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Mets executive gets first look at Hagerstown

October 27, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Kevin Morgan seems to have an unwritten philosophy when it comes to minor league baseball.

It goes something like, "It's not where you go, it's who you know."

Morgan, the player development director of the New York Mets, came to town Tuesday for his first look at Hagerstown, Municipal Stadium and to meet with the Suns front office as the next step in the affiliate's move from Columbia, S.C., to here for the 2005 season.

And from first impressions, Morgan can see Hagerstown offers everything the New York Mets want and more.

"What we will enjoy is that we are in a small town and the relationships the guys get with the fans and the media on this level," Morgan said. "A small town helps in that development and it's a healthy balance. We get them to understand that Hagerstown, Md., is the first step."

In Morgan's estimation, Hagerstown can become a major first step in the development of players as Mets and as young men, while hopefully giving the fans and players alike a lasting bond through time.

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"I can remember the first host family I stayed with when I was a player," Morgan said. "Every year, we go to the next level up and see fans from last year traveling to see the players and keep up with them. Brooklyn is our rookie team and I think we could see that this year because it is so close now. It's been that way for years and I think it will stay that way."

According to Morgan, the Mets take a community approach to their minor league organization. They want the players to get a strong bond with the team's fans and community just like the Mets try to do while trying to maintain a strong, visible presence with their players. The Mets are moving to Hagerstown after spending more than two decades in Columbia, where they were known as the Capital City Bombers.

"We pride ourselves on having long-lasting relationships with a lot of our affiliates," Morgan said. "We are excited to be here because it is closer to New York. It makes my job easier because of the traveling."

Morgan said the Mets' roving instructors frequent all their teams throughout the season and he himself plans to be at Municipal Stadium for four or five multi-game stretches during the season as his schedule permits. The New York Mets ownership also likes to visit its affiliates to show support for their players when possible.

The move gives the Mets a more tightly aligned minor league system and affords them a chance to keep a closer eye on the players. New York has its rookie league team in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the New York-Penn League as the starting point before Hagerstown. From here, players will go to Port St. Lucie in the Florida State League, Double-A Binghamton (N.Y.) and Triple-A Norfolk (Va.) before the players reach New York and Shea Stadium.

In return for its hospitality, the Mets will bring its history of putting competitive minor league teams on the field. The Bombers were consistenly a factor in the South Atlantic League's Southern Division race while advancing to the playoffs six times and winning three SAL titles in the 22-year stay in Columbia.

Capital City was in the playoffs in three of the last seven seasons, including 2004 when it lost to Hickory in the SAL Championship Series. That would be a refreshing change for Hagerstown Suns fans, who spent the last three seasons watching their San Francisco Giants affiliate floundering near the bottom of the standings.

In fact, the Suns only made the playoffs in 2001 with the Giants, losing in the first round. They reached the SAL playoffs in three of their eight years as a Toronto affiliate.

Morgan isn't promising championships, but he will promise interesting baseball taught well which will benefit fans and players alike.

"I don't think from year to year you can make a specific guarantee," Morgan said. "We are going to teach fundamental baseball. We have our coaches teach the game the right way and if you do that, it puts you in a position to win."

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