Former Mets Reliever Returning To Queens With Old-Timers’ Invite
Turk Wendell isn't a "big city" kind of guy.
From growing up in Massachusetts' Norman Rockwellsque Berkshires Mountains, to currently residing in deer hunting heaven Iowa, Wendell squeezed in 11 MLB seasons - parts of five of those seasons pitching in New York City.
Now, 18 years removed from last pitching in Colorado during the 2004 season, Wendell, considered by many as baseball's most superstitious athlete ever, is coming home. With the New York Mets dusting off Old-Timers' Day, a promotion lying dormant since 1994, the former right-handed relief pitcher who was part of the 2000 pennant-winning club that faced the crosstown rival Yankees in the World Series that season, will be among the 40 names in attendance for the August 27th event.
"It's a bit surreal to be considered among old-timers," Wendell said recently during a telephone conversation from his home in Iowa. "It will be fun to see some of the guys that I haven't seen in awhile; to hang out with and have a nice time."
While Wendell hasn't looked at a list of all who the Mets have invited back for Old-Timers' Day, he is excited to meet up with former players that called Queens their home from all generations of Mets history. Tim Teufel from the 1986 championship Mets club is confirmed, same for Mookie Wilson, there's Cliff Floyd , Daniel Murphy, Endy Chavez, plus alumni from decades earlier - Felix Millian, Jon Matlack, and Ron Swoboda.
But it's not just the men in uniform that has Wendell anxious for a return to where he pitched some of his best baseball.
Names of employees from the front office, clubhouse employees, ticket office personnel, many of those away from the public eye who made his stay more comfortable while playing at Shea Stadium. Proclaiming not being an emotional guy, it's clear that Wendell has a mental "to do" list of who he hopes to connect with on Old-Timer's Day.
As for who might be more recognizable after not being around for nearly two decades, just last summer while at Citi Field for a promotion Wendell was paid the ultimate compliment, now 54.
Last July, when his former Mets' teammate Edgardo Alfonzo was inducted into the club's hall of fame, Wendell ran into another one-time teammate in Flushing - Rey Ordonez.
"(Ordonez) asked me how do I still look so young," Wendell tells.
Although Wendell says he hasn't given much thought yet as to what he will reflect on most when returning to New York this summer, he hints that the 2000 season will probably be at the top of his list.
As Wendell declares, playing in the World Series, and against the Yankees, is what everyone in the game dreams about. A devout Yankees hater, from his youth on up (and to this day), being on baseball's biggest stage in the fall of 2000 ranks up there as his top highlight in uniform.
Getting to be part of the World Series in New York wasn't on Wendell's radar from the get-go.
"I never wanted to play in New York City. I don't like big cities," explained the Western Massachusetts native. "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) as part of a six-player deal in August 1997, was a career changing move that Wendell remains thankful for happening.
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 down between pitches, and eating black licorice while staring down hitters became headline talk.
Wendell loved playing baseball so much, he was willing to do so for free. He had planned to go unpaid for his last MLB season season, however, the Players' Association gave a thumbs down to his attitude.
Today, Turk, who was given the tag by his grandpa when he was three-years-old, is enjoying life; following his passion of hunting. Far removed from big city life, Wendell hunts white-tailed deer, preferring bow and arrow.
From his home in what he labels God's Country, Wendell will once again head east come August to where he will be received as family for a reunion. Seeing his former Mets' manager Bobby Valentine, who Wendell calls a great friend and ambassador for the game, comes to mind, as he thinks more of what to expect for Old-Timers' Day.
A couple of Mets names from their past, Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, and 92-year-old Frank Thomas from the 1962 club have received invitations for Old-Timers' Day. Thomas has been said to be looking forward to taking batting practice prior to player introductions.
Having fun, being younger again, running around on a field between foul lines, what great therapy planned for those who once did so for a living. Participating in fantasy camps is gratifying but now Wendell can take his suiting up for the Mets to the next level - again. For now, Old-Timers' Day, and not sure of the format yet, Wendell plans to keep things low key.
Mets fans just want Steven John Wendell to be "Turk".
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 on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.