Saturday, February 26, 2011
Roberto Alomar joined the New York Mets when he was traded from the Cleveland Indians along with Mike Bacsik and Danny Peoples in exchange for Alex Escobar, Jerrod Riggan, Matt Lawton, Billy Traber, and Earl Snyder on December 11, 2001. The future Hall of Famer came to the club with great expectations. "Finally I get a chance to wear this uniform," he said. "I'm excited. It's like being a little kid again."
Alomar made his Mets debut on April 1, 2002 at Shea Stadium. Robbie drove in two of the runs in the 6-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. "It was a beautiful thing here," he said. "The fans make it warm. It was a great opening day. This is an opening day I will remember for a long time. I'm excited. You can feel the excitement of the people. They know their game well. The way they talk, they know their game. It was beautiful."
The remainder of the season in New York was very challenging for Alomar. He struggled throughout the year and ended with 11 home runs, 53 RBIs, and a .266 batting average. The veteran's lowest batting average since his rookie season. In the hopes that the star would return to his past form the Mets elected to pick up their $8 million option to keep Alomar for 2003. "I've done a lot of thinking, and I know I'm ready for New York now," Roberto said. "I know what to expect now with the fans, the media, just New York in general. I'm not just going to have a good year, I'm ready to have a great year."
Mets general manager, Steve Phillips was fired following a weak start to 2003. Consecutive last-place performances for the New York club required changes. Alomar had continued his decreased performance since joining the Mets, and found himself a target of the rebuilding process. Ending with mid-season marks of 2 home runs, 22 RBIs and a low .262 batting average. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Edwin Almonte, Royce Ring and Andrew Salvo on July 1, 2003. "I wouldn't be surprised if he had a good second half," said Jim Duquette, the Mets interim general manager. "The team, maybe, I didn't really feel comfortable with the situation," said Roberto. "Sometimes, teams don't work for you. I think the Mets weren't the right team for me."
Alomar played till 2004, but was unable to return to his previous All-Star levels during that time. The Puerto Rican native was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011.
"There's a lot of speculation about people saying I never cared about playing in New York," Alomar said. "That I was dogging it in New York. I want to say to those people that I really cared when I was in New York. I really loved New York. The New York Met organization was great to me."
Roberto Alomar signed his card in the set for my good friend, Jessie at the MAB Celebrity Services Show in Secaucus, New Jersey on January 29, 2011.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Ron Hunt joined the New York Mets after they purchased his contract from the Milwaukee Braves on October 11, 1962. The scrappy infielder had been stuck in the Braves minor league system. "I was happy to be traded here," Hunt told the New York Times in April 1963. "I knew I'd be with a bunch of guys my own age. We can at least give other teams a lot of trouble in the league." Ron made the jump from Double-A Texas League to New York. "The Mets were using me as a bullpen catcher," he recalls. "During spring training, Casey Stengel told me to come to him rather than going to the press if I ever had any problems." He did just that. "Larry Burright wasn't doing too well," Hunt said. "I went up to Casey after a game in the Polo Grounds and said , 'This is Ron Hunt, number 33. I'm not a bullpen catcher. I can play second base. If you want me to go to the minors every day until you need me, I'll do it." The move paid off. "I guess Casey took a liking to me," Ron laughed. "He said, 'Do you want to play that badly, son? You're in the lineup tomorrow." Hunt would make his major league debut in a Mets uniform on April 16, 1963.
Usually the club's starting second baseman, Ron was the starting third baseman during the first game played at the new Shea Stadium. He got off to a great start hitting at a .300 batting average during the first ten games of the 1964 season. Hunt made history during the third game played in the new ballpark by hitting a home run on April 23rd. It was the first one hit by a Mets' player at their new baseball home.
Hunt would have a second "first" for the Mets in 1964. New York was rewarded for building it's new stadium when the Major League All-Star Game was played at Shea on July 7th. Ron was selected as the starting second baseman for the National League squad. This made him the first Mets player to ever start one of the mid-season classics. Hunt would earn a second All-Star selection while with the Mets in 1966.
Known for his fearless style of play on the diamond it was his ability to be hit by a pitch that gave him lasting acclaim. He would crowd the plate no matter who was on the mound. "I worked and practiced in full uniform in a mirror to make sure I was perfect," Hunt explained to Baseball Digest in 2000. "I'd stand right on top of the plate. An inside pitch had to be right on the corner, or it would hit me. The umpires never called me for getting hit on purpose." He later set the single season record by being hit 50 times during the 1971 season as a member of the Montreal Expos.
The Mets traded Ron Hunt along with Jim Hickman to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Tommy Davis and Darrell Griffith on November 29, 1966. "Ron got traded around a lot, but he always considered himself a Met," his wife, Jackie Hunt said. "That was the first team he was with, and we certainly didn't want to get traded. We were happy there. Mrs. Payson said he was the only guy other teams wanted. He was the only thing they had to trade."
He started the Ron Hunt Instructional Baseball Camp from his Missouri facility in 1986. Working to teach a style of baseball that combines basic fundamentals and the mental aspects of the game to young players.
On April 17, 2008, the New York Mets commemorated the first team to play at Shea Stadium by inviting back Ron, along with Tim Harkness, and Jack Fisher to change the sign in left-center field counting down the number of remaining games to be played there.
Ron Hunt graciously signed his card in the set for my friend, Stiles Burson at the Cardinals Winter Warmup event in St. Louis on January 15, 2010. Even adding a "Shea - 1964 All Star" inscription.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Pedro Astacio signed a free agent contract with the New York Mets on January 16, 2002. The club had long wanted to acquire the right-hander who had unfortunately suffered a slight tear in his right labrum the previous year. "We understand there's some level of risk, but the upside and reward could be significant as well," commented Mets General Manager, Steve Phillips. Astacio passed his physical and was introduced with a press conference at Shea Stadium. "My shoulder is fine, 100 percent," Pedro proclaimed that day.
The Mets announced Astacio as a member of the starting rotation from the day they signed him. Pedro seemed to not agree with that fact. He claimed to the press that he was earning a spot throughout spring training camp. Either way, the results were good as the velocity his pitches previously lacked appeared to have returned with rest. "I throw the ball like normal Pedro," said Astacio. "Whatever happened to my arm is in the past."
Astacio started the season with great success. Removing all doubt with a near no-hitter at Shea Stadium on April 27th. Fellow Mets pitcher, Shawn Estes had came close to perfection the previous day, and Astacio followed that by not allowing a Milwaukee Brewer hit until after one out in the seventh inning. "It can happen," said Pedro. "We have to keep pitching well and we'll keep winning ballgames. I don't think anybody is worried about a no-hitter. We're just trying to win." In Los Angeles the revitalized pitcher even topped that performance. "He's met the challenge every time this year," stated Mets manager Bobby Valentine following a complete-game two-hit shutout of the Dodgers on May 14th. "His breaking ball was just outstanding. He was throwing 94 in the ninth inning, so there was nobody sitting on anything, and it was really a heart breaking curveball."
Unfortunately his season began to unravel in mid-August. He struggled with a 1-7 record and 10.80 ERA during the final two months of 2002. The swoon coincided with the fall of the rest of the team as an earlier promising Mets club dropped to a 75-86 season record. Astacio posted a 12-11 record, 4.79 ERA and started 31 games.
Early in spring training of 2003 concerns began over the health of Pedro's shoulder. On March 6th he was flown back to New York from Florida for medical tests. Astacio's complaints of discomfort alarmed the Mets staff since as new manager, Art Howe explained, "He'll go out there with a broken arm and pitch." Pedro was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis. The ailment forced him to the disabled list for the first three weeks of the regular season. Upon his return it was apparent that he was not pitching at full strength. Astacio appeared in seven games and saw his ERA balloon to 7.36. Pedro was battered for seven runs and three home runs in four innings of work against the Philadelphia Phillies in his final game on May 28th. The Mets placed him on the disabled list days later. He would not return to the mound that season.
New York granted Astacio free agency on October 29, 2003. He would return to pitch for several teams before retiring in 2006.
After his playing career, he went back to his native Dominican Republic to live on his ranch in San Pedro de Marcoris. His longtime home is near that of former Mets teammate Armando Benitez.
Pedro Astacio signed his card in the set for my friend, John Guzman during his visit to the Dominican Republic on January 20, 2011.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Bobby Jones was selected by the New York Mets organization during the first round of the amateur draft on June 3, 1991. He was taken with the pick granted as compensation for losing free agent Darryl Strawberry the previous winter. Jones was a graduate of the Fresno State University baseball program. He made his major-league debut in a Mets uniform on August 14, 1993. Bobby was the starting pitcher during New York's 9-5 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia. He was credited with the win after throwing six innings and surrendering only one earned run. The right-hander was inserted into the rotation after Bret Saberhagen was given arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to end his year.
Bobby won 12 games the next year as the Mets number three starter in the rotation. Ranking second on the club to Saberhagen's 14 victories during that strike-shortened 1994 season.
The Mets rewarded Jones by naming him the Opening Day starting pitcher in 1995. An honor that he enjoyed on multiple occassions during his time in New York. "It's a good feeling," Bobby told the New York Times in 1998. "Maybe I can look back on it and say I started this many opening days."
He became regarded as the staff ace and enjoyed his best season in 1997. The only year that he would represent the Mets in the Major League All-Star Game. Jones was named the National League Pitcher of the Month after winning all five of his starts in May and posting a 1.15 ERA. Bobby finished with 15 victories and a 3.63 ERA on the season.
Injuries severely limited him in 1999, and saw the Mets electing to leave him off the post season roster when New York won the National League Wild Card entry. The next year he would rebound and contribute 11 wins to help the Mets again advance into the post season. The success coming only after he first accepted a demotion to Triple-A Norfolk to correct his poor start. "Going to the minors to pitch was an easy decision for me," Jones said in October 2000. "After not being part of the playoffs last year, I wanted to have a great year and experience the playoffs. If I was pitching like I was earlier in the year, I would not be here."
During the 2000 National League Division Series he threw one of the greatest games in franchise history. Bobby faced the San Francisco Giants in Game Four at Shea Stadium. The result was a dazzling one-hit masterpiece that saw the right-hander retire the side in order eight of the nine innings. With the 3-2 victory the Mets eliminated the Giants and earned Jones a deserved ovation from the 56,285 New Yorkers in attendance. "It's an awesome feeling," Bobby said of the roar, "knowing that the fans are behind you and pulling for you."
The victory would prove to be his final one in a Mets uniform as the New York Yankees would defeat him in his World Series start. Jones ended his long career with the Mets when he signed a free agent contract with the San Diego Padres on February 15, 2001. "The market was a late-developing market," his agent, Jeff Moorad said after the signing. "Had it not been for Bobby's desire to stay in New York, we might have pushed harder on the front end. But there was some reluctance on his part to do anything until the Mets' rotation was set."
After his retirement from baseball he has enjoyed developing his grilling skills. With a business partner he has created his own barbeque sauce named, Sloppy Jons. "Me and Turk Wendell used to eat fried turkey in the bullpen a lot during batting practice," Jones remembered with a laugh. "We didn't really have a kitchen at Shea, but when I went on to San Diego I cooked a lot." Jones honed his technique later grilling for charity events and in competitive cook-offs.
Bobby is also an avid wine collector and has started making different wines with friends. "We purchased the grapes from wineries all over Napa Valley and did the whole process ourselves in a little facility we have here." Jones shared in 2010. "When they're done and bottled we distribute them amongst our group."
The pitcher remained close to the game by becoming the pitching coach for Fresno State University in 2006, and continuing to offer pitching lessons afterward. Some of his students were part of the College World Series Champions of 2008.
Bobby Jones signed his card from the set for my friend, Brian Watson before the Fresno State Alumni Game at Beiden Field on February 12, 2011.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Dennis Springer joined the New York Mets when he signed a free agent contract on February 4, 2000. "We feel we've added to our pitching depth," General Manager Steve Phillips said after the signing. "He's versatile and proved he can throw a lot of innings." The 35 year-old veteran knuckleballer was in the running for a spot in the Mets starting rotation as the result of a strong showing during spring training camp. Earning his way onto a roster was nothing new. It had taken nine years in the minors before reaching a major-league mound. "But I don't feel because I'm a knuckleballer that I'm any less of a pitcher," Springer explained in 1997. "I'm not going to go out and compete in any triathalons or anything, But I consider myself a hard worker." Left-hander Glendon Rusch was selected to be the fifth starter to begin the season. So Dennis was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.
Springer pitched three games for the Tides before being promoted to New York on April 18, 2000. He replaced ace pitcher, Bobby J. Jones on the Mets roster. A strained calf muscle had sent Jones to the 15-day disabled list. Dennis was given the starting assignment a few days later on April 22nd. He would throw five and a third innings during the Mets 7-6 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium.
The right-hander would make his second, and final Mets appearance on April 26th. On a soggy, and miserably cold evening the Mets would fall to the Cincinnati Reds by a lopsided final score of 12-1. The remaining Shea Stadium crowd booed Dennis as he was relieved by Rich Rodriguez in the seventh inning. A depleted bullpen had forced manager Bobby Valentine to stick with Springer despite his being hammered for eight runs and 13 Cincinnati hits. "I think we had a couple of pitchers take one for the team tonight," Valentine was quoted after the game. "It was one of those games that started off on the wrong note and got worse." Reds pitcher Denny Neagle did not help by limiting the Mets offense to just two hits. "It wasn't ideal conditions, by no means, but he did it," Springer said. "It wasn't pretty, but we weren't going to win tonight with the game he threw. And they hit the ball where we weren't."
Reliever Eric Cammack was promoted to New York, and Dennis was optioned back to Norfolk on April 27th. Springer finished the year with a 5-5 record and 4.38 ERA in 25 games for the Tides. He was granted free agency at the close of the 2000 season and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 11, 2001. Dennis was a member of the Dodgers when he surrendered Barry Bonds' Major League record-setting 73rd home run on October 7, 2001.
Following his baseball career he returned home to Fresno, California and became a firefighter.
Springer has also been a regular participant at the annual Fresno State Alumni Baseball Game. Featuring his ageless knuckleball against a team of current Bulldog players.
Dennis Springer signed his card in the set for my friend, Stan during the Fresno State Alumni Game at Beiden Field on February 12, 2011.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Kevin Baez joined the New York Mets when they selected him in the seventh round of the free agent draft on June 1, 1988. The 21-year old shortstop from Brooklyn, New York started his professional career later that season with the Little Falls Mets of the Appalachian League.
The Mets starting shortstop, Kevin Elster suffered season-ending shoulder surgery and the club turned to Baez as a solution. He was promoted from Double-A Jackson on August 28, 1990. "He can play," offered Mets manager, Bud Harrelson. "The report to me on him was that he'll bleed for you." The rookie had grown up just 20 miles away and recalls his first time at Shea Stadium, "I remember standing on the top step of the Mets dugout. Looking out at the enormous park, at all the people in the stadium where I dreamed of playing as a kid. I was too excited to be nervous."
He made his big league debut on September 3rd. Entering into the game as a late inning defensive replacement at shortstop in St. Louis during the victory over the Cardinals. Kevin would appear in five games to close the season. In a small sampling of 12 at-bats he hit for a .167 batting average.
Baez was not summoned back to New York until April 24, 1992. In his second game following the recall he made a grave error. He allowed Phillies pitcher, Mitch Williams to pick him off as a pinch-runner during the ninth-inning. The move was a definite rally killer and the Mets fell 5-4 in Philadelphia. "I wasn't even too far off," Kevin said. "I guess I hesitated a slight second. I'd like to apologize to the entire club." Baez was returned to Triple-A, not to return until rosters expanded in September. He appeared in six games between the two stints over the 1992 season, and dropped to a .154 battting average.
Kevin got the opportunity to play most of the next year in New York. A situation aided by infielder Howard Johnson's fractured right thumb in July. The struggles at the plate continued for Baez throughout his 126 at-bats in 52 games. He finished with a low batting average and little RBI production. The Mets dealt Kevin along with Tom Wegmann to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for David Segui on March 27, 1994. "The Mets said they would trade me where I'd get an opportunity," he said. "They traded me to the worst place ever." Baez would not play in another major-league game.
Kevin became a baseball coach following his active career. Even serving as a member of the New York Mets staff in 2007. "I loved working for the Mets organization," Baez told the Daily News in 2010. "But I had a baby son, the job required a lot of travel and I really wanted to stay closer to my home. My wife's job had taken us from Brooklyn to Long Island and so I took a job coaching for the Long Island Ducks. I'm a Long Islander now and know how what this team means to the fans out here." Kevin was named the Ducks manager in 2011.
Since 2005, he has been part of the staff at Matt Guliano's- Play Like a Pro training facility in Hauppauge, New York.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Brent Strom was selected by the New York Mets as the third overall pick in the 1970 free agent draft. The left-hander had led the University of Southern California to two NCAA Championships (1968, 1970) before beginning his professional career. "I had no concept of who was interested. As a senior sign there was not much leverage," remembers Brent. "Only knew that they were a very strong pitching organization."
Strom made his major-league debut on July 31, 1972 at Shea Stadium. His first memory of the promotion to New York was, "Navigating up the freeway from Tidewater with my ex-wife and basset hound—not having a clue where I was." Strom thew 6-2/3 innings of the 4-2 Mets victory over the Montreal Expos, but did not get the decision. The rookie was not as effective in his next four starts. The Mets moved him to the bullpen in early September. Brent finished the season with 11 appearances, a 0-3 record and 6.82 ERA.
He was traded by the Mets to the Cleveland Indians along with Bob Rauch in exchange for Phil Hennigan on November 27, 1972.
Brent suffered an elbow injury that ended his five-year major league pitching career. He was the second person to receive UCL replacement surgery after Tommy John. Since then he has served as a major-league pitching instructor for several teams and joined the St. Louis Cardinals staff in 2007. Brent also owns and operates a well respected program at BSI Strom Baseball Institute in Tucson, Arizona.
Brent Strom signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to Strom Baseball Institute on December 9, 2008.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Brad Clontz joined the New York Mets when he was traded along with Hideo Nomo from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Dave Milicki and Greg McMichael on June 4, 1998. The right-hander made his Mets debut the very next day at Fenway Park in Boston. Brad threw a scoreless eighth-inning of relief in New York's 9-2 victory over the Red Sox. Before appearing in another game he was then optioned to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides.
"I've been bounced around so much this season that it's been really hard to find my rhythm." said Clontz in July. He appeared in 28 games from the Tides bullpen with a 2-4 record and 3,43 ERA. That earned him a promotion back to New York when rosters expanded in September. The Mets added several players to help with the late-season pennant run. Brad appeared in one more game on September 10th, but was placed on the 60-day disabled immediately after. Clontz underwent season-ending elbow surgery to clean up bone spurs and bone chips. "I do not feel I was misled by the Dodgers," General Manager, Steve Phillips replied when asked about the pitcher's health at the time of the trade in June.
Brad left the Mets when he signed a free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox on December 14, 1998.
His greatest Shea Stadium moment came while in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. On the final game of the 1999 season the Mets found themselves a victory away from securing the National League Wild Card entry into the postseason. With the score tied at 1-1 in the ninth inning the Pirates brought in Clontz to face Mike Piazza with the bases loaded. Brad uncorked a wild pitch that scored Melvin Mora from third base and gave New York the win. "I'm trying to get a strikeout or double play." said Clontz. "On the first pitch, I'm not going to give him anything down the middle." It was obvious that his short stint with the Mets was remembered. "I wanted to beat them bad, just to say hey, I got you guys," Brad said. "But they've had a great year and they're a good team."
On October 9, 2009, Patrick County High School recognized him with "Brad Clontz Day" in honor of his achievements in the major-leagues. His alma mater retired the #1 jersey worn during the athlete's days at the school. "It's very touching that people would actually care enough to go through the trouble to put together the plaques and the honors," said Clontz.
Brad Clontz signed his card in the set for my friend Tom at the Atlanta Braves Fantasy Camp in Orlando, Florida on January 29, 2011.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Pete Schourek was selected by the New York Mets in the second round of the free agent draft on June 2, 1987. The left-hander was recalled all the way from Double-A Williamsport to make his major-league debut on April 9, 1991. He pitched a scoreless inning and a third in the 2-1 victory over the Phillies at Shea Stadium. "My first time pitching I just remember trying to be so focused on throwing strikes and what I needed to do in order to not be intimidated and nervous," recalls Schourek.
Moved to the starting rotation, Pete recorded his first major-league win on September 10th. A complete-game 9-0 shutout of the Montreal Expos at Shea for a struggling Mets team. The rookie threw his one-hitter in front of a small New York crowd of 9,882 fans. "I hope that this last month I can lock down a job," said Schourek following the contest. "When the opportunity is right here in front of you and you can't get a good outing, it's really frustrating." Catcher Todd Hundley offered, "We've come up through the system together. The guy really has good stuff."
The Mets placed Pete into the staring rotation for 1992. He made 21 starts, but was the continued victim of little run support in many of them. Shourek's 6-8 record was not representative of his 3.64 ERA. "Nolan Ryan hasn't had much run support his whole career, but I haven't heard him complain too much over the last 25 years." Pete told reporters. "I take losing hard, but I take no escapes from responsibility."
Shourek found the next year even more challenging when Dallas Green was brought onboard as a mid-season replacement to Mets manager, Jeff Torborg. As Pete struggled on the mound it seemed Green was anxious to share his displeasure in the New York newspapers. "I think it was more mental and a little physical," said Schourek. "I went back and forth and then Dallas came in and we had our little escapades, or whatever, and I got all bad." The result was a 5-12 record and 5.96 ERA for a Mets team that finished with 103 total losses.
The Mets attempted to option Pete to the minors at the start of the next season. He was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds on April 7, 1994. "I learned a lot of lessons last year, and one was that stuff's going to happen no matter what, so there is no sense beating myself over the head about it," Schourek said following the announcement. "I think it will be nice to start all over. I've always wanted to be with the same team my whole career, but that just doesn't happen very much anymore." Pete lived up to his promise while a member of the Reds. In 1995, he finished second to Greg Maddux in the National League Cy Young Award voting after winning 18 games with a 3.22 ERA.
Following his 10-year major-league career he remained involved in baseball as a pitching instructor for the Virginia Baseball Club, Inc. He has participated in many baseball and basketball leagues in the Virginia area. "I don't have the greatest stuff anymore, but I still have pretty decent stuff," explained Pete. "I usually get everyone's best game."
His father, Joe Schourek spent 13 years on the faculty and as the baseball coach at Gonzaga College High School. The longtime coach retired in 2008 after a total of 33 years instructing players.
Pete Schourek signed his card in the set for famous Mets fan, Jim Fertitta during the Mets Fantasy Camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida on January 15, 2011.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
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.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Lenny Harris was traded to the New York Mets from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for John Hudek on July 3, 1998. The Mets best pinch-hitter, Matt Franco had broken his toe and was forced to the disabled list. Lenny came as an established left-handed bat off the bench. "He is one of those veteran players you like to add to your club down the stretch," General Manager Steve Phillips said. "This gives Bobby some options. He's a more experienced outfielder than some of the guys we have been forced to run out there. And he improves our bench, certainly."
Harris proved his versatility by appearing in the outfield, first base, second base and even ten games at shortstop to close the season with the Mets. Surprisingly the veteran hitter only managed a .232 batting average during 75 games that year. Lenny left New York when he signed a free agent contract with the Colorado Rockies on November 9, 1998.
He was given a second chance with the Mets when they acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Bill Pulsipher on June 2, 2000. "I am always excited to go back to New York," Lenny said by phone following the trade announcement. "It's a place that motivates me." Harris joined a club that would capture the National League Wild Card entry into the post season. He was a contributor to that success with a .304 batting average in 76 games. His three triples and eight stolen bases were both tied for the team lead that season.
Lenny would not get a hit in the postseason, but made headlines with his reaction during the disgraceful incident of World Series Game 2. Earlier in the season, Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens had intentionally beaned Mets star Mike Piazza during an interleague series. He struck the slugger in the head with a high fastball. "It seemed to me like if Clemens was concerned, he should of walked up to Mike and asked him if he was alright,"Lenny Harris said. "He just stood there. That was bad." The pair faced off for the first time following that in the first inning of the World Series contest at Yankee Stadium. This time Clemens threw inside, but Piazza was able to break his bat in defense. When the broken barrel flew towards the mound a deliberate Clemens picked it up. As Piazza ran towards first base the pitcher threw the barrel at him. An embarassed Roger immediately shouted "I thought it was the ball." Both dugouts emptied and Lenny Harris had to be contained as he charged towards Clemens. Harris said he spent the rest of that night's game "trying to hit a ball off his forehead." The Mets would lose the series to the Yankees, and Roger Clemens still contends that he can not tell the difference between a baseball and a shard of wood.
During the 2001 season Lenny Harris found himself chasing a record he never envisioned. "This has been a strange season, to be honest with you," he said in July. "Everywhere I go, people mention me breaking the record, but it's gotten so bad that people don't realize that we were the National League champions last year." During the final game of the season, on October 6th at Shea Stadium, Lenny came to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the sixth-inning. Harris delivered a single that was his 151st career pinch-hit and established him as the all-time major-league leader. "I've been the goat plenty of nights," said the 14-year veteran. "But tonight, I feel like a hero." Mike Piazza led the charge of Mets to congratulate him. "A lot of milestones are being achieved this year," Piazza said, "but this is definitely one of the most significant." The Hall of Fame asked the Mets for the baseball, though Lenny considered keeping it. "I don't think I can catch a cab all the way up to Cooperstown to see it," he said.
The Mets traded Lenny along with Alex Ochoa and Glendon Rusch to the Milwaukee Brewers for Jeromy Burnitz, Jeff D'Amico, Lou Collier, and Mark Sweeney on January 21, 2002.
Lenny has enjoyed a career as a hitting instructor after his retirement from the game. First with the Washington Nationals and then the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most recently he was named the hitting coach for the minor-league Great Lake Loons team in 2011.