Pete Hadley, the grand prize winner of the 2006 "Bring the Game Home" baseball card sweepstakes, was the envy of his suburban New Jersey neighborhood last week when John Maine and Aaron Heilman paid a visit.
A 12-year-old Mets fan, who also pitches and plays third base for his local Little League team in Forked River, N.J., Hadley got personal pitching instruction from the Mets' pitchers, as well as a prize package that included boxes of Topps and Upper Deck trading cards, baseball video games, a home theatre system and an Xbox 360 video game console.
The following night, Hadley had an on-field meet-and-greet with his favorite player -- third baseman David Wright -- when he attended the Mets game against the Brewers at Shea Stadium.
The "Bring the Game Home" sweepstakes, which is sponsored by Topps, Upper Deck and the Major League Baseball Players Association, helps to bring young fans closer to their favorite players and the game of baseball through baseball card collecting.
This summer, specially marked packs of Topps, Upper Deck, and Fleer Ultra baseball cards will give young collectors the opportunity to win a trip to the 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star game at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Tex is Rangers' Iron Man: Growing up near Baltimore, Texas first baseman Mark Teixeira watched Cal Ripken Jr. play in his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking the record for consecutive games played.
"When he broke the streak there was a sense of pride in Baltimore," Teixeira told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "There was a sense of awe from athletes and from ballplayers. I remember my principal on the loudspeaker, before the game, telling us to appreciate what he's done."
Teixeira's still a long way from reaching Ripken in the record book, but he did play in his 483rd consecutive game Sunday, breaking the Rangers' all-time record for consecutive games played previously held by Alex Rodriguez.
"I come to work every day expecting to play," said Teixeira, who went 1-for-3 with an RBI double Sunday. "The way I look at it, every day you take off, that could be a day you go 4-for-4 with two homers. You might be the difference in your team winning or losing the game."
The last game off for Teixeira came on May 20, 2004. However, he didn't miss the game because he needed a rest or because he was slumping at the plate. He was hit by a pitch in the hand two nights earlier and was unable to grip a bat.
"I was disappointed that I wasn't in the lineup," Teixeira said. "That's one of those freak accidents. You get hit in the hand, you can't hold a bat, you're not going to be any good to your team."
Since returning to the lineup, there have been times when Teixeira thought about taking himself out of the lineup. This year, he has been battling soreness in his left knee. Despite the pain, however, Teixeira can't come to grips with actually asking for a day off.
"Every time that I wake up with something not feeling right, I come to the park and figure out a way to get myself ready for a game," Teixeira said. "Whether it's treatment, rest, sleep -- whatever it takes. ... [The knee has] slowed me down a little bit on the bases, but I'm not exactly a speedster anyway. When it comes to my game, something like a little leg injury or soreness isn't going to keep me out of the lineup."
For Lo Duca, Mother's Day is always tough: Before every game at Shea Stadium, New York Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca traces an "L" in the dirt behind home plate. He does this for a simple reason: to honor his late mother Luci, who died of ovarian cancer 10 years ago.
"I only wish she could have seen me play at this level," Lo Duca told Newsday of his mother, who introduced him to the sport and died at age 52 in 1996, two years before he made it to the big leagues.
Luci spent hours with Paul and his two older brothers going over the nuances of the game. She spent countless hours watching Lo Duca play baseball as a child and even helped him negotiate his first professional contract.
"Paulie and his mother had a special bond," said Paul Lo Duca Sr. "I was at a time in my life when I was working all the time. Luci was the one who was doing everything with the boys, and Paulie was her youngest. They were very close."
Lo Duca was drafted by the Dodgers in 1995. One year later, Luci was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Wanting to be with his mother, Lo Duca told the Dodgers he didn't plan on playing in the Arizona Fall League.
It was a decision that didn't sit well with Luci.
"She said to me, 'When I pass away, I want you to come to my funeral and then I want you to play the next day,'" Paul said. "I said, 'I'm not going to do that.' And she made me promise. So I did."
Sunday was the 10th Mother's Day Lo Duca has been unable to share with his mom. He often contributes and speaks at fundraisers to fight cancer. And he still thinks of her before every game.
"I look up and say, 'Mom, give me strength,'" Paul said. "Mother's Day is still a hard day for me. I really wish she could be here and see me play. But in a way, I think she does ... I know she's there for me every day."
Pink bats have special meaning for Mientkiewicz: When baseball players around the Majors used pink bats as a way to raise awareness of breast cancer on Mother's Day, Doug Mientkiewicz of the New York Yankees couldn't wait to get his hands on the two pink bats he ordered.
Mientkiewicz has a special reason for wanting to fight cancer. His mother, Janice, is a survivor of breast cancer.
"My mom's the rock of our family," Mientkiewicz told Newsday. "She was always upbeat. She was going to beat it."
Janice was diagnosed with cancer in December 2005. The diagnosis was made thanks to her taking a routine mammogram.
"If it wasn't for the mammogram, I could be dead by now," Janice said. "It's really almost like an out-of-body experience [the diagnosis]. I know it happens to a lot of women -- I believe one out of every eight. Somehow you never think it will happen to you, though. I just knew in my heart that I would be OK."
Janice soon started radiation therapy and, according to Mientkiewicz, handled the whole situation better than his father, Len, or sister, Andrea.
While his mother's struggles brought the realities of cancer closer to Mientkiewicz, he has been involved in the fight against cancer for years. While a member of the Minnesota Twins, he was involved in a cancer society.
"At the time, I didn't have anyone with cancer in my family or know anyone with cancer," Doug said. "I figured that at some point I would, though, because it's so common."
While Janice was unable to attend Spring Training in 2006, she did recover enough to reach her goal of attending Opening Day. On Mother's Day 2006, she had been proclaimed cancer-free. That Mother's Day was also the first time players around the league started to use the pink bats.
"It was perfect timing," Doug said. "It was right around the date of when she was cancer-free. We flew her up to be at the game. I signed the bat and gave it to her after the game."
Fielder finds success in tough counts: When a pitcher gets ahead in the count against Milwaukee's Prince Fielder, that pitcher better not relax. Of the 11 home runs smashed by Fielder this season, two have come on 0-2 pitches and two came on 1-2 pitches.
"He always tells me he's trying to be conscious of cutting his swing down and letting his hands do the work (when behind in the count), which we've always been preaching since Spring Training," hitting coach Jim Skaalen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I think he'll confirm that that's what he's trying to do."
"Ski has been working with us on just trying to put the barrel on the ball with two strikes and put it in play," Fielder said. "When I try to do that it helps me out because I focus on trying not to overswing, I guess."
Jennings nears return: Houston Astros pitcher Jason Jennings is close to returning to the active roster after throwing 100 pitches Saturday. Jennings, who is on the disabled list due to tendinitis in his right elbow, threw 75 pitches in a simulated game Saturday.
Throw in his warmup pitches, and he came close to throwing 100 pitches for the day.
"It's 10 less (pitches) than I threw my first two starts of the year," Jennings told he Houston Chronicle of the 75 pitches he threw. "So I hope I'm pretty close.
"Depending on how I feel tomorrow, I'm pretty sure I'll go out and throw a rehab start Thursday at Class AA Corpus Christi. After that, we'll kind of go from there and see what we can do.
"It's nice and hot today so I worked up a sweat, which was good. This is about as close to a game situation as it can get, so it was a good test."
Jennings said it was important for him to stretch his outing out to better duplicate what he will due in a game once he is activated from the disabled list.
"The closer I get to 80 to 90 pitches and if I'm still feeling OK, that's a good sign that I'll be OK during the game," he said.
Carmona continues strong run: Cleveland Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona is on quite a run, winning four times in his last five starts and posting an ERA of 2.00 in that span. Overall, he's 4-1 on the year with a 3.12 ERA and seemingly improving with each outing.
On Saturday Carmona gave up three early runs to Oakland then shut them out over the next six frames in the Indians' 6-3 win.
"That's as impressive a performance as we've seen from him," manager Eric Wedge told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "It tells you all you need to know about the young man. He gives up three runs early, settles down and does nothing but get better and better as the game went along."
After that rough first inning, Carmona made some adjustments.
"I just relaxed and let the ball move by itself instead of trying to make it move," Carmona said with the help of interpreter/first base coach Luis Rivera.
After struggling in a trial run with the Indians last year, Carmona was never concerned about whether or not he would succeed in the Major Leagues.
"I'm not surprised at what I'm doing," Carmona said. "I feel good about myself. I know I didn't pitch good last year, but I also knew I was better than that."
Teahen sparks Royals: When his team needed him, Kansas City right fielder Mark Teahen answered the call. In Sunday's 11-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox, Teahen hit a key three-run home run in the fifth inning off of White Sox starting pitcher Javier Vazquez.
"I've actually really struggled with him in the past," Teahen told MLB.com, referring to his .167 average against Vazquez before Sunday. "But he left a changeup up, and I got a good piece of it."
Manager Buddy Bell said he was glad to see a clutch player come through for the Royals.
"Teahen got us going off a guy who's really been tough against us in the past," said Bell. "[Teahen] is one of the guys we really count on. He's a good player; he plays hard, works hard."
As for the Royals' 11-run explosion, Teahen said what any good team leader should say.
"I felt early in the season we had the potential to do this," Teahen said, "and we haven't done it to this point. It's nice to have a day where it all clicks."
Lilly's consistency continues: Ted Lilly didn't need too many runs on Sunday to earn his third victory of the season, working eight strong innings in the Cubs 4-1 victory over Philadelphia while lowering his ERA to 2.53 on the year.
"Lilly's been very consistent and he had very good stuff today, using his changeup and he had a great curveball, working both sides of the plate," Cubs manager Lou Piniella told MLB.com. "Lilly gave us eight excellent innings."
Dominating, actually. The Phillies didn't muster a hit until the fifth inning off of Lilly, and the Cubs starter retired the side in order in five innings.
"I think the thing that I'm doing much more consistently that I didn't do last year is throw strikes, and keeping the ball near the strike zone and making them swing," said Lilly. "I changed my mechanics since last year, but the changes have been so slight. If I struggled a little bit, I used to make drastic changes. They have a lot of tough outs in their lineup over there and you have to get ahead of all of them. I don't know if I had my best stuff."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.