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Pinch hitting: Jeff Wenzel

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Our next Pinch Hitter, Jeff Wenzel, grew up in northern Illinois and went into the Army at age 17. It was the military that eventually brought him to North Carolina, where he met his wife and where he still lives. Now 37 years old, Jeff lives with his family in a small coastal town just north of Wilmington.

“For my first Father’s Day in 2010, my wife bought me my first Yankee game tickets,” Jeff wrote. “We stayed at a hotel in Manhattan and road the subway with our 6 month old son to 2 games in June 2010. My son’s first Yankee game was a Boston-Yankee game! Talk about a memorable first Father’s Day experience for everyone in our family. … I am still trying to convince my wife that “Jeter” would make a great name for our next child.”

For his post, Jeff didn’t write about Jeter or Father’s Day. He wrote about the unexpected connection that brought him to the Yankees in the first place.

[2]So you may ask, why is a guy who grew up a diehard White Sox fan writing an article about the Yankees?

I grew up two hours west of Chicago in the small town of Freeport, IL. Even there, I was a minority. In a town that boasts a high school mascot called the Freeport Pretzels and the location of “Little Cubs field” (a whiffle ball replica of Wrigley field), I wore #23 on my high school baseball uniform. Not because of the super famous Chicago athlete Michael Jordan, but the White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura.

Everyone rooted for the Cubs. I rooted for the White Sox.

After graduating high school in 1993, the US Army took me to Fort Bragg, N.C. At that time, the local ESPN radio station was a Yankee affiliate. You can imagine my delight when I heard Rockin’ Robin had joined the Yankees in 2002. I started listening to the Yankees…

As I mentioned, I grew up a die-hard White Sox fan. In high school, I painted a 6-foot tall White Sox logo on my bedroom wall. On another wall, I had used a slide projector to help me trace a top view seating chart of Comiskey Park (now US Cellular Field) complete with section numbers. After each game I attended, I would come home and put a red dot on my wall where I had sat. I was Fathead crazy before Fatheads were ever invented!

So Robin was traded to the Yankees from the Mets for David Justice prior to the 2002 season. He rounded out an infield boasting Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter. Note, all four Yankee infielders made the All Star team. At this time, Robin had six Gold Gloves under his belt, although 2002 would prove to be a rough fielding year for him.

During the 2002 All-Star home run derby (which Giambi won), I remember seeing Robin sitting on the field enjoying himself with the rest of the players and their kids. I don’t know why that image sticks in my mind, but it does. It was Robin’s second and last All-Star appearance.

Robin re-signed after the 2002 season with the Yankees and was ultimately traded in late July 2003 to the Dodgers for Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor. But by that time, I was hooked. I had sipped enough of the Yankee Kool-Aid and I wanted more! I had officially switched my allegiance to the Bronx Bombers. And that’s how Robin Ventura made this life long White Sox fan a Yankees fan.

Here are some other notable career moments for Robin:

• He had been named as part of Sports Illustrated cover entitled “Best Infield Ever” featuring the 1999 Mets.
• He was the only person to get six hits off of Nolan Ryan in a single game. Unfortunately, all six “hits” were to the dome of 26 year old Robin’s head after he decided to charge the mound and got caught in a noogie hold by the 46-year-old Ryan.
• He hit 18 career grand slams, placing him in a tie with Willie McCovey for 5th on the all-time list, behind Lou Gehrig, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramírez, and Eddie Murray; 6.1 percent of his career home runs were grand slams, the highest ratio of any player with at least 250 career home runs.
• He really hit 19 career grand slams, but is only credited with 18 due his Mets teammates carrying him off the field after a bottom of the 15th inning walk off “grand single” where he failed to touch home plate.
• He is one of 13 players to have ever hit two grand slams in the same game.
• At Oklahoma State, as a sophomore in 1987, he had a NCAA record 58-game hitting streak, breaking the previous record of 47. That record stood until 2003.
• He is the current manager of the Chicago White Sox

Photo from the Wenzel family