Justin Turner nearly did not make his Mets debut as planned Friday in San Francisco, although it wasn’t for lack of trying by Ken Oberkfell. The Triple-A manager unsuccessfully had been attempting to inform the infielder about his promotion.
New York Mets
“They couldn’t get a hold of me this morning. My phone wasn’t on,” Turner said after eventually walking as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and remaining in the game at second base in the Mets’ 1-0 loss on Friday night to the San Francisco Giants. “I got some grief from Obie down in Buffalo. He wasn’t happy. I missed the original flight they had set up for me.”
Turner caught a later flight out of Buffalo, at 12:50 p.m. EDT. He connected in Detroit and landed in San Francisco at 5:40 p.m. PDT. That allowed the Mets to activate him an hour before the game and demote Nick Evans to Double-A Binghamton.
The Mets needed middle-infield depth with Jose Reyes on the active roster but unavailable because of a right oblique issue.
Jerry Manuel indicated Turner will serve as the backup middle infielder with Reyes out, with Ruben Tejada getting the bulk of the starts at shortstop and Alex Cora getting the starts at second base. The exception: When the Mets face a left-hander, such as Sunday with the Giants throwing southpaw Jonathan Sanchez, the righty-hitting Turner should start at second base.
Turner, 25, hit .297 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 42 games with Buffalo after being claimed off waivers from Baltimore on May 25. He was hitless in nine at-bats with the Orioles earlier this season, and was 3-for-18 with that club in the majors last September.
Turner was drafted as a junior by the Yankees out of Cal State Fullerton in the 29th round in 2005, but returned to school for his senior year. He then was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the seventh round the following year. He was traded with Ryan Freel to Baltimore for catcher Ramon Hernandez in December 2008.
Former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky, who worked for Baltimore last year, again was influential in Turner’s pro career path. Krivsky is now a Mets special assistant to Omar Minaya.
As for not signing with the Yankees, Turner recalled: “I didn’t talk to them at all until I went out and played in the Cape [Cod League]. I was having a pretty good summer and they came out and made an offer. At that point I was already committed to going back to school. One of my good friends, my roommate, Danny Dorn, who is with the Reds right now [at Triple-A Louisville], he decided he was going to turn down the Devil Rays [as a 23rd round pick that year] and go back to school. It was kind of a collaborative thing. They offered him some money and he turned it down. I had already registered and was set on going back to school. I figured if he could turn it down and go back, it wasn’t that hard for me, too.”
His senior year at Cal State Fullerton, Turner was named co-Big West Conference Player of the Year with Long Beach State’s Evan Longoria. He also set the conference record for most career at-bats, passing the record of former Mets farmhand David Bacani.
By then, Turner already had a College World Series title under his belt. But while that’s his collegiate highlight, Turner is far more known for an unfortunate event during his freshman year playing in Omaha, Neb.
Playing in the College World Series against a Stanford team that included Chris Carter, Turner was struck on the left side of his face with an 87 mph fastball. Unbelievably, Turner’s bigger injury as a result of the blow was a broken ankle, which he suffered while unsuccessfully trying to avoid the pitch.
Turner became so recognizable because of the incident, the redhead actually dyed his hair black for a week at one point back home, trying to avoid attention.
“I kept it for about a week,” Turner said about the black dye job. “My dad threatened to kick me out of the house. I couldn’t keep it for too long.
“I still to this day get it. When I meet people, I hear, ‘You’re the guy who got hit in the face in the World Series.’ I’d be in Fullerton -- I’ve worked summer camps -- and I’d go into Taco Bell and people would be coming up to me. It was real bad in Fullerton. Obviously people from the area recognize me a little bit more there. Still, in the baseball world to this day, guys when I meet people, they’re like, ‘Are you’re the guy who got hit in the face?’ Usually it’s one of the first things they say to me.”
Count Carter among the exceptions.
“He was the guy?” Carter asked when told he had faced Turner in the College World Series, and that the player whom the Stanford pitcher had beaned was his new teammate. “Small world.”
As for his competence in the field, Turner is most adept at second base, where Manuel placed him in the eighth inning Friday.
“I played most of my games at second base, and came up a shortstop,” Turner said. “I played a lot more short this year than I have in the past as a professional, but I’m pretty comfortable playing both. I played a lot of third too last year with the Orioles. Anywhere they throw me I’m fairly comfortable.”