Ringolsby: Defying The Odds
One afternoon in the days leading up to the 2011 draft, a couple media members approached Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt in the dugout at Coors Field, curious about the best talent from the state of Colorado in the draft.
Schmidt just shook his head at the mention of several players in the Denver area when it was suggested they were potential first-round selections. Finally he explained, “If you go up I-25 from Mexico to Canada, the only No. 1 draft is the kid in Cheyenne.”
The media members were stunned. Finally, they were told the name of the player: Brandon Nimmo.
“What high school does he play for?” they asked.
None. They don’t play high school baseball in Wyoming.
“Well, what travel team is he on?” they asked.
None. He plays for the American Legion Post 6.
“What’s he do in the fall?”
He’s an all-state wide receiver at East High.
“What’s he do in the winter?”
He runs indoor track, and had just set the state record in the 220-yard dash.
The inquisitors were at a loss.
“There’s no way he can be a first-round draft choice if he’s not on a travel team,” they said.
Schmidt explained he wasn’t going to be available by the time the Rockies made their first selection—the 20th pick in the first round.
And he wasn’t. The Mets, with the13th overall pick, grabbed Nimmo. And seven years later there are no regrets. The lefthanded-hitting outfielder has become a key part of the Mets’ long-term plans, having overcome injuries that slowed his early development.
Wyoming is certainly not a hotbed for major league prospects. It’s the ninth-largest state in the U.S. in terms of land, covering nearly 100,000 square miles. It ranks 50th in terms of population, which is somewhere in the vicinity of 550,000, give or take a couple thousand. And the weather can be a challenge in the spring, considering March and April are the top months for snow in the southeastern part of the state, and there is usually a good snow or two in May.
That spring of 2011, when scouts were suddenly invading Cheyenne, was the boom for a sporting goods store located near Powers Field, where the Post 6 team played home games. Scouts showing up in April and May were often unaware that while Cheyenne may be credited with more days of sunshine annually than any U.S. city, temperatures don’t warm until mid-May.
Nimmo, is one of just 16 players born in Wyoming to have reached the big leagues. And that includes Rick Sofield. He was in the state for a handful of days at the time of his birth, his father having been transferred from the Air Force base in Cheyenne back east, but his mother going into labor before the moving trucks departed.
A handful of the other 15 actually attended high school in Wyoming, including Casper natives Mike Lansing and Mike Devereaux.
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It’s been a challenge for Nimmo working his way to the big leagues. He stopped at each level in the minor leagues along the way and didn’t make his big league debut until June 26, 2016, slightly more than five years after the Mets drafted him.
Even this season, when he made the big league team out of spring training, there was a three-day trip back to Triple-A in April, his return to the big leagues coming sooner than anticipated because of injury problems.
Not that the 25-year-old Nimmo is complaining, not even about that April blip on the radar.
“It helps me remember how fragile this is,” he said, “how baseball can turn on a dime, and I need to enjoy every moment when I am out there.
“Jay (Bruce) has given me great advice over the years, and one piece of advice was that (his mentor) Scott Rolen told him that in the 16 years he played in the big leagues, he had it figured out for about six months.”
Nimmo paused, and smiled.
“That’s encouraging for me because people who played 16 years in big leagues don’t have it figured out all the time,” he said. “So when you have a productive day, you have to enjoy it and realize days like when I got sent down happen. You need to realize the challenge of staying in the big leagues. You don’t take your opportunity for granted. You appreciate what you have.”
That is how Nimmo grew up in Wyoming, and the value of that mentality has been reinforced by his experiences in pro ball.