On a crazy humid July afternoon in Queens, a congregation of Little League ballplayers sat at attention as their guest of honor preached his gospel.
“I’m from Wyoming,” Brandon Nimmo announced, making eye contact with his charges. “I’m not supposed to play baseball.”
His entire life, Brandon has overcome preconceptions. Overcome the obstacles that fed such preconceptions. Overcome others’ doubts _ and even, at times, his own doubts.
Always, he has done so with a great support system.
Take the critical juncture in April of 2016 when Brandon found himself wondering whether he truly was supposed to play baseball at the major-league level. The shine of being the Mets’ 2011 first-round draft pick _ the first Wyomingite to ever be selected so high _ had passed, and Brandon was struggling at Triple-A Las Vegas in the wake of a rough spring training and a 2015 he and some of his Mets bosses found to be disappointing. He put up a poor .196/.274/.232 slash line in the season’s first 14 games.
Ron Nimmo, Brandon’s dad, came down from their Cheyenne home to visit Brandon in Vegas. There, they found a Cheesecake Factory for lunch and went deep.
“We had a realistic conversation of, ‘If baseball’s done, what’s next?’” Brandon recalled recently. “‘How do you handle this, after putting this many years into it?’”
They talked about Brandon, who signed with the Mets out of high school rather than play for the University of Arkansas, heading to college; the Mets, as part of their initial agreement, had agreed to fund Brandon’s pursuit of higher education.
“We were brainstorming a little bit, but what we landed on was, it might be going back to school,” Brandon said. “And then my dad just kept encouraging me that, ‘If this wasn’t what God wanted for you, he’s going to open up another door and we’re going to go down that path.’”
Of course, it turned out that Brandon’s baseball story did not end there. It was just getting started.
It’s simple enough: Wyoming is cold. Really cold. It’s the fifth-coldest state in the USA, with an average temperature of 42.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
Young Brandon, though, saw a window. He also witnessed a role model in his older brother Bryce, also a baseball lover who wound up playing at the University of Nebraska (Brandon’s older sister Kristen also enjoyed sports as a youngster, another positive example).
“I was always doing something with a ball, whether it was soccer, whether it was baseball, football, basketball,” Brandon said. “I always kind of took a liking and leaned towards baseball and football. And I think it was probably because baseball was played in the summer. I just loved going out and getting good weather because in Wyoming, obviously we don’t get as much of that. And so from June, late May to August, that was my happy time. I really gravitated towards baseball.
With his dad, Brandon would watch the Rockies on TV, as well as “Sunday Night Baseball,” which featured the Yankees and Red Sox going at each other as often as six times a year, on ESPN.
“That was huge when I was growing up. Those teams were so good,” Brandon said. “And it was always that rivalry, and they didn’t like each other. And I always was like, ‘I like those guys, but I want to be those guys. I don’t want to just go watch them. What does it take to get there?’”
It took hours upon hours of dedication: “I would reach my point where I was like, ‘I think I’m done,’ and then I would have a thought in the back of my mind and I’d say, ‘All right, I need to do a little bit more. I need to push myself a little bit farther.’ Being from a cold-weather state, being from Wyoming, I think I needed to do that extra. I needed to have that inspiration because it helped me to to spend those extra minutes, those extra half-hours, extra hours, hitting in the cage.”
Ron Nimmo, with the blessing of Brandon’s mother Patti, came up with the idea of building a barn behind the Nimmos’ house, giving Brandon the ability to work on his game year-round.
In high school, Brandon said, his goal “became more tangible,” even though his high school didn’t even field a baseball team; he played for Cheyenne Post Six, an American Legion club. The family noticed that the interest from colleges, the scholarships they offered, exceeded that which Bryce had received. “It’s even more motivation to do the extra work,” Brandon said. “It’s been instilled in me ever since I can remember, that dream of playing major-league baseball and trying to get to that point.”
Just a few days after Brandon and his dad contemplated the possibility of that dream falling short, the support system came through again. Tagg Lain, Brandon’s coach at Cheyenne Post Six, was in Vegas for a basketball commitment (you have to be versatile in Wyoming) and made the time to watch three of Brandon’s games with the 51s.
“At the end of the three days, we had an hour-long, two-hour-long conversation after one of the games and he kind of just laid it out,” Brandon said. He said, ‘Here’s what I think you need to do.’ There was one mechanical thing (lowering his hands on the bat). The rest of it was a mental approach (focusing on the outside part of the plate before two strikes). And he said, ‘Just go try this out for a week and see what you do.’”
By the time the Mets called up Brandon for his big-league debut in late June, he had raised his slash line all the way to .352/.423/.541. Brandon recalled of his Las Vegas manager Wally Backman, “Wally, when he gave me the news that I was going up, actually told me, ‘That’s the largest improvement that I’ve seen by someone in a year, where in the beginning it was very questionable. What you’re doing now plays. If you keep doing that, you’ll play a long time in the big leagues.’”
Backman, the beloved former Met who now manages the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks, said recently of Brandon, “I think the devotion and the work he put into what he was trying to become really came around really quickly in that particular season. You can see huge improvements on a daily basis. With how hard he played the game, the way he worked in the outfield, it was a daily process.
“You can always tell a kid what he needs to do, but they have to do it. Brandon was all ears and he did everything he was asked to do.”
If any doubts remained concerning Brandon’s professional destiny, they dissipated quickly once he arrived in the big leagues. In his first Mets home game, on June 30, he contributed an RBI single and scored the winning run as his club came from behind to beat the Cubs, the ultimate World Series champs that season. In his second game at Citi Field, on July 1, Brandon cracked his first major-league home run against Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel, whom Brandon knew from his high-school days of watching the Rockies play.
“I just remember going up there and trying to get a good pitch to hit,” Brandon said. “I got a fastball middle-in and hit it. I just remember not even feeling it touch the bat. I’ve hit home runs in the minor leagues and that’s what they feel like. but I didn’t know about the big leagues. I just sprinted out of the box and the moment I saw it go over into the bullpen, saw it go over the fence, the hair on the back of my neck just stood up and the crowd went wild and I was just in awe.
“I was like, ‘Did that just happen?’ I was just as surprised as everyone else. And I got to home plate, I got to the dugout, and I got a curtain call. To put it in perspective, I haven't gotten a curtain call since. It’s like, ‘OK, your first week. I couldn’t have written it up any better, that first week.’”
That first week felt informed, sweetened, by the first month of Nimmo’s 2016 campaign. “I thought, ‘My gosh, I’m doing all this in the same year that I had the conversation of, ‘What’s next if this is over?’” Brandon said. “They were really big moments for me. The highest of highs and lowest of lows in the same year.”
Fast-forward to now. Brandon is an established major leaguer, shining in his free-agent season, one of the most popular Mets and second behind decorated pitcher Jacob deGrom in continuous service on this jewel franchise. Just this month, he received the Mets’ 2022 Heart and Hustle Award, issued by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, for demonstrating a passion for baseball as well as best embodying the game’s values, spirit and traditions. He joined the BRUCE BOLT family last year when he found the batting gloves accommodating as he returned from a ligament tear in his left index finger.
And in the little spare time he has during the season, he tries to impart his life lessons on others. To join the support systems of youngsters who really could benefit from such assistance and guidance. At Queens’ Hinton Park last month, Brandon hosted a sandlot game _ pitching, manning the outfield and cheering on everyone _ for 20 players representing four different area little leagues. He also donated 250 pairs of BRUCE BOLT batting gloves to those little leagues.
Perhaps most important, he pleaded with them to not fall victim to the “Supposed to’s.”
“People are going to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do your whole life: ‘Oh, yeah, you can chase this dream, but you can’t chase that dream,’” Brandon said. “But ultimately, if you put your mind to it and you’re willing to pay the price with the hard work that it takes, nothing can really stand in your way. …Really, the only limitations are what we put on ourselves.”
“Obviously it helps that I had amazing, supportive parents, and that was instrumental in me getting to where I am. But if I have that support system and I'm willing to put in the work, I think that you can do just about anything you put your mind to."