Moonlight Graham played in one Major League game and became part of baseball lore, with Burt Lancaster playing an old Graham in “Field of Dreams.”
Joe Hietpas might not be in baseball lore but he did make it into one game for the Mets in October 3, 2004. He caught the ninth inning of New York’s 8-1 win against Montreal, the final game in Expos history.
Hietpas said he might be the person most vehemently opposed to baseball ever returning to Montreal.
“That’s my claim to fame,” he told NY Sports Day. “That’s a conversation starter.”
The light-hitting catcher spent several seasons in the minors before being called up in September 2004 following an injury to Vance Wilson.
The Mets were playing out a third consecutive losing season and with two weeks to go the team announced manager Art Howe would be fired at the end of the season.
“I was the only one who was excited for the last three weeks of the season,” Hietpas said.
He said coach Matt Galante, whose son played with Hietpas in the minors, took pity on him and told the catcher he would make it into a game.
But Hietpas didn’t make it in, even with the Mets playing doubleheaders against the Pirates and Braves.
“I was resigned to the fact that it wasn’t happening,” Hietpas said.
On the final day of the season, the Mets were beating up on the Expos and Todd Zeile homered in the final game of his career. Zeile also caught the first eight innings before Hietpas went in for the ninth.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Hietpas said.
Home plate umpire Angel Hernandez noted how difficult it was to pick up the ball because of the afternoon sun.
“We’ll get through it,” Hernandez told Hietpas.
Bartolome Fortunado pitched a scoreless ninth with Endy Chavez grounding out to end the game, the season, 35 years of Montreal Expos baseball and Hietpas’ major league career.
“I felt good about what the future held,” Hietpas said. “There’s no way I thought that was it.”
Back in the minors, Hietpas was good with the glove but struggled at the plate.
“It was never defense that was a problem,” he said.
Right-hander Brian Bannister had to leave a start in the first inning, leaving Norfolk scrambling for pitching. Hietpas volunteered to pitch and hit 93 on the radar gun.
Heading into 2007, Vice President of player development Tony Bernazard told Hietpas his best way of sticking around was on the mound.
“He couldn’t watch me not hit for another year,” Hietpas said.
Hietpas called the 2007 season in St. Lucie his most fun in pro ball and he went 4-3 with a 2.47 ERA. But the next season in Binghamton his ERA jumped to 6.34.
He said he had no trouble leaving the game.
“It’s easy when they cut you,” Hietpas said.
Jeff Wilpon offered him coaching and scouting opportunities, and even an SNY audition but Hietpas left the game, attending law school.
“Reality set in,” he said.
Hietpas is now legal counsel to a real estate investment firm in St. Louis.
Photo: Ed Wolfstein/Icon Sportswire