SYRACUSE,NY – As Noah Sydnergaard made his way to the Carrier Dome's 50-yard line while waving a white 'S' flag for Syracuse University, it was almost as if he was absolved.
Forty-eight hours earlier the New York Mets star pitcher voiced frustration at his team’s travel schedule: a bus ride from Port St. Lucie to Sarasota, a flight from Sarasota to Syracuse, a workout – not a game – in Syracuse, and then a flight to Washington for Opening Day.
“I don’t think that’s conducive to winning ballgames,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Matters were made worse when issues on the tarmac forced a three-hour flight delay in Sarasota.
All of that was forgotten on Tuesday as the 4,296 in attendance roared at Syndergaard’s mea culpa which concluded the first-ever “Meet the Mets at the Dome” event in honor of New York’s acquisition of the Syracuse Triple-A franchise.
“That’s Noah,” quipped manager Mickey Callaway on Syndergaard’s approach toward making amends with Syracuse fans. “He’s great. He understands how special this was for all the fans and wanted to do something special. He understands that we’re here for the fans' sake, and that’s one thing about Noah is that he’ll always be there for the fans.”
Though Central New York sports fans were not treated to an exhibition on Tuesday, the event was a rare opportunity to see some of the game’s best figures up close – everyone from Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen walking around the entire stadium to sign autographs and talk to fans to recently acquired All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano throwing balls into the crowd for fans to take as souvenirs.
While some shared Syndergaard’s initial sentiments, first baseman and former top prospect Dominic Smith welcomed the opportunity to engage with the upstate New York fanbase.
“We didn’t know what to expect coming down here,” Smith told media members in a post-workout press conference. “It’s outstanding. We felt the energy from the crowd. We loved it. We definitely enjoyed ourselves out there for the short time we spent.”
Outfielder Brandon Nimmo agreed.
“The fans were really into it,” Nimmo said. “It was definitely a different feeling that I’ve ever been a part of ... But, I was happy about coming here. We’re really excited about the partnership about Syracuse. I know as a guy who was in Las Vegas (the Mets former Triple-A franchise) and coming back and forth that this will be a whole lot easier for these guys. It will definitely help them.”
Hours before the Mets took the field at noon for their final workout of the preseason, news broke that reigning Cy Young Award winning pitcher Jacob deGrom had agreed to a reported five-year $137.5 million extension with the club. DeGrom, who reportedly did not make the flight with the team due to the negotiations and was in New York Tuesday for his physical, had originally been scheduled to appear in Syracuse.
Callaway said he was pleased that a deal had been agreed to before the season, but noted that at no point had it become a distraction to the team in the clubhouse.
“I want Jacob here as long as possible.” he said of deGrom, who finished last season 10-9 in 32 starts, but led the league with a 1.70 ERA. “It’s a baseball decision. It’s ownership and Jacob, and he’s done a great job of going out there this spring and preparing himself for opening day.
Nimmo and Smith also said they were pleased that a deal was done with the team’s slated Opening Day starting pitcher.
“We’re really excited about that,” Nimmo said. “We’re just excited to have Jake around for a few more years and put the (contract talks) behind us.”
“We definitely were excited to lock him down,” Smith said. "He’s the best pitcher in baseball I feel like. I’ve seen him out there and compete even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he goes out there and gives everything he’s got. He’s a leader, he’s a fighter. He’s everything you want on this team to lead us in a right direction.”
Smith, who finished Spring Training with a .321 batting average and two home runs, has spent the last month-and-a-half in contention with star prospect Pete Alonso for the starting job at first base. Alonso, who hit 36 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last season, also had a solid spring, batting .368 and hitting four home runs.
“It’s been fun,” he said of the competition with Alonso. “He’s a talented player, and he’s made tremendous strides. It makes our lineup so good. Our lineup has been pretty deep and it’s up there with anyone’s lineup and that’s because we believe in ourself. That’s how much we believe in each other.”
Smith also talked about how important the presence of Cano has been as a veteran on a relatively young team.
“For us, he’s a legend,” he said of the former New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners second basemen. “He’s been through it all. He’s played in New York, he had success throughout his whole career. Just to be able to lean on him, he’s going to be able to take some pressure of the guys. He just helps us mentally every day. We love him in the clubhouse. We’re privileged to see a player like that on an everyday basis.”
“He’s an amazing guy,” Nimmo said of Cano, who owns a career .304 batting average and 311 home runs since his debut in 2005. “There’s a lot for us to learn from him. There are a lot of work ethics we all need to start doing and I think that’s the biggest thing he brings to the table – not just his bat.”
Callaway, meanwhile, believes his team will impove its 77-85 record from last season, and he couldn’t be more excited for the season to start on Thursday at Nationals Park. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m.
“It’s always special,” Callaway said. “Every team is excited right now. What I see from our camp and where we’re at right now is confidence. We feel prepared, we feel like everybody who is going to be on that opening day roster is ready to go. There’s no doubt in my mind, there’s no doubt in the players’ minds and I’m excited to get that first one out of the way and get going.”
As for the quick stop in Syracuse – despite the headlines it might have caused – the sophomore manager is confident the players will remember Tuesday for a while.
“The players are going to feel better going into the season knowing that they came here and did something like this,” Callaway said. “This is what this game is all about.”
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Video: Watch Noah Syndergaard run around the Carrier Dome with a Syracuse ‘S’ flag.
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