A model of consistency during his three years with the Buffalo Bisons, outfielder Jesus Feliciano has battled through his toughest season in the New York Mets organization.
The 32-year-old hasn't put up nearly the numbers he did the last two years, but he's still managed to become the first Bison to collect three straight 100-hit seasons during the franchise's modern era.
And he's got a decent chance to become Buffalo's post-1985 hit leader. Feliciano was 1 for 4 in Monday's 6-5 win over the Rochester Red Wings before 9,961 in Coca-Cola Field, the Bisons' third straight win.
He has 369 hits for his Buffalo career, third on the modern-era list and nine behind the record of 378 set by Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Bill Selby, the utility man extraordinaire of the Cleveland era from 1998-2002.
"Sometimes you wish you could do things like this in the big leagues but I've talked to some of my friends around baseball and the other thing is you should be proud of it too," Feliciano said prior to Monday's game. "I feel real proud of what I've done in my career and it's good to have this chance to get this record."
The only other Bison to put together three 100-hit seasons was outfielder Greg Tubbs, who is No. 2 on the list with 370 hits. Tubbs had 102 in 1991, 126 in 1992 and 142 when he returned in 1994 after splitting the previous year with Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
Feliciano, a native of Puerto Rico, is far and away the player who has produced the most during the Mets' three-year run in town.
He had a spectacular 2009 season, batting .311 with an International League-high 154 hits and earning the team's most valuable player award. He batted .339 here last year, falling 20 at-bats shy of qualifying for the batting title. He would have placed second in the league, by two points to Gwinnett's Barbaro Canizares, and set a modern-era Buffalo franchise record.
Feliciano got four different callups to New York last year, but batted just .231 in his first 54 games in the big leagues.
This year has been more difficult, and there's been no sniff of Citi Field. Feliciano is batting .272 but struggled to get at-bats in April and even had to spend two weeks at Double-A Binghamton. But he came back to Buffalo and started to turn things around when he hit .338 in June.
And he's been one of the Herd's best clutch hitters all season, batting a team-high .337 with runners in scoring position and .358 in those situations with two out.
"He's persistent, professional. He's ready when you call upon him," said manager Tim Teufel. "He's one of those guys that maybe you think he's down and out, and then you call on him and he's ready to go and can give you two hits a night."
Feliciano revealed the Mets gave him a chance to take his release in April but he opted to stay in the organization he joined in 2008 after bouncing around with the Dodgers and Rays.
"I don't regret the decision I made and I appreciate them giving me the chance to stay with them and come back to Buffalo," he said. "They knew it wasn't fair for me to go to Double-A, but they wanted to keep me so I decided to go over there and wait for my chance."
Feliciano is a good defensive outfielder with a strong arm, but the knocks on him are easy to see. He's largely a slap hitter, having never hit more than four home runs in a season or posted a slugging percentage above .413 (his Buffalo totals include 301 singles). And he hasn't stolen more than 13 bases in a season since Class A ball in 2001.
So finding a niche, especially in his early 30s, can be difficult.
"He's not a speed guy per se, he's an average runner," Teufel said. "But he knows how to hit and that counts for something. He's not going to be a power guy. The way some teams build their team, that fourth outfielder is a speed guy or a power guy. He's a solid player and sometimes solid players get overlooked."
"I'm a line-drive hitter and I play good defense," Feliciano said. "I think I'm a solid player that knows how to play the game. That's why I've been in this game for so long."
Still, Feliciano admitted he's going to have to think about his role in 2012. It might be time to try his luck with a new organization.
"I'm thankful for the Mets. They've treated me great," he said. "You go to another organization and you don't know what will happen. And [Buffalo] is one of the greatest front offices I've ever played for. It's like the big leagues. They've been great with everybody. Players talk about how they treat your wives, your family. And that's really important.
"I think I'm still young and able to play this game. You have to think for your future and your family. I love being here but we have to decide in the next couple months what I'm going to do."
The Bisons won Monday's game as Raul Reyes smacked a tie-breaking solo home run to right in the fifth. The Bisons built a 4-1 lead but Jeff Bailey's three-run homer off Chris Schwinden tied the game in the third for Rochester.
Schwinden got the win to improve to 8-7 and Dale Thayer survived the ninth for his third save in three days and 21st of the season.
> HIT KINGS
The Buffalo Bisons' career hit leaders during their modern era:
Name Years Hits
Bill Selby 1998-00, 02 378
Greg Tubbs 1991-92, 94 370
Jesus Feliciano 2009-11 369
Alex Ramirez 1997-99 368
Brandon Phillips 2002-05 367
Jason Cooper 2004-09 342
Greg LaRocca 2001-03 324
Dave Roberts 1998-01 305
Carlos Garcia 1991-93 304
Torey Lovullo 1995, 97-98 301