OPINION: What happened to Mets cult hero Benny Agbayani?

Benny Agbayani
Photo credit Chuck Solomon / Contributor / Getty Images via Sports Illustrated

An understudy can become a star overnight on Broadway, and careers can be launched in the blink of an eye. Benny Agbayani can attest to this. He was the Mets' 30th-round draft pick back in 1993, and spent five years kicking around in the minors. But Agbayani's flair for the dramatic and the good fortune of his Triple-A manager's promotion to the majors laid the groundwork for "Hawaiian Punch" to grow into a cult hero. From a quiet life in Hawaii to the noise of New York, Agbayani joined the "New York Accent" podcast to discuss his wild ride.

"Oh yeah, it was overwhelming," Agbayani explained. In 1996, Bobby Valentine began the season as manager of the Norfolk Tides. He received the Mets' job late into the campaign, and believed in Agbayani when not many did.

"[Valentine] always told me, 'You gotta to be prepared. You never know what's going to happen,'" Agbayani recalled. "Preparation is the biggest thing and for me, I took that to heart because I wasn't one of the top prospects in the Mets organization. I wasn't one of those frontline players. But I knew that I just had to be ready when my number was called or my opportunity came up, because I wanted to rise to the occasion."

Agbayani's heroics in his first full season began to endear him to fans. He had 11 home runs in his first two months of 1999, and helped the Mets to their first playoff berth in 11 seasons. Then, in 2000, he had one of the franchise's most prolific postseasons. He collected hits in 13 of 14 playoff games, and reached base in every game. He had three multi-hit games. He batted .299 in October. He hit a 13th-inning walk-off home run to end Game 3 of the NLDS against the Giants, inside a delirious Shea Stadium.

"We were saying, 'Let's win this, let's go home," Agbayani said. "Fortunately, I got a ball up where I wanted it and then, I hit it good. But I saw Barry [Bonds] running out there and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, he's going to catch it.' And then boom -- we're just ecstatic. It just got silent when running around the bases. I just looked around the lights, the people, the fans. Everyone was jumping up. I mean, it was one of those moments where you never forget."

The Mets fell short in the 2000 Subway Series, but not because of Agbayani. Like a lucky seashell, he always seemed to be on base at crucial times. Down 4-2 in ninth inning of Game 5 against the Yankees, he drew a walk and made it to third base. Then with two outs, Mike Piazza smoked a ball into the outfield. Off the bat, Mets fans jumped to their feet, believing the game was all tied up. It ultimately died in deep center field for the final out of the series. It was also Agbayani's last at-bat in an MLB playoff game.

The next year, Agbayani injured his wrist, and on the morning of September 11, he was at Shea Stadium, rehabbing. It was an emotional time for New Yorkers, people across the nation, and for Agbayani himself. Four months later, he was traded to the Rockies, in the Jeromy Burnitz deal.

"[The trade] was pretty difficult," Agbayani said. "You know, like they say, it's actually a business and it happens. But you know, I started a Met and wanted to end my career being a Met. But, you know, sometimes it doesn't happen that way and you know, you've got to move on."

Benny Agbayani
Photo credit Ezra Shaw / Staff / Getty Images

As a member of the Rockies, he only lasted until August 2002, when he was placed on waivers after hitting .205. The Red Sox claimed him, but he played only 13 games for Boston and was released the next spring. His major league career was over after just five seasons.

Ultimately, Agbayani found a second pro career in Japan. And he was reunited with Valentine on the Chiba Lotte Marines, and helped the organization win its first league title in 31 seasons. After six years in Japan, Agbayani called it quits and returned to his native Hawaii. His three children grew up to become great athletes. His oldest daughter plays softball in the Pac-12 at California, and his younger daughter is at BYU.

Agbayani became the head softball coach at 'Iolani School in Honolulu where his daughter played. Plus, he also works as a ramp agent for Hawaiian Airlines. The company's website even has a page dedicated to him. According to their site, Agbayani's "shift starts with a 4 a.m. briefing on scheduled arrivals for the day. Then he handles cargo for a dozen or more flights."

Life is good for Agbayani, as he starts his day at the airport and ends it on the softball diamond. Once upon a time, Shea Stadium blared "B-B-B-Benny and the Mets!" Now, it's Benny and his jets, making sure he's still prepared for the moment. The noise of the engines is reminiscent of the roars he heard during his days as a phenomenon in New York.

You can listen to the entire conversation about Agbayani's baseball journey -- along with his other life stories -- everywhere you get your podcasts, and on YouTube.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Chuck Solomon / Contributor / Getty Images via Sports Illustrated