Jeff McNeil, the hottest hitter in the Mets system, was called up from Triple-A Las Vegas to join a team that needs any spark it can get. He reached Citi Field at 11 a.m. Tuesday after a rushed trip across the country, ending a long wait to reach the majors.
A buzz turned into a roar when he made his major league debut as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning against the Padres and lined Phil Hughes’ first pitch to centerfield for a single.
“I mean it was unbelievable, doing something I’ve always dreamed of, and to get a hit, it couldn’t be any better,” the 26-year-old McNeil said.
His wife, parents, brother and sister all had made the trip from California and were rewarded with seeing his first hit.
“Actually, Todd Frazier gave me a good idea. I gave [the ball] to my mom, but we will put the bat and the ball in a case and frame it.”
His roadblocks in recent seasons came in the form of serious injuries: a double sports hernia, a torn hip labrum. McNeil said he might have caused his own problems by having tried to gain weight. But he feels healthy now.
“I’m definitely a little bit bigger, I’m starting to drive the ball a little bit more,” the native of Santa Barbara, California, said. “Balls I used to hit that were getting caught are going over the fence now.”
In his two minor-league stops this season, he had 19 home runs and 71 RBIs in 88 games. At Las Vegas, McNeil was batting .368 with a .427 on-base percentage and .600 slugging percentage.
Mickey Callaway, having said earlier in the season that McNeil is totally a second baseman, acknowledged last week that his role with the Mets could be in more of the utility category. The manager said that the newest infielder could play second, third and perhaps outfield. The full-time second base job is expected to open soon, though, with a likely trade of Asdrubal Cabrera.
Mets fans have been expressing frustration on social media recently that McNeil was not called up sooner.
He was told about his promotion Monday night while he was at the Las Vegas ballpark. He quickly called his wife and parents, then scrambled to pack his equipment and his belongings and rushed to the airport. He nonetheless missed his scheduled overnight flight.
“Just a little stressful. I would have made the flight but my bags wouldn’t have gotten on there, so they said, no big deal.”
He caught the next plane and made it to New York by late morning, not a minute too soon for fans awaiting something promising.