New York Mets catcher Vance Wilson and pitcher Dan Wheeler visited the St. Mary's Campus of mercyFirst in Syosset last week to talk to the students, share motivational stories, sign autographs and have a catch with three lucky boys.
Three students, selected by school administrators, had the opportunity to talk to Wilson and Wheeler before the assembly started. The awestruck boys, Robert, Joshua and Michael, had the opportunity to ask Wilson and Wheeler some questions about the upcoming 2004 season for the Mets.
"I know what you really want to ask - Why isn't Mike Piazza coming to talk to us?" joked Wilson, referring to the Mets starting catcher who Wilson backs-up on the team.
At the assembly, Wilson and Wheeler greeted the approximately 120 people in attendance and said that the Mets should have a more successful season this year since they greatly improved their defense, especially up the middle with the additions of shortstop Kaz Matsui and centerfielder Mike Cameron, and their pitching with the recent signing of Braden Looper.
Wilson, who graduated from Red Mountain High School in Arizona, told the boys how he grew up in a low-income neighborhood where kids "weren't supposed to make something of themselves." "I didn't get a scholarship to play baseball so I was a walk-on player, but I tried really hard, made sure I got good grades and now I am living a dream," said Wilson, who played two years at Mesa Junior College in Arizona before signing with the Mets in 1999. "School can take you great places and you guys can be anything that you want to be."
Wheeler said that he was honored to represent the United States when he pitched in the 1999 Pan-American Games, won a silver medal and defeated Mexico with four perfect innings of relief in the game that clinched an Olympic berth for the US.
"There were times in my life when I got into a funk, but I realized that I had to redirect myself," said Wheeler, who signed with Mets as a free agent on Jan. 27, 2003. "I am fortunate to be in the place I am today, but I had to work really hard to get here. You can do anything that you want to do as long as you work hard enough."
The students had the opportunity to ask questions, which ranged from how much money do the players make a year, what kind of car they drive, their most embarrassing moments and their goals, which Wilson and Wheeler both agreed on - "to win a world championship."
Before the autograph session, three students had a catch with Wilson and Wheeler and then everyone received an autograph and a New York Mets hat.
"This was so great," said one student. "I am so happy that these two guys came here. They taught me to believe in myself and never give up."
Another student said, "I live in Queens and went to games with my dad, but I was never able to get an autograph from a player so this was really great."
mercyFirst is the result of a recent merger between two of New York's leading children welfare agencies, St Mary's Children and Family Services in Syosset and Angel Guardian Children and Family Services in Brooklyn. mercyFirst is a non-profit, non-sectarian agency caring every year for more than 3,000 abused, neglected and troubled children at over 25 sites.
"We were thrilled to have Vance Wilson and Dan Wheeler here," said Liz Giordano, mercyFirst CEO. "Not only are they great athletes, but they are wonderful role models to the young men here on our Syosset campus."