From left, Mets senior vice president of player development Andy Green, president...

From left, Mets senior vice president of player development Andy Green, president of baseball operations David Stearns, vice president & special assistant to president of baseball ops Eduardo Brizuela and manager Carlos Mendoza in spring training. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

David Stearns first became aware of Carlos Mendoza as a highly regarded coach and a potential future manager a few years ago when, during a series against the Yankees, one of his most trusted Brewers lieutenants pulled him aside to say: Hey, keep an eye on that guy. He is going to be a somebody.

As Mendoza navigated his many managerial interviews last autumn, he turned to a friend — the general manager of the 2023 Venezuela WBC team for which he was bench coach — for advice.

At first, it was about front offices in general. How did they think? What did they want? Then his check-ins got more specific: Mendoza was talking to Stearns about the Mets’ opening.

The friend was Eduardo Brizuela.

“I have some secrets,” Brizuela said of his longtime relationships with both Mets bosses. He laughed, but he wasn’t totally joking.

As the Mets’ vice president and special assistant to the president of baseball operations, he is one of the most important voices in their new hierarchy. He has a hand in virtually every aspect of the baseball department, from the farm system and the draft to international operations and major-league goings-on.

And nobody knows both Stearns and Mendoza as well as Brizuela does, having developed those relationships separately over the course of his decade and a half in baseball.

“His presence, his ability to be around, his comfort in that environment, people’s comfort with him helps us build that connectivity throughout the organization that we’re seeking to develop,” Stearns said.

Mendoza said: “His ability to connect with people with different backgrounds — Latin Americans, coaches, front office — is special . . . He’s got the analytics side of things. He’s got the human side of things. That’s what makes this guy special.”

For Brizuela, 37, joining the Mets — right around the same time as Mendoza, early last offseason — represented a natural next step, a culmination of all that came before.

He reunited with his old boss, Stearns, who valued Brizuela’s well-rounded skill set and made him his only hire from his former employer. He was ready to leave the Brewers, the only team he had worked for. And he returned to the region where his love of baseball blossomed, having become a Mets fan and worked as a Ducks batboy while spending his teenage years on Long Island.

“I like to be challenged,” Brizuela said. “The way I see it, my job here is to be able to help both Mendy and David in this first year, pretty much get to know the organization and hopefully restructure areas that could be better.”  

Long Island beginning

Born and raised in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, Brizuela immigrated to the United States with his family in 2000 as he readied for high school. Their plan: two years stateside to learn English while political turmoil at home quieted down. They never moved back.

They settled in East Islip, and after a couple of years at military schools, Brizuela transferred to East Islip High. There, he was one of the few Hispanic kids — a native Spanish speaker who once was pulled out of his class to speak to a Spanish class about Latin America.

Long Island was a bit of a culture shock, often in a good way. The suburban vibe brought a welcomed and different pace of life. It was plenty safe enough for him and his two younger brothers to play outside and make friends in the neighborhood.

Two decades later, what first comes to mind, Brizuela said, is playing ball for legendary former East Islip coach Sal Ciampi, the pizza on Main Street and visits to Fire Island. Oh, and rooting for the Mets, taking a particular interest because of his favorite player, fellow Venezuelan Edgardo Alfonzo.

“When you grow up in Venezuela, you only have your winter ball teams,” he said. “So my winter ball team, the team that I liked, was the same team that Edgardo Alfonzo came from [Navegantes del Magallanes].

“So when we finally got to New York, it was an opportunity to grasp onto a team. And the New York Mets were hot.”

Through a family connection, Brizuela wound up with a kind of, sort of job with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League. He helped manage equipment, hung around players (many of them former major-leaguers) for the first time and fielded ground balls from Bud Harrelson.

That was 2001, when former Met Carlos Baerga was on the team. When scouts from the Korean Baseball Organization came to watch the Ducks, Baerga assigned Brizuela an additional task: Sit behind the plate during the game, listen to their questions, report back to Baerga in the dugout and relay his answers to the scouts.

Baerga got signed and went to Korea within days, a springboard to four more seasons in the majors.

Brizuela’s cut: a $100 tip.

“I was working out with those guys and working for free pretty much,” he said. “My parents would drop me off at noon and then they would pick me up at 10 o’clock at night, 11 o’clock at night when my job was over — my fake job, because they never paid me. But it was fun . . . I was seeing how the teams and players would work, I was seeing how the industry worked.”  

Chasing the dream

Brizuela’s desire to chase the pro baseball dream yielded an internship application with the Brewers before the 2009 season. When he got the gig, he picked up his life and moved from Florida, where he had gone to college, to a Midwest city he had never seen until his interview.

“I saw it as an opportunity to be in the big leagues,” Brizuela said. “Not being from Milwaukee, not knowing anyone in Milwaukee, it was an opportunity for me to work 24/7 and really show what I can do.”

This wasn’t some coffee-fetching situation, either. He wasn’t stuffed away in a cubicle. As an advance scouting intern, Brizuela watched a ton of video, game after game, helping the team prepare for its upcoming opponents.

He was regularly in the locker room and with the players, learning the language and the culture of a major-league clubhouse — rare entry-level experience that proved central to what he has become, an unusual modern executive who never played at a high level but who nonetheless has an uncanny ability to relate to players.

During this past spring training, no Mets front-office member spent more time at workouts than Brizuela, a frequent participant in the fun-loving yuk-it-up sessions usually reserved for uniformed personnel.

“When you talk to him, he says things to me that I’m like, how does he know that?” said former Mets star Carlos Beltran, now a team special assistant. “That’s something that players [know]. He has a good feel for people, and to me it’s great that David is creating this group of people that care about the players.”

Brizuela stuck with the Brewers for 15 seasons, steadily climbing under several regimes. He came to oversee their academy in the Dominican Republic, helped run and then headed player development, and eventually ascended into an overarching vice president role.

His last several promotions came under Stearns, who kept him upon becoming Milwaukee’s GM in late 2015. Stearns, who is reputed to keep a small inner circle, said he came to trust Brizuela “over time” because of his interpersonal skills and relationship-building.

“Not only players and coaches, but other front-office people,” Stearns said. “That always struck me as very impressive.”

Brizuela got more specific. He views his role in helping the Brewers work out a contract extension with Freddy Peralta — a player he had known since he was a lower-level minor-leaguer — in 2020 as a key moment. That five-year, $15.5 million deal has proved to be quite team-friendly.

“This kid has a chance to do something special,” Brizuela recalled thinking. “And when the opportunity came, David came over and said hey, Eduardo, what do you think about doing this? I remember telling him, let’s go, we’ll get this done.”  

Back to the Big Apple

As Brizuela’s contract neared its end last year, he wondered about life beyond the Brewers. His negotiations for a new deal hadn’t gone the way he hoped. He thought he wanted something new. Other teams would be interested, he figured.

And he was right.

When he let his contract expire, five teams called “right away,” he said. The Mets, of course, were among them. In Stearns’ chaotic first weeks on the job as he tried to hire a manager while learning the entire organization, he made sure to call the friend with whom he’d periodically had lunch in the year since they stopped working together.

Brizuela didn’t need much convincing. He agreed to come to Queens within the week.

A few days later, he attended Mendoza’s introductory news conference.

“I know the type of person [Stearns] is, I know the type of leader he is and I know how much he wanted this job and how excited he was when he got this opportunity,” Brizuela said. “I just felt like it was a great fit for me and my family.”

Why hasn’t Stearns hired anybody else from the Brewers?

It’s complicated.

Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, who hated that the Mets wanted Stearns for years before they actually hired him, is loath to let anyone go while they’re still under contract. Brizuela’s case was simple because he was a free agent.

“There are technical reasons,” Stearns said. “The vast majority of the people I worked with at the Brewers, many of whom are really, really talented, remain under contract. Eduardo was not under contract. Eduardo is a really unique individual who can help us win games.”

Now Brizuela is working for his former and once-again favorite team, alongside Stearns and Mendoza. Stearns chose Mendoza after his former Brewers manager, Craig Counsell, turned down the Mets to sign with the Cubs.

Mendoza, then a young coach in the Yankees’ system, and Brizuela crossed paths in the Dominican more than a decade ago. They got to know each other better in recent years through their Team Venezuela duties.

In a way, Brizuela predicted that Mendoza would become Stearns’ manager.

He just didn’t expect it quite like this.

“I knew we had somebody who was very talented,” Brizuela said of Mendoza and that WBC hiring process. “I remember even telling Craig and David at the time, hey, man, I had a chance to talk to this guy and this guy is going to be pretty good. This guy has a chance to be a manager. I always told Craig, sorry, whenever you’re gone, this is going to be the candidate.”

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