Things are different these days for Edgardo Alfonzo. The former Met, who won a championship as manager of the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones in 2019, no longer spends his days and nights molding future Citi Field heroes. He still has contact with them, such as when he called Luis Guillorme, one of Alfonzo’s former spring training charges on Wednesday, to congratulate him on his breakout season. He watches from afar as much as he can as the Mets put together one of their better seasons in years.
But the focus has changed. As manager of the Staten Island FerryHawks, an expansion team in the Atlantic League, Alfonzo is relearning the ropes of a league he played in more than a decade ago, when he was a member of the Ducks as well as the defunct Bridgeport Bluefish and Newark Bears.
The team building is hard, the travel is harder, and Alfonzo, 48, is still uncovering things about the game he adores. Why else, after a career in which he was beloved at Shea Stadium and widely considered among the most underrated players in baseball, would he sit on a bus for 12 hours or more, coaching players who often struggle at the (semi) independent level?
“I think, when you love baseball, you just go through it,” Alfonzo said Wednesday afternoon, sitting on a worn couch in the visitor’s clubhouse at Fairfield Properties Ballpark in Central Islip hours before a 10-9 win over the Ducks.
“I love this game so much,” he said. “I think I can give a lot of my knowledge to the new guys and the guys that want to get back to organized baseball. This is a league for players who want to get back to organized baseball, so why not try to teach them a little bit?”
“He lets us fail a little bit but, after a certain period of time, he talks to us and makes sure we think about why we’re failing,” said FerryHawks outfielder and former Mets minor-leaguer Antoine Duplantis. “He really just does a good job of teaching us about the game from the prospective of playing it.”
After managing in the Mets’ organization for three seasons, Alfonzo was let go by then-general manager Brodie Van Wagenen shortly after the Cyclones won the 2019 New York-Penn League title. The timing was odd, for sure, and Alfonzo readily acknowledges that he wishes he still was with the Mets.
He couched his disappointment with one of the game’s more popular justifications — that’s baseball.
“It’s like I say — they told me to develop the guys to play in the big leagues,” Alfonzo said. “My job is that. We won the championship and they wanted to go in another direction. I was just an employee. I know it’s not fair, but what can you do? I wish I could be there and be in a higher level, but they had to make a decision with the new GM. They come, they bring their own people, that’s the way it works. I was kind of disappointed, but that’s the way it works. Baseball’s like that.”
But Alfonzo is enjoying his new life in the Atlantic League, where he is free to do what he wants without the invisible arm of a player development department. Playing time is based on merit and need, not projection. That caters to Alfonzo’s sensibilities.
“You don’t have guys being like ‘he needs to play today,’ ” he said. “It’s different than affiliated. In affiliated, they told [me], ‘These three guys have to play no matter what. If they go 0-for-4, whatever.’ But if you want to win games as a manager, you have to realize that you have to put your best guys [out] there all the time.”
Sometimes the best guys are hard to find. The FerryHawks struggled in the first half, finishing a league-worst 19-47. But after their win over the Ducks on Wednesday, they were 11-9, 2 1⁄2 games back of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the Atlantic League North Division.
“Compared to the Ducks, I mean they have like a major- league roster over there,” Alfonzo said. “We have Single-A, Double-A and one major- league guy. It’s tough competing against guys like that. As an organization, we just try to create something new and a winning organization . . . Early in the season, we had guys who couldn’t catch the ball. But now in the second half, we have more experience.”
Ducks manager Wally Backman said Alfonzo is a good manager. “He knows what he’s doing,” Backman said. “He’s just a little new to the league [in terms of] some of the level of player. He’s made a lot of changes and he’s seeing that the league is a better league than he thought. But he’s good.”
Alfonzo and Backman share a strange bond as fan-favorite Mets turned controversially dismissed minor-league managers by the same organization. Neither holds a tremendous amount of ill will toward the organization, though. In fact, both are taking time away from their teams to attend Mets Old-Timers’ Day on Aug. 27.
The Atlantic League playoffs will begin Sept. 20. Games will be played Sept. 20-23 in the best-of-five division series. If-necessary games 4 and 5 are scheduled for Sept. 24-25.
If they make the playoffs, the Ducks will open the first round at home against Southern Maryland or on the road in Gastonia, North Carolina.