Former Mets reliever returns to Queens with alumni invite
Turk Wendell is not the “big city” type.
From growing up in the Norman Rockwellsque Berkshires of Massachusetts to his current home in the deer-hunting paradise of Iowa, Wendell has appeared in 11 MLB seasons — parts of five of those seasons in New York.
Now, 18 years from the last pitch at Colorado in the 2004 season, Wendell, considered by many to be the most superstitious athlete of all time, is coming home. As the New York Mets dust off Old-Timers’ Day, a dormant promotion since 1994, the former right-handed relief pitcher who was part of the 2000 pennant-winning club that faced rival Crosstown Yankees in the World Series that season, will be among the 40 names present for the August 27 event.
“It’s kind of surreal to be considered among the oldies,” Wendell said recently in a phone conversation from his home in Iowa. “It’ll be fun to see some of the guys I haven’t seen in a while; hang out with them and have a good time.”
While Wendell hasn’t checked out the list of everyone the Mets have invited back for Alumni Day, he’s excited to meet former players who call Queens home from every generation in history. dishes. Tim Teufel of the 1986 Championship Mets club is confirmed, same for Mookie Wilson, there’s Cliff Floyd, Daniel Murphy, Endy Chavez, plus alumni from previous decades – Felix Millian, Jon Matlack and Ron Swoboda.
But it’s not just the men in uniform that have Wendell worried about a return to where he threw some of his best baseball.
Names of front desk staff, clubhouse staff, ticketing staff, many who are out of the public eye and who made his stay more comfortable playing at Shea Stadium. Proclaiming he’s not an emotional guy, it’s clear that Wendell has a mental to-do list that he hopes to connect with on the day of the old.
As for who might be more recognizable after being out for nearly two decades, last summer while at Citi Field for a promotion, Wendell received the ultimate compliment, now 54.
Last July, when his former Mets teammate Edgardo Alfonzo was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame, Wendell met another teammate at Flushing – Rey Ordonez.
“(Ordonez) asked me how I still looked so young,” Wendell says.
Although Wendell says he hasn’t given much thought yet to what he will think about the most when he returns to New York this summer, he does hint that the 2000 season will likely be at the top of his list.
As Wendell states, playing in the World Series and against the Yankees is what everyone dreams of in the game. A staunch Yankees hater, from his youth (and to this day), being on the most big baseball scene in the fall of 2000, ranks up there as his high point in uniform.
Being part of the World Series in New York was not on Wendell’s radar from the start.
“I never wanted to play in New York. I don’t like big cities,” the Western Massachusetts native explained. “But, you never say never. What were the baseball gods thinking, me being traded to the Mets?”
Coming to New York from another big city club (Chicago Cubs) on a six-man deal in August 1997 was a career change that Wendell remains grateful to have produced.
It was when with the Mets that Wendell’s “habits” of jumping over foul lines, to and from the mound, and brushing his teeth between innings, slamming rosin bags between pitches and eating black licorice while watching batters became headlines.
Wendell loved playing baseball so much that he was willing to do it for free. He had planned to go unpaid for his final season of the MLB season, however, the Players Association dismissed his attitude.
Today, Turk, who received his grandfather’s label when he was three years old, enjoys life; following his passion for hunting. Far from the life of the big cities, Wendell hunts white-tailed deer, preferring the bow and the arrow.
From his home in what he calls God’s country, Wendell will head east again in August where he will be received with his family for a reunion. Seeing his former Mets manager, Bobby Valentine, whom Wendell calls a great friend and ambassador of the game, comes to mind as he ponders more about what to expect for Alumni Day.
A few Mets names from their past, Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, and Frank Thomas, 92, of the 1962 club, received Alumni Day invites. Thomas was said to be looking forward to batting practice ahead of player introductions.
Having fun, being younger again, running on terrain between the foul lines, what a great therapy planned for those who once did it for a living. Attending fantasy camps is rewarding, but now Wendell can take his Mets costume to the next level – again. For now, Alumni Day, and not yet sure of the format, Wendell plans to keep things low-key.
Mets fans just want Steven John Wendell to be “Turkish”.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio and the web since the 1980s. His columns are featured weekly on WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted by email at [email protected]
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