— Days Without Shea —


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The AP has a nice update today on Joe Nelson.

You may win a bar bet with that name. Nelson was the last pitcher to win a game at Shea Stadium. He pitched a scoreless 7th for the Marlins on Sept. 28, 2008 and got the victory
(I just re-read my memory of that last game at Shea...man, what a rough day).

It is fitting that the guy with the last victory at Shea only has seven wins total in a nine year career.

Here's the story:

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Joe Nelson won the last game ever played at Shea Stadium. He received a World Series ring for pitching just three games with the Boston Red Sox.

The reliever's other career milestones are less joyous -- four serious surgeries, seven major league organizations and too many grueling days of rehabilitation for him to count.

Now Nelson faces another challenge. He's one of about a half dozen pitchers competing for the lone vacancy in Boston's bullpen, a hurdle his history of dealing with adversity may help him overcome.

"I thrive in situations like that," the right-hander said Sunday. "I love the game. I'm 35 and I still get to play a game I've been playing since I was 4 years old. I can't think of anything I'd rather do."

That passion has kept him going through all the trips to operating rooms and different baseball clubhouses.

Nelson had Tommy John surgery in 1999. Operations on his right labrum, a cuff of cartilage that stabilizes the shoulder, followed in 2001, 2002 and 2007. He missed almost four full seasons.

And he's been with nearly twice as many organizations. After six seasons in the Atlanta system, he moved to Boston, the New York Mets, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Kansas City, Florida and Tampa Bay again.

And, now, back to Boston.

"My wife and family have always said, 'play as long as you want, as long as you're able to, but once you quit, you're done. You're not going to come back,' " Nelson said. "I had a lot of nights where I said, 'I don't know if this is going to work out.' I called my friends and they'd be like, 'Don't quit. 9-to-5 gigs are not as fun as they're cracked up to be.' "

He gains confidence from the success he's had when healthy.

Since his last surgery sidelined him for all of 2007, he went 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in 59 appearances for Florida in 2008 and 3-0 with a 4.02 ERA in 42 games for Tampa Bay in 2009.

Nelson's brief stint with the Red Sox in 2004 was far less productive. He was promoted from Triple-A Pawtucket on July 9 and sent back there 12 days later after posting a 16.88 ERA in 2 2-3 innings.

But, just like Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, he received a World Series ring.

"It's a prized possession," Nelson said. "I wasn't on the postseason roster and I only threw in a few games but I was a part of that team and they can look in the books if they want to and go, 'yeah, he actually did pitch.' "

The most memorable accomplishment of his career came four years later with the Marlins.

They were at Shea Stadium on Sept. 28, 2008, the last day of the regular season, for the final game in the 44-year-old ballpark. The Mets and Milwaukee Brewers were tied for the NL wild-card berth. If both won or both lost, they would meet in a one-game playoff.

But Milwaukee beat the Chicago Cubs 3-1, and Florida beat New York 4-2, breaking a tie in the eighth inning on a homer by Wes Helms. The next batter, Dan Uggla, also homered. Nelson pitched just one inning, striking out two in a perfect seventh, to earn the last win at Shea.

"That's something I'll hold onto," he said. "I have a good friend that's a Mets fan and I went up to home plate after the game and scooped up some dirt and I had it authenticated by Major League Baseball and I gave it to him for Christmas."

Nelson has won only six other major league games. He has two losses and a 4.07 ERA with 13 saves in 149 outings.

"He's shown a lot of perseverance, both from a physical standpoint and what's he's come back from and never being a guy who was guaranteed anything," Boston pitching coach John Farrell said. "We're looking for that second lefty in the bullpen or a right-hander that can attack left-handers efficiently. He's going to get a long look here in camp."

That's all Nelson wants.

"I don't take any days for granted," he said. "Every day I get to put on a uniform is special. I know one day I'm going to have to give it up, but who knows when that will be? I've had a weird career. Maybe I'll last a lot longer."

If he must start the season at Pawtucket, he's willing. After all, he didn't make a major-league opening day roster until last year, his 14th in pro baseball. He said his arm has felt "spectacular" in spring training but knows that could change at any time.

"Today when I go out and play catch if it feels good then I'll make it through another day," Nelson said. "I've already lived every kid's fantasy and if it ended today I could walk away from this game completely satisfied because all I ever wanted to do since I was 4 years old was play in the big leagues.

"I'm lucky to be doing what I'm doing."





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by Kingman on March 4 at 11:59AM
bobby valentine.jpg
I wrote about Bobby Valentine the other day. At the time he was just making appearances in print.

But yesterday he arrived in the flesh as part of his ESPN gig. The New York Times reported on his visit and the inevitable chatter about his possible return to manage.

Valentine Visits Mets; Fans Ask Him to Stay
By DAVID WALDSTEIN

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Bobby Valentine stood on the top step of the Mets' dugout at Champion Stadium, just as he had done many times before. But this time he was wearing a black track suit instead of a uniform, and he was chatting amiably with Manager Jerry Manuel.

That was obviously a tantalizing image for the dozens of Mets fans sitting in the stands behind the dugout, many of whom yelled to Valentine to please return to the Mets for a second term in office. Valentine ignored those entreaties, or never heard them, and kept talking to Manuel, the third man to hold his old job since he was fired eight years ago.

Valentine, who managed the Mets from 1996 to 2002, could not be bothered with such far-fetched speculation because he was too busy pumping Manuel for information. He was not asking about palace intrigue or issues of job security, only about Manuel's team and his players.

Now a commentator for ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," Valentine is in the midst of a self-initiated immersion course over three weeks to learn as much as possible about the estimated 700 baseball players he has not seen in the past six years. He is using his eyes to watch them and his ears to hear what those around them think.

"I've been away a long time," Valentine said. "A lot changes in six years. So I'm going back to school."

For two days in February, Valentine was on assignment in Florida for ESPN, but when that assignment ended, he stayed on, and has been paying his own way. With a spiral-bound book of scouting reports under his arm, Valentine is trying to learn as much as he can before opening day.

Not content to learn gradually as he goes, Valentine has attacked the task. Plan your work and work your plan is one of his mottos, and he is doing it.

In typical Valentine fashion, he first broke down the problem into manageable numbers. Before he arrived in Florida, he went through every major league roster and added up how many players he did not know.

"There were 1,322 players in the major leagues last year," he said. "I counted about 700 I didn't know."

Friends of his in the game helped him compile scouting reports on all 30 teams, and the book contains information on hundreds of players, including minor leaguers. He said each day he goes through a different team. And he is also looking to extract information from the professionals he meets.

On Wednesday, he spoke to Manuel about his players and about some of his basic baseball philosophy. He also spoke to the Mets' pitching coach, Dan Warthen, taking notes in the margins of his scouting book. He chatted with the new Mets catcher Rod Barajas about the challenges of receiving pitchers for the first time in a game situation.

He also spent time with Braves Manager Bobby Cox, with whom he had some spirited encounters over the years from opposing dugouts.

"Oh, Bobby and I just competed," Valentine said, "but I always considered him a friend that I could talk baseball with."

A few days earlier, he picked the brain of Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, chatted with the Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel and held a confab with the Phillies senior adviser Pat Gillick, among others.

"That was educational," he said. "But I don't want to make it seem like this is so laborious. I get to see a lot of old friends in the game. I just saw Burt Hooton and Brad Arnsberg. This is fun for me."

Hooton and Arnsberg played for Valentine when he managed in Texas.

After he was done gathering information on the field, Valentine walked through the stands on his way to sit with the scouts behind home plate as fans buzzed, "It's Bobby Valentine." Many asked for his autograph. Several told him how much they would like to see him back in a Mets uniform leading the team again.

On this trip through the stands with a reporter, though, Valentine ignored those pleas. Yes, he would like to manage again. And, like everyone else, he knows that if a team like the Mets gets off to a poor start and he is sitting in the "Baseball Tonight" studio sounding insightful, the cry will go up to hire him. The pleas will be especially loud in Flushing, where he was the last manager to take the Mets to the World Series.

"It's awkward," he said, sounding irritated at the subject. "I'm not here for that. I've got a different job now, and I've got a lot of work to do."



[March 6, 2010 4:43 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Mike said

"That was obviously a tantalizing image for the dozens of Mets fans sitting in the stands behind the dugout, many of whom yelled to Valentine to please return to the Mets for a second term in office. Valentine ignored those entreaties, or never heard them, and kept talking to Manuel, the third man to hold his old job since he was fired eight years ago."

So fans were basically campaigning for Manuel to get fired, *right in front of Manuel himself.* Come on, guys. I'd like to think we could be a little classier than that.


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cowbellman.jpgA reminder: Opening day at Shea is three weeks from Monday. The Mets are 5-10 and looking a bit anemic at the plate. However, there is still plenty of meaningless March baseball to play and plenty of time for the boys to get into form.

Of greater concern: cowbell man's conditioning. How does he prepare for the gruelling 81 home game campaign?  Does he bang pots & pans all winter to stay in shape? Do the Mets allow him into Shea in the off-season to walk each level and work on new beats? 

As cowbell man is not a welcome presence in Loge 13, a little intelligence on his training regimen  would be handy. Our section's occupants may need to work on some off-season heckling so we are prepared come April 9, when the clankorous cowbeller plots down the aisle, spreading mindless misery for real fans and vacuous joy for the tourists.

If you have any insights on cowbell man's current whereabouts and training habits, please share. My guess is he is somewhere in Yankee camp. 

 



[March 15, 2007 10:24 PM]  |  link  |  reply
RonHunt said

I heard he was offering Alay Soler condolences and appreciated that the media respected their wishes for some privacy.


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by Kingman on March 14 at 9:12AM

Soler.jpg The Alay Soler era ended quietly yesterday.

The Mets released the Cuban defector and one-time candidate for the 5th spot in the starting rotation. Soler had been ineffective this spring, with an 8.22 ERA.

Soler had a great debut last May, winning his first start after being promoted up from Double A to help an injured staff.  His second start was also the debut of Lastings Milledge...and the start of Soler's slide into mediocrity.

After a few more poor starts, Soler was demoted and never got back on track.

Clearly, the Mets are feeling good about Pelfrey's chances to make the rotation this year. And Humber finally provided a strong outing in yesterday's 6-5 win over the Indians. That should boostHumber's confidence, if not his chances for an opening day spot.




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