BROOKLYN, NY — Ed Blankmeyer was the face of the St. John’s University baseball program for nearly a quarter-century. Under his guidance as head coach, the school reached the NCAA Tournament on eleven occasions. It helped spearhead the growth of future major league players Craig Hansen, Anthony Varvaro and Joe Panik.
“I had several first-rounders, but the two that were the best were Craig Hansen and Joe Panik,” Blankmeyer said. “Hansen was the first pick by Boston (in 2005) and went to the big leagues the same year after pitching in Double-A and Triple-A. I can’t say enough about Joe Panik. He is a baseball player that is a bright kid and hard working. He did all the little things right, including preparation and the way he played the game.”
When someone establishes a level of success that secures their stature, they find themselves contemplating new horizons. Do they remain in a place where they achieved their proudest accomplishments, or do they accept a new challenge? Blankmeyer opted for the latter, accepting an offer to become the 12th manager in Brooklyn Cyclones history.
The Cyclones are the Single-A affiliate of the New York Mets.
“I had opportunities before to move over to the pro side of things,” Blankmeyer explains. “But my heart was always close to home being in New York. That was very important to me. I love New York and the passion of the fans. I love the opportunity to work for the Mets organization. I believe in their direction. It’s a dream come true to manage the Cyclones.”
The 2019 season was a storied one for the Cyclones, who won their first outright New York-Penn League Championship led by former All-Star second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo and top prospects Brett Baty and Matthew Allen. The New York Mets replaced the popular Alfonzo with Blankmeyer in the offseason, citing the importance of player development and the continued progression of the farm system.
The Cyclones held a public event on Jan. 30 where they introduced Blankmeyer to the fans and the media at the Coney Island Brewery, adjacent to MCU Park. The new manager discussed an array of topics, ranging from his coaching philosophies to adapting from the college game to professional baseball for the first time.
“In all the years that I was in college baseball, I was about developing a culture. You also have to keep in mind that these are young men learning how to play a game trying to get to the big league level. We want these guys to be good men to represent the organization, but also develop them into viable candidates for the big leagues.”
One task a manager encounters guiding a team in the minor leagues is balancing the amount of playing time between prospects held in high regard by the organization and non-prospects exceeding expectations or their perceived capabilities. Managers also attempt to find the right compromise between trying to win games and develop players for the major league club.
“I accepted the position in the Mets’ organization because I believe in the direction that (general manager) Brodie (Van Wagenen) has and (assistant GM) Allard Baird. Player development is an interesting thing,” Blankmeyer said. “Any ballclub I manage, I expect to win, and you have to play the players to develop them and give them the opportunity. We have prospects we have to see play and filler guys. The organization will make the decision, and I am a part of the decision process.”
Part of the decision making process when evaluating minor league talent comes from the philosophy and culture a franchise seeks to establish from the major leagues down to the lowest rung of minor league ball.
The Mets found success indoctrinating prospects into their culture under previous GM Sandy Alderson as Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso had immediate impacts in the major leagues after coming through the pipeline. The organization believes that Blankmeyer could continue the practice in Brooklyn.
“We want guys in this organization that are process-driven, work hard, and play the game the right way,” Blankmeyer said. “There’s a demand on that. That’s what we are looking for out of the organization. First-year players are interesting because you can have a major impact at the lower level before they ascent to Double-A or Triple-A. Our job at the lower levels is teaching them the process and the routines they need to be successful.”
Unlike coaches at college baseball, who have an integral role in recruiting their own players that remain with the team for three or four years, managers in the minor leagues are part of an overriding collaborative decision process with the ballclub through the draft and amateur free agents. Since the roster changes each year as players graduate to new levels of the system, it becomes incumbent on the manager to adapt to new players from different surroundings.
“At St. John’s, I did it all along with my coaches. Now I have to manage a roster that’s given to me, so that’s going to be a tough thing,” Blankmeyer said. “It’s going to be a new challenge for me getting to know these guys, getting to know what they do, and obviously having a concept of where they are in the development process. So it’s all about managing them to the best of my ability whatever lineup is placed out there that particular day.”
While the Mets will determine final roster, coaching staff and draft picks assigned to the Brooklyn in the weeks and months to come, preparations for the 2020 season are underway as the Cyclones begin their 20th year of operation. The Cyclones open the upcoming campaign June 18 against the crosstown-rival Staten Island Yankees.