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Padres Can't Get Anybody Out; Mets Win on 21 Hits : WHAT A TANGLED TALE: : Story of Mets' Mitchell Confusing, Controversial

August 27, 1986|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — There is an aura of mystery surrounding Kevin Mitchell.

Which San Diego high schools did the New York Met rookie really attend? How did someone who never played high school baseball get signed to a major league contract?

When and how did he get rid of his "attitude"? And what is all this about a family feud between Mitchell's mother and grandmother?

This is a story about how a kid from Southeast San Diego, who reportedly was involved with street gangs, has suddenly become a key member of the Mets' impressive lineup.

While consistently batting between .290 and .300 this season, Mitchell has played every position except pitcher, catcher and second base, and he has batted in each of the first eight spots in the batting order.

Mitchell, 24, is as versatile on the field as his past is controversial and intriguing.

He has told team members that he was a member of street gangs and was stabbed on more than one occasion. He has said that he got into fights and broke windows.

"Kevin got in a lot of things," said his mother, Alma Mitchell, 41. "He was a busy boy. Everybody in town knew Kevin got in trouble."

Most people also think that Mitchell graduated from Clairemont High School, where he was reportedly a star football player.

Wrong on both accounts.

Despite a note in the Mets' media guide and numerous references in newspaper stories that Mitchell graduated from Clairemont High, Mitchell never graduated from high school and he played football at Clairemont for a very brief time.

Because Mitchell struggled academically, he bounced from high school to high school in an attempt to attain good enough grades to compete in sports.

Mitchell, whose family was continually moving from one part of San Diego to another, went to Lincoln High before transferring to Clairemont. He attended Clairemont from September, 1978, until the end of October, 1978, according to the school's registrar's office.

After that stay at Clairemont High, Mitchell moved to Crawford, where he was enrolled for only two weeks, according to a school official. Mitchell said he played water polo at Crawford.

"Baseball was boring to me then," Mitchell said.

Then why did Kevin's mother say her son spent his youth playing baseball?

The mysteries and incongruities continue.

After Monday night's game at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, Mitchell was asked whether he had ever played in that stadium before. Said Mitchell: "I played here in the CIF championship football game when I was at Clairemont."

Clairemont has been in only one championship game, and that was in 1981 when Mitchell was in Kingsport playing in the Appalachian League.

There are very few straightforward, simple facts to this story.

"He went to a lot of schools," Alma said. "I even had him in private school (at around 16). Sometimes he would leave school and go play baseball. He was so obsessed with playing baseball that he would play with the Mexicans even though he couldn't speak Spanish."

He spent most of his time playing baseball and three-pitch softball on the Southeast Sports Field.

But it was at Grossmont College that Mitchell got his big break.

"I was out there playing around," Mitchell said. "And some scouts were there and they saw me."

On Nov. 16, 1980, Mitchell was signed by the Mets as a non-drafted free agent.

"I remember the scout (Dean Jongewaard) telling me how he signed Kevin on the hood of his car," said Stephen Schryver, Met director of minor league operations. "Kevin had an interesting and different way of progressing to the big leagues. But behind that 747 body of his lies an extremely good athlete."

Asked if he knew about Mitchell's alleged involvement with gangs when he signed him, Schryver said: "Kevin tells the stories about the gangs he belonged to. Sometimes I think he embellishes things."

His signing was the start of Mitchell's five-year minor league career, which for the most part was impressive.

"When I first saw him I said he was the best prospect in the organization," said Met Manager Davey Johnson, who was a roving minor league instructor for the Mets when Mitchell played in Lynchburg, Va., in 1982.

In 1984, while playing for the Mets' Triple-A affiliate in Tidewater, Va., Mitchell hit just .243 with 10 home runs and 54 runs batted in. "He wanted to quit baseball and go back to football when he was in Tidewater," said Josie Whitfield, who is Mitchell's grandmother and good friend. "He said: 'I'm tired of Tidewater.' Kevin gets a little impatient. I told him he had made a lot of notches and to wait. I told him to keep a clear mind and just play ball. He'd get his chance. Maybe they felt he wasn't quite mature enough last year."

Mitchell was called up to the Mets late in the 1984 season. He had 14 at-bats, but more important, that's when he got to know Bill Robinson, Met first base and batting coach.

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