by Jonathan Zeller, 07/18/2012
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It's a sunny Friday afternoon in Coney Island, and the smell of salt air wafts into the ballpark as the Brooklyn Cyclones take batting practice. Behind them loom the retired numbers of Dodgers icons like Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges and Carl Erskine, while the public address system—at the request of manager and dedicated oldies fan Rich Donnelly—plays classics like "Johnny B. Goode" and "All I Have to Do is Dream." It could be the 1950s—except that most of the players were born in the 1990s.
When the silver-haired Donnelly playfully offers one Cyclone $100 to identify one of those '50s tunes, the player can't cash in. The vintage soundtrack befuddles most of the young team—but for outfielder Brandon Nimmo, the Mets' top pick in the 2011 draft, it's a welcome reminder of home.
"My dad and I would always listen to oldies on our way to baseball games," he says, discussing his upbringing in Cheyenne, Wyoming. "Everyone else is not liking it too much, but it just reminds me of my childhood."
Similarities to wide-open Cheyenne are few and far between for Nimmo in New York, the first big city in which he's ever dwelled. He describes his first visit to Times Square with earnest wonderment: "People as far as you can see." Those famous bright lights made it look "like it was daytime" in the evening.
Nimmo is primarily in town to hone his considerable baseball talents—the lefty hits for power, has shown admirable plate discipline and had enough speed to steal 34 bases in his final season of American Legion ball—but the five boroughs also provide numerous novel attractions for a young man who grew up far from city life.
In Cheyenne, entertainment meant "bonfires, movies and bowling." In the City, Nimmo's already been to the Empire State Building and seen Perfect Crime, a long-running Off-Broadway thriller. It was "a new experience," he says. "I'd never been to anything like that."
"I hear they've got a bunch of Roman Empire stuff," he explains, "and I was really into that growing up." Plus, "obviously, I'm a guy—I like the weapons. I hear they've got weapons from every different century." Nimmo was set to attend the University of Arkansas until the Mets drafted him and offered a $2.1 million signing bonus, but remains intellectually curious and hopes to attend college "after a long career" in the majors.
New York City has also served Nimmo a smorgasbord of outstanding food to feed his noncultural appetites. He's strolled down the boardwalk to the original Nathan's ("great hot dog"), and he can't wait to sample New York pizza at the new Coney Island Grimaldi's. He's already trekked to Peter Luger in Williamsburg for one of its famous steaks ("amazing").
Speaking of Williamsburg, much has been made of the Cyclones' recent hipster-friendly "Williamsburg Night" promotion. Were there hipsters back in Wyoming?
He asks for an explanation of the term (always a dicey proposition), so we do our best: skinny jeans, beards…. "I guess not!" he laughs.
In Wyoming, "people live on acreage." The Cyclones put their players up at a Holiday Inn Express. Nimmo likes his "comfy" room—"we have a good TV," and there's a maid to make the bed—but, like most young New Yorkers, he has a roommate (catcher Kevin Plawecki), and sharing the space presents unique challenges. "We can't walk in the hallway at the same time," he says.
Nimmo doesn't spend much time in the hotel, anyway. Most of the time, he's practicing or playing at MCU Park. "To play in front of these fans is amazing," he says of the rooters who've helped the Cyclones lead the New York–Penn League in attendance in every year of their history. "You just want to make them happy and win." And, hopefully, become just the 14th Wyoming-born Major League Baseball player in history.
But for all this excitement, what will Nimmo do when he wants to get away—the way he's used to, fishing amid the placid reservoirs and mountains of Wyoming's Curt Gowdy State Park?
He laughs at the idea. "I'm still trying to figure that one out," he says. "Maybe go to Central Park."