Journey to bigs brings Feliciano home

NEW YORK -- Jesus Feliciano is heading home a happy man.

Feliciano tied a career high with three hits in the New York Mets' 6-0 drubbing of the Minnesota Twins on Sunday afternoon. Afterward, he was getting on a plane with his teammates to fly to his native Puerto Rico, where the Mets will begin a three-game series with the Florida Marlins on Monday night.

"It's gonna be something special, wearing a big league uniform, playing in front of your country, your family and friends," said Feliciano, who lives just 20 minutes away from Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, which is where the three games will be held. "It's gonna be amazing."

This season has been a dream come true for Feliciano. Prior to this year, Feliciano had played 12 seasons of professional baseball -- 4,665 plate appearances -- without ever being called up to the major leagues. He started this season in Buffalo, his fourth straight season with the Mets' Triple-A affiliate.

Then finally, on June 7, Feliciano -- who was hitting .385 for Buffalo at the time -- got the call to head to New York and join the Mets, the day after his 31st birthday.

He hasn't gotten a ton of playing time with the big club. But with Angel Pagan missing the past four games due to muscle spasms in his right side, Feliciano has been in the lineup and playing center field. He has responded with two three-hit performances in four games -- including Sunday, when he had a double, two singles and scored a run.

"It's a little bit tougher; it's not an easy job, coming off the bench," said Feliciano, who is used to playing every day in the minors. "I think it's more mental than physical. I've been working on that lately. Hopefully I get better on that."

Feliciano has now had 32 at-bats with the Mets and is hitting .281.

"I've always had a trust, so to speak, for him," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said of Feliciano. "It was just a situation where we didn't have that type of playing time. But we felt pretty good that as long as we have him in the organization, that it gave us a sense of having some depth in the outfield position because he can play all three."

Feliciano is one of several players currently on the Mets' roster who weren't here on Opening Day.

Mike Jacobs, Frank Catalanotto and Gary Matthews Jr. -- all veteran hitters who did not produce -- were given their walking papers, and Luis Castillo is on the disabled list.

On the pitching end of things, Oliver Perez and John Maine are also on the disabled list, and Jenrry Mejia was sent down to Double-A Binghamton to try to stretch his arm out and become a starter. (Mejia made his second start for Binghamton on Sunday, and had to leave after throwing 43 pitches because of shoulder stiffness in his pitching arm.)

Many of the Mets' replacements for these players have made big contributions. Rookie first baseman Ike Davis has been a huge addition, in the field and at the plate -- he hit his ninth home run of the season on Sunday, a bomb to right-center field. Veteran knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey is a remarkable 6-0 with a 2.33 ERA, and will pitch in Puerto Rico on Monday night.

Those two have gotten the most attention, but the other "replacements" deserve credit, too. Chris Carter hit a couple of big home runs in Baltimore earlier this month, when the Mets were able to use a DH. And 39-year-old reliever Elmer Dessens has a 0.66 ERA in 13 appearances.

"It's a great story," catcher Rod Barajas said. "We're not doing it with a star-studded lineup. We've got some great players. But the guys who you rely on, the guys who aren't the faces of your organization, they're stepping up.

"We've got a lot of leaders on this team. A lot of veteran guys who know how to rely on others. It's not about themselves. And I think it rubs off. And I think these young guys -- not just the young guys, [but also] the new guys that weren't expected to do much -- are just fitting right in, and we believe in them."

That includes Feliciano, who has done a pretty good job when given an opportunity to play. Even though he started this season in the minors, Feliciano said he was aware at the beginning of the season that the Mets were scheduled to play a series in Puerto Rico in June.

"I was thinking first, get to the big leagues," Feliciano said. "But I always had it in my mind. A lot of friends of mine, my family, were wishing that this thing would happen, and it did. I gotta thank God, and you can't ask for more. It's just great. I'm real happy about it, and hopefully we go there and do a good job."

After Sunday's game, Pagan sounded doubtful that he would be ready to start Monday night, meaning Feliciano will likely be the Mets' center fielder, which will surely be a thrill for him. But Pagan should be back by Tuesday. And then Carlos Beltran -- a fellow Puerto Rican -- should be back in another week or two. That means Feliciano's playing time will soon be even more limited, if he even stays with the major league club.

Feliciano said he's not worrying about that right now. Instead, he's looking forward to seeing -- and hopefully playing in front of -- his parents, family and friends this week.

"I've gotta enjoy the time that I'm here, and do what I can do," he said of being in the big leagues. "There's things that you can control -- those things off the field, I cannot control. I just need to keep it up, keep working hard, show them that I can play at this level, and enjoy this time. Enjoy the moment."

Sounds like a pretty good plan.

Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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