Syracuse Mets general manager Jason Smorol is optimistic about the future of Triple-A baseball in Central New York.
Like so many businesses and educational institutions, since last spring when COVID-19 began to become known across the globe and in communities of all sizes in America, the Syracuse Mets also had to adapt to a new normal.
“All of our employees have been working remotely since March 13,” Smorol confirmed Friday during a phone call. “They haven’t been back since. If something needs to be done at the stadium, they can come in. Picking up mail or sending goods, that’s about it.”
Adapting and overcoming obstacles that come in the direction of the team continues to be met with great confidence by Smorol and his staff. As a Triple-A-affiliated company, and owned by their parent club New York Mets, the future of baseball on the city’s North Side sits on more solid ground, financially and otherwise, than most other teams.
Planning for the 2021 season is underway. Continuous communication between the Mets with the sponsors and the season ticket holders is still a priority. And at the back of the Met’s baseball in Central New York, calls have come to the NBT Bank Stadium offices of the team’s audience asking about how the staff is doing.
With all the uncertainty in all sectors of the economy and public health, the idea of returning to “normal”, and having fans once again immersed in the importance of balls, strikes and launch angles for home runs, is a goal for Smorol.
Renovation continues at the stadium. The interior and exterior are newly clad with blue, orange and white paint. Last month, new peat was added. LED lighting and berms constructed down both false lines are all among the many upgrades in motion.
In July 2019, Onondaga County approved a 25-year lease extension with the New York Mets, hoping to retain its top affiliate in Central New York until 2043.
While Steve Cohen bought the New York Mets, when the calendar turned from October to November last year for a reported $ 2 billion plus from Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, Smorol gives a thumbs up for approval what the future looks like in Syracuse.
“The old ownership was also fantastic,” said Smorol, who started his baseball days at the front office almost 20 years ago when he was hired as general manager of the Auburn Doubledays in the New York-Penn League.
After the New York Mets acquired the Syracuse Chiefs in October 2017 from the locally owned Community Baseball Club in Central New York for a reported $ 18 million, as Smorol points out, the time for the transfer of ownership could not have come at a better time.
“That’s the best thing that has happened to Syracuse baseball. Honestly, it saved (the sale of Chiefs) baseball in Syracuse.”
Along with swinging the gates of fans hopefully present for Mets games beginning in April, baseball fans in the area will greet an old friend of NBT Bank Stadium. The Washington Nationals last month announced a shift of their Triple-A affiliation from Fesno in the Pacific Coast League, back east, to align 90 miles west of Syracuse with the Rochester Red Wings.
“It’s going to be fun,” Smorol says of the two cities’ rivalry. “It’s going to be great to have the Nationals back in the league. The Red Wings and the Nationals are both good people. I love both.”
According to Smorol, it is a misconception to believe that Syracuse and the surrounding central New York communities are Yankees territory. Smorol remains amazed at the amount of Mets fans in the region, and the fanaticism of the fans.
“Every event we plan exceeds our expectations. We are the highest drawing team on the road.”
With the first Syracuse Mets’ season coming in 2019, there were early signs of how supportive fans would be. Season ticket holders chose to travel 70 miles from Watertown, 100 plus miles from the Gouverneur, and a season ticket holder who had traveled 70 miles to Binghamton to see the Mets’ Double-A team has now shopped for a 45 mile drive from Sandy Creek.
Smorol describes the rest period of minor league baseball as “the world’s longest rain delay.”
“We’m just waiting. When the tarpaulin comes off the field, it will be ‘play ball. “
Syracuse Met’s baseball, like all other entertainment companies where people gather, is pushed to the limit.
“We are in the ticket sales business; where people gather,” says Smorol. “The pandemic is keeping people apart. It has been a difficult time for everyone.”
Smorol and his staff understand that they are a speaker in the healing process of the damage caused by Coronavirus. They want to be a part of creating a sense of normalcy – again. Currently, the stadium is being painted, cleaned and prepped – waiting for an “Open for Business” sign to be hung.
When the game returns for fans to participate, as Smorol points out, because the fans are outside, this is an added bonus. The masses of Central New York Mets fans could socially distance themselves from foul pole to foul pole, and from upper deck to field level seating, and not miss a single pitch.
Don Laible is a freelance sports writer living in the Mohawk Valley. He has been reporting on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio and online since the 1980s. His columns appear weekly on WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.