Tom Gamboa swept around the visitor's clubhouse at Eastwood Field, and saw nearly every player's face glued to iPhone screens and Android screens. Though they were stuck in Niles, Ohio -- a small city on the Mahoning River -- the members of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets' Class A affiliate, were really in Flushing, Queens, tracking the movements of Michael Conforto, of one of their own.
Gamboa checked his phone, too.
"To a man, as I walked through the locker room, I saw all our Brooklyn players trying to check the boxscore to see what he did," said Gamboa, the Cyclones' manager. "I did it myself. I saw 0-for-3 and a big-league RBI. His first. He'll do that. He'll be a run producer."
Conforto, the Mets' newest addition in leftfield, has had about as short of a minor-league career as anyone can muster: He was drafted in 2014 and played 42 games in Brooklyn last year and 46 games in high Class A ball at Port St. Lucie this season before he jumped to Double-A Binghamton, where he played 45 games.
He was called up on Friday. But from Niles to Trenton, New Jersey, where the Binghamton Mets are playing this weekend, those who watched him play speak of someone with rare talent and even rarer maturity. Gamboa wasn't even surprised he was called up so fast, though he had expected it to happen in September.
"He's the perfect blend," Gamboa said. "From the first day, he just fit in with all his teammates -- black, white, Latino. His personality just transcends all that. He's a caring, team-oriented guy. There's no phoniness."
In fact, as much as Gamboa liked talking about Conforto's swing and his plate discipline, he just as often echoed Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson -- both of whom on Friday stressed that Conforto was even-keeled, consistent and (there's that word again) mature.
"I've seen a lot of guys come in and be overly arrogant and full of themselves," Gamboa said. "On the other hand, I've seen them be very uptight, and not be able to handle the pressure or exposure . . . When he joined us for two months, I tried to do what I could to take the pressure off him . . . [I told him] to not put undue pressure on yourself, that you don't need to be impressing fans or teammates, and to give yourself 50 at-bats to get your feet off the ground."
Conforto kicked off his minor-league career with a 10-game hit streak, scored a run in his first three games and had four multiple-hit games in his first seven tries. Even his defense, thought to be a liability, proved perfectly capable, Gamboa said: "So much for the adjustment."
It was surprising, but in a way, it also wasn't. In addition to being the Kansas City Royals' former first base coach, Gamboa, 67, has over 40 years of experience in professional baseball, including 10 years as a scout, he said. He recognizes talent.
"I was taken," he said of Conforto. "He has exceptional hand-eye coordination, bat speed and power . . . and I've never seen a player come into pro baseball with that type of knowledge in the strike zone."
Excellent hitters, he explained, divide strikes into two categories -- good strikes for the hitter and good strikes for the pitcher. Many hitters will go after anything in the zone. "But a pitcher is going to make a mistake," he said. "Michael thinks nothing of taking one strike or even two strikes."
But even with all that, even Gamboa is mildly concerned. The Mets are mired in a season-long offensive drought and Conforto was garnering interest even when he wore a Cyclones jersey. Even for someone as focused as he, the pressure from the fans and the media could be suffocating.
"He's a great kid and I just hope that the media doesn't put too much on him," he said. It would be ideal, he said, if he can play "without being expected to be the savior or to get the team over the hump.
"But the Mets? They have a good one."
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