his 400th of his career. The solo shot came facing the Atlanta Braves during a 7-0 crushing at Fulton County Stadium. The milestone made him reflect on the possibility of reaching 500. Mickey Mantle had delivered the most in history as a switch-hitter with 536. "I don't know that's something to think about." said Eddie. "If I can stay healthy...A lot of people play this game and not many have 400. I probably would be more proud of passing Mickey. I don't know if I can catch him." On June 5th he drove in two runs as the Mets faced the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium. Those gave him 1,510 total and passed Mantle as the all-time RBI leader among switch-hitters.
"Steady Eddie" finished his first season in New York with 16 home runs and 93 RBIs. He led the the team with his .261 batting average, and also with 64 runs scored. New York would finish with a dissapointing 72-90 record for 1992.
During the winter Murray would undergo arthroscopic surgery on both ankles. "I still feel good about the ball club and just hope that everybody can stay together." offered Eddie. "I mean, I've never seen anything like what happened last year. For a while it seemed like every other day everybody went down and we ended up calling up a Triple-A player that wasn't necessarily burning up the Triple-A league. But this is a different year and I am not giving up on these guys."
An incident in Cincinnati on April 19, 1993 was not the best start to the new season. Eddie who had argued the first called strike to him, was ejected as he traced a line in the dirt with his bat showing just how inside he felt the second pitch was. "There are acceptable ways to object a call," said Paul Runge, the chief of the umpiring crew. "That is not one of them." A war of words in the press ensued and cast a cloud of conspiracy theories around Murray's handling by umpires.
Despite leading the Mets in RBIs again it was apparent that Eddie was not going to be a part of the team's future. His work at first base was not as strong as past seasons, and strained relationships with reporters led to a deteriorating clubhouse environment. "He's an American League ballplayer," said one member of the Mets management staff in August. "He can't be part of the club we want to go with." On September 6th, Murray was ejected following a complaint over the positioning of the second base umpire. "It certainly makes you wonder," GM Harazin said. "Eddie plays the game as a professional. He won't be particularly concious of being someone's friend. But he shouldn't be penalized for it." The next day Murray asked reporters, "Am I surprised I'm still here? Probably as surprised as you, and how surprised are you?" When the reporters said they were shocked he was still here, Murray responded, "Good answer."
The Mets ended the 1993 campaign with a dismal 59-103 record. Eddie had a fine offensive season for the club with 27 home runs and 100 RBIs. All while raising his batting average to .285. Murray would sign as a free agent with the Cleveland Indians on December 2, 1993.
"To me, it's all about 'win', " Eddie was quoted. "Something I love to do is win. No amount of money can take the place of that ring, something the younger players don't understand all the time."
Murray finished his 21-year career with 504 home runs, 1,917 RBIs, and a .287 lifetime batting average. He was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.
Eddie Murray signed his card in the set for my newest friend, Adam Novak at the MAB Show in Secaucus, New Jersey on October 26, 2010.
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.