Former Mets Turn Out To Aid Baseball Alumni

These are the Mets’ alumni who attended the annual Going to Bat for B.A.T. dinner. How many of these former players do you recognize?

“Meet the Mets, Meet the Mets. Step right up and greet the Mets.”

Fans had their chance to “meet and greet” the Mets Jan. 24 at the 23rd annual Major League Baseball “Going to Bat for B.A.T.” Fundraising Dinner, held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, Manhattan.

The celebration of the Mets’ 50th anniversary was the theme of this year’s dinner. Notable Mets alumni joined MLB Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Juan Marichal, Ralph Kiner, Joe Morgan, Sandy Koufax and others in honoring the Flushing team’s history.

Members of the 1969 and 1986 World Champion teams addressed the crowd and shared their memories of winning a title. A video tribute to Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, who is fighting for his life against malignant brain tumors, allowed fans to relive “The Kid’s” career.

Together with event sponsor Natural Balance Pet Foods, the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) raises money each year to assist the members of the baseball family who have fallen on hard times. Founded in 1986, the organization reaches out to ballplayers through financial grants, healthcare programs and rehabilitative counseling.  To date, B.A.T. has awarded more than $25 million in grants benefiting over 2,800 baseball players and their families.

To help raise money, a live auction was held at the dinner. A rare Babe Ruth signed baseball sold for $17,000, and nine holes of golf with Sandy Koufax went for $100,000 – all of which went to B.A.T.

Beltran Receives B.A.T. Award

Though he recently signed a two-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, former Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran was in New York for the dinner to receive the Bart Giamatti Award for outstanding community service.

Each year, Beltran donates 10% of his salary toward his foundation, the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico – his native land. This foundation has been serving young Puerto Rican baseball players as they attempt to play in the United States. Beltran came over as an 18-year-old and barely spoke English, so his goal is to ensure, through a combination of education and sports, that the kids are prepared for what they’ll face in the States.

“I believe in giving back,” Beltran said. “I believe in giving back to the community.  I believe in giving back to the kids.”

Beltran, a Catholic featured in the “Champions of Faith” documentary, thanked God for giving him the opportunity and skillset to play baseball in America. He said he hopes to make it back to the playoffs with the Cardinals, who are coming off a World Series championship.

Beltran’s Mets career had its ups and downs due to injuries, and he does not want his legacy to be defined by striking out looking to end the 2006 National League Championship Series.  However, based on his involvement with the community and performance on the field when healthy, hopefully Mets fans can remember the true impact he had on the organization.

Though the ’69 and ’86 Mets teams receive the most publicity, the Mets from the year 2000 deserve just as much credit. Led by renowned Catholic catcher Mike Piazza and manager Bobby Valentine, the team made a memorable appearance in the World Series – only to fall in five games to the crosstown-rival New York Yankees.

Brooklyn Boy John Franco

Relief pitcher and Brooklyn native John Franco, a Catholic, was an integral part of the team’s success. He recorded some big outs during the Mets playoff run and was the winning pitcher in Game 3 of the World Series.

“Growing up here in the city, seeing all the great history of the baseball here and just being a part of it (the 2000 World Series)…it was great for the fans of New York,” Franco said. “We had the mentality that we never gave up. We had a lot of come-from-behind wins. Every playoff series was a gut-grinding series.”

Franco spent 14 of his 20 big-league seasons with the Mets and was the team’s captain in his final few seasons. He will be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame on June 3.

Another important cog to the Mets 2000 World Series team – Catholic starting pitcher Al Leiter – was also on hand for the B.A.T. dinner. Leiter grew up a Mets fan in Toms River, N.J., and remembers vividly being at Opening Day 1970 when the Mets raised their 1969 championship banner.

He was the go-to guy on the Mets staff during their 1999 and 2000 playoff runs. He said his favorite Mets memory is pitching a two-hit, complete game shutout against the Cincinnati Reds in the one-game playoff that decided the National League wild card.

“It really was a team with great chemistry,” said Leiter of the ’99 and ’00 Mets. “I think that won us ballgames.”

The Mets will continue their 50th anniversary celebration throughout the season at Citi Field, Flushing. The B.A.T. dinner was a terrific way to kick off the festivities.

CYO Boys’ Swim Champs Crowned

The Brooklyn/Queens CYO held its annual boys’ swimming championship meet Jan. 21 at Nassau Community College, Garden City, L.I.

Fourteen teams competed in three divisions – all of which were closely contested.

St. Sebastian, Woodside, continued its dominance by capturing the ‘A’ title. OLAN, a combination of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sunset Park, and St. Andrew the Apostle, Bay Ridge, earned the title in the ‘B’ division, while the ‘C’ title went to St. Ephrem-St. Patrick, Fort Hamilton.

As part of their final CYO meet, 88 seniors walked a ceremonial lap around the pool to commemorate their time with the program.

Record Setting Breaststroke

The week prior to the championships at the CYO Swimming Olympics, Tri-M (Our Lady of Mercy and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs), Forest Hills, senior Peter Strbik set a new record in the 50-meter breaststroke with a time of 30.62 in the trials and 30.71 in the finals.

The girls’ swim championships and Olympics will take place in March.

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