By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Friday the 13th turned out to be a lucky day for Brandon Nimmo.
The Cyclones' center fielder, selected in the first round (13th overall) by the Mets in last year's Major League Draft, saw his hitting take a fortuitous turn for the better nearly three weeks ago, and he hasn't stopped battering opponents since.
The highest-drafted player ever to grace the lush green outfield grass at Coney Island's MCU Park is batting a blistering .326 over his last 10 games, and has hit safely in 15 of 19 contests since going 3-for-4 with a run scored on July 13 at Connecticut.
Nimmo, who won't turn 20 until next March, has flourished out of the top spot in the Brooklyn lineup over the past three games, going 9-for-15 with three doubles, a homer, three RBIs and seven runs scored. That's a .600 average during that stretch, if you're counting.
After spending most of his first full summer as a professional struggling to rise and stay above the Mendoza line (.200), Nimmo finally appears poised to challenge the .300 plateau over the final month of the season. His overall average has been boosted to a much-more-respectable .258 as the Cyclones continue their current six-game homestand on Surf Avenue with Thursday night's clash against Connecticut, hoping to close in on first-place Hudson Valley in the ever-tightening race for the McNamara Division title.
Brooklyn manager Rich Donnelly, who insisted throughout Nimmo's early season struggles at the plate that the Wyoming native would take some time to adjust to pro ball, and that ultimately, he would "be a dandy," proved prophetic in more ways than one.
For despite Nimmo's less-than-impressive batting average through June and early July, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound left-handed hitting teenager still provided Brooklyn with a strong everyday presence, both in the field and in the batter's box. His recent surge has only enchanced his numbers, not his importance to the team.
"Muhammad Ali was the greatest of all time, but he didn’t win every round," Donnelly insisted when pressed on the matter of Nimmo's development at the Class A short-season level after only 10 games between the Gulf Coast League and Rookie-level Kingsport following his signing of a $2.1 million deal last summer.
"That’s what I tell the guys. You’re gonna get knocked down, but you have to bounce back," Donnelly added.
Nimmo, who leads the Cyclones with 41 hits, 24 runs scored, 24 RBIs, 27 walks and ranks second behind left fielder Stefan Sabol with 13 doubles, has proven to be a clubhouse leader as well. Even after going 0-for-3 on Opening Night against the arch rival Staten Island Yankees, the budding prospect waited at the edge of the dugout to offer congratulations to each of his teammates on their way to the locker room following a 2-0 win.
Doubtlessly the most closely-watched player in Brooklyn this summer, Nimmo has handled the bright lights of Coney Island, the media and his less-than-stellar start with the poise of a veteran. That's something the Mets could not have foreseen, but only hoped for, when they took him so early in the draft the summer before last despite his perceived work-in-progress status.
“There’s a little bit more pressure, but you have to get past that," Nimmo said. "It’s still baseball. It’s still playing on a diamond. It’s all mental. You have to be strong mentally."
Nimmo didn't even play high school ball in Wyoming, settling for American Legion action while playing football at Cheyenne East High School, which didn't offer a baseball program.
Now, he usually gets the loudest cheer at MCU Park during player introductions, and those roars grew louder throughout his latest sparkling effort in Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Tigers. He finished 2-for-4, starting the game with a ground-ball single up the middle before lining a base hit to left and scoring what proved to be the winning run later in the frame as Brooklyn emerged victorious for the third straight game.
"It feels great. I just thank God for the opportunity," Nimmo is fond of saying following virtually every game, regardless of his personal performance.
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This, That and the Other Thing: Despite the rain Wednesday evening, Cyclones fans showed up in droves, setting the season's top attendance mark thus far at 9,270. Brooklyn has hosted more than 9,000 fans 20 times during its 12-year run on Coney Island. ... With Wednesday's win, the Cyclones improved to a NY-Penn-leading 22-6 this season when scoring first. ... The Renegades continued to stay ahead of Brooklyn in the McNamara race, topping State College, 4-2, to remain two games in front of the second-place 'Clones, who continue to lead the race for the league's lone wild-card spot at 26-17. ... Brooklyn also evened its home record at 10-10, compared to their sparkling 16-7 mark away from MCU Park this summer. ... C Plawecki, the Mets' supplemental first-round pick this past June, drove in two runs Wednesday, giving him 10 RBIs in 30 games as a pro following a standout career at Purdue University. ... RHP Gabriel Ynoa (3-1, 2.81 ERA) won his second straight start Wednesday, yielding two runs on three hits and two walks with five strikeouts over six innings. Matthew Koch followed with two scoreless frames before RHP Tyler Vanderheiden worked around a pair of walks in the ninth to record his team-high seventh save, lowering his ERA to 0.71.