17 DUPACR: Guess Who?
There are 17 Days Until Pitchers and Catchers Report to spring training at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, Florida. So today I honor a former player who wore New York Mets uniform number 17.
But which #17 do I bestow this honor?
I’ll give you a few hints:
– he was an infielder
– he was known for his outstanding defense on the right side of the infield
– he wore a distinctive, memorable mustache
– he was a great contact hitter who rarely struck out
– he was more of a line-drive / singles hitter than a homerun threat
– he led the Mets in hits in multiple seasons
– he played with plenty of passion, and had a fiery temper
– he was of Latin descent
Can you guess what #17 I’m honoring today?
Felix Millan, of course !
Why, who were you thinking?
Oh, right, Keith Hernandez fits all of those characteristics … and was a much better all-around ballplayer. Keith also was one of the key players to turn around the franchise in the early 1980s and the unofficial captain of the ’86 World Series team. But, I had to choose Felix Millan, because I remember him so vividly for his scrappy play, bunting ability, and, of course, the fact that he choked up so high on the bat.
“Choking up” is something you don’t see very often in MLB these days — if at all. It’s so rare that there are times during my baseball lessons that I suggest to a teenager “hey, try choking up a few inches” and he looks at me like a deer in headlights, because he has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. For those who don’t know, “choking up” is taking a batting grip with your hands a few inches above the knob of the bat (rather than holding the bat at the very end, with your bottom hand touching the knob). One would “choke up” in order to gain a little more control of the lumber — it’s all about leverage, and the concept of lever / fulcrum. In my generation, every kid was taught to “choke up” if the bat felt too heavy or too long; we were also taught to “choke up” when there were two strikes (or if the pitcher threw serious heat) to give yourself more bat control and maybe a hint more bat speed. The first time I was taught to choke up, the coach said, “just like Felix Millan does” and instantly I knew what he was talking about; Millan literally choked up almost to the trademark of the bat, which was a little ridiculous but it worked for him. To this day, whenever I hear someone say “choke up”, an image of Millan appears in my head — and probably will to my dying day.
It’s probably a dumb reason to honor him with the 17th Day Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, but as mentioned previously, this countdown has nothing to do with logic or the “best” players who wore Mets uniforms.
Some other Mets considered for this day — in addition to Millan and Keith Hernandez — included David Cone, Choo-Choo Coleman, Rod Gaspar, Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart, Ellis Valentine, Bret Saberhagen, Mike Bordick, Kevin Appier, Dae-Sung Koo, and Jose Lima.
Which #17 do you choose to represent this day, and why? Post your memories in the comments.
The countdown thus far:
#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd