Friday, February 28, 2014


Jeff Gardner signed with the New York Mets as an amateur free agent on August 28, 1984. The infielder from California had been selected in that year's amateur draft by the Houston Astros, but elected not to sign at that time.

Gardner worked his way through the Mets minor league system. Impressing many coaches with his strong work ethic along the way. "You need to see him play for two weeks to appreciate him," observed Mike Cubbage, his Triple-A manager in Norfolk. "He's sure-handed, and he turns the double play as well as anyone in the major leagues. He does the little things with the bat–bunts and moves guys over–that helps the team." Jeff was in an unenviable scenario as a middle infielder with an organization full of talent at those positions. "I'm not saying there's no chance of getting to the big leagues, but as far as me being their second baseman of the future, I'm sure they don't see that," Gardner told The Los Angeles Times in 1989. "But that can change."

Jeff continued to play at the Triple-A level and work as a waiter at a San Luis Obispo restaurant during the winter. Believing that continuing to work towards a major league contract would be the best way to benefit his young family. "As long as I still have some chance to make the big leagues, I'll stay," Gardner explained. "If you don't have a chance, I think they'll let you know."

His work paid off when he was promoted to New York as rosters expanded to end the 1991 season. Jeff would make his long awaited major league debut at Shea Stadium on September 10th. Gardner was the starting shortstop during a one-hit gem tossed by fellow rookie, Pete Schourek. Jeff contributed his first big league hit and two runs scored to the 9-0 victory over the Montreal Expos. "I have quite a few memories," Jeff shared in 2014. "I recall driving to the stadium, seeing my uniform and then just walking out on that field for the first time as the most vivid snapshots."

Gardner would appear in 13 games to close the season with six hits in 37 at-bats for a .162 batting average. The Mets traded Jeff to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Steve Rosenberg on December 11, 1991. He would enjoy his best major league season with the Padres in 1993. "I wasn't ready to be in the big leagues no matter how many guys were ahead of me," Gardner offered. "Until after I left the Mets."

Jeff entered the business world after leaving professional baseball in 2005. He gained success in a variety of real estate related occupations. Once his children were through their college years, he returned to the game as a Major League advance scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014.

He signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his office on October 9, 2013.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Amado Samuel joined the New York Mets when his contract and that of Adrian "Smokey" Garrett was purchased from the Milwaukee Braves on October 15, 1963. Samuel was a pioneer with the Braves when he became the first of a string of major league shortstops to come from San Pedro de Macoris of the Dominican Republic. "I am proud of being the majors' first Dominican shortstop," he told Sports Illustrated in 1987. "I guess there are a lot of them now. You know, one reason there might be so many is the ground they play on. You've got to have very good hands to play on those fields."

Samuel made his New York Mets debut as the starting shortstop in the first game ever played at Shea Stadium. He would give the club it's only lead of the day with a two-run double in the eventual 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Amado started nine of the first 11 games, but saw his batting average at a lowly .127 by the end of May. The light-hitting infielder tried everything, including wearing glasses, to get his bat going. The Mets acquired Roy McMillan in a second transaction with the Braves on May 8, 1964. New York gave pitcher, Jay Hook and a player to be named later to Milwaukee. That player ended up being Adrian Garrett on June 17th. The addition of McMillan moved Amado to the Mets bench until an on-field injury sent Roy to the disabled list.

Amado took advantage of this second chance. He responded by hitting a torrid .303 over 23 straight starts at shortstop and third base. When McMillan returned Samuel was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo in a roster move. "I didn't play too long after the Mets 'cause I tore up my knee in Buffalo," Amado said. "Missed out on the big bucks, I guess but I'm healthy, doing fine, no complaints." He finished the 1964 season in New York, his last in the majors, with a .232 batting average, and 5 RBIs in 53 games.

He is often mistakenly thought to be related to fellow Mets player, Juan Samuel. "I don't even know him," explained Amado to clear up that confusion in an interview with SABR author, Malcolm Allen in 2006.

After retiring from baseball, Samuel continued to live in his adopted home of Louisville, Kentucky. Amado and his wife Aldetha, who he married in 1962 raised their family there. Samuel worked many years as a refrigerator repairman at the General Electric plant in Louisville. "Me, I haven't played in years," he offered in 1987. "I'll go to a game in Cincinnati once in a while—I said hello to Cesar Cedeño when he was with the Reds—but the Mets are still my team."

Amado Samuel signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on January 14, 2014.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Larry Stahl joined the New York Mets when his contract was purchased from the Kansas City Athletics on October 17, 1966. "It was a good feeling going to the National League," Stahl remembered. He would make the team as a utility player to begin the next season. Larry made his Mets debut as a pinch hitter at Shea Stadium on April 13, 1967. His first hit would not come until April 27th at Wrigley Field during a 3-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs. The left handed hitter's struggles at the plate led to his demotion to Triple-A Jacksonville in early May. He returned in June, but ended the year with a .239 batting average, one home run and 18 RBIs in his 71 games.

Stahl began the 1968 campaign back in Triple-A. A hot start there saw him raise his batting average to a robust .366. The Mets recalled him to New York in July. Once there he played in 53 games and produced a .235 batting average with three home runs and 10 RBIs.

Larry became one of the "original" 1969 San Diego Padres when he was selected by that club from the Mets as the 13th pick in the expansion draft. Stahl became an everyday player there until joining the Cincinnati Reds in 1973. He was a bench player for the "Big Red Machine" club who lost to the Mets in the National League Championship series. It would be his last year in the major leagues.

Stahl's favorite memory of Shea Stadium was the Old Timer's Game that the Yankees played there in 1975. "I got the old Yankees autographs, including Joe Dimaggio," Larry said.

Larry is best remembered for breaking up a potential perfect game by the Chicago Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas on September 2, 1972. Stahl drew a walk with two outs in the ninth inning. An out by the following batter preserved the no-hitter, but it was the first time perfection had been thwarted in that manner. Pappas argued the pitch he threw was too close to call ball four. "The pitch was outside," Umpire Bruce Froemming defended years later to The New York Times in 2010. "I didn't miss the pitch. Pappas missed the pitch. You can look at the tape."

After baseball he remained in his hometown of Belleville, Illinois where he enjoys spending time fishing and hunting.

Larry Stahl signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on January 7, 2014.

Monday, February 17, 2014


John Strohmayer came to the New York Mets when he was selected off waivers from the Montreal Expos on July 16, 1973. The right-hander had spent parts of four years in the major leagues with the Expos and was brought in to replace reliever Phil Hennigan. "We are both so happy," Mrs. Connie Strohmayer told the Montreal Gazette after the announcement. "He pitched so well against New York earlier this year and he had two good starts against them in '71. I guess they remember." John remembered one game in particular as his favorite ever at Shea Stadium, "Defeated Nolan Ryan and the Mets in a complete game 5-hitter in 1971. We won 2-1."

John made his debut with his new team that evening facing the Braves in Atlanta. He tossed a scoreless ninth inning during the Mets 8-6 loss. Strohmayer actually did not allow a run until a rough outing in St. Louis on July 26th. John would surrender six earned runs in two innings of relief including a grand slam home run to Cardinals pitching great, Bob Gibson. In total he only made seven appearances (two at Shea Stadium) before an arm surgery ended his season with the eventual 1973 National League Champions.

Strohmayer finished his injury rehabilitation and pitched with the Triple-A Tidewater Tides before earning a September call up the next year. His appearance on September 14, 1974 at Shea was his final one of his major league career. "I had arm surgery in 1973 and it never really came back," Strohmayer remembered. "I went to spring training in 1975 with the Cleveland Indians. Frank Robinson was the manager. I decided after not being able to put up with the pain that I needed to go back and begin what I started, so I embarked on a career in education."

John first became a teacher and coach at the Middle School level, and soon advanced to teaching mathematics to High School students. Strohmayer began his administrative career in 1992 when the Gateway Unified School District was formed in Northern California. He retired with 16 years of teaching and 17 more years of school administration on his resumé. "We turned 1930s and 1940s schools into really quality modern school sites," John explained. "It took a lot of money but there were a lot of real positives."

John and Connie Strohmayer enjoyed some good fortune in February of 2009. They joined 14 other Gateway employees in dividing up a $76 million California Super LOTTO Plus jackpot. "The most fantastic thing about this win is that we have really good people- all of them hard working educators- and now they get to realize their dreams," said Steve Gray, assistant principal at the Shasta Lake School.

John Strohmayer signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on September 20, 2011.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Orber Moreno was signed as a free agent by the New York Mets on March 6, 2003. His first name is a combination of his parents' names—Orlando and Libertad. The hard-throwing Venezuelan was originally signed as a 16-year-old prospect by the Kansas City Royals in 1993. A major arm and a second shoulder surgery brought the Royals to the decision of granting him his release.   The Mets pitching coach at Single-A St. Lucie, Rick Mahler had been Orber's Triple-A coach with Omaha. He encouraged his new team to grant Moreno a tryout. "Orber was a kid who came up fast," Mahler remembered. "I saw what he went through and how hard he worked to get back. It was very easy for me to recommend a guy like that."

Moreno described the scars of his surgeries in an interview with writer Lee Jenkins of The New York Times in April 2004 as Bengal stripes. "It's like I'm a tiger," Orber said.

The right-hander was recalled to New York following a strong season at Triple-A Norfolk, and made his Mets debut on September 3, 2003. Orber came in to pitch the ninth inning of a brilliant start from Steve Traschel facing the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium. Moreno would surrender two runs, but still be a part of the 9-3 victory, and grateful for a major league return. "I was excited," said Moreno. "I felt really good. A lot of things crossed through my mind, like the last time I pitched (with the Royals in 1999)."

He appeared in seven games to finish the 2003 season. The results were not as strong as with Norfolk, and resulted in a high 7.88 ERA. Still the Mets saw his promise and invited him to big league spring training camp the next year. Moreno rewarded their confidence with a strong preseason performance. Orber made the Opening Day roster and gave the Mets a fine season until a shoulder injury shut him down in late July. At that time he had posted a 3-1 record with 3.38 ERA in 33 appearances. That October another arthroscopic surgery was performed on his right shoulder and ended his time with the New York Mets. "My favorite moments were when I was done doing my job the fans always supported me!" was how Orber recalls his favorite personal memories at Shea Stadium.

Orber returned to pitch for the Venezuelan team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Between then he had endeared himself to his new hometown fans in Orlando, Florida. Moreno coached a 9-10 year-old Little League team and later developed the "Orber Moreno Baseball Clinic" there. Crowds of youngsters and parents would chnat "Or-ber! Or-ber!" while attending the WBC games. "You just never know how much you mean to them and how much they mean to you," a smiling Moreno said. "The answer is...Wow, I don't have words for it. The way they treat me is amazing."

Orber Moreno signed his card in the set from an autograph request that was sent to his home in September 26, 2009.

Friday, February 14, 2014


Jim Fregosi joined the New York Mets when he was traded from the California Angels in exchange for Francisco "Paquin" Estrada, Don Rose, Leroy Stanton and the great Nolan Ryan on December 10, 1971. A trade that would come back to haunt the Mets organization and overshadow anything that Fregosi could ever do in New York. The six-time All-Star was brought in to solve a continuing problem at third base. Ryan went on to throw seven career no-hitters and become a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"You always hate to give up on an arm like Ryan's," said Mets manager Gil Hodges to the New York Times the day of the trade. "He could put things together overnight, but he hasn't done it for us and the Angels wanted him. I would not hesitate making a trade for somebody who might help us right now, and Fregosi is such a guy."

"Being traded didn't upset me too much." Jim told writer Milton Richman. "What teed me off was that they said I was old. I'm not old. I'm only 29, and I think I can play for quite a long time yet."

Fregosi made the switch to third base in spring training until suffering a broken right thumb. To make matters worse the new Met came to Florida obviously out of condition. "It wasn't just the extra weight he was carrying," Coach Eddie Yost told Jack Lang of The Sporting News. "It was all that stuff around his middle. He couldn't move and he couldn't bend over." Jim was able to make his New York Mets debut on Opening Day, April 15, 1972 at Shea Stadium. He would hit a double in his first at-bat to contribute to the 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately the rest of the season would not be as kind to Fregosi. He would finish with a .232 batting average, 5 home runs and 32 RBIs. Far short of expectations. "I was living the good life and I loved it," Jim recalled about the 1972 season. "But I was paying for it on the field."

A committed Fregosi came to the 1973 campaign 15 pounds lighter and ready to return to his former success. The jovial infielder also had not had a drink in four months, vowing to get out of the game if he could not bounce back from the two off years. His struggles on the diamond seemed to continue none the less. Despite a brief period when he replaced an injured Bud Harrelson at shortstop in early June he duplicated the production of the previous season. The Mets sold his contract to the Texas Rangers on July 11, 1973.

Jim continued his playing career until 1978. After that he enjoyed a very successful managerial stint that included leading the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series in 1993. "I learned in my first managing job not to take myself so seriously," Fregosi offered. A well respected and enjoyed member of the Major League Baseball community serving in various functions with several teams. In 1988 the Anaheim Angels retired his uniform number 11, and elected him into the team's Hall of Fame the next year.

Jim Fregosi suffered a stroke in the Cayman Islands while on an MLB alumni cruise. He passed away surrounded by family and friends in Miami, Florida days later on February 14, 2014.

Jim signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on November 20, 2008.