Wally Backman, the new manager of the Atlantic League’s New Britain Bees, is looking to groom more success stories.
After helping to mold Mets starters Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz at Triple-A Las Vegas, the former Met hopes to help some former major-leaguers and prospects looking for a break in the Long Island Ducks’ league.
“It’s a good level of play,” said Backman, who managed and coached in the Mexican League last year. “It’s an opportunity to help players to get back to where they want to go.”
Backman and his Connecticut-based Bees made their first trip to Long Island this weekend, playing a three-game series at Bethpage Ballpark that wraps up Sunday afternoon.
Backman oversees a roster with a diverse level of experience. Players such as former Mets catcher Josh Thole, infielder Reid Brignac and outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo have played in the big leagues and are looking to get back to that level.
Backman also is trying to get on the road back. His time managing in the Mets’ organization ended in 2016, resulting in a public dispute over the nature of his departure.
Backman is no stranger to controversy. After the 2004 season, he was introduced as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks but was fired four days later after revelations of past arrests and financial troubles came to light. Backman was found guilty of driving under the influence and spent one day in jail, was fined $560 and was ordered to complete an alcohol counseling course in 2001. Later that year, he was charged with five misdemeanors after an incident involving his wife and a friend at Backman’s home in Oregon. In 2003, Backman filed for bankruptcy, according to The New York Times.
Midway through last baseball season, while coaching in the Mexican League for Pericos de Puebla, Backman was contacted by Michael Pfaff, a partner in the Bees’ ownership group, about the possibility of joining the independent ranks.
“I thought he’d be a good fit there,” said Pfaff, who also is president and general manager of the Ducks. “New Britain is a hard-working, blue-collar town that is gritty, and Wally fits that description. He’s always been a hard worker on the field and is somebody who’s a real grinder who wants to win and measures success by wins and losses. That’s the way we really wanted the people that lead our on-field product in New Britain to attack it and help spur interest in the club.”
When asked if he was interested in managing the team, Backman said he replied, “Absolutely.”
“Without a question, it’s the best independent league in the United States,” Backman said. “Some of the good teams would probably compete in Triple-A.”
Each night, Backman, 58, trots out this band-of-baseball brothers who share one common goal — attracting the interest of a major league squad.
“It’s about consistency, motivation and playing the game the right way, being able to move runners and score runners with less than two outs,” Backman said. “It’s a lot of the little things that win a lot of baseball games, especially the close games. Those are some of the reasons for guys to fall back into this situation, because they weren’t consistent enough. I feel that if I can help them get more consistent, then they might get the opportunity.”
Backman hopes to join in that opportunity and manage in affiliated baseball again someday.
“Affiliated ball was good to me,” Backman said. “It was good for me to get back to the Mets the way I did. The leaving wasn’t quite as good as people would have wanted it to be. But I’m a baseball guy. The thing is, I know I can help a lot of guys and I take a lot of pride in helping players.”