Mets’ Kahlil Lee is Chilling in the Syracuse Summer
Kahlil Lee is chill.
There's less than one hour to go until Lee and his Syracuse teammates take to the field at NBT Bank Stadium for a Sunday night home game with the Rochester Red Wings. An enthusiastic crowd is expected of more than 7,000 fans for the New York Mets' Triple-A affiliate's game. Down by the entrance that leads to Syracuse's clubhouse, on the stadium's lower level, Lee emerges.
Dressed in his pinstripe uniform pants, and a navy blue hoodie, the Mets' prospect settles in, hands in the pockets of his hoodie. Lee appears as the poster child of confidence and calmness. He quickly settles in on the sofa.
"You just have to stay ready," declares Lee when asked about concentrating on the evening's game, and wondering when the next call may come for him to pack his bags, and catch a flight for MLB service. " I just want to do something to help my team. Then, we see where that goes."
Earlier this spring Lee began his 2022 season in Florida with the Single-A affiliate in St. Lucie. Minor League Baseball offers a vagabond life. Here today, thousands of miles away tomorrow. Roster spaces come at a premium. For Lee, playing centerfield, in Syracuse, on a daily basis for manager Kevin Boles, for now, is suiting the 23-year-old just fine.
Putting up impressive statistics, being a good teammate, and excelling at being patient is what is in Lee's control. Getting his first taste of MLB life last season for 11 games with New York was long awaited, and much appreciated. But, in listening to Lee review the amazing experience few are afforded, it was as if he was just going about his business.
"It was awesome. Playing in the City was really good. My mom came up from Virginia to see me play at Citi Field. To me, it was playing the same game, but in a different setting."
Lee's promotion came as a result of his impressive on-field performances, and injuries experience on the big club's roster. He understood that the move, however earned, would be temporary.
"I knew that I was coming in to fill a role. I wanted to do my best until the guys got healthy."
A first MLB hit (double), and RBI were registered by Lee in a Mets 6-5 win over the Miami Marlins. And as a memento of his reaching baseball's big time, Lee says at the end of the 2021 season the Mets sent him a jersey from when he saw MLB action.
Quite a milestone reached and souvenir collected, considering the events only a year earlier that turned all of baseball upside down,
In 2020 all of Minor League Baseball was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee, currently one of seven outfielders on New York's 40-man roster, like so many of his fellow ballplayers found themselves without any income. Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 2016 during MLB's amateur draft, Lee was a third-round pick. He chose signing a professional baseball contract over roaming the outfield for Liberty University's baseball program.
The 2020 season would have been Lee's fifth year in the Royals' system. Instead of seeing his name in line-up cards, Lee did what he needed to stay in game shape. Staying close to Kansas City's spring training complex in Surprise, Arizona (25 miles northwest of Phoenix), Lee took his swings in the outdoor batting cages, did what he could to keep his head mentally into game situations, and enjoy the company of local friends.
Again, in 2020, Lee and his fellow minor leaguers drew no salaries.
Then, a trade is made.
"It (being traded to the Mets) was a quick turnaround. I had no idea it was coming; complete surprise," recalls Lee who made his MLB debut on May 17, 2021.
Last year, on February 21 Lee was traded to New York. Lee, who is from Virginia's Northern Farifax County, first caught the eyes of MLB scouts while playing baseball at Flint High School in Oakton (VA), a private college prep school 16 miles west of Washington, D.C. Coming to a new organization, Lee tells of acclimating pretty quickly to his surroundings at Clover Park, for spring training, the Mets' Florida home base.
Now, 2,300 miles from Surprise (AZ) to Syracuse, Lee is making new memories on the field and in the Mets' clubhouse. The waiting game is constant for Khalil Rashad Lee. 540 Minor League games in the books, 11 with the New York Mets. For now, names as Nimmo, Canha, and Marte regularly work Citi Field's outfield. So, cities along the International League trail, Buffalo, Rochester, Worcester, Durham and others is where Lee keeps even-keeled; not to excited, not to low.
The Cactus League is far back in Lee's baseball rear-view mirror as possible. The here and now, based on Syracuse's Hiawatha Boulevard, refining his game at NBT Bank Stadium is where Lee is found - (hopefully) temporarily.