First Four: Getting the Call
The feeling right after getting drafted or signed for the first time as a free agent is truly special. However, it might take a little longer for the emotions to settle and for reality to sink in when a player receives the biggest call of their lives. That's the call that sends you to the big leagues for the first time.
Merandy Gonzalez , P.J. Conlon , Kevin Kaczmarski , and Tyler Bashlor became the first four former Fireflies to reach the major leagues. Gonzalez pitched in Columbia throughout the first half of the 2017 season and Conlon, Kaczmarski, and Bashlor were with the club during its inaugural 2016 campaign.
Gonzalez, a South Atlantic League All-Star, was the first to make it on the big stage. The former Firefly tossed two scoreless innings for the Miami Marlins in his debut on April 19, 2018. He spent four seasons as a New York Mets farmhand and was then traded, along with Ricardo Cespedes, to Miami for All-Star reliever A.J. Ramos on July 28, 2017.
"When I go the call, it was one of the more emotional moments of my career," Gonzalez told MLB.com Marlins reporter Joe Frisaro. "It's been five years since I've wanted to get the call and be up here. It was a great moment."
The right-hander overwhelmed the South Atlantic League in 11 starts on the mound. He posted an 8-1 record and a 1.55 ERA whiling recording 65 strikeouts (compared to just 13 walks) in 69.2 innings for Columbia. One of the most dominant stretches of his minor league career took place with the Fireflies from April 9-May 3, 2017. Gonzalez hurled 28.2 consecutive scoreless frames.
"I am extremely proud of Merandy and enjoyed working with him," Columbia pitching coach Jonathan Hurst said. "He was so focused on getting better each and every start with is [in 2017]. I see him as a starting pitcher, but if you were to talk to him now, he wouldn't care what his role is. He's made it to the big leagues and that's the most important thing."
Conlon became the second to reach the big leagues and first to play for the Mets - Columbia's parent club - on May 7, 2018. The southpaw made a start against the Cincinnati Reds, tossed 3.2 innings, and gave up three runs. At the plate, Conlon singled and later scored on a sacrifice fly. He's the first Irish-born player to appear in an MLB game since 1945.
"I've gotten unbelievable support," Conlon said in an article from Mets beat writer for MLB.com Anthony DiComo. "It means a lot. You could see them in the stands, waving the Irish flags. They're proud of it, and I'm proud of it."
The 24-year-old was an icon during his time with the Fireflies in 2016. He was named a SAL All-Star after going 8-1 with a 1.84 ERA in 12 starts for Columbia. The Mets prospect registered 61 strikeouts and issued only 10 walks across 78.1 frames. He even picked up his first professional win in the first ever game played at Spirit Communications Park (April 14, 2016).
"He was one of those guys that was an example to the whole staff," Hurst explained. "He really worked on his craft with us in Columbia and would always find a hitter's disadvantage."
The third former Firefly to get the call was Kaczmarski on June 24, 2018. The 26-year-old pinch hit (grounded out) against the Dodgers. Before receiving the great news, Kaczmarski produced a .363 batting average in 23 games this season with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s. During the 2016 in Columbia, he held a .268 batting average and led the squad with seven triples - which is still a single-season franchise record.
Bashlor rounded out the "First Four" when he made his major league debut with the Mets the day after Kaczmarski (June 25, 2018). The 25-year-old, who had been with Double-A Binghamton earlier this season, was expected to receive a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas, but that changed when he spoke to his manager Luis Rojas. Bashlor explained his conversation with Luis to beat writer Anthony DiComo.
"Luis was like, 'you're not going to Triple-A anymore,'" Bashlor reflected. "I was like, 'alright'. He said, 'you're going to Citi Field' and I went ballistic. So I got off the phone with him and then immediately called my dad, couldn't get a hold of him - he was cutting the grass - called like eight times. So, finally got a hold of him and then told the rest of my family."
Bashlor produced a stellar 2.63 ERA in 20 games with Binghamton before the call to New York. The Georgia native pitched in 34 games with the Fireflies in 2016. He posted the second-most strikeouts (68) among Columbia relievers that year as well as the second-lowest ERA (2.50).
The list of former Fireflies to reach the major leagues is only going to grow as time goes on. The franchise is only in year three and several players continue to ink their names as future stars throughout the Mets farm system.
"As we head into the second half of the major league season and into the future, seeing a roster filled with former Fireflies playing in the big leagues will be a huge point of pride for our community and the organization," said Fireflies team president John Katz.