As we showed you last week in our conversation with former big league slugger Kevin Mench, he has quite the memorabilia room. The power-hitting Mench spent 2002-2010 in the major leagues and also played in Japan for a year. He once belted a home run in seven consecutive games.
In the latest edition of Card Back Q&A, we chatted about the baseball cards he was featured on, from his prospect days over 20 years ago to issues that chronicled his time with Texas, Milwaukee, Toronto and Washington.
Topics included his much talked about hat size, his love of the Philadelphia Phillies and specifically Mike Schmidt, his grandfather’s influence and much more.
Tony Reid– Your 2000 Bowman Rookie Card stated that you had ‘enormously strong hands and forearms.’ Where did that come from?
Kevin Mench-I think that quote came from my college coach. Nowadays people talk about hitting and it’s all upper body strength. It’s basically from your elbows to your hands and how fast and how quick you can pull your hands through. You are grabbing a bat the entire time and all the muscles that involves. That wouldn’t even come to mind to me when someone asked about attributes but my college coach at the time.
TR–On the back of your 2001 Bowman card it makes note about how you paced all of NCAA Division 1 with 33 homers in 1998. You are aware of that fact but when you think of that magical season what is top of mind today?
KM-It’s almost like a video game. The bats were different back then but to still be able to do something like that- one weekend we played the University of Maine. We played a doubleheader Saturday and a doubleheader Sunday. I think I ended up going 11 for 13 with eight homers on the weekend. I hit three in the first game, two in the second, two in the third game and one in the four game over the weekend. I got Co-Player of the Week with Earl Snyder from the University of Hartford. I had eight homers on the weekend and I think he had nine all year. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was just going up there, at that point you are in college, and you are out partying and doing stupid stuff. You aren’t even thinking about anything.
TR–Your 2002 Leaf Rookies & Stars states that ‘According to New Era Cap Company Mench wears the biggest cap in the majors at size 8.’ That has been a topic of conversation for years but it actually made it to the back of a few of your cards.
KM-It’s all lies. It’s just the way the hats are made. I was just talking about this the other day in church. The hat I was wearing was a 7 3/4 and it fit fine. I could go get another 7 ¾ and it fit like a yarmulke. I could go get another one and I would be swimming in it. It’s amazing how they don’t match up. I never went bigger than an 8. I did cut a few signs on the back because if I was playing on the road and its hot and it dried out I had to cut it. You don’t want to be breaking in a new hat but yes, nothing bigger than an 8.
TR– The 2002 Upper Deck Victory card mentions your fandom of the Philadelphia Phillies admiration of Mike Schmidt. Can you speak to being a Phillies fan and what Schmidt meant to you?
KM– I had a chance to meet him at an autograph signing and we talked for hours. The owner of the Phillies, Bob Carpenter, Jr., boys went to Delaware with my brother, so I grew up around them. We were always talking about the Phillies. Just watching that whole era with Juan Samuel, even the nineties teams with Darren Daulton and those great teams, I grew up watching them. They played hard. Those are the guys I looked up to. That’s how I wanted to be as a player. I wanted to play as hard as I could and leave it all out on the field. My body is paying for it now but you don’t think of it that way at twenty years old. When I think of Schmidt, I think of the respect he got and how he played the game.
TR–Your 2004 Topps notes that you got inspiration from your grandfather who passed when you were 12 years old. Can you put into words what he meant to you as a young man?
KM-It was just watching the work he put in. He worked for Sun Oil for 42 years. He worked on a ship in the navy yard in South Philly. It was the blue collar work he put in. It was all about seeing that as a kid and wanting to capture that Rocky mentality of keep going and keep going until you can’t go anymore. If someone knocks you down you get up and keep going. You will find a way to push through. That was the biggest takeaway. My other grandfather passed away when I was five or six, so I didn’t get a chance to know him. I missed that opportunity there but it was nice to have the time with my other grandfather.