Benny Ayala: The First Mets Player To HR In His First Career At Bat (1974 / 1976)

Benigno Ayala was born on February 7, 1951, in Yauco, Puerto Rico, the six-foot right hand hitting outfielder was signed as an amateur free agent by the New York Mets in 1971. 

He was a highly touted outfield prospect with a reputation for hitting with power in the minor leagues.

In 1972 at A ball Visalia, Ayala hit 19 HRs second on the club to Ike Hampton. He drove in 66 runs second to Greg Harts. He followed with 17 HRs the next year at AA Memphis. 

In 1974 Ayala was with AAA Tidewater batting .274, leading the club with 11 HRs 21 doubles & 40 RBIs.

He was invited to Mets Spring Training 1974 where he hit HRs off Bob Gibson & Woodie Fryman. The Mets thought of moving Cleon Jones to left field to make room for Ayala but that didn't work out, so Ayala started the year at AAA. He was called up to the Mets at the end of August. 

Mets Debut: On August 27th, Benny made his MLB debut in a 4-2 win over the Astros at Shea Stadium. He was Mets left fielder secured his place in Mets history. Ayala became the first Met in team history to hit a HR in his first career at bat. 

It came in the 2nd inning when he homered off the Houston Astros Tom Griffin. 

After the game he was a guest on broadcaster Ralph Kiner's post game show- Kiners Korner. Ralph invited Felix Millan along as well to help Ayala with his English. Benny did a good job, telling Ralph the HR was on a “high fosball”.

Ayala had a pair of two hit games during the next month but didn’t hit another HR until September 28th, twenty games after his debut blast. 

He ended the season hitting in four straight games, with three straight multi-hit games, driving in a run in all three. 

On the season he hit .235 with two HRs one double, eight RBIs & a .305 on base %. In 68 at bats, he struck out 17 times & walked seven times playing in 23 games.

1975: When the Mets got Dave Kingman Benny found himself back at AAA Tidewater for the 1975 season, that year the Tides finished first. He played just 65 games because he broke his hand getting hit by a pitch. He was still second to Roy Staiger on the team with six HRs. 

His .277 average was fourth on the team behind Mike Vail (.342) Brock Pemberton (.297) & Bruce Boisclair (.278). 

1976 Bicentennial Year:  Ayala made the Mets club out of Spring Training, but he hit just .115 through 22 games at the end of May. On May 14th he hit his only HR of the season coming in a 5-1 loss to the Reds at Riverfront Stadium.

Ayala was sent back to AAA Tidewater at the end of May. There his average fell to .225 but his 12 HRs were second on the Tides club to Billy Baldwin, who arrived with the Mets organization in the Rusty Staub trade. 

In March of 1977 Ayala was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Doug Clarey who never played for the Mets at the big-league level.

Post Mets Career: In 1977 Ayala hit 18 HRs with 73 RBIs while batting .298 at AAA New Orleans. In January 1979 he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Mike Dimmel.

With Baltimore he would platoon time with Gary Roenicke becoming one of the team's key role players in getting to the 1979 World Series. He respected manager Earl Weaver who treated him & his players well. During the regular season Ayala hit .256 with six HRs, five doubles & 22 RBIs in 42 games played. On June 10th he had a multi-HR game hitting two HRs in a 5-4 win over Texas.

1979 World Series: He did not play in the ALCS win over the California Angels. In the World Series against the "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates, he appeared in four games batting .333 (2-6). He got the start in Game #3 at Pittsburgh hitting a two run HR off John Candeleria in the 3rd inning of the O's 8-4 win. 

The next year 1980, he had career highs in games played (76) HRs (10) RBIs (33) & doubles (8) batting .265. Ayala would spend a total of six years with the Orioles, hitting a career high .305 in 1982 with 126 at bats, 6 HRs & 24 RBIs. He was also a member of the Orioles 1983 World Series championship team, playing in 47 regular seasons games batting .221 with 4 HRs 7 doubles & 13 RBIs.

1983 Post Season- ALCS:
He was 0-1 as a pinch hitter in the 1983 ALCS against the Chicago White Sox. 

1983 World Series: In the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, he
came to bat as a pinch hitter in Game #3, with the Orioles down 2-1 getting
 a single off Steve Carlton driving in Rick Dempsey with the games tying run. He then scored what turned out to be the winning run-on Dan Ford's base hit aided by short stop Ivan DeJesus' error.

After the 1984 season he was granted free agency & signed a one-year deal with the Cleveland Indians. He played 46 games with the Indians batting .250. He played one final season at AAA Maine in 1985.

Career Stats: In his ten-year career Ayala hit .251 with 217 38 HRs 42 doubles 71 walks 114 runs scored & 145 RBIs. He struck out 136 times with 71 walks & a .305 on base % & .739 OPS in 425 games.

Retirement: In the late eighties he played in the short-lived Senior League Professional League with West Palm Beach in Florida.

BAT: Benny has worked closely with the Baseball Assistance Team helping former Puerto Rican players who have fallen on hard times. 

Family: Benny married his wife Esperanza in 1971 together they have four children.


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