New Cyclones Manager Lopez Steps In to the Spotlight
The role of managing the short single season A Brooklyn Cyclones is arguably considered the highest profile job in the New York Mets organization.
With the Cyclones located less than 15 miles away from the confines of the major league team in Queen, there's pressure for the manager to develop talent with the Mets executives watching closely. There is also most importantly the demand to win.
For 40-year old Pedro Lopez, the new skipper of the Cyclones, he hasn't shown any signs of anxiety as the season approaches. With more than 20 years of professional baseball experience under his belt, Lopez is excited to take on the reins and lead Brooklyn as they open up the New York Penn League season at 7 p.m. against the Staten Island Yankees.
Lopez is used to managing short-season teams when he was in the Texas Rangers organization from 2003-2005 and again in 2007. And he's accustomed to the process of watching player arrive this week at Keyspan Park who are already in the organization and or recently selected in this year's MLB draft.
But Lopez knows what he was brought in to do. Win ballgames.
"For me it's a great challenge," Lopez told reporters at Keyspan Park at a pre-season workout on Wednesday.
"I'm thankful the front office and the organization have given me the chance to be here today and for the rest of the season."
The major challenge Lopez face starting tonight is that this high profile job comes with a mandate to develop young players and quickly. The Cyclones have not had a losing campaign in their first nine years and they have continued to lead the NYPL in attendance with 7,000 Brooklyn fans going through the turnstiles every night.
Lopez will have a new supporting staff around him which includes pitching coach Rick Tomin, hitting coach Jack Voigt and Joel Fuentes. He says it's important to help the team acclimate to what at times can be an intimidating big city environment.
"All of these guys are aware of their surroundings. They know that we probably got the best fans in baseball. I wouldn't say probably. I know we got the best fans in baseball," Lopez said.
"The best thing I can bring to the table is that I just want my guys to feel they can go out there and play the game without making mistakes. I won't second guess and obviously my coaching staff won't do that."
Lopez will have big shoes to fill as he takes over for the popular Edgar Alfonzo who is highly regarded in the Mets organization and in two stints, directed the Cyclones to prosperity.
Alfonzo managed the Cyclones in their inaugural campaign to a share of the NYPL championship in 2001 with Williamsport.
In 2007, "Fonzie" returned to the team and won the McNamara Division title and last year led an injury riddled team to a second place 45-30 record which missed the playoffs by one game. Alfonzo was then named the manager of the Mets A affiliate at Savannah in the South Atlantic League.
Lopez' approach on the field is to play an aggressive style of baseball. Once he gets through the first few weeks of getting to know his players, the Cyclones should have a stable everyday lineup.
"Winning is part of development," Lopez said. "Throughout some of the affiliates we talk about development but when it comes to game time, we're going out there to win. Since day one, it's a playoff game."
There will be some familiar faces in the Cyclones 30-man roster. Outfielder John Servidio had 17 RBI in 40 games last year before injury his shoulder and missing the rest of the season. Right handed pitchers Mike Lynn and Erik Turgeon should provide some relief from the bullpen.
Among the list of new players, second round pick Robbie Shields could be the team's starting second base.
A two time- All Sunshine State Conference selection while playing at Florida Southern College, Shields hit 345 and drive in 37 RBI in 57 games this past season.
OF Alexander Gregory was a star at Radford University after hitting .407 with 10 home runs and 42 RBI. The 17th round pick should provide power and production at the plate.
Lopez will try to create a relaxed atmosphere and work hard on each player's strengths and weaknesses. He's enjoying the ride so far and can't wait for tonight's first pitch to get the 2009 season underway.
"This is probably the biggest stage in the minor leagues. This is the closest you can get to the major leagues in a minor league field and I think it's going to be a great year," Lopez said.