On this date in 1993, the 30-33 Florida Marlins played a daytime game at Wrigley Field.
Their opponent, of course, were the Chicago Cubs, then a 30-31 team. The Cubbies had already defeated the Florida Marlins, 6-3 and 3-0 to start out their three-game set, and were looking for a clean sweep.
Coming into the game, the Marlins were just a game short of the .500 mark, a remarkable accomplishment for a first-year expansion team. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t get anywhere near that again for the rest of the season, and didn’t record an above-.500 record until their first World Series Championship, then four years hence.
The 1993 Florida Marlins relied on 43 players to carry the team’s honor through their inaugural campaign. Some, like Jeff Conine, Gary Sheffield, and Chris Hammond would remain with the club through their second season and beyond. Others had only a small footprint in Marlins history on which to hang their hats. One such player is catcher Mitch Lyden.
Lyden was a six-foot-three, 225 lb. catcher from Portland, OR. Born on December 14, 1964, Lyden was initially a fourth-round choice of the New York Yankees in the 1983 MLB Amateur Entry Draft, 93rd off the board. He spent eight full seasons in the Yankees system, never cracking the major league roster. He then played a year each with the Triple-A affiliates of the Detroit Tigers and the New York Mets. In December of 1992, Lyden signed a free agent deal with the Florida Marlins.
Lyden likely expected to spend another year in the minor leagues at the Triple-A level, and indeed, he spent the majority of the season with the Marlins Pacific Coast League affiliate, the Edmonton Trappers. He put together a solid .306/.323/.563 line in 50 games with the Trappers, going deep eight times and collecting 31 RBI. In mid-June, the then-11-season professional baseball veteran finally got the call to join a major league team.
On June 16, Lyden made his major league debut behind the plate for the Florida Marlins. He was placed seventh in the batting order. With one out in the top of the second inning, in Lyden’s first major league at bat, he drove the ball over the fence against the Cubs starting pitcher, right-hander Jose Bautista. The drive gave the Marlins an early 2-0 lead. He was the 67th player to begin his major league career with a home run. According to Ed Giuliotti at the Sun-Sentinel (subscription required):
"It’s tough to measure when it lands three blocks away. – Marlins starting shortstop Walt WeissYou hit a ball that far and, I don’t care if it’s his first major league at-bat or not, it shows something to me. – Marlins manager Rene LachemannI couldn’t have scripted it any better. Wrigley Field. The mystique. But it could have been more sweet if we had won the game. – Lyden"
Unfortunately, Lyden couldn’t follow up the home run with another productive at bat. He grounded out with a runner on second in the fourth for the second out of the inning, lined out to right with the bases empty to end the sixth, and grounded out with the bases empty to end the eighth. Chicago, meanwhile, touched Marlins starter Luis Aquino (4-4, 2.65) for four earned runs in his five innings of work.
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Later that week, Lyden caught the last five innings of a 7-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, going one-for-two from the plate with a single. He was then sent back to Edmonton. Lyden rejoined the Marlins for the last few games of the season, going one-for-four in four pinch hit appearances, striking out three times, and scoring a run. In a total of 11 1/3 innings of defensive work behind the plate, he had a 1.000 fielding percentage with four putouts.
Lyden never returned to the majors, spending the 1994 season back with the Trappers. He played 1995 for the Kansas City Royals Triple-A affiliate in Omaha, then later spent three seasons in the independent Northern League, with a year each with the Madison Black Wolf, the Quebec Capitales, and the Elmira Pioneers. He later managed the Pioneers in 2002 and 2003, making the playoffs in his first season.