Time Out: August 8, 2012

I’m not known for spontaneity. More programmed and cautious by nature, I prefer to know where I’m going and what I’m doing before I venture forward into the unknown. That’s why an off-the-cuff trip to Syracuse on Monday to watch Zack Wheeler pitch his first ever Triple-A start was a bit out of the ordinary.

You might remember Zack Wheeler. He’s the New York Met top minor league baseball prospect, the guy the Mets got last July on the final day before the trading deadline for their all-star outfielder Carlos Beltran. The Catskill Mountain News ran a picture of Wheeler this spring when Randy VanKeuren and I attended the Welcome Back Diner of the B-Mets in Binghamton.
I knew Wheeler was supposed to pitch his first Triple-A game for the Buffalo Bisons Sunday in Buffalo. Monday’s early morning found me up with the rooster’s call. I was planning some blueberry picking in Grand Gorge and wanted to beat the heat. Before I departed I turned on the computer to see how Wheeler fared.

Rain interferes
As fate would have it, stormy weather postponed Wheeler’s debut. Sunday’s postponed contest was the final date of the Bisons’ home stand. I learned the Bisons were on their way to Syracuse where Wheeler would pitch against the Chiefs in the first game of a Monday night doubleheader.

I hustled off to blueberry heaven to do some picking. The solitude of the blueberry patch and the incomparable Catskill Mountain views always get me thinking. Zack Wheeler will only pitch one Triple-A debut. Syracuse is not all that far away. When I finish with these blueberries there would be time to shower, throw a few sodas and a sandwich in a cooler, grab my Rob Carpenter scorebook, and head on out to Syracuse. A spontaneous plan – almost dangerous.

A phone call to Randy sealed the deal. I figured Margaretville’s Mr. Met couldn’t turn down an offer to see Wheeler’s debut. I figured right.

We had a blast. Construction on two spots on I-81 left us doubting we would arrive on time for the first pitch, but we got to Alliance Bank Stadium with minutes to spare. What a gorgeous baseball venue, an updated park that tactfully merged the park lines of a long-ago baseball venue with the modern-day amenities of stadiums of the current age.

Like the parks of so many years ago, the bullpens in the Syracuse park are in foul territory outside the outfield foul lines. Zack Wheeler was warming up just a stone’s throw from the outfield seats. We hustled to a perfect perch nearby where Randy shot video of the young prospect going through his routine. He also caught some film of former Met receiver Mike Nickeas catching Wheeler, footage we hope to share with Cooper Reither, a promising catching prospect right here in Margaretville.

We had a blast. For $14 we got box seats three rows behind the Mets’ dugout. It was sunny and warm, and we were so close to the field it felt like you could reach out and shake Zack Wheeler’s hand. In fact, SNY telecast Wheeler’s debut, and during the game Randy got a text message from back home asking what the heck he and I were doing in Syracuse. As the local baseball fan watched on TV, a foul ball soared over the visiting dugout and the viewer saw two familiar heads turn at exactly the same time tracking the ball. You can guess who.

Syracuse invasion
Syracuse was invaded by Met fans all with the same idea of watching Wheeler pitch and most were located behind the Bison’s dugout on the first base side. That made for some electrifying commentary throughout the game. We did meet some Chiefs’ fans, and both sides playfully chided the other as the action unfolded.

Although he had some command issues, Wheeler was almost unhittable. After allowing an outfield single to the first batter in the game, he didn’t allow another hit until the fifth inning. The sparkling Mets’ prospect consistently fires the ball in the mid 90s.

And the Mets have other power arms. Jenry Mejia and Pedro Beato, two young arms who figure highly in future Mets’ plans, also pitched. Both throw in the mid 90s.
Lucas Duda, the New York Mets’ opening day starter in right field, blasted a homerun, and my favorite B-Met, a fantastic fielding centerfielder, called up to the Bison’s six weeks ago, blasted a game-inning grand slam in the second game.

We limped back into Margaretville at 1:30 a.m. tired but ready to run around and do it again. I think the B-Mets might be playing tonight in Binghamton. What the heck, live on the edge.