Zeile to make first start behind plate in 14 years

Updated: September 17, 2004, 2:09 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Todd Zeile will strap on his catcher's gear one last time.

Zeile, who intends to retire at the end of this season, will start behind the plate for the first time in 14 years Friday night when the New York Mets visit the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He has not caught since 1990 with St. Louis -- his second year in the majors.

"It's exciting," Zeile said Thursday before the Mets played Atlanta. "I think I'll be a little nervous."

The 39-year-old Zeile has spent most of his career at third base and first base. But he's been catching in the bullpen lately, and he told Mets manager Art Howe he would like to catch in a game one more time before he calls it quits.

"It's important to him," Howe said. "I asked him how important it was to him and he said he really wanted to catch again. So, I asked him if he wanted to catch an inning or a whole game, and he said he wanted to catch a full game."

Tom Glavine will be the Mets' starting pitcher Friday, and Zeile has been working with the left-hander.

"I really wanted him to catch here in front of our fans, but he's probably most comfortable catching Tommy," Howe said.

"I'm just hoping Glav goes all nine innings," Zeile said.

The last time Zeile caught in a major league game was Sept. 1, 1990, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It's the second-longest span between appearances behind the plate. Gabby Street, a catcher for Cincinnati, Boston (NL), Washington and the New York Yankees from 1904-1912, caught in one game 19 years after his last appearance while managing the Cardinals in 1931.

Zeile came up through St. Louis' system as a catcher and played 128 games behind the plate. But the Cardinals, then managed by Joe Torre, moved Zeile to third base to make room for future Gold Glove winner Tom Pagnozzi.

Zeile was resistant to the switch, but he became a serviceable third baseman in the big leagues. He's also played quite a bit at first base in recent years.

"It was more the front office," Zeile said. "Joe and I locked horns about it a little bit, too. It's important to me partly because it was something that was taken away from me. Working with pitchers and being involved in the game calling -- I think that's what I enjoyed the most about the game and I've had to live vicariously from the two corner positions."

Zeile has played third, first and the outfield for St. Louis, the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Florida, Texas, Colorado, the New York Yankees, Montreal and the Mets in his 16 seasons -- but hadn't had another opportunity to catch until now.

"Once I got from behind the plate and kept my bat in the lineup and showed that I can handle myself out there, there was never a real need to move me back," Zeile said.

Zeile homered in the first inning Thursday for his 1,997th career hit. He is one of 13 players to play 100 or more games each at catcher, first base and third base. He's even pitched in two games since his last appearance behind the plate, the last time coming earlier this season.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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