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Milwaukee's Finest

In the history of the Metropolitan franchise only one player has suited up for the team who was born in Milwaukee.

That would be sprite-sized (as described by the New York Times) second baseman Jason Hardtke.

The name was pronounced "Hard-Key" and that was the key to his game, playing hard, because otherwise, he wasn't going to play much at all. He's listed at 5-10, 175, but my guess is that sprite-sized players aren't quite that big, so that may be an exaggeration.

By my recollection, Hardtke was a middle-class man's Kelvin Chapman, though Chapman's 172 games with the Amazins' dwarf Hardtke's 49. He was a decent player, who tried hard and deserved to be on the team, but since he wasn't flashy and didn't excel at any particular trait, the team decided he wasn't worth as much of a shot as someone else.

I found a Virginian Pilot story from 1996 referencing how Hardtke grew up in San Jose (he moved from Wisconsin at a young age). He and his father went to a Stanford game once and Hardtke told his dad he wanted to be a major leaguer. Hardtke's dad told him to do so, he'd need to hit 500 balls a day.

"He was dumb enough to go ahead and do it," Terry Hardtke told the newspaper.

Hardtke had 31 hits and two home runs in his major league career but made the most of them. He made an immediate impression with four hits and three RBI in his first two big league games. He also made an impression with his efforts in his first game of 1997, which took place on June 19, 1997.

Hardtke had been recently recalled from Triple-A but was not in the starting lineup for that day's affair with the Pittsburgh Pirates. A three-run third inning, in which the key hit was Carl Everett's two-run double, gave the Mets a 4-1 lead, lengthened to 6-1 on back-to-back RBI doubles by Edgardo Alfonzo and Luis Lopez in the 6th inning.

With the Mets up five runs, manager Bobby Valentine felt comfy enough to bring in a couple of younger players as defensive replacements- Hardtke at second base for Carlos Baerga and Alex Ochoa in right field (replacing Bernard Gilkey, with Everett shifting to left).

The Pirates trimmed two runs off the lead in the seventh inning, but Mets starter Mark Clark got through the eighth inning smoothly, and with 89 pitches figured he'd get a crack to start the ninth inning.

Mets skipper Bobby Valentine instead decided that Clark's night was done and called on John Franco to close. That didn't exactly work out well. Franco got two of the first three hitters out, but then Jose Guillen doubled, bringing the tying run to the plate. The hitter was a former Brewer, Dale Sveum and he surprised those on hand by cracking a three-run, game-tying home run. It was the first time in Franco's career that he'd allowed a game-tying homer one out from a win but he would be redeemed by the Mets in the bottom of the frame.

John Olerud struck out against lefty reliever Ricardo Rincon to start the last of the ninth, but then Rincon got wild and walked Todd Hundley and Everett. Hardtke, in his second at-bat of the season, followed with a solid single to center, bringing Hundley home with the game-winning run.

Hardtke, despite his penchant for clutch moments, was one of those here-today, gone-tomorrow Mets. He was claimed off waivers by the Cubs in October, played a season with them, then spent some time playing in Japan before retiring.

He now runs a baseball academy, Hardtke's World of Baseball with three West Coast-based locations and a rather snazzy (some might even say "spritely") website, endorsed by a good number of major leaguers. I'd be curious to know if he still endorses the "500 hits a day" philosophy.

True Metkes know...Jason Hardtke impacted the 1998 wild-card race in a negative way for the Mets, as one of his 2 RBI with the Cubs was a walk-off, against the Marlins on June 2, 1998.

Comments

I.M. Forme said…
hey buddy,
What is your position on regular season walk off victory celebrations? It seems to me that they are getting out of hand, as I just watched the Sox bounce up and down over a May victory over the orioles-- on a walk off error no less!
why dont you come on over and enlighten me: http://itsmetsforme.blogspot.com/2007/05/happy-birthday-bobby-valentine.html

best,imfm

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