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Full Nelson

If the battle for the last spot on the Mets Opening Day pitching staff comes down to Nelson Figueroa vs Tony Armas Jr. I know who I'm pulling for.

Flash back to the 1986 postseason when both were young'uns with different interests. Figueroa, who grew up on Coney Island was my age, and though he was intrigued by Mike Scott's splitter, he was a Dwight Gooden disciple and an avid Mets fan. Armas was the son of the starting centerfielder for the Red Sox, whose injury opened the path for Dave Henderson to become a Red Sox legend.

I must admit that I'm a sucker for the non-roster invitee and although I won't wish for any circumstances to cause it, I'd love to see Figueroa make the Mets.

Besides his childhood rooting interests, there are a couple of other things that I really like about Figs.

For one, he's a Brandeis guy. For those unfamiliar, Brandeis is a Division III school in Boston, and as a fellow D-3 attendee, I always find myself rooting for that sort of underdog. Figueroa is the only player from Brandeis to have ever made the major leagues and though his stints have been unimpressive, I think that's a noteworthy accomplishment.

For another thing, Figueroa seems to be, by most accounts, a good person. When the September 11 attacks occurred, Figueroa spearheaded fundraising efforts by the MLB Players Association by designing a "United We Stand" baseball-themed t-shirt (I owned one, until it shrunk a bit too much to wear).

From the perspective of this blog, Figueroa is noteworthy, best known as the starting pitcher in one of my all-time favorite regular-season games attended, a Mets-Phillies contest from 2001, capped by a Mike Piazza walk-off home run.

You can read more about that here:

Figueroa has pitched in 74 major league games and has my sympathies, because of those 74, his team has only won 12. And yet I'll still tell you that he's a winner in my book. Figueroa has a career minor league record of 100-60, impressive more for the perseverance factor than anything else. I like my players to have a certain stick-to-itiveness and Figueroa has that.

If this is Figueroa's last crack at making the majors, I'm glad he's going down with some fight. He'll turn 34 in May but this is someone who was so eager to pitch, he spent last season in Mexico and Taiwan. Baseball-Reference tells us that he went 3-0 in Taiwan's version of the World Series, helping his team, the Uni-President Lions, win a championship (unlike Tom Glavine, he didn't melt under pressure, becoming the first foreigner to win series MVP honors). He followed that up with a stint for Aguilas in the Dominican League this past winter, where he went 4-0 with a 1.45 ERA and helped them win a championship. Oh, and guess who was just named MVP of the Carribean World Series, beating out Miguel Tejada, among others? Nelson Figueroa.

So while all eyes will be on Johan Santana as spring training begins, forgive me if I'm not pulling harder for someone just as deserving of some respect.

True Metgueroas know...Tony Armas' father had six career walk-off hits in his major-league career, including three walk-off home runs.


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