Meet the Mets — because most of them were made in Brooklyn!
Eight the World Series-bound New York Metropolitans cut their teeth playing for the Brooklyn Cyclones in Coney Island. Taking the field at the People’s Playground may be a fond memory for some of the Cyclones Eight, but it only feels like a distant dream for one Mets rookie whose whirlwind ascendancy took him from scooping ground balls in Sodom by the Sea to playing in the World Series in one short year.
“It’s been a blur,” said rookie left fielder Michael Conforto, who hit .331 with three homers in 42 games for the Clones in 2014. “It kind of feels like it’s been more than a year. I think that it’s just from going through so many leagues, seeing so many different places. Just growing up a little bit, growing up as a baseball player. So for me it kind of feels it’s been more than just a year but it’s definitely been a whirlwind.”
Conforto closed the 2014 Cyclones season before 2015 stints with Florida and upstate Mets feeder teams landed him in the big leagues in July. The rise was meteoric, but he never forgot who got him there, he said.
“I’ve had a lot of great coaches through the system,” he said. “I think it’s definitely a testament to our minor league system and how they sculpt players and put things into them that help them grow and become better players.”
Conforto is in good company — Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, Kevin Plawecki, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Hansel Robles, and 2014 Golden Glove-winner Juan Lagares all previously wore Cyclones uniforms.
Murphy, who nabbed the National League playoffs Most Valuable Player award for hitting a homer in each of four playoff games against the Cubs — plus dingers against Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke during the division series against the Dodgers — apparently learned what not do to while playing for the Clones, where he went homerless in 11 games during stints in 2006 and 2008.
Duda honed his bat in the minors by hitting four homers — and having a Cyclones-record 17-game hitting streak for the 2007 Mini-Mets. And when the first baseman helped clinch the National League pennant with a three-run homer in the first inning of the series’ final game, it wasn’t the first time his bat led to a playoff win — his homer and two-run single back in 2007 McNamara Division playoffs against the hated Staten Island Yankees led to a Game One win.
Fan favorite Flores hit .267 in eight games with the 2008 Cyclones. It has been a wild year for the infielder, who made national headlines for crying on the field after he thought the Mets traded him on July 31 and then moved up to starting shortstop after a Chase Utley slide broke Ruben Tejada’s leg in the National League Division Series. The World Series bid has been a dream since his Cyclones days, he said.
“This is what you work for,” Flores said. “First of all, you want to get to the big leagues. Once you’re here you want to make it to the World Series and it’s amazing to be here. It’s a very good feeling and we’re going to have fun.”
Former Clones’ contributions to the Amazins’ franchise are palpable outside the playoffs, too. In July, Kirk Nieuwenhuis became the first Met to hit three home runs in a single home game — and a few weeks later, Duda matched him.
Playing in the World Series is new to virtually all of the Mets, though some have competed for top prize in lesser leagues. Conforto played in the Little League World Series and College World Series and nearly took the Cyclones to the New York-Penn League playoffs last year, but Brooklyn was knocked out of contention on the final day of the season.
Still, the World Series is a whole new ball game, Conforto said.
“I can’t say it’s exactly the same,” he said. “Obviously we’re on the biggest stage. The Brooklyn Cyclones — it’s baseball — we’re excited we were doing playoffs there, and it’s exciting, but it’s definitely not the same as being here. This has been my dream. This has been everybody’s dream, everybody on this team — win an NLCS, go to the World Series, and hopefully win it.”
And reliever Hansel Robles — he’s so hot right now — was a surprise addition. As a 2012 Clone, the knuckleballer led the league with an impressive 1.11 earned run average. The righty has proved exceptional at shutting down left-handed batters, so expect fierce battles with Royals sluggers Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon — all of whom have batting averages above 2.70.