Ex-Cyclone Conforto displaying star power
Former First-Round Pick Driving Thriving Mets’ Offense in Flushing
Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa saw it the first time he laid eyes on Michael Conforto.
And so did 7,174 Brooklyn baseball fanatics who filed into MCU Park on July 19, 2014 to witness Conforto’s professional baseball debut.
“I think the quality of person he is might be even better [than the quality of player he is],” Brooklyn’s then-first-year skipper noted after watching the Mets’ first-round pick out of Oregon State go 1-for-4 with a run scored, helping the struggling Cyclones snap a franchise-record eight-game losing streak.
“His personality is so affable and pleasant,” Gamboa, a baseball lifer with more than 40 years of Major League-affiliated experience, went on.
“He got along with everybody, including the Latin players who don’t speak English. It’s a great way for him to make his debut.”
Conforto drove the Cyclones to the brink of the New York-Penn League playoffs that summer before they lost out on the circuit’s wild-card spot via a tiebreaker on the season’s final day.
He batted .331 with three homers, 19 RBIs, 10 doubles and 30 runs scored in only 42 games at Coney Island’s Class A short-season affiliate, and hasn’t slowed down since.
Conforto needed only 91 games of fine-tuning at various Minor League levels, making pit stops at Class A Advanced St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, before beginning his big league service with the Mets last July 24.
All he did upon arriving in Flushing was hit a solid .270 with nine homers, 26 RBIs, 14 doubles and 30 runs scored over the final 56 games of the Mets’ drive to their first National League East title since 2006.
Though he only batted .200 in 12 postseason games as New York advanced to its first World Series since 2000, Conforto became the first rookie to homer twice in a Fall Classic contest since 19-year-old Andrew Jones did it for the 1996 Braves.
All this success for a then-22-year-old outfielder who had just begun cutting his teeth at the pro level here in Brooklyn some 15 months earlier.
This season, Conforto, now 23, has already ascended into the coveted No. 3 hole in the Mets’ lineup, batting a team-best .337 with four homers, 18 RBIs, 11 doubles and 16 runs scored through only 23 games.
Conforto is already being compared to MVP-caliber superstars like Washington’s Bryce Harper and Anaheim’s Mike Trout.
But perhaps his greatest asset as a player, other than his sweet left-handed swing, is his all-around acumen for the game, and his ability to thrive under duress beneath the blaring spotlight of the Big Apple sporting scene.
Some valuable advice from Gamboa may have helped Conforto in his mercurial rise from highly touted prospect to lynchpin of the Mets’ powerful lineup.
“Coach [Tom] Gamboa pulled me aside and wanted to make sure that I wasn’t putting too much on my back,” Conforto said back in July of 2014.
“He’s seen a lot of high-profile guys come in and put too much pressure on themselves,” he added. “He told me to just go out there and have fun and play the game you love. That’s something that I’m going to really try hard to do.”
At times, it hardly seems as if Conforto is trying at all.
His ability to hit the ball with authority to all fields, and his developing comfort in left field point to a bright future here, one that could see him displace team captain David Wright and the Mets’ cache of brilliant pitching talent as the face of the organization.
“Batting third is something he has done his whole life,” Mets hitting coach Kevin Long recently said of Conforto in the New York Post. “He’s home. And he’s ready for it. It’s a very good spot for him.”
And to think, it all began here in Brooklyn less than two years ago on a clear, 76-degree evening along Surf Avenue.
“I love how passionate the fans are and how they love the game and they love the team that’s here in Brooklyn, very close to Citi Field,” Conforto said that night.
“That’s the way Brooklyn is.
“I can promise that I’m going to work hard and do all the things I need to play at a high level and help the team win,” he added. “But like I said, baseball is a game of patience, where you can’t come out here and promise that I’m going to get results right away.”
Thus far, that’s the only thing Conforto has gotten wrong during his two-plus seasons in the Mets’ organization.
This, That and the Other Thing: Though we are still six weeks away from the Cyclones’ 2016 season opener on Coney Island, the organization has made some news during the offseason, including announcing that Gamboa would be back for a record-tying third year at the helm. Also, the Cyclones revealed their always-popular promotional schedule, which will include a Michael Conforto Bobblehead Night on June 20. Single-game tickets for the entire 2016 campaign are on sale now via the Cyclones’ ticket office.
Click here for a complete list of the Cyclones’ promotional dates this summer.