Playing professional baseball in Brooklyn, N.Y. is quite an eye-opening experience for Brandon Nimmo—the 19-year-old Cheyenne, Wyo. native who was the New York Mets' No. 1 draft choice in 2011.
In Wyoming, Nimmo distinguished himself playing American Legion baseball for Post 6 in Cheyenne.
As a reporter primarily reporting on veterans, the military and college sports, I was interested in meeting the young man who had taken the path less traveled that led him from Wyoming to New York City.
Before the Cyclones game on Sunday at the picturesque ballpark In Staten Island overlooking New York harbor, I had a chance to sit down with Brandon. He was polite and thoughtful in handling an interview, appearing mature beyond his years.
Speaking about the value of American Legion baseball in a state which does not have high school programs, Brandon said:
No high school baseball. American Legion baseball is pretty much the only baseball there. Just grew up playing American Legion ball. Post 6 has supported our baseball team in Cheyenne for many, many years, ever since I can remember. They really kept baseball alive in our city.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson saw long-term potential in Nimmo to select him with their No. 1 pick in the 2011 amateur draft, the 13th overall selection.
The Mets then offered the then-18-year-old outfielder a $2.1 million signing bonus to encourage him to sign with the team and turn professional rather than accept a college baseball scholarship offer to the University of Arkansas.
About the difficult decision to give up the college scholarship option and accept the Mets' offer, Brandon said:
You are making a life decision at 18 years old and those two different lives are going to take you in very different paths. You have to weigh all the options. You go back and forth in the whole process. My dream was to play professional baseball, and they (the Mets) were going to supply me with all of the opportunity that I would need to really pursue this and make it worthwhile. So I decided that I would do professional baseball and try and carry out my lifelong dream.
Nimmo comes from a part of the country entirely different from New York; the beautiful part of the country where the great plains reach the Rocky Mountains—the ranch country of the American West.
He describes his native Wyoming:
It is plains as far as the eye can see; a lot different from New York City in almost every way
Nimmo has enjoyed playing in Brooklyn by the beach and playing in front of the fans on a game-by-game, night-by-night basis, saying:
It has been an absolute pleasure, the fans have been great. We play in one of the best ballparks in minor league baseball. It is a great atmosphere. Had my family come out, and they absolutely love the atmosphere. There is always something going on.
After 59 games in 2012 playing for the Brooklyn Cyclones, Brandon is hitting .270 with 34 RBI and 38 runs scored. On making the transition to professional baseball, Nimmo respects the time needed to make it:
It has been huge. The difference between professional baseball and high school or American Legion is a very, very big difference. You are skipping a lot of levels, so it takes time to catch up to the speed of the game.
The early season was a challenging but exciting time for the young pro getting used to new surroundings, new teammates and the level of play in the Class-A New York Penn League. Early in the season, he was batting below .200, but that has changed and his numbers have become impressive as the season has progressed.
It has had its ups and downs. I started off really, really slow. I have been really, really happy with how I have been playing and how it has progressed just to get back to this point now.
He led off for Brooklyn and played center field on Sunday. In his third at-bat, the left-handed hitter lofted a fly ball to right field that cleared the wall and quite possibly landed in New York harbor (which begins just beyond the fence of the ballpark). The blast was his fifth home run of the year.
Nimmo has an on-base percentage of .394, 61 hits and 40 walks. For a young hitter, he has a great batting eye and appears to approach the plate with discipline. He has settled in at center field and leading off for the Cyclones.
Things have been going well at the leadoff position. I try to bring five tools into play. I can hit the ball out, but I also like to get on base a lot, try to use my speed in the outfield and on the base paths. Any way I can help the team out to win is my goal. At the end of the day, to get a 'W' for the team, so just playing the game hard and having fun.
About what it is going to take to be successful and advance toward the major leagues, Brandon though it would take some time:
This process is a marathon, it is not a sprint. It is hard to keep that in mind sometimes. But if you do, and you really just have a lot of fun with this game, it has been working out. That has been the key thing; to remember to have fun when I am playing all the time and just going out and enjoying the moment.
Brandon Nimmo has a bright baseball future. It may be three or more years away, but by 2015, he just might be starting in center field for the New York Mets.
Ken Kraetzer covers Army football and Iona basketball for WVOX in New Rochelle, N.Y. and Sons of the American Legion Radio. Twitter address is @SAL50NYRadio.