By Nathan Mayberg
FLUSHING June 8, 2004 The New York Mets have finally come to Sullivan County.
Michael Gilberg, a 2003 Fallsburg High School graduate, became a New York Mets bat boy for all home games this season.
For Gilberg, the job at Shea Stadium is a dream come true. A sports enthusiast, his goal is to one day be the general manager of a professional baseball team.
In the meantime, Gilbergs bat boy job will complete his internship for the sports management bachelors degree he is currently pursuing at SUNY Cortland.
Earlier this year, Gilberg went down to Port St. Lucie, Fla. for spring training as a birthday present from his father, Neil. For five days, they watched the Mets prepare for the 2004 season. Everyday, the team picked a bat boy for the day. One day they chose Michael Gilberg.
I went out of my way and worked real hard, he said. They saw that I wasnt autograph hungry.
The Mets liked Gilbergs work ethic so much that they invited him to be their bat boy for the season at Shea Stadium.
Gilberg is one of three bat boys. His job is to sit in right field during the game. He catches foul balls and throws them to the crowd. When a relief pitcher enters the dugout, Gilberg hands him his jacket from the bullpen.
The job also requires him top get anything the players need.
Vance Wilson once asked me to get a dozen roses, Gilberg said.
Most of his work, comes before and after games. The clubhouse and locker room need to look brand new after each game.
Its like cleaning a house, Gilberg said. Everything has to be in perfect order. Clothes are washed and hung up.
Before the game, he sets up the entire dugout. That includes all of the helmets, balls, bats, catchers gear and the rest of the equipment.
He has played catch with every position player on the team. Before most games, he will warm up with whoever wants to throw around. He called the pre-game catching routine pretty exciting and nerve-racking.
Gilberg said that he knows most of the players pretty well by now. Some of them joke around like theyre your friends, some keep to themselves.
His experience has taught him that the players are just like everybody else.
Gilberg has also learned a great deal about coaching. He coached baseball the last two summers at Kutshers Sports Academy in Monticello.
One part of the game which impresses him is the percentages the coaches and players memorize.
Denny Walling, the Mets hitting coach, once told Karim Garcia that one of the pitchers he was facing in that particular game throws a slider 70 percent of the time on a 2-1 count.
The Met coaches and players spend a lot of time watching videotapes of themselves and their opponents. The most dedicated workers are Joe McEwing, Ty Wigginton and Vance Wilson. When Gilberg gets to the clubhouse at 8:30 a.m., those players are already there watching video and working out.
Wilson is the biggest jokester on the team.
He is just funny, Gilberg said.
Gilberg calls the Mets performance so far this season better than expected. The Mets have been hovering around .500 all year. When the team is winning, the players get happy. When the team is losing, their emotions drop a level.
After they defeated the division-leading Florida Marlins on Sunday night, the Mets were back to .500 and only three-and-a-half games back.
The left last night for Minnesota to begin a road trip which will also take them to Kansas City. Gilberg had to pick up all of the teams equipment and place it on a truck which brought it to the airport.
When he season is over in September or October, Gilberg will have a long time to think about his next move. He could either return to classes at Cortland in January, or spend another year as a Mets bat boy. He might also take winter classes at Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) to get some requirements out of the way.
Either way, Gilberg is two years ahead of schedule for his bachelors degree because of all of the ADVANCED PLACEMENT (AP) classes he took in high school.
Hopefully, I will make some connections with the Mets, Gilberg said. My ultimate dream is to work in baseball and be general manager of a Major League team.
So what does Gilberg like most about a dream job like this?
He said that it was being around baseball and the friends and relationships he has formed with the players.
I get to really enjoy the game, he said. It is fun.
When he is not with the team, Gilberg likes playing golf and softball. He plays on a team in the Monticello Mens Softball League.
And he watches a lot of baseball. An acute student of the game, Gilberg describes himself as big into numbers. He studies statistics, figuring out the best players in the game today and the best players of all time.
I pretend I am the general manager, he said.
Gilberg has also read Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis. The book focuses on Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, who has built a successful franchise for a team that does not spend a lot of money. One of Beanes strategies is to obtain several young pitchers.
The book has also taught Gilberg that one of the most important statistics is the combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Combining those key stats makes Barry Bonds the best career hitter since Babe Ruth. Single-season wise, Bonds takes the cake.
But Gilberg is quick to point out that what made Ruth so special is that he was also a great pitcher. As for Bonds, Gilbergs research has proven that Bonds was the best hitter in terms of on-base percentage plus slugging percentage even before he bulked up following an injury during the 1999 season that caused him to miss 60 games.
So will the Mets make the playoffs this year? The return of the injured young gem Jose Reyes, another quality bat and arm could push them over the hump, Gilberg said.
Most importantly, theyre doing better than last year, he commented. They are going in the right direction.
As is one of the teams bat boys.