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 being felt around the globe and in communities of all sizes in America, the Syracuse Mets ,too, would have to adapt to a new normal.
"All of our employees have been working remotely since March 13," confirmed Smorol on Friday during a telephone conversation. "They haven't been back since. If something needs to be done at the stadium, they can come in. Picking up mail or shipping merchandise, that's about it."
Adapting and overcoming hurdles that come the team's direction continues to be met with great confidence by Smorol and his staff. As the Triple-A affiliate, and owned by thier parent club New York Mets, baseball's future on the city's North Side sits on more solid ground, financially and otherwise, than most other teams.
Planning for the 2021 season is ongoing. Continuous communications between the Mets with their sponsors and season ticket holders remain priorities. And to the flip side of Mets baseball in Central New York, calls have come to NBT Bank Stadium offices by the team's public inquiring on how the staff are doing.
With all the uncertainties in all sectors of the economy and public health, the thought of getting back to "normal", and having fans again immersing themselves in the importance of balls, strike, and launch angles of home runs is a target for Smorol.
Renovations remain ongoing at the stadium. The interior and exterior are freshly covered with blue, orange, and white paint. Last month new sod was laid. LED lighting, and berms constructed down both foul 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, with hopes of keeping their top affiliate in Central New York until 2043.
With Steve Cohen purchasing the New York Mets, as the calendar flipped from October to last November for a reported $2 billion-plus from Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, Smorol offers a thumbs-up for approval how the future appears in Syracuse.
"The old ownership was fantastic, too," says Smorol, who began his front office baseball days nearly 20 years ago, when hired as the general manager for the Auburn Doubledays of the New York-Penn League.
Having the New York Mets purchase the Syracuse Chiefs in October 2017 from the locally owned Community Baseball Club of Central New York for a reported $18 million, as Smorol points out, the timing of the transfer of ownership couldn't have come at a better time.
"It is the best thing that has happened to Syracuse baseball. Quite frankly, it (sale of the Chiefs) saved baseball in Syracuse."
Along with swinging open the gates to fans hopefully in attendance for Mets games beginning in April, area baseball fans will be greeting an old friend to NBT Bank Stadium. The Washington Nationals announced last month a shift of their Triple-A affiliation from Fesno in the Pacific Coast League, back east, in aligning themselves 90 miles west of Syracuse with the Rochester Red Wings.
"It's going to be fun," Smorol speaks of the two cities' rivalry. "It's going to be great having the Nationals back in the league. The Red Wings and Nationals are both good people. I'm happy for both."
According to Smorol, it's a misconception to think that Syracuse and surrounding Central New York communities is a Yankees territory. Smorol remains amazed at the amount of Mets fans in the region, and the fanaticism of the fans.
"Every event that we plan exceeds our expectations. We're the highest drawing team on the road."
With the inaugural Syracuse Mets' season coming in 2019, there were early signs at how supportive fans would be. Season ticket holders chose to travel 70 miles from Watertown, 100-plus miles from Gouverneur, and one season ticket holder who had been traveling 70 miles to Binghamton to watch the Mets' Double-A team, has now traded for a 45 miles drive from Sandy Creek.
Smorol labels minor league baseball's dormancy period as "the world's longest rain delay."
"We're just waiting. Once the tarp comes off the field, it will be "play ball."
Syracuse Mets baseball, like all other entertainment businesses where people gather, is being pushed to their limits.
"We're in the ticket selling business; where people gather," Smorol tells. "The pandemic is keeping people apart. It's been a difficult time for everyone."
Smorol and his staff understand they are a spoke in the healing process of the devastation being caused by the Coronavirus. They will be a part in creating a sense of normalcy - again. For now, the stadium is being painted, cleaned, and prepped - waiting for an "Open for Business" sign to be hung.
When the game does return for fans to attend, as Smorol points out, being that fans are outside, this is an extra bonus. Masses of Central New York Mets fans could socially distance themselves from foul pole to foul pole, and from the upper deck to field level seating, and not miss a single pitch.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.
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