The countdown for Wally Backman is now under a month. Just a few weeks, really.
Soon he will be setting up temporary residence in Port St. Lucie, getting ready to report to his new job on March 2. Only then will the fiery former Met do something he hasn't done in a long time.
For the first time in five years Backman, 50, will put on a baseball uniform again, a uniform that stands out because it bears the logo of a major-league team. And you'd better believe that's going to feel good.
"I know there will be a lot of feeling there, no question," said Backman, who will manage the Mets' Class-A Brooklyn Cyclones. "A lot of the feeling is simply knowing that you're a part of the puzzle."
Part of the puzzle. That's the phrase Backman kept repeating during a 10-minute telephone interview Tuesday evening. Now that he finally has landed his first job with a major-league organization since his rap sheet ('99 DUI; '00 domestic violence arrest) cost him a job managing the Diamondbacks after only four days, simply being back in the game in any capacity is a refreshing and humbling thing.
Asked to describe his feelings since the Mets hired him almost three months ago, Backman said he felt privileged.
"With the Mets stepping up and giving me this opportunity to show people this is what I'm really all about, I'm excited," he said. "Trust me, there was a four-year period, or whatever it was, where I was just shoved out there. And I know what I'm capable of doing.
"Like I told everyone with the Mets I talked to, they won't regret it. I want them to make their own evaluation. I know that I'm going to make the Cyclones - which is my number one priority right now - I know I'm going to make them better."
His past five years have been spent cold calling clubs, constantly faxing his resume to general managers and showing up at the winter meetings like a thousand others looking for a job. Clearly he's happy to put all that behind him, for good.
"I'm ready to go," Backman said. "Baseball's my life."
These days all of his thoughts are about the immediate future, focusing on his job with the Cyclones. He's been a successful minor-league manager before in the Chicago White Sox system, and he believes he's going to be successful here with the Mets, too. In fact, Backman has no doubt about that.
"Trust me, I really take what I teach very seriously," he said. "I know I teach the proper ways to play. And if I can get the players to follow in that pattern, they're going to be better . . . To be able to say I made them better after having them for a season, I know I will be able to do that with every single player I have."
Surely he still has aspirations to be a major-league manager again; he made that much clear at his introductory news conference in Brooklyn in November. But for the moment those thoughts are in the background.
Finally, he has a job, a defined role within a major-league organization. And that has Backman feeling thankful for the opportunity, excited to do what he loves and determined to succeed.
"My job right now," he said, "is to make these kids better, develop them and teach them to play the game the right way." The Backman way.
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