There was a time during the 2021 season when the Bench Mob ran this town. That era happened to coincide with the Mets playing their best and most entertaining baseball, interestingly enough. With injuries running rampant on the roster, the Mets needed their replacement players to perform, and perform they did. Many of them were players that were part of the original 2021 blueprint: Tomás Nido, Jonathan Villar, Kevin Pillar, and José Peraza chief among them. And then there was Patrick Mazeika, the awkward, bearded backup backstop who left his mark on the season with his early flare for the dramatic.
Mazeika did not figure to be a part of the plans this year. His last bit of action within the organization was in 2019 in Double-A, and he didn’t really stand out. He was primarily a catcher but played some first base as well. He did record 4 hits in 11 spring training at-bats, but that is hardly a big enough sample size to determine anything. He wasn’t a part of Amazin’ Avenue’s Top 25 prospects list heading into 2021, and he was likely just destined to remain in Triple-A for the year, if not for an abundance of injuries and a lack of depth at the catcher position.
Mazeika officially arrived in early May after Brandon Nimmo landed on the injured list, and was mostly used for late game pinch hitting appearances when the rest of the bench had been utilized. With the club carrying three catchers, he rarely found himself in aside from a brief pinch hitting appearance. His first big league action came in Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Cardinals on May 5, where he pinch hit for opener Miguel Castro and ended the inning by grounding out to first base.
But it was his next at bat that helped him develop an almost cult-like status. He was tapped to pinch hit in the tenth inning of a 4-4 game against the Diamondbacks at Citi Field, two nights after his debut. The Mets had loaded the bases with one out, setting the stage for Mazeika Magic to make its grand debut. The catcher hit a dribbler that didn’t even reach the pitcher’s mound, and Arizona’s Stefan Crichton desperately tried to shovel the ball to home for the force. As if sensing the magic of the moment, the ball went wide, and Pete Alonso came home to score the winning run. With that, Mazeika was inducted into the Mets’ Topless Hall of Fame, as the jersey was ripped from his body.
Four nights later, Mazeika Magic struck again. The Mets trailed the Orioles by one heading into the ninth, but ended up tying the game on a Dominic Smith single to drive in Kevin Pillar. The team found themselves with runners on second and third and one out for Mazeika, who was pinch hitting for Jeurys Familia. The backup hit a sharp grounder to first, and the throw home was too late, as Jonathan Villar slid under the tag for the winning run. For the second time in four nights, the paying crowd at Citi Field was treated to Mazeika’s bare chest. Mazeika now had four career plate appearances, zero hits, three runs batted in, and two t-shirt-inspiring walk-offs. It was a truly bizarre stat line.*
*I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, with the team’s April 11 game being suspended until August 31, Mazeika wound up playing the rest of that game, in place of the injured Nido, when it did resume. He collected one hit in three at-bats so, technically speaking, his first career hit came on April 11, three full weeks before he was officially called up for the first time. This is just another strange footnote in Mazeika’s baseball story.
After another hitless plate appearance on May 12, Mazeika finally broke through for his first (second) major league hit on May 16 against the Rays. He replaced an injured Jeff McNeil as the team’s DH that day, and recorded an out in his first at-bat. Finally, in his seventh (eleventh?) plate appearance, Mazeika broke through for his first (second) hit, launching a home run into the right field stands. It remains the lone long ball he’s hit in the majors, and was the only run the club would score in a 7-1 defeat in Tampa Bay.
Mazeika Magic never really materialized again, and the rest of his season went about how you would expect for a backup that was not expected to see much big league action. For a while, he would enter in the sixth inning or later, usually for one at-bat but sometimes finishing off the game. He collected his first career multi-hit game on June 25 in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Phillies, but struck out on three pitches with the bases loaded and nobody out and his club trailing by one in the bottom of the seventh—the Mets would eventually tie that game, but fall in extras. He wound up back in the minors on July 3, and wouldn’t re-emerge until August.
In the tail end of the season, James McCann and Nido both found themselves on the injured list at the same time, the former with back spasms and the latter with a thumb injury. As the club sunk into irrelevancy with loss after loss, Mazeika found himself as the club’s starting catcher, with Chance Sisco behind him as the backup. Mazeika started eight out of nine games against the Giants and Dodgers, typically collecting either one or zero hits in those games. He did not drive in a run in that stretch and, in fact, had not driven in a run in any appearance since his home run in May. He continued getting opportunities to start in September, collecting his second career two-hit game in a victory over the Marlins on September 2. He drove in runs in back-to-back games against the Nationals on September 4 and 5, giving him six on the season. During the month of September, he collected just three total hits, bringing his total on the season up to 15 in 79 at-bats.
His final numbers on the year were far from impressive. He concluded 2021 hitting .190/.253/.266 with a 46 wRC+ and a -0.1 fWAR in 37 games. However, the story of his season cannot be told simply in statistics read off a Baseball Reference page. That would completely ignore the fact that, for a brief but glorious time during an otherwise lost year, Mazeika Magic was real, and it was spectacular. Fans cheered for him, there was excitement every time he came to the plate for the thought of what magic might await, and he provided some truly entertaining moments.
If nothing else, Mazeika’s name will be immortalized in the 2021 edition of Amazin’ Finishes, which will air during rain delays for years to come.