It isn’t often when fans at an All-Star game can sincerely root for both teams without guilt, but that’s what transpired at Citi Field this afternoon as Mets fans, who primarily made up the fairly well attended Futures Game crowd, as they were there to cheer on three Mets prospects with healthy futures – Noah Syndergaard and Brandon Nimmo for the USA team, and Rafael Montero for the World Team.
The Mets connections even extended themselves to the coaching staffs. The USA team was managed by Mookie Wilson. His batting coach was Howard Johnson, who now serves in that capacity for the Tacoma Rainiers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.
The World Team was managed by Edgardo Alfonzo. His pitching coach was Neil Allen, who Mets fans remember primarily as the chip that brought Keith Hernandez to New York back in 1983. Allen is now the pitching coach for the Durham Bulls, a Tampa Bay affiliate.
USA topped the World club, 4-2, backed by a solid pitching staff that limited the international squad to just three hits. And a longball by Diamondback future infielder Matt Davidson.
The scoring began in the second, when USA’s DH, Christian Yelich, a Marlins prospect, belted a doubled to left center, scoring the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, who had singled.
Syndergaard started the game for USA, and was impressive as advertised, picking up one strikeout – Arismendy Alcantara, who later homered off Boston’s Anthony Ranaudo. Syndegaard yielded one hit in his brief one-inning scoreless stint, but the runner was erased trying to steal.
The lanky 6’ 6” righthander exhibited distinctive poise and confidence when dealing with the herd of media prior to the game.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Syndegaard. “I’m here to have fun with it, learn as much as I can and work on getting to the next level.”
Nimmo was the proverbial kid-in-a-candy-store, soaking it all in and enjoying every moment. “I’m loving it. There’s a lot more going on here, a whole different experience.”
After a first half with the Savannah Sand Gnats in the Sally League, Nimmo was thrilled to be voted onto the prestigious squad. “I feel like this is a good reward for a good first half (.261, one homer, eight doubles, five triples, 23 RBIs), I’m happy with it, and just want to soak up this atmosphere, learn what I can, keep working hard, and the rest will take care of itself.”
He was even assigned David Wright’s locker. “All I can say is, David, thank you, and hope that I can have an amazing career like you’ve had.”
Nimmo went 0-2, with a groundout and a liner out to short.
Montero started for Fonzie’s World Team, setting down the USA team in quick order in his one inning appearance – fly out, popup, groundout.
Ex-Met Mike Piazza was a welcomed guest, on hand to play in the celebrity softball game which followed the Futures Game, and was met by the media with an eager group of cameras and recorders. It was announced that Piazza would be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame on Sept. 29.
Asked about his days in New York, Piazza recognized that when you retire, there’s something missing.
“Playing golf never replicates that excitement,” Piazza pined. “I hold my time here very fondly. I was blessed to play here, and to have had the tremendous support of the fans.”
No. 31 still follows the Mets closely and knows they’ve been going through a rough patch. “I love the character of this organization, with its history and fans, but as I’ve said many times before, sometimes the hard times define you. When you have had that roller coaster history, it’s about character.”
Of course Piazza creamed a home run in the softball game that followed, helping his National League collection of former ballplayers and celebrities beat an AL roster, 8-5.
The orange-clad NLers, “managed” by WFAN’s Boomer Esiason, who is also better known as an NFL quarterback, “drafted” a team filled with ex-Mets and Mets fans, including Piazza, Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, and which was “captained” by Johnny Franco. The roster also featured Kevin James, Andre Dawson, Jennie Finch, George Lopez, Ozzie Smith, Miss America Mallory Hagan, and Alyssa Milano.
The AL team, managed by Esiason’s morning radio partner, Craig Carton, lined up ex-Met Rickey Henderson, Bernie Williams, Frank Thomas, Fred Lynn, Rollie Fingers, AJ Calloway, and actors James Denton, and Chord Overstreet.
James was named one of the game’s MVPs, for a headfirst slide into second that extended a rally. The other MVP was Josh Wege, a member of the nation’s Wounded Warrior softball team, which plays over 100 games per year. Wege lost both legs in the service of his country, but continues to play on prosthetics. He hit a home run in the game, too.
On deck: The main events, the Home Run Derby, and the All-Star Game on Tuesday.