Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Al Schmelz joined the New York Mets organization when he signed as an amateur free agent prior to the 1966 season. The right-hander had been a teammate of Rick Monday, Sal Bando amd Duffy Dyer while attending Arizona State University. (Al was also a member of the ASU basketball team.) Schmelz pitched most of his first season of professional baseball with Class-A Auburn. Al recorded a perfect 12-0 record with a 2.23 ERA in 13 starts. He was promoted to Double-A Williamsport to finish the year.
Schmelz was a member of the Williamsport starting rotation the next summer. He made 28 starts, and recorded 8 wins with a 2.60 ERA. He also struck out 181 batters in 197 innings pitched. That performance earned him a late season call-up to New York when rosters expanded. Al made his major-league debut with the Mets on September 7, 1967 at Shea Stadium. When Schmelz entered the game in the eight-inning he became the 25th different pitcher that New York had used that season. The number established a new National League record which had been previously held by Cincinnati in 1912, and equalled by Philadelphia in 1946.
He would make a second appearance for the Mets on September 25th. This time throwing a scoreless ninth-inning of the 4-2 loss to the Houston Astros at Shea. Bringing him to a total of three innings, two strikeouts, and a 3.00 ERA in his two games with New York.
The 1968 season saw the 24-year-old pitcher back in Double-A baseball. Schmelz left the Mets organization in the middle the season for the Oakland Athletics farm system. Only to return months later and finish the year in Triple-A Jacksonville. Arm troubles forced Al to retire following the 1969 campaign.
Returning to Arizona, Schmelz found a successful career in home construction following his time in baseball. He reached one million dollars of sales for Cavalier Homes in October of 1972. Al often appears with Arizona Major League Baseball Alumni at various youth clinics and appearances in the Scottsdale area.
Al Schmelz signed his card in the set for me through a mail-in signing by Major League Alumni Marketing on April 18, 2011.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Gary Rajsich came to the New York Mets when he was traded from the Houston Astros in exchange for John Csefalvay on April 3, 1981. He was assigned to the Triple-A Tidewater Tides during his first season with the organization. Gary smacked a total of 24 home runs and hit for a .277 batting average. Rajsich even hit three home runs in a single game twice for the Tides in 1981. A strong enough performance to earn him a invitation to major-league camp for spring training the following year.
The left-handed hitter made the opening day roster, and appeared in his first major-league game wearing a Mets uniform on April 9, 1982. He came on as a pinch-hitter and grounded out to Chicago Cubs' pitcher Lee Smith during New York's 5-0 loss at Wrigley Field. The rookie right fielder hit his first big-league home run on May 18th. Rajsich made a diving catch of a line drive in the top half of the fifth-inning, and then deposited a drive over the right-field wall at Shea Stadium in the bottom of the inning. All leading to a 7-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
In 80 games during the 1982 campaign he would manage two home runs, with 12 RBIs, and a .259 batting average. Although in contention for a outfield spot the next year, he was optioned back to Tidewater on April 11, 1983. Gary remained with the Tides until rosters expanded in September. He was recalled and served to spell Keith Hernandez at first base for 10 games to close the season.
The Mets sold Rajsich's contract to the St. Louis Cardinals on April 5, 1984. He would appear with the Cards and San Francisco Giants before heading to the Chunichi Dragons in Japan for three seasons. Gary later joined his brother, former major-league pitcher, Dave Rajsich as a member of the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball Association. That 1989 season was the subject of the book, "Forever Boys" which prominately features Rajsich and fellow former Met, Pat Zachary.
Gary became a successful baseball scout following his playing career. Joining the Boston Red Sox organization first as an amateur scout in 1990, and later as a major-league scout. He was responsible for Boston signing Jon Lester with the first pick of the 2002 draft. Rajsich moved to the Toronto Blue Jays scouting department in 2009.
Gary Rajsich signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on April 25, 2011.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Brian Lawrence joined the New York Mets when he signed a free agent contract on May 9, 2007. The right-hander had missed the previous season due to shoulder surgery and was in spring training camp attempting to make the Colorado Rockies rotation. When that did not occur the veteran had asked for his release.
Lawrence was assigned to Triple-A New Orleans where he produced a 8-2 record and 3.87 ERA in 12 starts for the Zephyrs. When Mets' pitcher, Jorge Sosa was moved to the bullpen it was Brian's opportunity to enter the New York rotation. "We signed him for this kind of situation," Mets assistant general manager John Ricco said. "He's a guy with Major League experience. He's earned this." Lawrence made his Mets debut on August 2, 2007. He was the starting pitcher during a 12-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. He went five innings to receive his first major-league win since 2005. "It felt good to put on a uniform and compete again," offered Brian after the game.
Brian's next start came on August 10th facing the Florida Marlins at Shea Stadium. After allowing only two runs in six innings of work, he appeared in line for his second win. Usually dependable Mets closer Billy Wagner ruined that when he allowed two runs in the ninth of what became a 4-3 loss.
Lawrence struggled in his next three starts, and found himself being optioned back to New Orleans following Endy Chavez's return from the disabled list on August 27th. Manager Willie Randolph stated that Brian could return when rosters expanded in September. "I didn't pitch great so that doesn't help things," Lawrence said.
Filling in for an injured Orlando Hernandez, he was given one last start on September 17th. Brian surrendered four runs to the Washington Nationals in 3-1/3 innings of work. The slumping Mets would fall by a score of 12-4, and Lawrence was designated for assignment the next day. A reeling New York club needed his roster spot for left-handed relief pitcher, Dave Williams.
Brian ended with a 1-2 record in six starts, and a 6.83 ERA. He would sign as a free agent with the Kansas City Royals on February 1, 2008.
I created Brian Lawrence's card in the set from an autographed index card given to me by my friend, Jessie on April 20, 2011.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Xavier Nady was traded to the New York Mets from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Mike Cameron on November 18, 2005. "We envision him as a young player with power potential," said Mets General Manager, Omar Minaya the day of the trade. "Hopefully he can develop and be part of a core group of guys...We see Xavier hopefully being with the Mets and developing with the Mets."
The "X-Man" is the sixth in a line of Xavier's that stretches back 150 years, to when Nady's great-great-great grandfather moved his family from eastern France to raise horses on a 660-acre patch of farmland in southeastern Iowa. "If I'm fortunate enough to someday have a son, he'll definitely be Xavier the Seventh," Nady said. "What else would he be called?"
Nady made his Mets debut on April 3, 2006. The 27-year old right fielder propelled the club to an Opening Day victory at Shea Stadium. Collecting four hits in the 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals. "It was pretty neat," he said. "I show up yesterday and there are 15,000 for a work out. I was like 'What's going on here?' I have never been part of something special like here in New York, where every inning they are chanting. You look forward to that at the end of Spring Training."
Xavier was placed on the disabled list on May 30th following emergency appendectomy surgery. Nady had complained of discomfort in his midsection after coming out of the game during a ninth-inning double switch. After a preliminary examination at Shea he was moved to New York Presbyterian Hospital and the procedure was performed at 4:30 AM the next morning.
Following a brief rehabilitation stint at Triple-A Norfolk, he returned to New York on June 19th. Xavier would hit two home runs in a contest against the Cincinnati Reds the next day. "It's nice to get back," Nady was quoted. "Being out because of your health. It's not fun on the couch, wondering when you'll get back, wondering why it happened."
Trajedy struck the National League East leading Mets when relief pitcher, Duaner Sanchez was injured in a taxi accident on July 30th. The team desperate for pitching help traded Xavier to the Pittsburgh Pirates the following day. New York received Oliver Perez and former Mets reliever, Roberto Hernandez. "He's done it. We know him, he knows New York," Minaya said. "We're fortunate to get him under the circumstances."
Nady finished with 75 games for the Mets in which he hit 14 home runs, 40 RBIs, and a .264 batting average. "Obviously trades are going to happen," Xavier said. "It's the nature of the business."
Xavier Nady signed his card in the set for me prior to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds game at Great American Ballpark on April 19, 2011.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Jackie Robinson once said, "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
Perhaps no man single-handedly assisted the great game of baseball more than Jackie Robinson. The Brooklyn Dodgers infielder famously became the first African American to play in the Major Leagues and broke baseball's "color barrier" on April 15, 1947. Jackie's courage paved the way for others to follow his success from the Negro Leagues. In celebration of his legacy, the New York Mets have had a rich tradition of honoring this true hero. Team owner, Fred Wilpon had been a Dodgers batting practice pitcher at age 16. He became a baby sitter for the Robinsons then, and remained a lifelong friend of their family.
Shea Stadium hosted it's first celebration at the 50th anniversary in 1997. With the eyes of the sporting world fixed on New York City, the announcement was made to retire Jackie's uniform number of "42" throughout all of Major League Baseball. The ceremony was attended by President Bill Clinton, Commissioner Bud Selig, and Mrs. Rachel Robinson. "By establishing April 15 as 'Jackie Robinson Day' throughout Major League Baseball, we are further ensuring that the incredible contributions and sacrifices he made—for baseball and society—will not be forgotten." Selig said that day.
Jackie's widow and partner throughout his life, Rachel Robinson was again at Shea Stadium during the 61st anniversary on Jackie Robinson Day 2008. During a pregame ceremony before the Mets played the Washington Nationals, she said, "We must create a social climate that offers new opportunity for all people." Throughout baseball more than 330 players, coaches and managers, including the entire Mets team, wore the number 42 in honor of the Hall of Famer.
Earlier in the afternoon the club had first unveiled to the public the plans for the Jackie Robinson Rotunda being built at new Citi Field. Rachel visited the construction site to an ovation from the building crew. "This rotunda is spectacular," Rachel said. "At my stage in life, you're looking for permanence, you're looking for things that shore up the future. When kids and families walk through here, I hope they're going to reflect on not just what they see Jackie Robinson accomplished, but also think about themselves and say, 'What am I doing? How am I living my life? Who am I affecting." Etched in the floor and archways are values that defined Jackie. "Courage. Excellence. Persistence. Justice. Teamwork. Commitment. Citzenship. Determination. Integrity." The Robinson's daughter, Sharon agreed, "My father did not write them down, but very much he lived these values."
The Mets were triumphant that day defeating the Nationals 6-0. Led by a solid pitching performance from Mike Pelfrey, and David Wright's home run and five RBIs.
Rachel Robinson signed this tribute card from the set for my friend Jessie, through the New York offices of the Jackie Robinson Foundation on March 10, 2011.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Jeff Duncan was selected by the New York Mets organization in the seventh round of the free agent draft on June 5, 2000. The talented outfielder was named an All-Star while a member of the Single-A Capital City Bombers in 2002. He was a member of the Double-A Binghamton Mets when recalled to New York on May 18, 2003. Wearing uniform no. 61, he made his major-league debut at Shea Stadium on May 20th. Duncan appeared as a pinch-hitter and stayed in the game as a defensive replacement in centerfield. Jeff's first big-league visit was short-lived for when Jeromy Burnitz returned from the disabled list the rookie was returned to Binghamton on May 23rd.
The first Met to ever consistently wear uniform 61 returned on July 10, 2003. (Mario Ramirez wore the number for two days in 1980.) "I'm not going to say anything about it until they change it for me," Jeff said when asked about the odd number selection. The fleet-footed Duncan fit well into the second spot in a batting order that now featured fellow rookie, José Reyes. His superb outfield play also drew praise. "We're a different defensive team with him in centerfield," stated Mets manager Art Howe.
"My favorite Shea moment was my first home run," shared Duncan. "Hit it off the Phillies' pitcher, Brandon Duckworth." The moment came during a 4-3 victory on July 12th and started a period where Jeff collected 12 hits in 11 games and raised his batting average to a scorching .400. A prolonged slump lowered that average and he was sent to Triple-A Norfolk in August. Duncan returned to finish the season in New York, and was still part of the team for the beginning of the 2004 campaign before being returned to the Norfolk Tides on May 5th. Jeff was released at the conclusion of a full year in the minor-leagues on August 10, 2005.
Following time with other teams, Jeff ended his playing career in 2008. He took a position as a volunteer assistant coach with Auburn University that same summer. It allowed the former outfielder opportunity to pursue his passion to teach the game. Duncan had served eight years as an instructor at the Diamond Sports Academy in Mokena, Illinois, from 2001-2008. Auburn Tigers Head Coach, John Pawlowski said on Duncan's arrival, "He is an up-and-coming coach that really knows his baseball and I am looking forward to him working with our team." In 2009, Duncan joined the staff of Purdue University as an Assistant Coach for their baseball program. He began working with the Boilermaker hitters, outfielders, team defense, and base running, as well as assisting with recruiting.
Jeff Duncan signed his card in the set for me following the Purdue and Butler University game at Bulldog Park in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 6, 2011. Adding the date of his first major-league home run which he hit at Shea Stadium on July 12, 2003.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
John Milner was selected in the 14th round of the 1968 free agent draft. The 19-year-old had been an all-state high school athlete in baseball, football, and basketball in Georgia. Growing up in Atlanta, John was a big fan of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and was given his nickname, "The Hammer" because of it.
Milner worked his way through the Mets farm system, and earned a late season call-up when rosters expanded in 1971. He made his major-league debut at Shea Stadium on September 15, 1971. John appeared as a pinch-hitter during New York's 6-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
The left-handed hitter proved to be the team's best slugger the next year. Milner led the Mets in home runs during his first full season, and became the first Mets' rookie to record five hits in a single game. That performance coming at Shea facing the St. Louis Cardinals on September 8, 1972. John became the regular New York left fielder and finshed third in voting for the 1972 National League Rookie of the Year Award. The honor was given to teammate, Jon Matlack.
The Hammer also led the Mets team in home runs during the 1973 and 1974 seasons. He was a big part of the club's advance to the World Series in 1973. John enjoyed his best overall year in New York with 23 home runs, 72 RBIs, and a .239 batting average. Milner also found a new position as a first baseman. He would hit .296 for the National League Champions during the seven game loss to the Oakland A's during the Fall Classic.
Milner was known for fearlessly standing over the plate when he hit. "He crowded the plate so much, he'd fall to the other side when he swung the bat." remembered Cardinals ace, Bob Gibson. In 1976, John became the first Mets player to hit three grand-slam home runs during a single season. Unfortunately hamstring problems limited his effectiveness over much of his later time in New York. The Hammer was traded along with Jon Matlack in a four-team, 11-player deal that found Milner joining the Pittsburgh Pirates on December 8, 1977.
Right after joining the Pirates, John hit a grand-slam homer to defeat the Mets in 12 innings, but professed no special satisfaction. "I had six good years in New York, so I'm not bitter," he said. "The Mets are rebuilding—that's all right."
The Hammer won a World Championship with Pittsburgh in 1979. He retired from baseball in 1982. A long-time smoker, John Milner lost his battle with lung cancer, and passed away on January 4, 2000 in Atlanta. He was only 50 years old.
I created John Milner's card in the set from an autographed index card given to me by my friend, Jessie on October 16, 2010.