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Brandon Nimmo compares empty stands to Marlins Park with exhibition game feeling ‘normal’

2020-07-25

Maybe Brandon Nimmo, one of the friendliest players on the Mets, didn’t mean to throw shade on the National League East team with a notorious deficiency in fan attendance. But then again, a little divisional ribbing never hurt anyone.

“Honestly, no knock against Miami, but it kind of just felt like playing in Miami,” Nimmo said on playing the Yankees in an empty Citi Field on Saturday. “We just didn’t have that many fans in the stadium, we had the cardboard feel.”

Ouch. Tough burn to the devoted Marlins fanbase. For context, the Marlins’ average paid attendance in 2019 was 10,016. The Mets’ was 30,531.

Taunting aside, Nimmo said he was surprised at how normal Saturday felt — playing under the bright lights against a crosstown rival with crowd noise mixed in, hype videos displayed on the Jumbotron, walk-up songs blaring through the park and cardboard fans positioned behind home plate.

Even though coronaball sounds dystopian, the team’s first exhibition game vs. the Yankees offered a sense of normalcy for the Mets outfielder.

“I would say the sound was there,” Nimmo said. “I guess I didn’t realize until this point how much of a difference the music and the antics between pitches makes because it felt really game-like. I was surprised at how much it felt like a game. I was pretty locked in on what the opposing pitcher was doing, what the other team was doing, where I needed to be positioned at.

“It was unfortunate the fans were not there, but I was surprised at how normal it felt.”

The normality from Saturday’s game provided Nimmo and the Mets hope that the 60-game season will be carried in full, despite the challenges the league continues to face in its grand attempt to play baseball amid a pandemic.

The outfielder, who missed the bulk of the 2019 season with a pesky neck injury, said he’s been able to get his work in and still maintain six feet of distance from his teammates and remain as safe as possible. The regulations the Mets have put in place have given Nimmo confidence that this season can be pulled off.

But then again, he’s a glass half-full kind of guy.

“I’m a very positive person, I guess you could say, so I’m going to say yes. I really do believe if the way we’re doing it is going to work, this is a great test,” Nimmo said. “Going on the road, the Yankees came to us, we’re going to the Yankees, this is how it’s going to work during the season … I see it working, but I can always be proven wrong. Right now I’m pretty positive ... If the other teams are doing what we’re doing, I see this working for the whole season and the playoffs.”

It was the moment the Mets had been waiting for: Yoenis Cespedes in left field again. The Cuban slugger with a ferocious power arm was parked in left field at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, but he didn’t receive the opportunity to make any plays. The most action he saw was when he ran back to watch an Aaron Judge homer glide into the left-field seats. The Mets hope to put Cespedes in more situations where he can be challenged in the coming days before Friday, with the prospect of using him both as a DH and a left fielder in the shortened season.

Wilson Ramos did not play Saturday or Sunday in the Mets’ exhibition games against the Yankees due to personal reasons. The Mets catcher was on a roll before his excused absence, hitting back-to-back home runs on Thursday and Friday in the team’s intrasquad games.

Mets manager Luis Rojas implied on Saturday that Ramos was not in the lineup because the team wanted to get a better look at their backup catchers. On Sunday, it appeared the reason was because Ramos was unavailable.

“Ramos is not on-site today,” Rojas said Sunday. “He’s dealing with a personal matter right now. Like I said before — and I hope everyone understands this — but we’re just not going to talk about any of the guys who are not on-site on a daily basis.”

Rene Rivera was added to the Mets’ 40-man roster on Sunday. The 36-year-old catcher figures to serve as the team’s No. 3 backstop following Tomas Nido.

Jacob deGrom completed on Sunday what should’ve been his final test before being cleared to start on Opening Day Friday against the Braves. The Mets ace hurled 60 pitches with nine strikeouts across four hitless innings in a simulated game at Citi Field. The outing went very well and Mets officials were pleased with what they saw.

DeGrom earlier this week had flagged minor back tightness to the Mets medical department. After receiving some treatment, deGrom said he felt better within a couple of days. The right-hander should be on track to throw 85 pitches on Friday, with his pitch count taking a small hit from the ramp-up delay caused by his back tightness.