Edgardo Alfonzo stood at second base, starting pretend double plays with athletic, behind-the-back tosses to the shortstop. For a moment, fleeting as it might have been, it was Queens again in the late-1990s. There he was, a player once famous for being “underrated,” jumping up and down with the enthusiasm of a newly-drafted prospect.
But it wasn’t Queens, or Pittsfield, or Port St. Lucie, or Binghamton, or any other places where Alfonzo stopped on his way to etching his name in Mets lore. It was Brooklyn, and Alfonzo isn’t just part of the show anymore — he’s running it.
Alfonzo, a former All-Star who played for the Mets from 1995-2002, is managing the Brooklyn Cyclones, the team’s short-season Class A affiliate, after being named as Tom Gamboa’s replacement in January. He had been a coach with the Cyclones for three seasons.
Alfonzo, 43, seemed to enjoy taking grounders with his players before Wednesday’s game against the Staten Island Yankees.
“I wish I could do that every day,” he said. “Every other day when I feel good, and my leg is good, I will do it . . . When you teach the guys, you have to tell them the way you want and the way it’s supposed to be.”
Simply put, this is where the Mets newbies come to learn. Some of the youngest, and most undeveloped potential Mets of tomorrow sharpen their skills in the shadow of Coney Island’s famed boardwalk. And they’re learning from one of the organization’s best. In eight seasons with the Mets, Alfonzo hit .292. He ranks in the top 10 in Mets history in hits (5th — 1,136), runs (5th- 614), doubles (6th — 212), RBIs (7th- 538) and home runs (9th — 120).
Alfonzo is well-traveled. He has played for the Giants, Angels, and Blue Jays, in Mexico, Japan, Venezuela, and even for the Long Island Ducks in Central Islip.
Alfonzo brings that experience and genuine love of the game with him onto the field, no matter his role on it.
“It’s awesome,” pitcher Keaton Aldridge, 25, said of playing for the former Met. “Fonzie’s the man. He’s a pretty loose guy, but he’s got a lot of knowledge of the game. Obviously, he’s been around for a long time, so it’s cool to have him up top for us.”
Four years ago, Alfonzo said, the Mets asked the Venezuela native if he had interest in managing the Cyclones. (His brother, Edgar Alfonzo, managed the team in 2001 and 2007-08.)
Leery about his lack of experience, he declined, telling the team he would rather gain know-how by working under a more seasoned skipper. After three years bouncing around between bench coach, third-base coach, and roving instructor, he finally felt ready to take control.
“I think you gotta be more patient,” Alfonzo said of what he learned. “You got to know how you gotta deal with the guys, because it’s not like two or three guys. Its like 25, 30 guys you gotta deal with, plus the coaching staff. You have to see how they act and how they react, good game or bad game, and get to know their characters.”
So far, it’s been a bit of a struggle for the Cyclones. At 9-20, they sat in last place in the New York-Penn League’s McNamara Division after Wednesday night’s win.
But minor league baseball, especially at lower levels, is not about wins and losses, it’s about development. Amed Rosario, the Mets’ top prospect, played in Brooklyn in 2014, back when Alfonzo was getting his coaching feet wet.
“He was hurt a little bit, but you can see how good the guy is going to be,” Alfonzo said of Rosario. “He’s learned how to play the game now after going from here to the full-season clubs . . . he can hit, run, and catch, so he has pretty good tools.”
Alfonzo said he hopes Rosario can find his way to Citi Field this year. As for whether ‘Fonzie’ would like to join him some day as a major league manager, the first-year skipper has a wait-and-see attitude.
“Who knows,” he said. “I mean, right now, I’m still in the process of learning and getting to know the game more as a manager or a coach . . . Maybe at the end of my career, I’ll feel motivated to be a big-league manager, so we’ll see what happens.”