As it often did during the dawn of his collegiate baseball career in 2016, Josh Shaw's temper flared. Then-Louisville hurler Nick Burdi had just struck him out. Game over. The Red Storm lost. Shaw, a freshman infielder for St. John's, stomped back to the visiting dugout. He threw equipment. He
As it often did during the dawn of his collegiate baseball career in 2016, Josh Shaw's temper flared. Then-Louisville hurler Nick Burdi had just struck him out. Game over. The Red Storm lost. Shaw, a freshman infielder for St. John's, stomped back to the visiting dugout. He threw equipment. He engaged in a shouting match with an assistant coach, who told him he was being ridiculous.
Head coach Ed Blankmeyer -- finally -- stepped in. He had let Shaw's outbursts go for a while. But the season was two months old, time for a lesson. The tantrums, Blankmeyer sternly advised, made Shaw look stupid. They made the university look stupid. Showing frustration was OK because it showed Shaw cared. But the coach needed the player to look for another way to channel his emotions.
"He coached St. John's like he was already managing a professional team," said Shaw, now an infield prospect in the Cardinals system. "He treated us like we were grown men. He never tried to over-coach us. He let us learn from our own failures. I think that's a big reason why he's going to be great at the next level."
Blankmeyer resigned from St. John's earlier this month to take a position with the Mets. He will be at Spring Training in Port St Lucie, Florida, hang around for extended camp, then make a midsummer return to New York as the 12th manager of the Class A Short Season Brooklyn Cyclones.
The move from Jamaica, Queens, to Coney Island will challenge Blankmeyer to instill in a New York-Penn League club the culture that permeated St. John's baseball during his 24 years as head coach. It was a culture that produced a .623 winning percentage and 91 pros. It demanded players' focus and effort. It was a natural product of a leader who players have said is honest, caring and intense.
In some ways, Blankmeyer's new environment will be different. Edgardo Alfonzo led the Cyclones to a championship four months ago and was replaced in what Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen called a "player development decision." Individual improvement, as it is across the Minors, will be emphasized over team success. Blankmeyer gets that. He doesn't see a need to change.
"I just think the game is the same," he said. "The teaching of the game, the relationships are the same. I think that's very similar. … Our job, obviously, is to make the players better and to develop players for the big club. Same token. You want to teach winning baseball and develop the winning culture. It's a combination of development and culture -- a development of culture of winning."
So how will he build that culture from scratch?
"Listen," Blankmeyer said. "I've been doing it all my life. To me, it's about communication. It's about teaching the kids to play the right way. It's about teaching them to play with passion. And teaching them how to be a professional baseball player. It's a process. You teach the process. And the process takes care of the winning."
Shaw, the former Red Storm infielder, began that process the first day he stepped on campus. Blankmeyer sat down the freshmen and told them three things mattered above all else: their family, their teammates and the school. That message is the first "building block to competitive greatness," which still hangs outside the team's locker room.
"The building blocks to competitive greatness" are on display outside the St. John's clubhouse.
The program's culture also showed up in the little things. In the fall, the Red Storm played without base coaches to force players to track the ball in flight themselves. In practice, they took timed grounders, not counted. Putting pressure on the players helped them practice with intent, said Blankmeyer's longtime assistant and interim head coach Mike Hampton. It all started at the top, and it reached everybody.
"In terms of playing the right way, [Blankmeyer] just wanted everyone to give everything they had every time out on the field," said Jeff Belge, a former St. John's left-hander in the Dodgers system. "Playing like it was your last day you could be on the field -- that's what he was all about, and he instilled that into all of us."
Play hard, play well, play. Even as a quasi-recruited walk-on in 2013, Tom Hackimer knew he could believe that promise when Blankmeyer guaranteed him field time if he earned it -- scholarship or not. The deal, though, was for Hackimer the pitcher. The high school shortstop had never been on the mound. But Blankmeyer liked his arm and it was the only way Hackimer would have a chance with St John's.
Hackimer gave pitching a shot, and Blankmeyer kept his word. Eight saves as a freshman. Big East Pitcher of the Year award as a senior. The Twins picked him in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft. He has a career 2.77 ERA.
"He's very straightforward and about as honest a coach as I've ever played for," the righty said.
During Hackimer's ascension, Belge's future on the Red Storm pitching staff became questionable. The southpaw ruptured the globe of his right eye for the second time while goofing around with a teammate at a tournament his junior year. Blankmeyer could have revoked his scholarship. Instead, he called Belge every day to make sure he was OK.
"Every player that comes through there, he loves like they're his own child," Belge said. "He treats them like it's his own child. He's been like a second father figure to a lot of players there."
Ed Blankmeyer and Jeff Belge in March 2017 (Gregory Payan/AP)
Blankmeyer sometimes showed tough love even while keeping the mood light. Gavin Hollowell, a sixth-round pick of the Rockies last summer, recalled a pitchers' fielding practice when one of the team's chunkier hurlers dropped a ball. Blankmeyer suggested the player would have caught it had it been a hamburger.
During the 2004 season, the team's behavior troubled Blankmeyer. A few losses strung together. Some kids might have missed class -- "I can't remember," Hampton said. The team ran sprints with Blankmeyer on the whistle … and the movie "Miracle" on his mind. Again. Again. Again. Hampton still laughs at the memory of Blankmeyer attempting Herb Brooks. He'll miss Blankmeyer's humor.
"He's business, but he can also throw some jabs," the former assistant coach said. "I mean, he is a New Yorker originally."
Blankmeyer's admiration of the Mets dates back to their inception. ("Casey Stengel days, man.") His boyhood fandom faded, but he never left the area, playing and beginning his coaching career at Seton Hall. And he loved to keep tabs on the New York guys who served the local professional organization in Flushing -- John Franco, Al Leiter and Joe Panik, whom he coached at St. John's.
The timing for Blankmeyer to join that list lined up. His son, Ty, a scout for the Brewers, is years removed from playing for dad. Taking a new job that didn't require relocating was a perk. And transitioning to the pro game means leaving behind concerns about recruiting and academic eligibility, which is OK with Blankmeyer.
"I just thought the time was right," he said. "I felt good about it. I felt the program at St. John's was in a good place. I've had opportunities in the past to move over to the professional side, but the change and timing was right."
Blankmeyer is using the weeks before Spring Training to get himself acquainted with his new colleagues. He's watched video of players. He's reached out to other coaches and coordinators. It's been more than two decades since he was the new guy.
"You follow the lead, so to speak," he said, "and you do the best job you possibly can."
That's all Blankmeyer has asked of anyone else.