Let’s Hear It For The Boys

There are those rare baseball nights when you strike Trifecta Gold. That was the case for me last night as the New York Mets outlasted the Milwaukee Brewers in an exciting 5-4 twelve inning marathon.

Three young Mets played prominent roles in the late night victory. Tyler Pill turned in a gutsy, steely performance starting his first ever major league game. Buttressing a tired, overworked bullpen, Josh Smoker was brilliant turning in three scoreless innings in relief. Then T.J. Rivera led off the Mets twelfth with a line drive single to centerfield and eventually raced home with the winning run on Jay Bruce‘s walk-off single.

All three of those young Mets were previous radio guests on my Friday morning Tip-Off show. In fact, over the past couple of seasons I’ve used my radio interviews as the basis of Mesmerized Online articles I’ve written about these guys.

My season ticket is located directly behind home plate at Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium. That’s an area of the ballpark where the pitchers for both teams sit and chart pitches and radar speed readings. Baseball scouts also congregate in these sections. In fact, there were double digit scouts on hand for Sunday’s game, making me wonder if they were checking out Rumble Ponies starting pitcher P.J. Conlon.

I penned my first Metsmerized piece on Tyler Pill before he agreed to a radio interview. Passing where Tyler sat after the post was published I stopped and chatted. Tyler was not familiar with MMO at the time. I encouraged him to check it out and told him I thought his Mom would like the piece I wrote about him.

On warm Sunday days I like to get to NYSEG early. Sometimes Binghamton’s pitching coach Glenn Abbott will be addressing his charges down the right field line. A former high school and college pitcher, I enjoy standing by the railing and listening in. On one particular day after the group disbanded, Tyler jogged over to the rail near where I was standing, “Hey,” he said. “My Mom did like that piece you wrote about me.”

Pill, Rivera and Smoker were great interviews. I met each of them at the Stadium and all three are first rate guys. Binghamton was a huge step for Smoker when he made his storybook return to baseball. He was this polite guy who addressed you as “Sir.”

It was near the close of the 2015 season when me and Josh Smoker talked at the Stadium and I asked him about his plans for 2016. He told me he would love to be back in Binghamton. “Listen,” I replied. “I would love to see you back here again, but you have to be thinking about the next step, you need to get to Vegas. If you can work on your secondary pitches, you have the stuff to pitch in the big leagues. I’m expecting to see you in Citi Field next year.” Watching him reach that milestone last year was incredible.

And, I use T.J. Rivera’s story with the young athletes on my baseball team. It’s a exceptional story and he’s an exceptional kid. His sheer will and focus compliments his skill. Without that unbreakable determination and attitude, Rivera could have never made it to the big leagues.

It’s that kind of community that makes minor league baseball so special for me. Of course, it’s local and for most fans it’s nearby. I hold the privilege of being the Rumble Ponies seasons ticket holder that resides the farthest distance from the ballpark, an almost two hour drive.

The minor league experience is personal. It feels like the team is really yours. It feels like the guys on the team are family. And, it makes following the kids who play in Binghamton as they elevate to Vegas and then hopefully some day to Citi Field a special moment to behold.

The renovated NYSEG Stadium has a newly constructed building where fans can catch glimpses of pitchers warming up or sometimes even guys hitting in the cage. The front of the building reads, “The Road to Queens runs through Rumbletown.” That was punctuated with last night’s Mets victory.

About John Bernhardt 165 Articles
MMO Minor League Analyst John Bernhardt is a retired public school teacher and administrator, who still coaches high school baseball. Growing up in a Yankees household, Bernhardt was an ardent Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra fan. When the Yankees fired Yogi in his first season as the Bomber manager, curiosity turned to passion when the Mets signed Berra as a player/coach and he has pulled for the Mets ever since. In retirement, John writes the sports for a local weekly, The Catskill Mountain News and hosts Tip-Off, a Friday morning sports hour, from 8:00-9:00 on WIOX, 91.3 F.M.