By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Cyclones center fielder Brandon Nimmo acted more like a seasoned major league veteran than a minor league neophyte, both during and following Monday night's season-opening victory against Staten Island at MCU Park.
Moments after Brooklyn eked out a 2-0 triumph over the defending New York-Penn League champions from across the Verrazano, the Mets' 19-year-old 2011 first-round pick out of Wyoming waited in the tunnel leading into the clubhouse for each and every one of his teammates, dealing out celebratory fist bumps and hand shakes to those who contributed to the hard-earned win.
“That’s who I am," said Nimmo, who went 0-for-3 at the plate in his Brooklyn debut, but also walked and scored the Cyclones' first run of the season during a two-run rally in the decisive eighth inning.
"I get fired up for these games," he added. "What a great team effort there. Our pitching staff did an amazing job. It’s really easy to get too excited in that situation. It’s nice to get that first win out of the way so you’re not pressing for it later."
Nimmo, who has a world of expectations heaped on his broad shoulders after signing a $2.1 million deal with the Mets last summer, sounded like a grizzled manager instead of a teenage pro rookie after his first taste of life under the bright lights on Coney Island, home of the NY-Penn attendance leaders in each of their previous 11 seasons.
"I’m up for the challenge and loving it so far," said Nimmo, quickly deflecting any ideas about his wilting under the duress of being the Cyclones' most notable player entering the 76-game campaign. “It’s been a huge adjustment. Every game I’m learning something new. This is so much different than the Spring Training atmosphere. I’m just trying to learn as fast as I can. You’re going to make mistakes, but you have to learn from them.”
Nearly five decades Nimmo's senior, Brooklyn manager Rich Donnelly offered nothing but effusive praise for his budding star outfielder and No. 2 hitter in the lineup.
“He’s such a good kid and he’s so beyond his years, I just watch him and admire him," said Donnelly, who got his first look at Nimmo during the spring after the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Cheyenne native got his feet wet last year with 10 combined pro games between the Gulf Coast League Mets and Rookie-level Kingsport. "I wish every kid could have his attitude because it’s special. He’s above special. He’s a 19-year-old kid. He came in here like a big leaguer and stood on top of the stairs shaking hands with 40 guys. That’s what big leaguers do."
The Cyclones have already sent 36 players to the majors, including seven who have played at Citi Field for the parent-club Mets this season. If Nimmo is to be the next big leaguer out of Coney Island, he's going to have to accept failure as part of the process, according to his sage skipper.
"Is he gonna struggle? You betcha," Donnelly noted. "Muhammad Ali was the greatest of all time, but he didn’t win every round. That’s what I tell the guys. You’re gonna get knocked down, but you have to bounce back."
Nimmo batted .211 with two homers and four RBIs during his brief stint in the minors last summer after inking his rookie deal. But the process of going from high school superstar to big league regular is hardly a swift one, even for the biggest names at the major league level.
“It’s not like you leap from being a high school kid to being a big leaguer," Donnelly reminded the media following Tuesday's win. "[Mets third baseman] David Wright was drafted out of high school and spent four years in the minor leagues. That's about 1,600 at-bats. That’s the path Brandon has to follow. It’s gonna take him some time, but he’s going to be a dandy.”
The left-handed hitting Nimmo grounded out to first base in his initial Brooklyn at-bat after fielding a pair of fly balls in the top of the opening frame. He reached on a throwing error in the fourth and hit into a force play in the fifth before drawing what proved to be a key one-out walk in the eighth. Nimmo scored when left fielder Stefan Sabol drew a bases-loaded walk later in the inning, giving the Cyclones all the offense they'd need behind a shutout performance on the mound.
“Give credit to the pitching staff for keeping us in the game," Nimmo humbly said when asked about the game-winning rally. "We’re gonna keep grinding and try to get more opportunities and capitalize on them. You have to keep grinding.”
The grind promises to get pretty daunting for a player whose every movement will be watched throughout his time on Coney Island and up through the Mets' system. Even during Monday's player introductions, Nimmo received the biggest ovation from a near-capacity crowd at the stadium by the sea, proving he's the most recognizable of the new-look Baby Bums.
But judging from his attitude off the field and his aptitude on the diamond, Nimmo already has his sights set on bigger and better things.
“There’s a little bit more pressure, but you have to get past that," he said. "It’s still baseball. It’s still playing on a diamond. It’s all mental. You have to be strong mentally."
At first glance, Nimmo appears more than mentally capable of living up to his first-round status. Now, he'll just have to continue proving it physically, over and over again, through the next 75 games.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said of the great challenges that lie ahead this summer.
So, undoubtedly, are the Mets and Brooklyn's legion of loyal baseball fans.