The Great Ed

A Banner Day for the Mets, a banner career for Edgardo Alfonzo

STORY AND PHOTO BY JOE RINI

True Met: Retired Mets All-Star infielder Edgardo Alfonzo
True Met: Retired Mets All-Star infielder Edgardo Alfonzo

When Edgardo Alfonzo returned to Citi Field to help judge the recent Banner Day festivities, Mets fans could be forgiven for wishing they could turn back the clock and insert the former All-Star infielder into the starting lineup again. While we joked about his “credentials” to judge Banner Day, there’s no doubt the four time .300 hitter and Gold Glove winning fielder would be picture perfect for the struggling Mets offense.

Growing up in Venezuela, Alfonzo said his goal was to play pro ball but after his first trip to Shea Stadium in 1992 as a minor leaguer to receive the Doubleday Award from the Mets and seeing major league baseball up close, he knew he wanted to be a major league player. He returned to Shea Stadium for good in 1995 as a 21-year old and batted .278 in his rookie season.

When asked about former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, who took helm of the struggling Mets in 1996 and led them to the National League pennant in 2000, Alfonzo said, “He was what the Mets needed at that time.” Standing on the field behind homeplate, Alfonzo stepped forward as though in the dugout and said, “Bobby wanted to be on the top step.” He said, if you played against him, you wanted to beat him but it was good to play for him.

On August 30, 1999, Alfonzo had perhaps the greatest day ever by a Mets hitter when he went 6 for 6 with three home runs in a 17-1 victory over the Astros in Houston. After homering in the first inning, he thought, “good start” and felt “locked in” the whole night. He hoped to cap the night with his fourth home run in the ninth inning but settled for a long double.

Another memorable moment for Alfonzo occurred in June 1999 when the newly elected President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, threw out the first ball before a Mets game at Shea Stadium and when told Chavez wanted to meet him and have him catch the ceremonial first pitch, he responded “Oh my God.” While Venezuela has long supplied players to the major leagues, including Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio (“He was my guy,” said Alfonzo), he also said, “There’s great talent there,” and that the road from Venezuela to the major leagues has gotten smoother since he signed with the Mets in 1991 because MLB now funds a baseball academy there.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that 14 years after this foray into international diplomacy with President Chavez, Alfonzo is now a Club Ambassador for the Mets, making public appearances on behalf of the team. Having played his final season of winter ball this past year, and contemplating the future, Alfonzo said he would consider coaching. If he coaches as well as he played the game, any team would be fortunate to have him.

The Mets recent problems on offense continued as they were shut out by Cincinnati on Tuesday 4-0. It seems when Mets fans aren’t anticipating, marveling, and basking in the glow of Matt Harvey’s latest appearance, they are fretting Ike Davis, who is in the throes of a canyon deep early season slump for the second year in a row. The debate about sending Davis to the minor leagues has been waged across water coolers, over the airwaves, and within the front office in recent weeks. Davis, whose average has fallen to .149, began to turn things around at this time last year and finished well. Stay tuned.

The Mets enter play on Wednesday in fourth place with a record of 17-26. The current home-stand will conclude with two games against the Yankees at Citi Field on Monday and Tuesday before the two teams conclude the 2013 Subway Series with two games in the Bronx on Wednesday and Thursday.