Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, December 21, 2001


Agbayani out to
prove himself

The St. Louis School and Hawaii
Pacific alumnus has a new contract
but will still be fighting for at-bats

By Dave Reardon

Benny Agbayani has a new contract.

Now he hopes he has a starting job.

The New York Mets outfielder from Aiea could make close to $1 million next season -- if he makes his incentive goal of 550 plate appearances.

For that to happen, Agbayani will have to remain healthy and cement a starting spot in what is becoming a crowded Mets outfield.

His wallet's a little thicker, but it's the same old story for the St. Louis School and Hawaii Pacific alumnus as he prepares for his fourth major-league season.

He will have to compete with Jay Payton, Timo Perez, Roger Cedeno and possibly a big-name free agent like Juan Gonzalez for playing time.

"People will still probably have doubts about me. As I go into spring training, I've just got to prove myself again," Agbayani told the Honolulu media yesterday at a news conference. "This year hopefully I can explode like dynamite. All you can do is go out there and play hard and do your thing."

"I came up through the system with (the Mets). So I'm glad I'm still with them," said Agbayani, who had been negotiating with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants before his contract with the Mets was settled Wednesday. "Hopefully things work out in my favor where I get to play left field again. The main thing is going into Christmas I've got a contract."

Agbayani injured his wrist last season, limiting him to 91 games. He batted .277 with six homers and 27 RBIs.

It was a disappointing season for him on the field, but not off. His wife, Niela, gave birth to their first child, Aleia, on July 7.

"The highlight (of the season) was when the baby was born," he said. "You can't ask for anything else. It's a blessing from God."

Being a new father gave Agbayani even more to reflect on when the World Trade Center -- 20 miles from his home in New York -- was destroyed by terrorists on Sept. 11.

"You really had to be there to know what it felt like. It's hard to describe. It was like someone stabbed you in the heart," he said. "It made me look back on everything and check to see if everything was OK. It's a weird feeling that someone can try to destroy and hurt not just New York City, but the whole world."

Agbayani spends three days a week this offseason rehabbing his wrist with former Rainbow baseball player Curt Watanabe.

"I'm doing everything possible. Right now I think I'm on schedule," he said. "I'm doing things I couldn't do the last three months (of the season). (Watanabe) did a good job with me. I'm throwing and swinging the bat."

Agbayani, who turns 30 on Dec. 28, got an early Christmas and birthday present with his new contract. He said he'd much prefer to play in America than Japan.

"You want to make sure you have a contract going into the season. You don't want to wait until spring training. If something happens you might not have a job," said Agbayani, whose name is likely to continue to be part of trade rumors. "You can never be secure. Even with a contract they can trade you away before spring training or after spring training.

"Playing in the United States is such a great thing. I think I would miss some of my fans in Hawaii because they wouldn't know where I'm at. I'm not going to Japan, I'm in a New York Mets uniform," he added. "I've got everything I need."

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