By Joe Rini
Pete Alonso capped off a historic season by hitting a rookie record 53rd home run in Game 161 in Saturday’s 3-0 shutout over the playoff bound Braves. Three days earlier, Jacob deGrom staked his claim to back to back Cy Young Awards with seven more shutout innings over the Marlins en route to his 11th victory. Finally, a weekend of good vibes and second half renewal culminated with the recently reactivated Dominic Smith hitting a two-out, 11th inning walkoff three run homer in Sunday’s 7-6 victory over the Braves, giving the Mets their 86th win of the season, their best season since 2016.
And yet, the Mets did not make the postseason. Despite their exciting mad dash to reach the second wildcard spot, 2019 ended with the Mets a few strides behind the fast closing Milwaukee Brewers, so the question remains, will late season optimism be enough for the Mets to bring manager Mickey Callaway back in 2020?
Alonso entered the final series of the season at Citi Field one home run behind Aaron Judge’s rookie record of 52 in 2017 but his first inning home run cheered every Mets fan except perhaps those still making their way through the turnstiles. Alonso shared the rookie record with the Yankees slugger for barely 24 hours before slugging the record breaker 415 feet from home plate in the right centerfield seats.
Raising his arms in celebration as he crossed home plate, the 24-year old Florida native shed tears of joy as he took his place at first base in the next half inning. “To me, it just means so much,” Alonso said after the game. “I didn’t know I was going to be overcome with all that emotion. At that point, I might as well just let it out.” One year after David Wright played his last game for the Mets, Alonso has become the new face of the franchise with a buoyant personality matched only by his home run prowess. He’s become the leader of a team with high ambitions for 2020.
Whether Mickey Callaway is part of meeting those ambitions in 2020 remains to be decided at press time. While Callaway is driving back home to Florida this week, his fate is to be determined by end of season organizational meetings between the front office and ownership. There are enticing (and expensive) managerial options available, namely a couple of Joes with World Series rings (Maddon and Girardi) and Buck Showalter. The Mets could also go in house and tab the highly regarded (and less expensive) Luis Rojas. While the poor performance of the Mets bullpen is more to blame than Callaway’s in-game decision making for failing to make the postseason, Callaway was hired by Sandy Alderson so the the incumbent GM Brodie Van Wagenen may want to hitch his fate to his own managerial hire.
If Callaway was nervous about his job security, he didn’t betray it at the pregame press conference on Friday. I asked Callaway about what it was like working with 82-year old pitching coach Phil Regan, who ascended to the job in June. Citing Regan’s experience, knowledge, calm demeanor, and communication skills, Callaway said, “He’s outstanding…I run (everything) by him…I want to learn and be a better person, a better manager, a better coach every single day and being around guys like Phil every single day only helps that…what an amazing human being.”
I also played straight man to the 44-year old Callaway when I asked if he could picture himself coaching at 82 like Regan. Callaway joked to much laughter, “When I’m 82? I don’t even picture myself being alive!”
It was nearly 40 years ago when rookies Mookie Wilson and Hubie Brooks made their Mets debuts in September 1980 and they along with former Met Lenny Harris were at Citi Field this past weekend as part of the popular Mets Alumni visits (even Keith Hernandez dropped by the dugout to say hello). I asked Mookie and Hubie how they were received as much anticipated last seasons call-ups to a then last placed team.
Mookie acknowledged, “It wasn’t that warm. I think a lot of the veterans knew we were there to replace them…it was a challenge. Good thing about it, we came up together…we had each other.”
Hubie agreed that having Mookie and other up and coming players like Wally Backman and Mike Scott also helped the transition. “That was a big changeover,” he said. Having known each other from the minor leagues and winter ball, Hubie said, “We had confidence in each other to be able to make the club and stay here…they gave us a really good opportunity and that was good.”
It’s not often I get to write an article with references to 40 years in the future and 40 years in the past but time flies just like this season has flown by, too. As always, it’s been my privilege to cover the Mets this season and I thank you, the readers, for your support and like Pete Alonso and the rest of the 2019 Mets, let’s look forward to spring training 2020. Be well.