Thursday, February 3, 2011
#421) PAT HOWELL
Pat Howell first joined the New York Mets organization when they selected him in the 9th round of the amateur draft on June 2, 1987. He was also a fine high school football player who was being recruited by both the University of Alabama and Auburn. Howell ultimately chose baseball, and used his signing bonus to purchase the family a used car.
Pat was raised in Prichard, Alabama. A challenged city outside of Mobile. "We don't stay in that good an area," Howell recalled to the Norfolk-Virginian-Pilot in 1992. "It's kind of poor, the street's raggedy, the house was never that good." Pat would always rely upon his faith, and often missed Sunday baseball practices to attend church services. Friends were important unless they entered a lifestyle that Howell was not interested in. "I had to let them go 'cause they were doing too much stuff. Drugs and all."
The fleet-footed outfielder remained in the minor-league system until he was taken by the Minnesota Twins from the Mets in the 1990 Rule 5 Draft. Unable to retain him on their major-league roster the Twins were forced to return Pat to the Mets on April 5, 1991.
He moved up to Triple-A Tidewater to begin the 1992 season. The Mets promoted him to New York and he made his major-league debut in Houston on July 10th. Manager Jeff Torborg inserted Howell as the starting centerfielder and lead-off hitter that day. The conversion of Howard Johnson to center had not proceeded as the team hoped. Torborg elected to use a rookie in his place and move HoJo to left field. Pat would reward that decision with a base hit in his first at-bat. Then followed that up by stealing second base and scoring the first run of the Mets eventual 7-6 victory over the Astros.
Pat actually stole bases in each of his first three games, and began to exhibit the amazing catches that brought him so much acclaim in the minor-leagues. Contrary to the original plan the Mets even kept Howell in New York when injured outfielder Vince Coleman returned from the disabled list in late July. Being thrust into the major-leagues was a bit overwhelming for the young man from the south who had never even visited New York City before his promotion. When asked his impression of the big city he offered, "It's got a nice stadium."
Howell began what would become a shuttle between the Mets and Tidewater Tides in August. The first trip only lasting two days in Virginia before returning when both Bobby Bonilla and Howard Johnson were injured. Less than a week later New York traded for outfielder, Kevin Bass. Pat was then sent back to the minors, only to return when Dave Magadan's injury created a void.
Howell would appear in a total of 31 games for the Mets during the 1992 season. Making many jaw-dropping catches, but only hitting for a .187 batting average in 75 at-bats. During the final game of the season he chased a Barry Bonds fly ball into the centerfield wall of Shea Stadium. The collision tore cartilage in his right knee forcing arthroscopic surgery that October. Pat was traded to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Darren Reed on November 18, 1992.
The switch-hitting outfielder would return to the Mets organization for the 1994 campaign, but play that entirely at the Triple-A level. Howell journeyed to Mexico, Taiwan and various Independent Leagues in pursuit of a return to the major-leagues. Easily finding opportunities with those clubs due to his fine character and likeable personality. Injuries finally ended his playing career in 2005. Fellow Alabaman, Butch Hobson was his manager in 2004. "Hobson loves him like a son," wrote Tom King for the Nashua Telegraph. "Pat Howell, they say, will do good things for you on and off the field."
Howell has remained near baseball through his yearly attendance at the Thomasville Diamond Club's Winter Baseball Clinic. The event is held each January to benefit young players in Alabama.
Pat enjoys hunting game and following his sons careers in multiple sports. "Ohh, they're athletic...." said the elder Howell. "I just can't keep them interested in baseball."
Pat Howell signed his card in the set for me from the Thomasville Winter Baseball Clinic on January 21, 2010.