NEW YORK — Although Jackie Robinson Day celebrates the Hall of Famer’s breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier for all races, stories about Robinson tend to focus on his impact on the Black community.
Mets manager Luis Rojas understands firsthand how much Robinson influenced many others in the game of baseball, considering his father, Felipe Alou, followed Ozzie Virgil to the Majors in becoming the first Dominican to play regularly in the Majors.
More than a half century later, Rojas became the first Dominican manager in Mets history, following in the footsteps of his dad — the league’s first Dominican manager.
“We can only say thank you to Jackie Robinson,” Rojas said. “Me being here right now and doing what I love on a daily basis is because of him. He led a lot of doors to be open for the inclusion of different ethnicities in the game. We’ve just got to say thank you.”
The Mets have always held Robinson close to their history, given that their organization grew out of the remains of the old Brooklyn Dodgers. Of significance these days is the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at Citi Field, which features a No. 42 sculpture and inscribed quotations from the Hall of Famer.
“He impacted a lot of people,” Rojas said. “He impacted a lot of lives. Look where I’m at right now — it’s because of him.”
Coming from the side
When the Mets made Trevor Hildenberger one of their first cuts of Spring Training despite his strong performance in Grapefruit League games, the sidewinding reliever understood the reality of the situation. He had not pitched in the big leagues since 2019, and he produced a 10.47 ERA for the Twins that season. Although Hildenberger looked strong early in spring, the Mets had little choice but to view it with a fair bit of skepticism.
So Hildenberger went to the Minor League side of camp and continued competing, striking out nine of the 14 batters he was able to face when used in Grapefruit League games. It was enough for the Mets to call his name when they placed Dellin Betances on the injured list on April 8.
“I knew I didn’t play at all last year,” Hildenberger said. “It had been two years since I pitched in the big leagues, and three years since I pitched effectively in the big leagues. So it wasn’t surprising at the time.”
He added: “I’m pumped to be back at this level and excited to get an opportunity.”
In New York, Hildenberger is reunited with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, whom he worked with in Minnesota from 2018-19 and who advocated for his signing on a Minor League deal this winter. Under Hefner, Hildenberger struck out 70 batters in 73 innings in ’18.
“It’s been great working with Hef again,” Hildenberger said. “To be reunited, we have a good rapport. I think we communicate really well. He’s always been honest with me with what he expects, and where I stand in the organization.”
From the trainer’s room
Carlos Carrasco threw a four-inning simulated game on Wednesday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., stretching out to 65 pitches. For the time being, Carrasco remains in Florida, where Mets officials can watch his outings on a live feed. Eventually, he will come to their alternate training site in Brooklyn to test his strained right hamstring in fielding drills.
The Mets remain optimistic for a May return for Carrasco.