New York Knights manager Pop Fisher said these memorable words to coach Red Blow when Roy Hobbs showed up out of nowhere to proclaim he was the new right fielder, the Natural.
“Red, I should’ve been a farmer.’’
Turk Wendell, who always follows his own path, is putting Pop’s words to good use well after pitching 11 years in the major leagues, including five seasons with the Mets.
Turk is a farmer. And is thrilled to live the life of a farmer.
This October marks the 20th anniversary of the Subway World Series, Mets vs Yankees. The Yankees beat the Mets in five games, but it was a lot closer than that. The Mets four losses came by a total of five runs.
The Mets won 94 games that season to earn the NL Wild Card. The Yankees won 87 games as they went on to win their third straight World Series. The Mets stormed past Barry Bonds’ Giants in four games in the NLDS, Bonds batted .176 with no home runs, and swamped the Cardinals in five games in the NLCS.
Wendell was a big reason the Mets made it to the World Series, coming on in relief in 77 regular season games and six more in the postseason.
His dreams were realized by pitching in the major leagues.
Now he is working on new dreams, getting his hands in the dirt on his farm in Adel, Iowa, located 30 miles west of Des Moines, along the North Raccoon River. Sounds like the perfect place for Turk to find a home after living the ranch life in Colorado for years.
His place is called Wykota Farms and like it says on the fence out front: God’s Country. Wendell owns 47 acres and leases much more acreage.
Wendell in God’s Country. Photo: Turk Wendell
What’s the best thing about farming?
“The self-gratification,’’ Wendell told BallNine. “Putting a seed in the ground and having it grow. And canning vegetables and that kind of stuff; using the garden to feed the pigs and the chickens and everything else. It kind of gets you back to the roots, the way people used to live.
“It’s just really cool to plant crops and sit there and watch them grow and say, ‘Wow, I planted all that stuff. It’s just a pretty cool feeling.’’
Wendell, 53, is all in, going from sliders to soybeans, alfalfa, corn and cows grazing in the pastures.
“We’ll raise a couple pigs every year and slaughter them, you know pork chops, the whole nine yards,’’ he said. “Chickens, we have chicken eggs every day. We’ve raised turkeys. I’ve raised them for my buddies for Thanksgiving dinner. They say, ‘Well I’m not going to have to kill it, am I?’ I say no, I’ll bring it to you, and it will look like you just bought it at the store, but it will never be frozen. It’s going to be fed all organic food. None of that stuff pumped into it just to get it fat in five or six weeks.’’
The real thing. Genuine.
“In light of this pandemic, people can’t go out to eat and just buy stuff, it didn’t affect me at all,’’ he said.
What’s it’s like walking through rows of corn?
“People kind of joke in Iowa, they say that stuff grows so good here and so fast that you can actually hear the corn growing,’’ Wendell said with a laugh. “It’s just kind of strange. One day you can just look out there and it can just be bare ground and the next thing you know the corn is three feet tall and you are going, wow, how the heck did that happen so fast?
“I plant something and you kind of get impatient… you want it to grow and then you kind of blink and say, ‘Holy crap, I can’t believe it grew that fast.’ And when you harvest the crops it’s kind of like mowing the lawn. I love to mow around the farm and like the way it looks nice. If you’re baling hay it’s just an oversized farm mower. I’m a John Deere guy through and through.’’
In 1999 and 2000 Wendell was on the same pitching staff as Pat Mahomes. Mahomes went 8-0 in ‘99. His son Patrick was running around the clubhouse those years. Wendell and Mahomes were at Mets Fantasy Camp this winter in Port St. Lucie, Fla in late January.
“Pat only came for a week,’’ Turk said. “He went back to watch the Super Bowl. I think it’s pretty awesome his son is doing as great as he is. I remember the kid always running around the clubhouse and Pat joking, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. This kid never wants to go to sleep.’ ’’
All that energy did not go to waste for Patrick Mahomes as the Chiefs came back to beat the 49ers, 31-20 In Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
As for that 2000 World Series, Wendell was the losing pitcher in Game 1, his only postseason loss in 13 career appearances. The right-hander was up and down in the bullpen all night, came on in the 11th inning, managed to get out of a jam. He nearly squeezed his way out of the 12th but Jose Vizcaino’s two-out single to left, his fourth hit of the night, scored Tino Martinez at the old raucous Yankee Stadium to give the Yankees the 4-3 victory.
Turk Wendell with the Mets
“I think I warmed up five or six times before I actually got in the game, so I was pretty shot,’’ Wendell said. “I didn’t really have much in my tank. I got out of a jam in the 11th. Looking back I should have told (Bobby) Valentine, ‘Hey look I’m done. You got to get somebody else.’ I guess I was never that smart to say anything, I was too competitive. I say that jokingly but I mean it. I try to teach kids to play smarter not harder to train smarter not harder. You can practice too much and when you get tired you create bad habits or you get hurt. You have to do everything a little bit smarter and not harder.
“I was really disappointed we lost but there were 28 other teams that didn’t make it to the World Series,’’ Wendell said. “To me the World Series was icing on the cake. I got to live my dream every single day putting on a major league uniform.’’
While wearing his famous necklace that included claws and teeth of various animals he hunted and killed. Wendell was always a little different because he would brush his teeth between innings, chew black licorice, take a colossal leap over the foul line, draw three crosses in the dirt and slam the rosin bag to the ground before pitching.
He was a a workhorse, too, with No. 99 appearing in nine straight games at one point for the Mets.
“It’s funny how people get labeled and stuff,’’ he said. “I am who I am and that’s all I can be.’’
Don’t call his rituals superstitions. They were part of his routine and every successful player has a routine.
“Most guys who have played at least four or five years in the majors, they all have a routine’’ Wendell said. “They stay in their lane and stick to a routine. It puts you in a comfort zone. If you don’t do one of those things you feel off. The more comfortable you are the better you are going to perform. I got labeled as a guy who did weird things but humans are creatures of habit. If you are successful you will keep doing those routines.’’
Wendell was successful.
His son Wyatt is a pitcher at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa and “he has a really good necklace that he wears pitching,’’ Wendell said.
Pass it on.
“Hopefully he will be drafted in 2021. He’s 6-6 and about 215 pounds. He’s starting to fill out a little and hopefully he’ll be throwing in the mid-90s soon and I think he’ll be on his way.’’
His daughter Dakota is an All-American soccer player at Minnesota State. “Both kids are super hard workers and they set goals and achieve them. To actually see that come to fruition that is pretty exciting,’’ the proud father said. “When Wyatt was four or five years old he he was picking up the spin on a breaking ball.’’
Turk’s goal was simply to play in the big leagues.
“I achieved that goal and that’s what I am most proud of in my career,’’ he said. “I really didn’t understand how special it really was as a player. That was the plan for my life. Now realizing less than 20,000 people have ever played Major League Baseball and how many of those have played 10-plus years. I was part of that. Holy shit, I can’t believe I was one of them.
From l to r - Some chickens, the John Deere and the reliever. Photo: Turk Wendell
“When I was inducted into the Western Massachusetts Baseball Hall of Fame four months ago I joked, I played in the big leagues for 10-plus years but I wasn’t even that good. I guess I was better than I thought.
“Plus you throw in there that I played in an era of steroids, amphetamines, and corked bats and all this other garbage, I guess I was really a lot better than I thought,’’ he said.
Wendell was quick to call out players for steroid use, making such statements to me 10 years ago. He tells it like it is and has never offered lip service.
“The game has changed so much, it’s all about offense,’’ Wendell said. “A lot of mentality of baseball is kind of ass backwards but that’s just the way it is.’’
Turk Wendell is a farmer now. He followed his dreams from the baseball field to a real life Iowa Field of Dreams.
He’s walking out of the cornfield, living life to the fullest.
“I can’t be someone somebody else wants me to be,’’ he said.
Turk Wendell is a proud farmer.