Showing posts with label New York Mets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Mets. Show all posts

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Former Yankee Frank Tepedino leads off First Annual Firefighters Charitable Foundation Dinner

Part of the valor of being a firefighter is accepting the responsibility that one might perish in the course of saving others. That same unselfish spirit was on display Thursday evening at the Chateau Briand in Carle Place, New York, for the First Annual Firefighters Charitable Foundation Dinner. The foundation, which serves to assist victims of fires and disasters, brought some much needed support to a region that was greatly impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Frank Tepedino / N. Diunte
Over 200 dinner guests came together under the guidance of FFCF's president Frank Tepedino, a veteran of eight major league seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Yankees, and dinner chair Tom Sabellico, who has worked closely with Tepedino in past fundraising efforts.

Frank Tepedino and Tito Landrum / N. Diunte
Tepedino traded in his batting gloves for those of a firefighter after finishing his time in the major leagues, and was one of the first responders to the 9/11 attacks in New York City. Tepedino was not alone in his crusade on Thursday, as he was joined by many of his baseball brethren to champion the cause, including board member Fred Cambria, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Bud Harrelson, Ed Kranepool, Tito Landrum, Billy Sample, Ron Swoboda, Jose Valdivielso, Jon Warden, as well as the one of the evening’s honorees, Frank Catalanotto.

Catalanotto, the 14-year major league veteran and graduate of Smithtown East, was given the FFCF’s Humanitarian Award for his foundation’s efforts in raising funds and awareness for the Vascular Birthmark Foundation. The Frank Catalanotto Foundation has emerged as the leading fundraiser for the VBF, and has traveled internationally to help those afflicted with the condition.

Also honored was Leonard Genova of the National Football Foundation, who was presented with an award to commemorate the establishment a scholarship series in his name. Genova’s foundation serves youth football players in Nassau and Suffolk counties to help improve their athletic and academic achievements through the sport. Alana Petrocelli, executive director of the Nassau County Firefighters Museum, was given the President's Award for her efforts to educate and inform the public about fire safety and prevention.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Joe Ginsberg, original New York Met dies at 86

Joe Ginsberg - Baseball-Almanac.com

Myron “Joe” Ginsberg, a veteran catcher of 13 major league seasons and an original 1962 New York Met, passed away Friday November 2nd, at Sunrise Retirement Living in West Bloomfield, Mich. He was 86.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Joe Hicks' mighty swing toppled the Giants at the Polo Grounds in 1963

Joe Hicks never fancied himself as a home run hitter, yet for one magical day on July 17, 1963 as a member of the New York Mets, Hicks supplied the necessary power to slay the defending National League champs, the San Francisco Giants. The 80-year-old Hicks, speaking from his home in Virginia, vividly recalled a shining moment from his career that put the bat in his hands with a chance to win the game against one of the elite teams in baseball.

Joe Hicks

“We were playing the Giants in the Polo Grounds on a Wednesday afternoon," he said. "The Giants were in town and they were the defending National League champs. They had Gaylord Perry pitching against us. Gaylord was in the early stages of his career and we knocked him around pretty good. … We jump off to a 5-3 lead and they started to chip back, and at the end of the ninth [inning], it was 7-7. We’re batting in the bottom of the 11th inning and they bring on Don Larsen to pitch. Joe Christopher, he was the leadoff hitter, and he led off with a single.”

Hicks was waiting on deck. Everyone in the house including Hicks knew what was coming next, a sacrifice bunt.

“I knew I was going to be sacrificing," he said. "I look down at third [base] and sure enough Solly Hemus gives me the bunt sign.”

Hicks, an expert bunter, placed the ball in the perfect location, but the laws of physics intervened.

“I lay down a nice bunt and would have had a hit, but at the last minute it kicked foul," he said. "I’m walking back [to the plate] and I’m so glad it went foul because as I’m going back to the batter’s box, I’m looking back at Solly Hemus, and Old Casey had taken the bunt off."

Stengel knew as Larsen’s former manager, what his next pitch would be after the bunt rolled foul. He relayed that information to Hicks, which proved pivotal moments later.

“He had managed Larsen in New York and knew that if a guy sacrificed, on the next pitch he would throw him that high hard fastball," he said. "I was looking for that pitch and I pull it down the right-field line to hit a home run into the upper deck to win the game. We didn’t call them walk-offs back then, just a game-winning home run. That day against Larsen was my best in the major leagues.”

His heroics earned him a spot on Kiner’s Korner after the game along with Choo Choo Coleman. Hicks was an eyewitness to Coleman’s brief, but classic interview that is still told fondly today.

“At the end of the game, he sent for me and Choo Choo Coleman to be on his show," he said. "I’ll never forget the interview; we had to climb up in the TV booth. We get up there, and Ralph Kiner said, ‘Hey Choo Choo, I saw your wife at the game today. What’s her name?’ He said (in a southern drawl), ‘Mrs. Coleman.’ Choo Choo didn’t know anyone’s name. He would just say, ‘Hey Bub!’”

Hicks started in the majors with the Chicago White Sox in 1959 and came to the Mets after the 1962 season when he was purchased from the Washington Senators. He debuted with the Mets halfway through the 1963 season after tearing up Triple-A Buffalo, batting .320 with 14 home runs in only 81 games. The Mets hoped that he would be a shot in the arm to their struggling offense, and for the first eight games, including the aforementioned one against the Giants, he was. He batted .419 with three home runs and nine RBIs during that span.

“I enjoyed my time with the Mets," he said. "I was with Buffalo and they brought me up for the last half of the season in 1963. I was playing regularly in Buffalo, but they [the Mets] would play me only every time a right-handed pitcher pitched. I had a great start with them, but then again I was on the bench a lot. I was not a good bench player, as I was so used to playing all the time.”

Even though his manager didn’t play him every day, Hicks found Casey Stengel to be an endearing figure due to his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport.

“I really liked him, even in spring training" he said. "He was a great guy. He had such knowledge of the game. Back in those days, they didn’t have computers for all this stuff; he had all that information in his head.”

Stengel was also known for his ability to spin yarns from his many years in the game, often lasting hours at a time. Hicks recalled one of those storytelling incidents with Stengel during spring training.

“One day we’re supposed to get there at nine o’clock to St. Petersburg," he said. "We get there and it’s raining. We’re in the dugout and Stengel starts talking to us. He talks for about an hour and asks the trainer to check if the rain stopped. When he found out it didn’t stop, he kept talking for another few hours. It was hard to concentrate on what he said because he jumped around so much. He would say, ‘A guy leads off with a double with nobody out, it’s so important to get that guy to third base with nobody out because if you get that guy to third base, there are 12 ways to score without getting a base hit. I will give $100 to anyone who figures that out.’ I figured that out overnight and I brought them in. He said, ‘Hicksy, how did you know that?’ I said, ‘Skip, I’ve followed this game since eight years old.’”

The early years of the Mets was a mix of young talent and aging veterans. One of Hicks’ partners in the outfield was an aging Duke Snider, who was a legend in New York from his years with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Stengel was famous for platooning his players, and the future Hall of Famer wasn’t exempt from sitting on the bench. One game against the Dodgers, Hicks found himself on the bench alongside Snider while Sandy Koufax was pitching. Late in the game, Stengel peered down the dugout to look for a pinch hitter to bat against Koufax.

“Casey, who loved to platoon, had all of his right-handed hitters in the lineup and the left-handed hitters were on the bench," he said. "We get to the 9th inning and Casey has a problem ... he doesn’t have any right-handed pinch hitters to hit against Koufax. He turns around and says to Duke, ‘Do you want to hit?’ He said, ‘Not particularly.’ Casey just turns around says nothing. He’s headed my way and before he gets to me, I said, ‘Hey Skip, I’ll give him a try.’”

From afar, Koufax looked hittable. That apparition quickly changed as Hicks approached the plate.

“From the dugout, Koufax looked so easy because he was so smooth," he said. "I get to the on-deck circle, he looked faster. When I got to the batter’s box, he looked a lot faster. I worked the count to 3-2, I’d seen two of his fastballs, and I knew his fastball was coming. I had it timed perfectly and at the last minute, it had a little rise to it. I struck out; I’m walking back to the dugout, and Stengel says, ‘Hicksy, don’t let it fret you, don’t let it fret you. He struck out a lot of guys and he’s gonna strike out a lot more.’ I was glad to hit against him because Duke said no.”

Hicks played another three seasons in the minor leagues with Buffalo from 1964-66, but despite hitting .282 and .318 the next two years, the Mets never brought him up to experience Shea Stadium.

“They were beginning to make their youth movement and I was in my 30s at the time," he said. "They were beginning to bring up guys like Ed Kranepool, Ron Swoboda, and Cleon Jones. I just never got a chance after that.”

After retiring from baseball, Hicks returned to Charlottesville, where he became the athletic director for the city. Going strong at 80 (a year older than his "baseball age", which was changed at the urging of the scout that signed him), he continues to umpire and play handball. I caught him on a Sunday evening in July after he spent the entire day on the field.

“I umpired three games today," he said. "I’m the commissioner for the high school baseball umpires. I recruit and assign them games and do some games myself. I also do girls fast pitch and [schedule] those umpires. I do all of that by myself without the computer. It gives me something to do when I’m not playing handball. I learned the game at the University of Virginia, fell in love with the game, and I’m still playing it.”



Saturday, October 20, 2012

Steve Springer preaches quality at-bats in his new journey

For Steve Springer, baseball has always been an issue of quality over quantity. Springer tried to make the most of his 17 major league at-bats with the Cleveland Indians and the New York Mets, and is now working with young players helping them to do the same.

“If you know my story, I didn’t start in high school, I got three at-bats as a freshman in high school, and three my freshman year in college. I go around the country inspiring kids not to quit,” Springer said via telephone from his home in California.

Steve Springer - Checkoutmycards.com

Springer has carried the message through his CD / DVD combo entitled, “Quality At-Bats,” where he breaks down the mental side of hitting into something easily digestible, all to develop confidence in players at all levels. The New York Times featured Springer earlier this year when New York Yankees top prospect Dante Bichette Jr., said that he listens to Springer’s CD every day on his way to practice and games. Major league superstars Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo are among the many who also praise Springer’s message.

“I made this CD about 12 years ago, and I almost feel God put me in AAA for 11 years to do what I’m doing now to try to help kids. Right now, I’m the mental coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, but I have big leaguers on other teams call me because they had the CD in high school or college.”

How exactly is Springer going about changing the game with his program? It’s a paradigm shift aimed at removing the emphasis from one’s batting average, something he claims has destroyed more players’ dreams than the first time they saw a good curveball.

“The batting average is the most evil thing in baseball; it destroys more young players than anything in the game. I did everything right but went 0-4. Why is that number so powerful?” Springer asked.

“I’m trying to change what these kids think success is so they can walk up to the plate with confidence. We all have two different players in us, confident guy and we have the non-confident guy. The confident guy is a good player, and the non-confident guy isn’t. How do we get the confident guy to come out? That’s how I’m having success with some of these guys, by setting daily attainable goals: I hit the ball hard, I win; team first, etc.”

Getting players to stay in the game mentally is tough, but it is something that he preaches to his students if they want to be able to put their best foot forward every time they step on the field.

“I know batting average will not go away. I’m trying to get them to be the best competitor by walking on the field with confidence,” he said. “They have the tools, and I ask them if they want to be the best player on the field today. I say to them, ‘Be the best competitor, and you’ll have a chance.’”

So how did Springer, who toiled in the minor leagues for 14 seasons, save for two cups of coffee in 1990 and 1992, keep his edge?

“I always felt that I was good enough if given the opportunity,” he said. “I knew the alternative of getting a real job and I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “I got good when I got too old. I was the MVP of my AAA team the last 4-to-6 years [of my career], but I couldn’t get a call-up.”

Springer spent most of his career in the Mets organization, starting in 1982, the same year as Dwight Gooden.

“I signed with Dwight Gooden, he was a first rounder, and I was a 20th,” he said. “He was a great teammate and a great guy; I loved him, he was awesome. I was in Little Falls and he came up the last three weeks of the season, and I was in awe watching him pitch. He could have pitched in the big leagues right out of high school; he was that good. He was athletic; he had a big arm, good curveball, and command. I didn’t doubt in my mind that there were 300 pitchers in the big leagues better than him.”

The second baseman began to hit his stride right in between the Mets two playoff runs in 1986 and 1988. Looming behind mainstays Wally Backman and Tim Teufel, there was little room for Springer to break through.

“I thought I had more of a chance in 1987, I was in the top 10 in the league in hitting, but when Howard Johnson went down, they called up Keith Miller,” he said.

Springer plugged away despite being overlooked, to the tune of almost 1,600 minor league hits.

“The whole Met era in the 1980’s was awesome. If I was with another organization, I probably would’ve got up quicker. You couldn’t tell me I couldn’t spend five years in the big leagues.”

The Mets traded Springer away from the organization in 1988 but returned in 1992 after a brief call-up with the Indians in 1990. This time the Mets rewarded Springer for his perseverance.

“[It seemed like] twenty guys got hurt. Willie Randolph got hurt, and I get called up for 10 days, I go 2-for-3 with a double in ‘Frisco, and I’m thinking, ‘Sweet!’ I got sent down before I put my hat in my locker. They tell me they’re going to call me up in five days,” he recalled.

Somehow, fate was not too kind to Springer, who waited 11 seasons to get his shot in a Mets uniform. After a strong finish in AAA Tidewater, Springer hung around for the call. It never came.

“I hit .290, got the Doubleday award [for] MVP of the AAA team, and then two days later, they trade David Cone to Toronto for Ryan Thompson, and some stiff named Jeff Kent. So I’m out, [because] they needed my roster spot,” explained Springer.

He spent another three seasons in the minor leagues, retiring after the 1995 season. At least his brief journey with the team that drafted him ended on a high note.

“I feel blessed I got called to the big leagues. The last time I stepped in a major league batter’s box, I got a hit!”

Springer’s career turned to scouting at the urging a close friend who was working with the Diamondbacks when he was contemplating if he should play one more year.

“Luis Medina called me and said, ‘Your playing career is killing your scouting career. Then 30 minutes later, the Tigers called me up and offered me $5,000 per month and no big league camp. The previous year I was making $7,000, so I called Luis back up and he put my name in with the Diamondbacks and I went right in with them,” he said.

He scouted for five years before becoming an agent for the next seven. He returned to the Diamondbacks in 2008 as a scout before the Blue Jays called.

“The Blue Jays came and got me because of my CD really, and wanted me working with all of their kids.”

When he is not working for the Blue Jays, he travels the country giving what he calls, “The Mental Hitting Lesson.” The positive effects that he has seen from his CDs, talks, and seminars continue to drive him.

“This needs to be a confident, fun atmosphere at a young age, and I don’t think it is,” he said. “I get chilling e-mails from kids and parents thanking me for making this CD, telling me how it changed their life. It’s mind-blowing.”

For more information on Springer’s “Quality At-Bats,” CD’s and DVD’s, visit – www.qualityatbats.com

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Darryl Strawberry's restaurant in Douglaston to close

In Douglaston, N.Y., the straw will no longer stir the drink. Strawberry's Sports Grill, which bears the name of the former Mets and Yankees slugger Darryl Strawberry, will unexpectedly shut down this Sunday evening. The news came as a complete surprise to the staff.

“It came out of nowhere,” said Michael Strawberry, Darryl’s older brother, to the Queens Courier.

The elder Strawberry who was involved in the restaurant's operations, did not have a say in the decisions that led to its demise.

"I am very sad," he said. "Rest assured it had nothing to do with my brother and me."

The restaurant opened in August, 2010, with much fanfare, attracting celebrities such as Justin Timberlake, Miss USA Rima Fakih, as well as Yankee baseball legends Whitey Ford, and Bernie Williams. Packed crowds ensued for the following year, some hoping to catch a meeting with Darryl in-person, others to take in the great food and spirits while watching a variety of sporting events.

Darryl Strawberry interviewed at the opening of his restaurant / N. Diunte
Strawberry's continued to build its affinity through a strong presence in social media, as well as holding many baseball-themed events. Their wildly successful Community Day that featured appearances by Strawberry's former teammates Kevin Mitchell, Terry Leach, and Barry Lyons, as well as a well-attended 25th-anniversary reunion for the 1986 Mets later that fall made Strawberry's Restaurant feel like it would be in the community for years to come.

As the establishment attempted to move past its honeymoon phase, 2012 was weathered by instability; a seemingly endless rotation of managers, changes to the sports-themed staff uniforms, and an overhaul of their menu that disenchanted the loyal customer base they initially attracted.

"They had the neighborhood crowd in their back pocket and lost it," said Darrin Meenan, the owner of the The 7 Line, who was a frequent collaborator with the restaurant.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

1986 World Series hero Howard Johnson brings excitement to the 2012 Harrison Apar Field of Dreams Golf Classic

Howard Johnson’s sweet swing was on display once again Monday afternoon, but it was not the one that often filled outfield seats at Shea Stadium, but a smooth touch that lit up Mohansic Golf Course at the 2012 Harrison Apar Columbus Day Golf Classic.

Howard Johnson (c.) led a group of ex-MLB players at the Harrison Apar Golf Classic
Johnson was part of a handful of retired major leaguers that also included New York Yankees All-Star pitcher Tommy John, George Alusik, Dave Lemanczyk, Don DeMola, Matt Merullo, and Rick Surhoff, all who played in support of the Harrison Apar Field of Dreams Foundation.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dwight Gooden to appear at Greenwich Citibank on Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dwight Gooden / N. Diunte
Dwight “Doc” Gooden, a 2010 inductee into the New York Mets Hall of Fame and member of the of the New York Mets Alumni Association Presented by Citi, will be greeting fans and signing autographs from 12:00-1:30 pm on Tuesday, September 25th at the Citibank branch at 16-18 Railroad Avenue in Greenwich, Ct., in support of Citi Tuesdays.

Gooden was the 1984 National League Rookie of the Year, the 1985 National League Cy Young Award winner, and part of the Mets 1986 World Series championship team. He is ranks in the top 3 on the Mets all-time list in various pitching categories, including games won, strikeouts, inning pitched, won-loss percentage, and complete games.

Citi Tuesdays is a program designed to provide added value to Citi customers and Mets fans. For more information and details on all Citi Tuesday offers, please log on to www.Mets.com/CitiTuesdays or visit the Citi Tuesday information booth located by the Shea Bridge at Citi Field on every Citi Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Mookie Wilson is forever endeared to Shea Stadium

For Mookie Wilson, he will always find comfort in the confines of Shea Stadium. For 10 years, Wilson was a fixture in center field, tracking down balls far and wide to the delight of the New York Mets faithful. It is no surprise that despite spending time as a coach for the Mets in their new digs at Citi Field, he remains loyal to its predecessor.

Mookie Wilson at Citi Tuesdays - N. Diunte
“It’s interesting that you use the word home because that’s what Shea was," Wilson said while making an appearance Tuesday afternoon as part of the Mets Citi Tuesdays promotion at Citibank in Lower Manhattan. "To me, Shea was home. Don’t get me wrong, Citi Field is a beautiful ballpark; I think that it is fan friendly. I would have loved played at Citi Field, but you can’t replace Shea. That was home for us. It was old, [and] yes, it needed repairs, but it was home and we loved and enjoyed playing there. I don’t think you can compare the two. Shea has its history and Citi Field is in the process of making its own history and it’s going to take time.”

The 56-year-old Wilson, while no longer part of the coaching staff remains on the books as an ambassador for the club, a position he enjoys.

“I think my role basically is to greet Mets fans, mainly to let them know that the Mets are still part of the community and that the Mets have partnered with Citibank and have some great promotional things going on,” he said. “I do encourage everyone to take advantage of the discounts are provided through this. It’s an effort by the Mets to show that their fans come first and they want to provide for them the best they possibly can.”

Mets fans were deeply saddened when the charismatic Wilson was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in the middle of the 1989 season. He figured that he would have finished his playing career in a Mets uniform.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I think that most players think initially that they’re going to remain with the team that they start [with]. New York’s my home. I enjoyed it and the fans embraced me, welcomed me into the city, and claimed me as a New Yorker, one of their own. … Although I had yelled about it before about being traded, I think nobody wants to be traded. When it was actually happening, I was actually shocked because I didn’t think I would ever leave New York, but as the business goes, sometimes things happen.”

Leaving New York provided Wilson the opportunity to compete in the postseason two more times, as the Blue Jays lost to the Minnesota Twins in the 1989 ALCS and the Oakland Athletics in the 1991 ALCS. Even though the Blue Jays did not pick up his option for their 1992 World Series Championship run, Wilson felt that he had some small part in its development.

“I thought that in ‘89, ‘90, [and] ‘91, we should have won it,” he said. “That team [was] a very good team. We had everything, pitching, power, [and] speed; everything was in place and we fell short. We lost to two great teams, Minnesota [Twins] and the Oakland A’s. There’s no complaining about that. It was right around the corner. I was supportive of the championship club and I think I was part of putting those players on the right track.”

While Mets fans might see Wilson on the back fields of spring training giving advice to younger players as a part-time instructor, he is optimistic that he will return to full-time coaching in the near future.

“I do hope to get back into coaching at some point. I think that once baseball is in you, in your blood, and you spend most of your life in baseball, it’s very hard to just put it on the side and retire from it. I don’t think I’ll ever will.”





Friday, August 31, 2012

New York Mets family loses two pitchers, Bob Myrick and Harry Parker

A sad week for New York Mets fans, as the deaths of former pitchers Bob Myrick and Harry Parker were announced this week.


Parker was a right-handed pitcher for the New York Mets from 1973-75, pitching in three games in the 1973 World Series against the Oakland Athletics. Parker was the hard luck loser in Game 3, when catcher Jerry Grote dropped the third strike on Angel Mangual, allowing Mangual to reach base and advancing Ted Kubiak into scoring position. Kubiak scored during the next at-bat when Bert Campaneris singled him home for the winning run. Parker passed away on May 29th, 2012, but reports of his death only surfaced this week.


Myrick was a promising left-handed reliever out of Mississippi State University who pitched from 1976-78 with the Mets. Myrick was a favorite of Mets manager Joe Frazier, who brought the lefty to the big leagues after pitching for him in Tidewater the previous season. Myrick passed away August 23rd in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, after suffering a heart attack.



Monday, August 27, 2012

Dwight Gooden's first career home run

Dwight 'Doc' Gooden's amazing talent as a pitcher with the New York Mets have been well heralded throughout the years; however, Gooden took tremendous pride in his prowess at the plate. He belted eight home runs during his career while finishing just below the Mendoza Line with a .196 batting average. The video below shows the first home run of Gooden's career, which came on September 21st, 1985 at Shea Stadium off of Rick Rhoden.

Courtesy of CourtsideTweets on Youtube -


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

R.A. Dickey teaches the tricks of the knuckleball at Citi Field Kids event

New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey has been prolific in spreading the word about his knuckleball this season, publishing his best-selling book, Wherever I Wind Up, and appearing in the Knuckleball documentary, which was a smash at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Wednesday afternoon, Dickey took a more local approach, conducting a clinic for over 100 kids at the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House in Long Island City. The event, which was hosted by SNY anchor Michelle Yu, was part of the Citi Field Kids program, an initiative formed by the Mets, Citi and the Jackie Robinson Foundation

Click here to see read more about Dickey's participation in the clinic as well a video interview with Dickey about the the impact of his book and his thoughts on being able to participate in the clinic.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Franco continues to represent as an ambassador for the New York Mets

John Franco is the epitome of New York baseball. Born and raised in Brooklyn, the Lafayette High School graduate went on to play at St. John's University in Queens before being drafted by the Dodgers in 1981. Little did he ever imagine that he would play 15 years in the major leagues with the New York Mets and earn a spot in their Hall of Fame. Earlier this year, Franco was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in a wonderful ceremony at Citi Field. A few months later, he’s still amazed at the honor.
John Franco Signing Autographs / N. Diunte
“If you would have told me as a kid growing up that I would be in the Mets Hall of Fame, I’d say you were crazy,” said Franco at his Tuesday afternoon appearance at Citibank in Tarrytown, N.Y. “It’s a great honor to be on that wall and [have] my plaque next to great players like Tom Seaver, Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson, Tommie Agee, all my heroes growing up. ... It’s a great honor, I’m humbled and I’ll truly cherish it.”

The subject of the Hall of Fame this year for Franco is one that hits close to home, as his former Cincinnati Reds teammate Barry Larkin was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame a few weeks ago.

“Barry, you knew he was going to be something special when he came up to the big leagues early," Franco said. "He had a five tools [as a] player, speed, he could hit with power, a great fielder, great arm, and [was] very very smart. It was just an honor to play with Barry and I’m happy that he got into the Hall of Fame; he deserved it.”

Franco, like many of his Brooklyn brethren, honed his skills at the famous Parade Grounds. Even though the diamonds were a little rough, they still provide Franco with the opportunity to develop and mature as a player.

“Back then, the fields weren’t in great shape, but there were always games going on," he said. "There were seven or eight diamonds, and at every field, a game was going on. You’d start at nine in the morning and sometimes play until three in the afternoon. You’d go from field to field or play doubleheaders. It was a great experience, great baseball in the New York City area. We had some great teams from all over Brooklyn and it was very competitive.”

Currently, Franco works as an ambassador for the Mets and keeps busy by making appearances all over the city.

“This is my 3rd year with the Mets [as] one of their ambassadors," he said. "What I do, I go around to the various [Citi] branches … and they have these branches that myself and other veteran, retired players who are involved with the Mets go around and do some signings. I get to meet and greet the fans and talk a little bit about baseball. I go into the community, do some community service, some baseball stuff, some announcing, and some TV stuff; a little bit of everything.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

1973 NL champs Millan and Staub wax poetic about the current state of the Mets

The current saga of the New York Mets were on the minds of Felix Millan and Rusty Staub, two key players from their 1973 National League Championship team, as they interacted with fans on Tuesday afternoon as part of the Mets Alumni Association Presented by Citi and the Citi Tuesdays program.

Mets and Dodgers honor Mike Sandlock, oldest living Dodger at Citi Field

Mike Sandlock
Honoring the long standing connection of the Dodgers to Brooklyn, the New York Mets honored 96-year-old Greenwich, Connecticut, native Mike Sandlock at Citi Field Saturday afternoon. Sandlock, a former catcher, is the oldest living Dodger and a link to the franchise’s history that preceded the famed Boys of Summer.

Click here to read a full interview with Sandlock, which includes pictures from his personal collection, his day at Citi Field, and video clips from the interview.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mets legend Ed Kranepool disappointed with David Wright's reserve selection

Ed Kranepool holds many distinctions in 50-year association with the New York Mets. At 17, he was the youngest member of the inaugural 1962 team, and when he finished his career in 1979, he left as their all-time leader in hits, at-bats and games played. Tuesday afternoon, Kranepool spread some good will as part of the Mets Citi Tuesdays program at Citbank in Huntington Station.

Ed Kranepool signs an autograph at Citibank in Huntington Square
“I’ve been representing the Mets for 50 years," Kranepool said. "I signed in 1962, so it’s been a long association and most of it has been good. Representing here with Citibank has been great. They support the alumni program [and] they create the programs we participate in. I enjoy meeting all of the bankers and their customers and it’s a great support level that Citibank has offered the Mets and got behind them with sponsorship; they’re doing a lot of good things for the community.”

With David Wright on the heels of Kranepool’s all-time franchise hits record, the third baseman’s snub by the fans for the starting nod for the All-Star Game did not sit well with Kranepool.

“First of all, you want to get the fans involved, but I think they have too much of a say right now. I think it is a disgrace that David Wright is not the starting third baseman for the National League,” he said. “He’s hitting .360, driving in runs, [and] playing every day. He’s made a tremendous comeback. The other gentleman is having a good season, but not a David Wright season. All you have to do is check the record, check the book. There is no reason [that he shouldn’t be starting].”

Kranepool suggested that the current voting system should undergo a facelift.

“He loses by so many votes, c’mon," he said. "I think the fans should be involved, it’s their game, but I don’t think their vote should carry [the whole thing]. They should have a portion of it. Let the coaches and managers vote and the sportswriters vote. Two out of three wins and you mark it up.”

The discussion of Wright’s oversight by the fans roused up memories of Kranepool’s selection to the 1965 All-Star Game. Only 20 years old, Kranepool found himself surrounded by the likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax on the National League squad.

“That was a tremendous feat for myself, I was only 20 when I made the All-Star team,” Kranepool recalled.

As excited that Kranepool was to be representing the Mets in Minnesota, he would have enjoyed it more if Philadelphia Phillies manager Gene Mauch would have called Kranepool’s number off of the bench.

“I didn’t play in the game," he said. "I was disappointed … It’s kind of frustrating because I never made it again. You want to play. … What’s the sense of sending a guy to the All-Star Game, if he’s not going to play? Not that you want the three days off, you’d rather be in the All-Star Game, but if you’re going there, I want to say I played in the game. Let the country see you play the game.”



While he acknowledged that the All-Star team managers have been more aware of getting everyone involved in the mid-summer classic; however, he still thinks the game can stand a few minor adjustments.

“They do a better job of managing the players today in the game; they get everybody in, but I think they should have free substitution with a couple of players," he said. "They ought to mark before the game, two-to-three guys who play a lot of positions and keep them around. If you put them in the game, you’re allowed to remove them, [to] get everybody in the game. … They should change certain rules. Baseball in certain ways is trying to make changes and other ways, they’re antiquated in their positioning.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Art Shamsky shares the spirit of '69 in Queens with Mets fans

New York Mets 1969 World Series hero Art Shamsky, along with some help from the Mets Alumni Association Presented by Citi, brought cheers and smiles to Middle Village on Tuesday for the 100-plus supporters that showed up for photos and autographs.

“It’s great to come out and see the people and the kids. Citibank and the Mets have a great relationship and I am proud to be part of whatever I can do to maintain that,” Shamsky said. “It’s great. It gives me a chance to talk about 1969 ... even kids who weren’t born then know about that team.”
Art Shamsky (r.) with teammate Wayne Garrett / N. Diunte
As a member of the 1969 team, Shamsky watched as Tom Seaver was one out away from pitching the first no-hitter in Mets history when it was broken up by Jimmy Qualls of the Chicago Cubs with two outs in the ninth inning. It took the Mets 43 years to make it happen when Johan Santana did it earlier this month. Shamsky listed Seaver’s “almost” no-hitter as one of a series of unthinkable events that were part of their championship season.

“He [Seaver] was so close," he said. "That’s baseball; things happen. I did make the last out of a no-hitter pitched against us that year against Pittsburgh. I’ve seen a few and been part of a few. Looking back on that year, so many crazy things happened: an almost perfect game, to a black cat running on the field, to Steve Carlton striking out 18-19 in a game and us beating him. There were a lot of things happening that year that was unexplainable, but they happened.”

The 70-year-old Shamsky has been duly impressed with R.A. Dickey’s outstanding performance this season. When asked about how he would approach Dickey at the plate, Shamsky offered a patient method of attack, one he felt was lacking from the Orioles lineup on Monday. He should know a thing or two about hitting the knuckleball, as he batted .314 (11-35) against Hall of Famer Phil Niekro during his career.

“I watched a little bit of the game last night and I think the approach a hitter should take, is that you should try to hit the ball right back at the pitcher, give yourself the whole field to work with," he said. "The ball is so unpredictable especially if somebody has good stuff that night. I watched a couple of these batters for Baltimore, and they looked like they were trying to pull it like it was a fastball. They have to have more patience … it’s not easy; he had good stuff last night to his credit. It looks like he’s hot and become a better knuckleball pitcher over the year than he was when he was younger.”

Friday, June 1, 2012

Andres Torres reveals his battles with ADHD at Gigante premier

Andres Torres (center) at the premier of Gigante / N. Diunte
After a few extended cups of coffee with the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers, Andres Torres still had a nervous energy far greater than what any shot of caffeine could provide. He had all of the tools and raw talent to become a major league star: world class speed, a strong arm and the ability to hit from both sides of the plate. Yet Torres didn’t secure a starting role in the majors until the age of 32 after toiling in the minor leagues for the greater part of his baseball career.

Thursday evening, Torres, the New York Mets outfielder was the center of attention at the premier screening of Gigante, a documentary chronicling his battle with ADHD on his long journey to the major leagues. 

Click here to read about Torres' special evening, as well as watch video of Torres speaking about his condition.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book review: Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball - R.A. Dickey

The title of New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey’s autobiography, Wherever I Wind Up:  My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball (Blue Rider, 2012), holds a meaning of unpredictability that has followed him from his youth all the way to the mound at Citi Field. The metaphoric title refers to much more than the curious flight of his knuckleball, with Dickey bearing much of his soul in this unprecedented work.

R.A. Dickey - Wherever I Wind Up / Blue Rider
An All-American and Olympian from the University of Tennessee, Dickey was on a direct path to major league stardom when the Texas Rangers in the 1996 draft drafted him in the first round. Offered a bonus of $810,000, Dickey began to envision a life of financial security and a fast track to the major leagues; however, the same arm which enamored the Rangers’ top scouts, almost brought Dickey’s career to a screeching halt before even a pitch was thrown.

Noticing a slight irregularity in the angle of Dickey’s elbow from a baseball magazine cover, the Rangers wanted an MRI of his golden arm. A few hours later, the Rangers rescinded their offer. The culprit was Dickey’s UCL or lack thereof. The ligament, which keeps the elbow secure while pitching, was missing after multiple MRIs. It was a medical wonder that his arm stayed in one piece after all of those innings of 90+ MPH fastballs.

Labeled as damaged goods and ready to walk away from baseball, the Rangers made Dickey a take-it-or-leave-it offer of $75,000. Starting from baseball’s murkiest depths, Dickey embarked on a path toward the major leagues that was anything but direct and haunted by the demons of an unspeakable past.

Reaching into the darkest places where no child should ever visit, Dickey peels away layers of a child tortured by vagrancy, alcoholism and sexual abuse. In a bold move, especially for an active player, Dickey publicly reveals his victimization by a family babysitter at the age of nine. Opening the door to a place that he locked away before revealing it to his psychologist in his 30s, Dickey suppressed the anger and horror of a child whose innocence was taken too soon.

On top of the abuse he suffered, Dickey discovered in his teenage years that living with an alcoholic parent only compounded the dismay he faced, leaving him to seek refuge as a vagrant, spending many nights sleeping in vacated homes. Despite these tremendous obstacles that Dickey faced, he earned a scholarship to Tennessee, where he majored in English, a skill he was passionate about that is obvious from this work.

While it seems miraculous that Dickey garnered the necessary strength to continue to excel on the mound as an amateur, getting signed was only the beginning of a tumultuous relationship with baseball.

Trolling the minor leagues for five years, Dickey finally received the call from the Rangers in 2001. Four short appearances later, he was back in AAA with the Oklahoma City 89ers. He wouldn’t return to the majors until 2003. After three unremarkable campaigns with the Rangers from 2003-05 and a shoulder injury, a meeting with Rangers manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Orel Hershiser would once again change the course of Dickey’s career. They asked him to give up being a conventional pitcher and convert to throwing the knuckleball full-time. Realizing he was at a crossroads, Dickey accepted the challenge.

As with the uncertain nature of the knuckleball, Dickey experienced a hellacious ride back to the major leagues including giving up a record-tying six home runs in his first start as a knuckleballer. Looking for help that his major league coaches could not provide, Dickey sought advice from Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, and Tim Wakefield.

Despite following the Rangers’ request to covert, they released him after the 2006 season. Dickey bounced around organizations more than a spinning knuckleball. Signed by the Milwaukee Brewers, Dickey lasted one year with their AAA club, before shuttling between the Seattle Mariners and the Minnesota Twins. Released by the Twins in 2009 after an unspectacular 1-1 record in 35 appearances, he was running out of time and options. Lost in the mix of his rapid change of uniforms, Dickey almost died trying to swim across the Mississippi River, and his wife moved to another house after discovering his infidelity. Desperate for a paycheck that would offer more than that of a sojourning baseball nomad, Dickey contemplated playing in Korea before the New York Mets offered him a shot to go to spring training in 2010.

Rejuvenated by a move to the National League and a struggling Mets club, Dickey liked his chances to play in New York City. To his great surprise, he was the first person cut from the major league club in spring training. Still, driven by his tremendous spirit, Dickey soldiered to Triple-A, determined to stand tall in Queens. After pitching a nearly perfect game early in his Mets minor league campaign, the Mets summoned Dickey to Flushing, where he has remained a fixture in their rotation, earning his first multi-year contract at the beginning of the 2011 season.

Dickey’s story reaches far outside the lines of the baseball diamond, touching widespread emotions unseen in any baseball autobiography. The courage he has displayed to tell his story in full leaves behind a human element that is sorely missing in this era of distant multi-millionaires.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Book review: Heart & Hustle - An Unlikely Journey from Little Leaguer to Big Leaguer by Frank Catalanotto

Signed as a skinny 18-year-old from Smithtown, N.Y., Frank Catalanotto was almost cut from the Detroit Tigers during their fall instructional league after his rookie season in the minors. That was until minor league hitting instructor and former All-Star Larry Parrish intervened on the kid’s behalf.

“Yes, he’s weak and needs to get stronger, but his hand-eye coordination is great.  … He’s got a God-given gift. He never misses if he swings at it,” said Parrish to farm director Joe McDonald.

Parrish’s words were enough to save Catalanotto from baseball purgatory and give him the push he needed on the way to the major leagues. He is a central figure in Catalanotto’s rise to a 14-year major league career, detailed in his new autobiography, Heart and Hustle: An Unlikely Journey from Little Leaguer to Big Leaguer (Bantry Bay, 2012).

Frank Catalanotto - Heart and Hustle / Bantry Bay Books

Heart and Hustle is both inspirational and instructional, written not only for those who have followed Catalanotto’s career, but also for youngsters dreaming of following in his footsteps.

The first half of the book is dedicated to detailing Catalanotto’s trials and tribulations on his way to the big leagues. He opens the door to the exhausting grind of the minor leagues: the long bus rides, substandard food, lack of sleep and other challenges to your general well being while trying to play baseball at an optimal level.

For all of the challenges and setbacks that he faced in the minor leagues, including his near release, they were made that much sweeter when the Detroit Tigers made Catalanotto a late-season call-up in 1997. He would hold on that ride for thirteen more seasons, playing with the Rangers, Blue Jays, Brewers, and Mets before retiring after his release during the 2010 season.

Catalanotto breathes life into his expedition with a behind the scenes look at the game, detailing his game day routines, pulling back the curtain on a day that starts with him arriving six hours before the first pitch to begin treatment and all of the necessary preparations for a 7:05 PM start. Catalanotto’s immense pre-game preparation is just the tip of the iceberg regarding his attention to detail.

So meticulous is the Long Islander, that he kept a handwritten notebook with a scouting report on every major league pitcher he faced, using the advice of Parrish from his minor league days to keep records of the pitchers he would see on his way up through the minors that would follow him to the major leagues. Peeling away another layer, Catalanotto takes you deeper into the lengths he would go through to gain an edge on the competition, providing full page photos of the scouting reports he wrote.

He is also quick to reveal the most humbling time in a player’s career; the time when you find out it’s over. It is the rare player that can go out on their own terms, such as Chipper Jones, who is making his final lap around the league this year. For the majority like Catalanotto, a tap on the shoulder after the game and a quick talk with management seal the deal. He openly takes us inside the manager’s office and the locker room after a mid-season game with the Mets in 2010 that came with the worst news for a veteran; you’ve been released. The reader can only help but feel Catalanotto’s emotions as he wrestles with life after baseball.

Catalanotto bounces back quickly after accepting his retirement and settles the second half of the book serves with an informal baseball “how-to.”  He provides plenty of pointers from a major league perspective regarding conditioning, hitting, and psychological preparation, finishing each chapter with a neat summary of “Cat’s Tips,” which are easily digestible for young ballplayers.

While the sub-title of Catalanotto’s book suggests that his journey to the major leagues was unlikely, it is evident after reading that his character and determination put him on a direct path with destiny to a successful major league career when many other 18-year-olds would have thrown in the towel.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Edgardo Alfonzo mulls a return to baseball in 2012

Edgardo Alfonzo was on hand Tuesday afternoon at Citibank in Manhattan, appearing as part of the outreach efforts of the New York Mets Alumni Association presented by Citi. Alfonzo beamed with pride while greeting the crowd of more than 200 people that came to visit the beloved infielder.

Edgardo Alfonzo / N. Diunte
“[I] always appreciate the Mets for having me involved in these activities, to [see] my people,” said Alfonzo. “My people [are] the fans who really supported me during my career in New York. One way to pay [them] back is to do this. I feel happy to do this, to be a part of the organization and to tell them what I’m doing right now.”

The 38-year-old former All-Star looked in good enough shape to take the field, due in part to his recent participation in the Venezuelan Winter League where he batted .267, playing on the same team as current Met infielder Ronny Cedeno. Alfonzo was often asked on Tuesday about a return to professional baseball. He left the door open about playing this season.

“I really enjoy playing baseball and that’s why I played winter ball this year. [I] had a good time over there. … I’ve been training and getting ready for [this season].”