Former Mets Thoughts From The B.A.T. Dinner
Here are some Mets thoughts from the afternoon media session from Tuesday’s 23rd annual MLB B.A.T. Dinner.
Sheffield said it was not difficult for him to retire after his long career, which included a World Series championship in 1997 with the Marlins and hitting his 500th career home run as a Met.
“I pretty much did everything I wanted to do on a baseball field,” he said.
He has enjoyed spending time playing football and baseball with his five boys. He thinks his 5-year-old has the best shot to make it big.
Sheffield has been involved with B.A.T. in the past and likes where the organization is headed.
“I think it’s very important for every player to be here,” he said. “A lot of guys fall on hard times, but many of those guys wind up being successful.”
Kranepool was an original member of 1962 Mets, so he was thrilled to be back for the team’s 50th anniversary.
“It’s a lot of fun to be part of it,” he said. “The organization has great tradition, and I hope it continues.”
Kranepool spent his entire 18-year career with the Mets and saw the team’s transformation from “Lovable Losers” to World Series Champions in 1969. He said the team was able to turn it around through the combination of hard work and the development of young players.
He also said Gil Hodges was the main reason for the turnaround.
“Under Gil Hodges’ tutelage, we became a good ball club and we could have won more pennants if he didn’t pass away,” said Kranepool.
Kranepool was the only member of the original Mets to still be with the team in ’69. Naturally, his favorite career memory was winning the World Series.
“Forty years later, they’re still talking about the ’69 series,” he said.
Jay Payton was back in town for the B.A.T. Dinner, and he was one of the highlights of the afternoon media session.
Currently, Payton is spending time with his 7-year-old son in Oklahoma and is officially retired from baseball. He did say he would be interested in getting involved as a coach at the professional level when the time was right.
The highlight of Payton’s career was the 2000 World Series. He enjoyed playing for Bobby Valentine and said he wouldn’t be surprised at all if Valentine led the Red Sox to the playoff in this his first season with the team.
“We had the right blend of young guys who were hungry and veterans,” Payton said of the 2000 team.
Individually, he’ll always remember hitting a home run off Mariano Rivera. In fact, Payton’s home run in the World Series was one of only two home runs Rivera has given up in the postseason in his career.
When asked about what his advice would be to young players coming to New York, he responded with the following: “Get an apartment about 300 miles outside of the city.”
He stressed the importance of a young player keeping his head on straight, especially in the New York market.
“Having success here is unlike having success anywhere else,” he said.
Payton looks like he’s still in playing shape and joked that he could go out and play right now.
“I only need about five days,” he said with a smile.
Hall of Famer Tom Seaver was on hand for the festivities. While many of the reporters were curious to hear about Seaver’s favorite Mets memories from his playing career, all Seaver wanted to talk about was wine.
During his playing career, he was asked what he would do once his career was over.
“I said, ‘I’m going to go back to California to raise grapes,’” said Seaver.
Seaver enjoys his 90-second commute to work where he runs a Cabernet wine bottling company.
“I can’t wait to get out of bed an go to work,” he said.
Seaver said that both his dreams—playing professional baseball and having his own win company—have come true.
“Rocky” was also excited to be celebrating the team’s 50th anniversary. He is currently the color man on the broadcast for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, and he has great fun doing that.
Swoboda will never forget playing for Casey Stengel as a 19-year-old. Stengel never called him the right name—Stengel never called anyone the right the name for that matter—but he knew who Swoboda was.
Stengel placed his confidence in Swoboda as a rookie, which led to Rocky hitting 19 home runs.
“Stengel said, ‘You can’t learn to hit by sitting on the bench,’” said Swoboda.
He called the Mets climb from a 100 loss team to a 100 win team “meteoric,” especially in the days when free agency didn’t exist.
Of course, Swoboda’s legacy is his great catch in the ’69 World Series. But his favorite memories are the months leading up to that catch.
“You don’t make a catch in the World Series unless you get there,” he said. “You have to win a few ballgames to even get there.”
Finally, Swoboda actually thinks the current Mets will be better this year than last year. Let’s hope he’s right.
Fiery second baseman Wally Backman will take over managerial duties of the Buffalo Bisons this season as he continues ascending up the ladder in the Mets organization. He previously managed the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Binghamton Mets.
However, he doesn’t see too much of a difference jumping from level to level.
“You’re teaching fundamentals,” Backman said. “The same things you’re teaching in the lowest levels, you’re teaching in the highest levels.”
He’s most looking forward to working with outfield prospect Kirk Nieuwenheis and the young pitchers Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia and Zach Wheeler (who will like start the year in Double-A). Backman compared these three pitchers to the Mets young studs in the mid 1980s: Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Doc Gooden.
“Being in Buffalo, my job is to get this guys to the big leagues to help Terry (Collins),” he said.
Recently, Backman spent time with Gary Carter at Carter’s golf tournament. He wished Carter the best and said “The Kid” is still fighting.
“Gary wasn’t just a teammate,” said Backman. “He was like a brother to a lot of us.”
Who would have thought that Davey Johnson would take over the Washington Nationals last season?
Well, his team played some great baseball down the stretch, and Johnson is excited for a full season at the helm. He did say it feels strange to be back in New York as the enemy.
“I have to whip up on those Metsies that I love,” he said.
Though his team lost out on signing Prince Fielder, he is happy with the current team and is excited to see young phenoms Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper take the field.
“Harper hasn’t made my club yet,” Johnson said. “But he’ll have a chance. We’ll find out this spring if he’s good enough.”
Johnson said he thoroughly enjoyed his time with the Mets. He even hinted that he had been helping the Mets well before he took over as manager in 1984.
That’s because Johnson made the final out of the ‘69 World Series on a long fly ball to Cleon Jones.
We should be seeing plenty more of Johnson this season.
About the Author: Jim Mancari
Jim Mancari hails from Massapequa, N.Y. He recently earned a Master's degree in Journalism at Hofstra University. He is a devout Mets fan and takes pride in his team, despite their lack of success over the last few years. Like all Mets fans, Jim has plenty of hope. He also writes as the sports reporter for the Brooklyn Tablet newspaper and the senior editor of metroBASEBALL Magazine. Click my name to view my personal website.
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