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Simons Says

I had particular reason to be excited for the 1991 baseball season and not because the Mets had signed Vince Coleman to replace Darryl Strawberry as the team's primary offensive weapon (a frightening thought looking back now).

The reason I thought that this was going to be a fun season was because the family name was going to be represented on the Mets roster In the winter of 1990, the Mets plucked a lefty pitcher named Doug Simons off the Twins roster in the Rule V Draft, and with the way that draft works, that meant if Simons made the Mets, he would likely remain for an entire season.

Simons made his major-league debut in the second game of the season, an afternoon tilt against the Phillies. With the Mets trailing 1-0 after Frank Viola pitched six stellar innings, Bud Harrelson turned the ball over to his bullpen and got good work from rookie Pete Schourek and Jeff Innis for two frames. Simons entered with a slew of lefties due up.

"I remember thinking that if I could just get one out, I'd be in the Baseball Encyclopedia," Simons said, remembering it nearly 15 years later.

Simons got six outs, the first being former Met Wally Backman on a grounder to short and the second being former Met Lenny Dykstra on a fly to left. He'd get his first strikeout (John Kruk) in the 10th inning, after the Mets tied the game in the last of the ninth on a home run by Rick Cerone off another ex-Met, Roger McDowell. After Simons pitched a 1-2-3 10th, the Mets won the game in walk-off fashion. With two outs, the very popular Hubie Brooks crushed a high fastball from Joe Boever over the left field fence for a game-winning home run.

This game stands out to me because I remember going to see Harrelson speak at a Learning Annex function later that day, and he was a little late, since the game went extra-innings. He received a standing ovation anyways, one of the last he'd get that season.

The game stands out to Simons as a memorable moment in a brief big-league career.

"I was always pretty stoic," Simons said. "A couple of media folks came over to me and said 'Don't you realize that you just won your first game. I remember thinking 'Well, you guys don't know me, but I'm throwing a party inside my head right now."

The one reason that some may remember Simons' name is because of something that happened a few weeks later. While the Mets were on a West Coast trip in San Francisco, a fan gave Simons his first major-league baseball card, which he stored in his pocket for safekeeping. When the team got to Los Angeles, Simons, who grew up there, met with family before driving to the game.

"I took my mom's beat-up Honda and (security)wouldn't let me into the park," Simons said. "I told them I was a player and showed them my baseball card. I ended up having to show it to about five security guards before I got to the clubhouse."

Simons was used as a mop-up man for most of what turned into a miserable campaign for the Mets, but I still paid close attention whenever he came into a game. It became an annual event that I'd win a one-year subscription to Inside Pitch by correctly answering a trivia question on WFAN's "Mets Extra." When I won late that season, Howie Rose identified me on the air as "Mac Simons" (blame the producer for bad handwriting), and rhetorically wondered aloud whether I was related to Doug (of course, our last names are not exactly the same...). Simons finished the season 2-3 with a 5.19 ERA.

The next spring, the Mets traded Simons to the Expos, after telling him they'd return him to a starting role that season. Simons had great numbers against lefty hitters ("coincidental" he says now) and Expos GM Kevin Malone thought he'd make a good LOOGY (lefthanded one-out guy). Well, in his first outing with Montreal (coincidentally against the Mets), he gave up four runs in one-third of an inning. Teammate Chris Nabholz told him it couldn't get any worse. It did. In his next outing, Simons was charged with four runs, without getting an out. He was sent to the minors the next day with an ERA of 216.00. A September recall allowed him to bring it down to a "respectable" 23.62, but that was the end of Simons time in the major leagues.

"My kids collect baseball cards, and they'll point to the ERA and say 'Is that right?'" said Simons, who is married with four children. "I look back on my career now and realize that I made it with smoke and mirrors. I was below-average velocity wise, but I didn't make mistakes, and I had a split-finger fastball that could get groundballs. I had more success as a starter in the minors than a one-out guy because I relied a lot on rythym and location. If you didn't get to me right away, I'd put up zeroes. But I look back now and say I wouldn't have scouted myself as a prospect."

The family name would not be represented in the majors again until Randall Simon's recall, and we don't like to talk much about him since he bopped a fan competing in a Sausage Race at Miller Park.

We'd rather talk about Doug Simons, and as you've seen, we talked with him earlier today. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, hopping around the minor leagues for a few more seasons, and playing for a season in Italy, Simons retired and returned to the Mets organization as a minor league pitching coach.

In 2002, Simons became a scout for the Texas Rangers, evaluating talent in the southern part of the country. He held that job until this summer, when he was approached by some people he knew at Covenant College, a Christian liberal arts school in Blue Mountain, Georgia, not far from Chattanooga, Tenn. They wanted to restart the school's baseball program after it had been absent for more than two decades. Simons became the school's head coach and director of student life. The program, which competes in the NAIA, will play JV ball this season with a roster primarily of walk-ons and go varsity in the spring of 2007.

"The school's focus is on producing quality young men more than baseball players," Simons said. "Most of these players are going to become husbands, fathers and business leaders, and I want to be a positive influence for them."

A couple of Simons' players know of his big-league days, including one from Orlando who sported a Mets jacket on campus the other day.

"It's funny, you play one day in the big leagues and it changes the way that people look at you. It's a good platform and a good opportunity," Simons said, then added with a laugh "I might lose some respect if they knew I once had a 23 ERA."

For more information on the Covenant College baseball program, go to http://athletics.covenant.edu

True Metmon know...No player named Mark has ever had a walk-off RBI for the Mets, though a pitcher named Mark Lee once threw a wild-pitch that resulted in a Mets walk-off win.

Comments

Anonymous said…
The morning of Game Three of the 2000 NLCS, Newsday noted none other than Doug Simons was pitching batting practice for the Mets. Obviously he did his job splendidly during that series, the last post-season set the Mets won. That probably sounds like a backhanded compliment, but winning a pennant is a team effort.

Cerone in the ninth, Brooks in the tenth. It seemed like a formula to follow for the rest of the season. Game No. 2 had a tie-in of some kind with WFAN, with all proceeds going to one of their children's charities. The hope, expressed by Mike Francesa, was they would sell out. The Mets drew just over 16,000. Not that everybody in question wasn't generous, but I remember thinking, "well, this makes everybody look kinda chintzy when everybody knows the second game of the season doesn't sell out."

Game Three that year, the first night game, was one of those seesaw games that if you win you feel you're on top of the world (the Opener was played under 88 degree sunshine and a Doc Gooden beauty, so Game Two made a good thing great). They lost 8-7 and it was the first sign that 1991 wouldn't necessarily be a continuation of the good times.

Post-script: The next morning, very tired and aggravated, I had to drive up to Connecticut to visit a small-town bottler in New Britain called Avery's. If you've followed the minutiae of Faith and Fear, you know that Avery's is the namesake of our recently adopted kitten and love of my lap, Avery. Let's just say the second week of April 1991 was replete with family connections for the future Met bloggers of America.

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