Sunday, May 29, 2011
The New York Mets signed a young shortstop from the Dominican Republic on August 16, 1999. Just 17-years of age he was sent to begin his professional career at Kingsport of the Appalachian League in 2000. José Reyes would go on to become one of the most exciting players in team history.
Reyes made his major-league debut with the Mets facing the Texas Rangers in Arlington on June 19, 2003. He singled in his first at-bat hitting left-handed and then doubled from the right side in his second at-bat. The team had explained to José that the promotion would only last until injured regular Rey Sanchez returned in a week. "As soon as I came here," Reyes recalled. "...the first day, I said, 'I don't want to go to the minor leagues. I'm going to do everything that I can. I want to stay here.' And I am still here."
It seemed there was little that the talented switch-hitter could not do on a baseball field. José led the National League in hits for the 2008 season. His blazing speed allowed him to produce the most triples in the league in 2005, 2006 and 2008. He also led the league in stolen bases during the 2005, 2006, and 2007 seasons. Reyes was rewarded with selections to the Major League All-Star Game in 2006, and 2007.
José became the only the ninth Met in team history to hit for the cycle when he accomplished the feat on June 21, 2006. During a loss to the Cincinnati Reds in New York he completed the task with a single to centerfield. "It was real great for me, but I wanted to win that game bad," said Reyes afterward. "It didn't go that way. Sometimes it happens."
The exuberant shortstop was paired with the talented David Wright to form a solid foundation to the Mets lineup. His aggressive play and ever present smile made Reyes a fan favorite at Shea Stadium. "You do need to take into account the baseball skill that a player possesses, but there's another element too— there's an entertainment component," explains Sandy Alderson. "What I've seen here is the connection he makes with the fans. It goes a little bit beyond his performance."
José was the host of a popular series of scoreboard messages at Shea called, "Learn Spanish with Professor Reyes." Each game would feature the infielder and a different word or phrase. This was a perfect match for the man who earned his unique chant of José-José-José (to the tune of Olé-Olé-Olé) from the Mets fans.
On September 10, 2008 he became the New York Mets all-time stolen base leader. Reyes stole two bases during the 13-10 victory over the Washington Nationals at Shea. The first gave him a total of 282 to better the existing mark set by Mookie Wilson. "I got on base three times and it's always good when I get on base," José said. "I make something happen."
José Reyes signed his card in the set for me before the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field on May 25, 2011.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Don Schulze was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the New York Mets in exchange for Ricky Nelson on May 11, 1987. He was assigned to Triple-A Tidewater until injuries of the Mets starting rotation led to his recall to New York. Schulze made his Mets' debut on July 20, 1987 at Shea Stadium. Don was the winning pitcher during the 9-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves. Throwing six and a third innings in a starting assignment. In his first at-bat for the Mets that night he drew a bases-loaded four pitch walk off of Braves pitcher, Randy O'Neal. It was history repeating itself. In Schulze's first major-league at-bat while then with the Chicago Cubs, Don walked on four pitches off the Mets' Ron Darling. "Now, I know he can't hit," said Darling. "If I'd known that then, I wouldn't have walked him."
After four more appearances, Schulze was sent back to the Tidewater Tides. His final line in New York was a 1-2 record, with a 6.23 ERA in 21.2 innings of work. He finished with a much better 11-1 record for the Triple-A club. Don signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Twins on December 7, 1987. "They had spots in the starting rotation and a need in the bullpen too," Schulze said. "I'll try to fill either void."
Don retired from pitching in 1993. A journey that even took him to Japan as a member of the Orix Blue Wave in 1990 through 1992. Schulze has used his experience as both a coach and private instructor. He became the pitching coach for the Midland Rockhounds in 2011.
Don Schulze signed his card in the set for my friend Nick Bean following the Midland Rockhounds and Corpus Christi Hooks game at Whataburger Field on May 22, 2011.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Timo Perez signed with the New York Mets as a free agent on March 17, 2000. The 25-year-old Dominican outfielder had been playing for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan for the previous four seasons. Timo was part of the Carp's Dominican Academy that was established to develop young talent and bring the best of the players to Hiroshima for minimum salaries, thus saving the money on higher-priced ex-big leaguers.
After hitting for a .357 batting average at Triple-A Norfolk he was promoted when rosters expanded at the end of the season. Timo made his major-league debut facing the Cardinals in St. Louis on September 1, 2000. Perez entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the ninth-inning for the Mets. He singled, but in his exuberance was thrown out stealing second base to end the inning. New York would win the contest 6-5. "I didn't hold him—I should have." offered Manager Bobby Valentine on the steal attempt.
The rookie outfielder became the sparkplug for the Mets during their 2000 postseason run. Following a knee injury to Derek Bell in the Game 2 of the National League Division Series, it was Timo who got the starting right-field assignment. Perez responded by hitting for a .300 batting average with 10 runs scored in nine postseason games entering the World Series.
Timo is haunted by a base running mistake in Game 1 of the Subway Series. During the sixth-inning of a scoreless contest it appeared that Mets' batter, Todd Zeile had hit a home run. Perez was on base and failed to run hard from the moment that the ball was hit. "I slowed up a little, I was confused by the fans," remembers Timo. "I saw everybody waving their hands. I had no experience about it. But I'll overcome it. It won't happen again." A terrific relay throw from Derek Jeter was then able to cut down the speedster at the plate. The Mets would fall to the Yankees by a score of 4-3, and eventually lose the World Series.
Perez was a part of the Mets outfield to begin the next year. Following a prolonged slump, the club optioned Timo back to Triple-A Norfolk on July 16th. "We want to give him the chance to get down there and get some regular at-bats," explained General Manager, Steve Phillips. In 48 games for the Tides he hit .359 before his recall to New York in September.
Timo remained a part of the major-league roster during the couple of seasons. He registered a .295 batting average for the 2002 campaign. It was on March 27, 2004 that the Mets traded him to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Matt Ginter. A slightly surprised Perez said he enjoyed his time in New York, "But that's baseball. Today, here. Tomorrow, Chicago." Timo was a part of the 2005 World Series Champions in Chicago.
Timo Perez signed his card in the set for me prior to the Toledo Mud Hens and Indianapolis Indians game at Victory Field on April 11, 2011.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Neil Allen was selected by the New York Mets organization in the 11th round of the free agent draft on June 8, 1976. The right-hander moved through the minor-league system and into the Mets' rotation. He made his major-league debut as the starting pitcher facing the Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium on April 15, 1979. Allen surrendered three earned runs in six innings of work and suffered the 6-3 loss.
Following a few more challenging starts, he found his true path to big-league success. The Mets moved Neil to the bullpen and he became the club's closer. Allen saved 22 games for New York during the 1980 season. That total placed him fourth among National League relief pitchers. Neil added 18 more saves during the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. The star reliever earned National League Player of the Week honors on both July 6, 1980 and August 23, 1981.
Allen left the New York Mets in arguably one of the greatest trades in team history. He was sent to the St. Louis Cardinals along with Rick Ownbey in exchange for Keith Hernandez on June 15, 1983. Hernandez became a leader of the 1986 World Championship team. Neil says that years later he often jokes with New York Mets officials, "You wouldn't have gotten him without me. Where's my ring?"
The trade also allowed Neil Allen another baseball distinction. He is rumored to have been the only pitcher in major-league history to technically strike himself out. The story has it that Allen was at the plate with two strikes when the game was delayed by rain. When the Cardinals and Mets completed the contest it was only after St. Louis had acquired Neil from New York. The tale continues that Neil struck out the Mets batter replacing him that day. This would have made Allen both the "official" batter and pitcher of that play. The only problem is the teams never completed a suspended game that year. As with all good myths, a rainout on April 8th at Shea Stadium helps fuel the legend. Maybe even confusing Mr. Allen himself who talked about the incident in an interview in 2001. "It's not a record I really care about having, but I got it." Neil offered.
Neil Allen became a pitching coach following his active career. First with the Toronto Blue Jays organization in 1996 before joining the New York Yankees organization in 2000. Allen served as their major-league bullpen coach during the 2005 season. Neil joined the Tampa Bay Rays organization as a minor-league pitching coach in 2007.
Neil Allen signed his card in the set for me prior to the Durham Bulls and Indianapolis Indians game at Victory Field on May 3, 2011.