The Wilmington, Delaware born Kevin Mench had an outstanding high school career at The Independence School and St. Mark’s High School in Delaware. Mench stayed in state and attended the University of Delaware. He led the Blue Hens to NCAA Tournament appearances in both 1998 and 1999.
In 1998, the slugger led the nation with 33 homers, drove in 72 runs and was named the Collegiate National Baseball Player of the Year. After his outstanding college career, Mench was inducted into the University of Delaware Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005.
In 1999 Mench was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the fourth round with the 118th overall pick. He had a strong rookie campaign, hitting 15 homers and driving in 60 runs while finishing seventh on the Rookie of the Year balloting. His best professional season was 2004, when he had career highs in every major offensive category including a .279 average with 26 homers and 71 RBI. In 2006, he became the 19th player in major league history to hit a homer in at least six straight games.
The man who was affectionately referred to as Shrek for his large hat size, spent eight seasons in the majors, playing for Texas, Toronto, Milwaukee and Washington. He also spent one season overseas, playing for the Hanshin Tigers of the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan.
Tony Reid– You played in the Big Leagues for nearly a decade. What fan interactions stand out most to you over the course of your career?
Kevin Mench– You run into some fans that have some really clever stuff to say. They have done their research. Others, it’s kind of like the drunker they are the more stupid they can be. I get it. As a fan of sports, I get to do the same thing when I go to a football game or hockey game. You have to have fun with it. You have to have thick skin. I grew up outside of Philadelphia, so being around that fan base, going to New York was no issue. I enjoyed going to Boston. I was used to it. You always try to have fun with it. If they say something creative you turn around and give them a thumbs up. You just acknowledge it.
The cities that we would go to more often like Anaheim or Oakland or Seattle, I would have good rapport with them. They were out there at batting practice. You would see them a bunch. They would be playful with you but they would be respectful. They had fun with it. .
TR- You grew up outside of Philly as a big Phillies fan and, of course, a big fan of Mike Schmidt. Did you collect baseball cards or Phils memorabilia as a kid?
KM-I collected basketball and hockey cards a kid. I never got into baseball cards as much. My oldest brother did. I was more of a hockey and basketball collector. There are people that do it religiously. The autograph hounds now have groups that when they send autographs they know exactly who returns it. It’s a really, really neat industry. That’s been a long time since I’ve done that.
One thing I did sign one time was a picture of Pat Neshek. I was the first batter he ever faced. I actually got a hit off him. It’s funny, the picture is of his first pitch to me in Arlington from the above the third base dugout. I have signed more of those pictures that anything. That’s when I found out that there are groups that keep track of what players respond to the autograph requests.
TR-There are numerous websites that act as a database for TTM autograph seekers, going as far as listing information from the amount of cards sent, whether it was a success or not and how long the response took. So you were somewhat aware of that community?
KM-I remember my wife, shortly after I stopped playing, told me not to respond or reply to the requests. I told her they know where I live! It’s not going to matter. I do try to collect one of each of my cards for each of my kids. If somebody sends me a card that I don’t have I swap it out with something that they may not have that I have an excess of, like some of my Japanese cards or some special edition cards that I have a bunch of. I try to be nice about it.
Sometimes they will send me 10-12 cards at a time and it’s like ‘Come on!’ I have always been good with signing and responding. During Spring Training I would just go in there and sign away. I wouldn’t let my pile build up. I had guys I played with who would just let it build up. They just didn’t want to do it.
TR-Do you ever get out and get to card shops?
KM-For the last few years I haven’t seen many baseball card shops. I have to start looking online, I guess. There is one card shop in my area but I go in there and I look at the baseball cards and I have never even heard of the guys. Who are these guys? I do remember collecting the Garbage Pail Kids cards as a kid. There is a shop near me that sells them. They still have the wax packs with the gum on them. I did see some of those cards in there. I have to go find those cards now that you have me thinking about it. I think I have series one and series two. I’m going to have to go home and look through those.
TR–Do you have an office or room where you have memorabilia displayed?
KM-I have three spots in the house where I am able to put stuff. My wife won’t let me put it anywhere else. I have my office with all of my baseballs. 99% of my memorabilia is signed as far as footballs and basketballs and stuff.
I have jerseys, probably another 25-30 that have signed jerseys for me. I can’t put them out because I have no more room. I have a collection of all retro Phillies stuff.
I have 70-80 jerseys just hanging, just waiting to be worn. I am all about the retro stuff. I like the older look. Somebody asked me the other day if the house was on fire what would be the one item I would grab. It would be the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team signed jersey. It is signed by the entire team. It was signed by Herb Brooks right before he passed.
I don’t do it to sell. I do it for the nostalgia part of it and pass it along. I’m not worried about trying to sell those things. It’s more about my collection and for my sons. I also have a Sadaharu Oh autographed baseball that sits in there, too.
TR– So you are a fan of vintage more so than modern cards and memorabilia?
KM-Two years ago we played in the Hall of Fame game. The Hall of Fame had just started the baseball card exhibit. (Shoebox Treasures). We got to see it before they released it to anyone else. They had the Honus Wagner card. They had a section called “Cards Your Mom Threw Away”. It was really neat to see that.
Coming later: Card Back Q&A with Kevin Mench on his favorite Phillies legend, his grandfather’s influence and one remarkable college season.