Mets legend Mookie Wilson paid a visit to Brooklyn last week as the 1986 World Series hero served as a special instructor to the Cyclones and gave his input to the coaching staff. Wilson – the only man to play for the Mets in every year of the 1980s — was the Cyclones manager in 2005.
Wilson’s return to Brooklyn — an attempt to help the Clones break out of a serious hitting slum — brought back memories for the star as he reminisced on his time managing.
“I think this is the best minor-league job in baseball,” Wilson said. “I’ve enjoyed it. I think anyone that comes here would miss it.”
Wilson would like to watch from field-level as the players move, but that isn’t always an option during the game. A Mookie-sighting by Mets fans frequently turns into something akin to teenage girls in the ’60s seeing The Beatles, and Wilson would rather avoid the attention if possible. He was in Brooklyn to do a job and while he’s certainly appreciative of the fans, that job didn’t include signing autographs or posing for pictures.
“It gets a little crazy sometimes,” Wilson said. “That’s why I always sit in the press box, I ain’t going to sit in the stands.”
Wilson observed the games from the press box, but he spent plenty of time on the field as well, working with the Brooklyn players and helping them refocus their mindset. It has been a roller coaster season for the Cyclones – who have struggled to hit consistently this summer – and Wilson was determined to help boost the squad’s collective confidence at the plate.
Pitching often dominates in the New York-Penn League, but Wilson was quick to point out that these hitters have never faced pitching like this on a nightly basis.
“We have to keep in mind that these are college kids,” Wilson said as he watched Brooklyn’s 3–2 win on July 21. “They haven’t played at this level before and seeing this consistent pitching every night. In college, you get one good pitcher on a team. Here, all these guys were the best pitcher on their team, so that’s tough.”
Minor league teams also deal with rosters made up of guys who are often the best from where they came and it isn’t always easy to get everyone on the same page.
“It’s all about ego,” Wilson said. “Some of these guys have never failed before.”
Piazza the action
Wilson was not the only Mets fan-favorite in the house last week. Cyclones coach Edgardo Alfonzo — a Met infielder from 1995 to 2002 — is a regular at MCU Park, but his presence in the third-base coaching box is still a highlight for plenty of Brooklyn fans.
One of those fans includes Mike Piazza, who mentioned Alfonzo during his Hall of Fame induction speech on July 24, calling Alfonzo a clutch player who took some of the pressure off him.
The most famous of those moments came on on June 30, 2000. The Mets entered the eighth trailing the Braves 8–1, but Piazza’s three-run homer gave the Mets an 11–8 lead. During his speech in Cooperstown, Piazza noted that Alfonzo had tied the game with a two-run single in front of him.
As a tribute to Piazza, the Cyclones wore black jerseys on July 24, the style often worn by the Mets in that era. Alfonzo looked right at home in the black jersey with his familiar number 13.
On July 26 — 1950s night — the Cyclones honored Alfonzo with his own bobblehead, styled with a Henry Winkle-esque look that included a leather jacket, jeans and, of course, a thumbs up.
Time isn’t money
When you’re playing baseball, you are never on the clock. In fact, there is no clock, so you might as well get things over with as soon as possible.
That is what Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa thinks when it comes to his team’s penchant for playing extra-inning games — which his boys have done more than any other team in the league both this year and last.
“I keep telling these guys that their paycheck is going to be the same,” Gamby said. “We don’t get paid for overtime.”
Or the extra work — and brainwork — that has to be done to finish the game. The Clones’ skipper has had to manage his bullpen more than any other manager in the New York-Penn League because of the marathons.
“There’s teams in the league that’ve pitched 30 less innings than we’ve played,” Gamboa said. “I don’t know why we insist on playing all these extra innings, but we do.”
Gamboa thinks there is another way for his team to get on and off the field quickly: throw strikes. History shows it speeds the game up and halts hitters from getting good pitches to hit on 2–0 and 3–1 counts. You can’t be successful pitching behind in the count at any level, the skippers says, and he pointed to a legendary Hall of Famer as exhibit A.
“Nolan Ryan proved that,” he said of baseball’s fire-balling strikeout king. “He had a losing record until he got command of his pitches. Then it was a no-brainer that he went to the Hall of Fame with the stuff he had.”
Can’t anyone play this game?
The Cyclones finished 2015 with a 33–43 record, the first losing season in team history, and this summer is shaping up the same way. The team sits at 19–19 at press time, and Gamboa pointed to his boys’ inability to get clutch hits as the primary culprit for the middling records this year and last.
“That was the number-one downfall of our team a year ago and so I used that every single day the two months we were in Florida, talking about last year’s failure of our offense here,” Gamboa said. “Even though we didn’t hit for a good average, if we just would’ve situational hit, we could’ve reversed our record.”
The skipper thinks this team has more offensive talent than the 2015 roster, but the strikeout totals are still too high.
“What we keep preaching to the guys, the first two strikes belong to you, but the third one belongs to the team,” Gamboa said, demanding his players take smart cuts in pressure situations. “Especially with men on base, we need to put the ball in play.”