Old-school baseball guy keeps 51s mashing

George Greer insists he is the third spoke in a wheel of hitting, that he simply follows the instruction furnished from those above.

That they form a game plan and he does his best to execute it.

When it works, memories are made.

The 51s open a Pacific Coast League playoff series at Salt Lake City Wednesday night, the first time in 11 seasons Las Vegas has been alive once the postseason format commenced.

A major reason is that, despite the team having sent 24 players to the parent Mets and listed more than 150 transactions, hitting approaches haven’t varied.

Which is to say the 51s have mashed all season.

“Since we have so many guys going back and forth between us and the major league club, we have to keep the philosophy of the organization consistent,” said Greer, the team’s hitting coach under manager Wally Backman. “There are no drastic changes between the levels. That way, when guys leave us, they’re not confused as to how management wants them to approach (hitting). I’m just the caretaker.”

He has cared enough that Las Vegas sat tied atop the PCL in hitting with the same Salt Lake side it now encounters in a best-of-5 series, having offered a .287 average over 144 games.

The 51s also led the league in home runs (148), runs (828) and RBIs (764).

They had the best slugging percentage (.459) and tied for the best on-base percentage (.362).

It seems the third spoke guy earned his Christmas bonus and then some.

Greer, 66, is in his eighth season with the Mets organization, an old-school baseball guy who was a two-time All-American at Connecticut in the late 1960s and who played minor league ball for the St. Louis Cardinals. He coached 23 college seasons at Wake Forest and Davidson and managed New York’s Single-A club in Brooklyn in 2006.

The man has taught others how to hit every type of spin you can put on a curveball.

But the orders on how players in the organization need to approach hitting come from Lamar Johnson, the Mets’ hitting coordinator for all minor league outfits, and Dave Hudgens, hitting coach for the major league team.

Conversations between New York and Las Vegas are constant.

The analysis of players never stops.

“We just try and follow the vision of (Johnson and Hudgens),” Greer said. “They have seen all our players and, at the end of the day, it’s about what they feel needs to get done so guys are ready if they’re called up. All we’re trying to do is maximize their potential. In some cases, guys have improved over this season. Some haven’t as much as we would have liked.

“But it’s like the old snowball (cliche). Once its gets rolling … once a guy starts hitting, others follow. Good hitting breeds good hitting breeds good hitting and so on. We’ve tried not to make a big deal out of things when one guy moves up. We just say, ‘OK, now it’s your turn, let’s keep this going.’ “

The part about confidence never changes. Not in Little League or Pony League or high school or college or on a Triple-A playoff team. The part in which hitting is about as much above the shoulders as below them.

Greer has players keep journals, writing down good things about certain at-bats. He has them watch video of successful plate appearances over and over, reviewing all they did well. That way, when things invariably spiral downward, as they do at some point each season for all professional hitters not named Miguel Cabrera, they have more than enough positive data from which to fix things.

In moving its Triple-A franchise to Las Vegas, the Mets departed the International League and all the familiar faces and pitchers its players might have seen the past few years. But if there is a question which side gained a bigger advantage — be it those hitting for Las Vegas or unknown arms they faced this season — the answer lies in those impressive numbers.

“Your mindset doesn’t change much, no matter who you might be facing,” Greer said. “New teams. New faces. It’s actually been a wonderful experience. You look at the roster of the other guys before a series and scattered among them could be guys we have faced. You might be familiar with velocities or arms or spins on pitches. If not, you just go to work. It was refreshing to be in a new league. It has been great, just great.”

Words from an old-school baseball guy who is headed to the playoffs with the league’s best hitting team.

Eleven years later, the 51s taste a postseason atmosphere Wednesday night.

May the force of continued mashing be with them.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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