Monday, March 26, 2012
#536) TIM SPEHR
Tim Spehr came to the New York Mets when he signed a free agent contract on January 8, 1998. An injury to the elbow of Todd Hundley created a void at catcher for the Mets. Spehr, a six-year minor league free agent saw the opportunity to earn a roster spot in spring training. "All I can ask for is what they are giving me here," Tim said in March 1998. "but nobody has any control if they go and make a trade for a guy."
Tim was known as a fine receiver, but historically had not been as strong a hitter. However, in preseason games he was swinging his bat with great results. "It's only March 7th," he explained. "and there's still a lot of spring to go. Every catcher in the game is aware of the situation here when a major catcher like Todd is out. But just because I've put a couple of good games together doesn't mean to say I'm a star hitter."
Spehr made his Mets debut as the teams catcher on March 31, 1998. He started the game and remained behind the plate for all 14 innings of the 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. It was the veteran's first career Opening Day assignment. "I don't know," Tim jokingly said afterward. "If I've ever caught 14 innings in a season." He was able to add a pair of hits in his five at-bats that afternoon. "Usually I'm coming in as a catcher on the squad, but No. 2 or No. 3," Spehr said. "Here I'm not sure how much I'm going to play, but I know I'll play a fair amount. It's a challenge, but a welcome one. It's not something I'm leary of."
The native Texan was excited for the opportunity and the chance to live in the city. "I wanted to be in New York. I love that Manhattan area. There are plenty of places to eat and go out." Spehr noted. "I'm going to enjoy being a New York Met...It's something I said a few years ago, I wanted to play for one of the New York teams. Now I'm here. But I know that this city can eat you alive. You have to be prepared to do your job each and every day you come to the ballpark."
One of the most memorable plays of his Mets career came amazingly while playing first base. During his first ever game appearance there he pulled off something that a regular at the position would be proud of. "I don't think you'll ever see it again," said Mets manager Bobby Valentine. Cincinnati Reds outfielder, Reggie Sanders blooped a hit into left center field. Both Mets middle infielders and outfielder, Bernard Gilkey rushed to retrieve the ball. Sanders saw second base uncovered and raced to stretch the hit into a double. The alert Spehr saw what was happening and won the race to second base against Sanders. Even catching the throw from the outfield and tagging the surprised Sanders for the out. "I felt like a quarterback out there," Gilkey said of his throw. "It was really classic," said Valentine. "I'll bet that's his last putout at second base from left field in his career. Just call it a hunch."
Unfortunately his time with the Mets was ended on a play at the plate on May 4th. The backstop suffered a broken bone in his left wrist as a result of a lunging tag of Arizona Diamondbacks, Kelly Stinnett in the game at Shea Stadium. Tim returned to catch the next inning. "He came out to me and told me to relax and stuff," Mets pitcher, Brian Bohanon remembered. "He never hinted he was hurt." After the game x-rays revealed the break. Spehr had only managed a .137 batting average, but had become quite valuable in handling the Mets pitching staff. "Not only have I become very comfortable with Timmy, but I've gotten very close to him as a friend and a teammate," Al Leiter said after the news. "It's upsetting to know he's going to be out awhile."
The Mets acquired future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza to become their catcher in May. Spehr's contract was sold to the Kansas City Royals when he returned from the disabled list on August 31, 1998.
Tim returned to Dallas after his playing career and embarked on a successful career in real estate. He remained involved with baseball as a coach working with teams from the Centerfield Baseball Academy in Plano, Texas.
Tim Spehr signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to him on March 25, 2012.