Highly touted Mets prospect fits well in Coney Island
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Michael Conforto hadn’t taken one of his sweet left-handed swings in anger since June 2, making his first at-bat as a Brooklyn Cyclone quite a big deal for the two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year from Oregon State.
“There was a little bit of butterflies,” Conforto confessed after flying out to deep center field at MCU Park in his Coney Island debut last Saturday night, marking his initial plate appearance since OSU got knocked out of the College World Series Regionals early last month.
“But it comes back to you quick, just like riding a bike.”
The way Conforto has begun his pro career, he may consider riding that bike to the ongoing Tour de France, butterflies and all.
The New York Mets’ highly touted first-round pick in last month’s MLB Draft has provided some instant punch to Brooklyn’s previously limp lineup, batting an even .400 (8-for-20) with three doubles, two RBIs and three runs scored since officially joining the Baby Bums this past weekend.
After flying out to left field in his second plate appearance on Saturday, Conforto ripped a clean base hit to right to spark a six-run sixth inning against Williamsport, paving the way for Brooklyn’s first win in nine games.
“A little bit of a sigh of relief there to get that first hit,” Conforto revealed during his post-game press conference with the Brooklyn media.
“I think I put a couple of good swings on the ball and had a few good at-bats. I need a little time to get back in the swing of things. It’s good to be a part of the team and part of a win.”
Getting back in the swing certainly hasn’t been an issue for the 21-year-old slugger, who was one of only five finalists for the Dick Howser Trophy, given annually to the top college player in the entire nation.
Picked 10th overall by the Mets, Conforto hit a blistering .345 with seven home runs and 56 RBIs in 59 games during his junior season with the Beavers.
And he’s picked up right where he left off on Surf Avenue.
Powered by Conforto’s bat, the Cyclones (18-21) won three games in a row upon his arrival, but have since dropped two straight, including Wednesday night’s rain-delayed 5-2 defeat at Aberdeen.
Neither the bad weather nor poor field conditions slowed Conforto’s progress, however, as the Woodinville, Wash. native went 2-for-4 with a booming double in the loss, extending his hitting streak to five games, including three multi-hit efforts.
Recently inked to a reported $2.97 million signing bonus, Conforto is high on the list of players the Mets hope will get through their system in time to make a serious impact at Citi Field in the not-too-distant future.
But first things first.
The former high school football star – he played quarterback and safety -- knows there are no short cuts from the Minors to the big leagues, and he intends to pick up some valuable experience and know-how on his way up the Mets’ organizational chain.
“Coach [Tom] Gamboa pulled me aside and wanted to make sure that I wasn’t putting too much on my back,” Conforto said of his pre-game encounter with his new manager.
“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.”
Gamboa, a baseball lifer well into his fourth decade working for MLB-affiliated organizations, was thankful for Conforto’s contribution to the Cyclones’ big win Saturday night.
But he was even more impressed with his new everyday left fielder and clean-up man’s demeanor off the diamond.
“I think the quality of person he is might be even better [than the quality of player he is],” Brooklyn’s first-year skipper noted.
“His personality is so affable and pleasant, 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, to be the catalyst to get the six-run inning going.”
The Mets have traditionally sent some of their high-profile prospects here to Brooklyn, including L.J. Mazzilli just last summer, in order to expose them to the media attention and larger-than-average fan base in the Big Apple.
Conforto is no different, and indicated that he welcomed the challenge of playing before some of the most astute and loyal fans on the Minor League circuit.
“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.
“All the guys are good guys and they really welcomed me with open arms. That’s the way Brooklyn is. The fans have been very welcoming to me. I can promise that I’m going to work hard and do all the things I need to to play at a high level and help the team win.
“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 been wrong about.
This, That and the Other Thing: Much as he did before his first game in Brooklyn, Conforto continues to gush about the culinary fare being offered in our fair borough. “New York is great,” he said. “The food is awesome. I took a little walk around where our hotel was and there are a bunch of great delis. I’ve had quite a bit of Italian food and some sandwiches.” … Despite their recent two-game slide, the Cyclones are just three games behind arch-rival Staten Island in the hunt for the New York-Penn League’s wild-card playoff spot. … Brooklyn will host Vermont for a three-game set, beginning Thursday night at 7 p.m.