Thirty years ago, Wally Backman was the starting second baseman for the legendary 1986 New York Mets squad. They were a very high-profiled team, and to this day still very much are. Lenny Dyskstra just saw the release of his book, and ESPN aired the 30 For 30 on Doc and Darryl this week.
Backman is still in the limelight as well. Since 2013, he has been at the helm for the Mets Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s. If you watched baseball last season, you are aware that the Mets had an exciting turnaround in 2015, led to the World Series by many of the young players Backman has coached since taking over as manager.
Thirty years later, Backman — still donning his beloved ’86 World Series ring on the PCL All-Stars bench — is thrilled to be a part of what is happening throughout the Mets organization.
“The excitement I get is that I had most of those guys,” Backman said. “To see those guys succeed is really what I want to see. I want those guys to be the best they can be. The Noah Syndergaards, the Jake deGroms, the Matt Harveys, I mean I can go on and on and on. Those are the guys you want to see succeed. You’ve been a part of them, you know what they’re all about and you know that they can all contribute.”
Backman has become beloved by his players — former and present — for being the traditional players’ coach. He is known for delivering the news of a call up to the majors in humorous ways, often pranking his top guys moments before they board the plane for New York.
But his accolades as manager of the 51s speak for themselves. He was the 2014 PCL Manager of the Year after leading them to their second consecutive South Championship. This past Wednesday, he was the skipper of the PCL All-Stars.
“I think that there’s a lot of guys I have to look into, it makes a lot of work for me,” Backman said with a laugh after the game on his experience in Charlotte. “I try to write guys up that could help our major league club or even just the organization. You got the All-Stars from the International League and the All-Stars from the PCL. Most of the guys from the PCL I know, but it’s the IL guys now I need to write up. It helps us with free agency down the road, or maybe a trade. Those are the names I can put in, and we go from there.”
Backman traveled to Charlotte with three of his own guys on the roster, and they all performed well. Pitcher Gabriel Ynoa pitched a scoreless third inning as the first pitcher out of the pen. Designated hitter Travis Taijeron lit up the skies, first in the Home Run Derby and then in the second inning behind a two-run bomb that gave the PCL the early lead.
“He got us off to a great start, that’s for sure,” Backman said of Taijeron. “It was a big two-run home run that he hit early. It looked like everything was going good out of the gates until about the fourth inning. I think it was a well-played game by both sides, but I think what today really showed was that velocity doesn’t really matter. We had harder throwers on the PCL, but it shows that good quality pitching can beat good hitting.”
Taijeron went on to win the PCL Top Star of the Game, despite the PCL dropping the game 4-2. The 27-year old right fielder continues to rake long balls while patiently awaiting his call.
“Travis is motivated,” Backman said. “I know that everybody is going to see all the strikeouts, but they say today strikeouts don’t matter. We’re looking at the run production, and if you look at that run production that he’s produced this year, it’s going to surpass everything he did last year.”
Also joining Backman was T.J. Rivera. Rivera — like Taijeron, 27 years old — has been a jack of all trades for Backman. Primarily playing third base this season, Rivera can play anywhere in the infield and even the corners of the outfield as well. He can also hit, leading the PCL with a .346 average.
“When the timing is right, he’s going to get his opportunity,” Backman said. “He’s done nothing but play a very solid third base. He’s played other positions for me, but I primarily put him at third base because of the injury that happened to David Wright. In time, he’s another guy that’s going to get an opportunity. Here’s a non-drafted guy that’s done nothing but hit his entire career.”
It has been a rough season for Backman and the 51s, mainly because it has been an injury-riddled 2016 in Queens. Matt Harvey, David Wright, Noah Syndergaard and Lucas Duda are just some of the big names that have dealt with injury on the Mets rosters, creating a revolving door in Las Vegas.
“I don’t know what you want to call it,” Backman said. “Travel squad. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The guys we keep sending to the big leagues, we expect them to help the major league club because they’re in a pennant race. Sure we’re six games out, but with a pitching staff like that, you can win ten in a row.”
Backman had a lot more to say. To see my full interview, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball by clicking on the link below: