At 1:47 PM I left my house to begin the journey to NYSEG Stadium in Binghamton, NY, home of the Binghamton Mets. I arrived nearly two hours later with over two hours to spare until the gates opened. I used this time to tour the campus of SUNY Binghamton University, my mother’s alma mater, and to sit down for a late lunch/early dinner meal at the Lost Dog Cafe. If you’re in the area, check it out, it’s a wonderful spot just down the block from the stadium.
I got to the stadium at 5:30 with a half hour to go. I passed the time by 1) buying tickets 2) waiting in line and 3) walking around the exterior. My first impression of the stadium was eh. I know it’s a minor league stadium, but I wouldn’t expect a Double-A stadium to look as old as it did. But, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover and I didn’t, which payed off. I saw groundskeepers pass time buy playing an intense game of basketball just beyond the right field fence, and two young boys in Yankees attire tossing a ball around outside Gate 1.You can’t judge a book, by looking at its cover, ooh…
When the gates finally opened at 5:59 PM, I was greeted by a friendly woman who scanned my ticket and handed me my Baseball Bingo sheet which I furiously filled out throughout the night. I dashed through the concourse, but didn’t fail to notice the stats/standings board which included Major League and Eastern League info, the NYSEG Stadium Hall of Fame, or the beams decorated with pictures of Mets stars such as Matt Harvey, David Wright, and Ike Davis who used to call this place home.
I ran up the steps to section three and stopped to take in the surroundings. My very first reaction to the inside was, “Wow, this looks A LOT like Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie”. And that’s a good thing, because Tradition Field is probably my favorite Minor League ballpark of the ones I’ve been to.
I noticed some Rock Cats pitchers walking from the left field bullpen to the third base dugout, so I headed down there to see if I could snag some signatures. I heard a man call out “D.J.!”, and knew that it was 2012 Twins draft pick D.J. Baxendale. I saw the back of his jersey and the number confirmed it was him. I had him sign the roster sheet that came in the Mets program.
After that there was tons of time where there was no player in sight. During this time I flipped through the program and read some very intriguing stories including one about a fan who has sat in the same seat in section 12 since 1992, the team’s inaugural year, and has had wild encounters with a lot of the players to stop at the Double A level.
I decided to wander down near the Rock Cats dugout and see what players happened to be sitting inside it. I couldn’t recognize any of the players but when outfielder Daniel Ortiz walked out of the dugout, he pointed me out and handed me a broken bat of his that was taped up so it was was still intact. Awesome! That was the first bat I had ever gotten at a professional baseball game and I didn’t even have to ask.
After that, a few Mets players began to exit the dugout, including the night’s battery, Mark Cohoon and Blake Forsythe, along with Alonzo Harris who wasn’t even penciled into the lineup. I would have been on that side, but the Rock Cats players were beginning to warm up and I, just like a handful of other fans, wanted to snag Twins top prospect Miguel Sano‘s autograph.
After some light stretching and an intense stretching out of Sano (it makes sense. A Miguel Sano injury = a training staff likely to be fired), he came over and signed my roster sheet right next to Baxendale’s John Hancock. Score! It was now time to get some Mets to sign which is what I really wanted. Unfortunately, by this time only three players remained. Josh Rodriguez and Allan Dykstra were the last pair to throw, as they ended with some pretty nasty knuckleballs, and Ryne Hughes was stretching and taking a few dry cuts before running off into the dugout. When Rodriguez and Dykstra were finished, they both took the time to sign the Mets side of my roster sheet.
Now it was time for the Mets relievers to make the walk to the right field bullpen. I recognized a few of them, such as Chase Huchingson and Jeff Walters but not all. One of them, who sported Rec-Specs and a funky mustache, was wearing the pink backpack so a number on his jersey was not visible. He was taking to an older man with facial hair not unlike the player he spoke to for a solid 30 seconds before they embraced and the player walked off with his teammates.
I asked the man who he spoke to and I found out that not only was the player Hamilton Bennett, but I was speaking to Hamilton Bennett’s father. We talked for about as long as he talked with his son, during which I told him I saw his son pitch during a spring training game against the Cardinals. Jeremy Hefner was hit in the arm by a line drive off the bat of Carlos Beltran, forcing him to leave early and the Mets to borrow some pitchers from minor league camp. I told him how impressed I was by his son. Our conversation ended with me saying “Best of luck.” To which he responded, “it’s on him not me”, before walking away. Cool guy. I crossed paths with him again throughout the night.
After my encounter with Mr. Bennett, I headed over to the home plate end of the Mets dugout, which was right by our seats, to see if any bench players were willing to sign. The National Anthem provided a minute long interruption, but once the song was through, backup catcher Xorge Carrillo was more than glad to sign my roster sheet.
The game was now underway and boy was it an interesting one. Only needing one game to clinch their first playoff birth since 2004, the B-Mets couldn’t muster a single hit through five innings. Mark Cohoon was knocked around early, including an absolute bomb on the first pitch of the second inning, courtesy of Miguel Sano. And let me tell you, Miguel Sano is 6-3, 195, but he looks 6-6, 240. The guy looks like a big leaguer and all evidence points to him being a real good one. The Rock Cats ended up with three runs after that inning and made it four in the fifth.
Speaking of the fifth inning, The Mets secured a number in the hit column that inning with a RBI single courtesy of Josh Rodriguez after two men had reached via the walk. After loading the bases off of reliever Ryan O’Rourke, Allan Dykstra punched one into left to make it a 4-2 ballgame. Cory Vaughn added to the excitement, driving in another run off of the third pitcher of the inning, Cole Johnson, and paving way for Travis Taijeron to pull the Mets ahead with an RBI double just past the third baseman, Sano. A very peculiar inning which saw the B-Mets go from being no hit, to putting up a five spot.
In the midst of the fifth, I called out to Mets hitting coach Luis Natera who happened to be the closest person in uniform to where I was sitting. When he turned around I said, “Nice game you guys got!” In response he smiled and gave me the thumbs up. If only I could have that conversation with Dave Hudgens at Citi Field…
I love minor league ballparks. Because they are so small, they give fans the opportunity to interact with the players and get close to the action, a nice alternative to either shelling out the cash at a big league stadium, or having connections. I enjoyed being able to get fist bumps from Wilfredo Tovar, and Ryne Hughes. I enjoyed being able to hear manager Pedro Lopez and pitching coach Glenn Abbott communicate with catcher Blake Forsythe. I enjoyed watching Alonzo Harris and Richard Lucas make their teammates (and the fans) laugh. But most of all, I enjoyed being able to watch the beautiful sunset fall over the wilderness just beyond left field. To me, that’s what baseball is all about.
Chase Huchingson came in to relieve Cohoon in the seventh and pitched two innings. Huchingson struck out four batters and got his fastball up to 89 mph, which was enough to baffle the hitters. He also mixed in a slider that came around 78. It was on to the ninth with the score still 5-4 Mets in front. And now it was time for – you guessed it – Jeff Walters. But no! Walters was nowhere to be seen – except for coaching first base, sharing the duties with Richard Lucas. Apparently he was unavailable which was disappointing for me, and most of the other fans who would have liked to see Walters add to his more than impressive save total. And wouldn’t it have been symbolic for him to get the save to send the team to the playoffs?
Anyway, no worries as Chasen Bradford came in to save the day and the game. Bradford was brought in and pitched a perfect ninth to lower his ERA to 0.48 and to earn his first save of the season.
Let the celebration begin, and it did!
The team rushed out onto the field and celebrated with one another. It was truly a great moment and I am glad I was there to witness it. Pedro Lopez was interviewed after the game, and despite the fact that his mic didn’t work, the stadium gave him a nice standing ovation.
All in all, a great night at the ballpark, and I sure will “bee” back in the future.
(Photo Credit: Gordon Donovan)