In 2001, manager Edgar Alfonzo led the Brooklyn Cyclones to the McNamara Division title with a 52-24 record in their inaugural season and a share of the New York-Penn League championship. To this day it stands as the standard of excellence measure for all future Cyclones’ teams, leaving an enduring legacy.
Across town in Flushing, Edgar’s younger brother Edgardo Alfonzo was in the midst of a prosperous eight-year career with the Mets, where he would hit .292/.367/.445 with 120 home runs and showcased stellar defensive skills at two infield spots. Alfonzo quickly endeared himself to the Mets’ faithful and was arguably their most complete player during the Bobby Valentine era.
“I remember when my brother was the manager here,” Alfonzo said. “He taught me everything that I know about the game and to follow in his footsteps. “I think it was very important to me and I can call him whenever I need him.”
Sixteen years later, Alfonzo brings his storied playing career into the dugout, following in the footsteps of his brother as manager of the Cyclones. Alfonzo is no stranger to Coney Island, having served as the bench coach the past three seasons for recently retired manager Tom Gamboa and looks forward to the opportunity.
“I think with Tom, it was great coaching for me. He taught me everything that I needed to know and that’s why I tried to be around Tom as much as I could because he is a great baseball man. He taught be to be patient with the guys and the little things like when to hit and run.”
Even though Alfonzo will serve as Brooklyn’s skipper for the 2017 season, managing was never a long-term aspiration. But when Gamboa retired from professional baseball following the World Baseball Classic, he decided to assume the position at the behest of the organization and will lean on his prior coaching experience in his new role.
“Tom (Gamboa) left, so I was the guy who was available,” Alfonzo explains. “For the first three years I was with the Cyclones, they (the Mets) asked me to do it and I told them that it’s not easy being manager. I like to learn as a coach how to deal with the guys and understand their character. I felt I was ready when Tom walked away.”
Alfonzo’s notable baseball background was strengthened during his playing career thanks to the tutelage he received from managers such as Valentine, Dallas Green, and Felipe Alou, who either qualified for the World Series or finished first in their division during their time in the dugout. Each possessed qualities that rounded Alfonzo into a complete player.
“I take the most from Bobby Valentine. Dallas Green was the guy who brought me to the big leagues and I played my first year for him. Bobby knows a lot about baseball. Sometimes I’d ask a lot of questions during the game, so I would know what to do in certain situations. I will still call him to ask a few questions and Felipe Alou was a pretty aggressive guy who taught me about the little things.”
The Cyclones enter the 2017 season with a young roster comprised primarily of players, who played together at previous stops in the Gulf Coast League or with the Kingsport Mets. As these players prepare for their first foray in Class-A, Alfonzo will look to see how they react to typical situations and evaluate the trends that may emerge.
“I think this year we will see how the guys react to things,” Alfonzo said. “We also need to see their body language because not everybody can handle each situation. We have pretty good talent. Pitching-wise, we have a few veteran guys that know how the call. We need to put stuff together with what we have thus far and work hard.”
Alfonzo makes his managerial debut in the New York-Penn League, where he previously starred as a 19-year old prospect with the Pittsfield Mets in 1992, batting .356 in 74 games. While the playing experience the league proves beneficial to Alfonzo, he also realizes that player development evolved in the last two decades as organizations prioritize different attributes to project success at higher levels.
“Pretty much everything has changed with player development. Before, you had to hit to move up the ladder. Now it seems like teams emphasize on-base percentage and patience with players a lot more than they used to and the competition is a lot better, so it’s changed a lot from simply just doing well to move up.”