Each week during the off-season, I will be selecting a random, former Met to highlight. This will be taking place of our usual Friday segment, Rising Apple Player of the Week, until the regular season starts back up in April. If you have a former Met that you’d like me to highlight, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org title your email: Rising Apple Off-Season Player of the Week suggestion.
Today’s Rising Apple Player of the Week goes to another player I looked up to as a kid growing up watching as the game quickly turned into an extreme passion of mine. Edgardo Alfonzo was exactly the kind of ballplayer I wanted to be: one that could not only be a superb fielder, but also handle the bat incredibly well, while hitting in the clutch consistently. Unfortunately for him, once his time with the Mets was through, he wasn’t able to find himself a home with a Big League team again. Before I skip right to the end, let’s take a look at Fonzie’s trip through professional baseball.
The Venezuelan-native was signed as an international free agent by the Mets at the age of 18 back in 1991. He moved up through the minors very quickly at such a young age, as he hit .331 and .350 in his first two seasons of playing professional ball. In 1994, he was ranked the #74 prospect in baseball, then improved to #31 prior to the 1995 season. He made his MLB debut in 1995, which just so happened to be on my 8th birthday (April 26th). He played over 100 games in both the ’95 and ’96 seasons, but didn’t come into his own until he landed a starting job in 1997, where he played in 151 games and posted a .315/.391/.432 line with 10 homers, 72 RBI, and 84 runs scored whiled placing 13th in the NL MVP voting.
Although Fonzie had to endure a couple of position changes along the way (from third to second to make way for Robin Ventura, then back to third for the arrival of Roberto Alomar), he continued to be one of the best defenders in the game, while also being one of the team’s most dependable hitters. After his breakout season of ’97, he hit over .300 three more times, hit 20+ homers twice, and drove in 90+ runs twice over the next five seasons. In my opinion, his best overall season came in 2000, as he helped the Mets reach the World Series for the first time since 1986. His power numbers in ’99 were better, but he put together a ridiculous .324/.425/.542 line with 25 homers, 94 RBI, and 109 runs scored while earning his first and only All-Star selection.
Throughout his eight years in New York, he certainly was a fan favorite, as he hit .292/.367/.445 in 1,086 career games for the Amazins. My favorite memory of Alfonzo came in July 1999, when my father, brother, and a few of our close family friends went to a July 4th game against the Braves at Shea. Orel Hershiser started the contest, and after laboring through the first, my Dad proclaimed he wouldn’t last five innings, and he couldn’t even get through three until Pat Mahomes had to come in from the bullpen. The Braves held a 6-4 lead until the 7th inning, when Alfonzo hit the go-ahead home run off Mike Remlinger to give New York a 7-6 lead, one that Armando Benitez wouldn’t blow, surprisingly enough.
His Met career came to an unfortunate end after the 2002 season, as the organization decided not to pursue him as a free agent, leading him to sign a multi-year contract to go out west and play for the San Francisco Giants. Once he left, I didn’t hear a peep about Alfonzo, and I couldn’t believe he wasn’t tearing up the competition out by the Bay. The 2004 season was the best of three he spent with San Francisco, hitting .289/.350/.407, but never lived up to the deal he signed, and was dealt to the Angels in December 2005 for Steve Finley. He didn’t last long in LA and was released, which started a string of unsuccessful signings for Fonzie, as he inked multiple minor league deals without getting back to the Bigs. He also spent time in Indy Ball, and played a year in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants. He was most recently assigned to play for the Charlotte Knights in 2012, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
So, here’s to you, Fonzie. I wish Steve Phillips never made the mistake of signing Alomar and moving you back to third base after you were a yearly candidate to win the Gold Glove at second. I wish your career with the Mets ended a little differently and later than it did, but thank you for being the perfect role model to show a growing boy how the game should be played.
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