Marc My Words!

Marc Maturo’s official sports column

Backman earns shot, but likely to rejoin Las Vegas 

Mets Triple-A

Skipper now in

Winter Ball

Wally Backman, new leader of Licey
Wally Backman, new leader of Licey

Former Mets World Series champion second baseman Wally Backman, a fan favorite who holds a strong desire to manage in the big leagues, will likely return to the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s in the Pacific Coast League for his third season, the Rockland County Times has learned.

Backman, 55, now managing the Licey Tigers in the Dominican Republic Winter League, has talked with two clubs about a coaching job on a big-league team. If he lands a position, then the 51s – a Mets affiliate — will look for another skipper.

“We love Wally, he’s been great, but we’d be happy if he gets a coaching job. But right now it looks like he’ll be back with us,” said a high-ranking Las Vegas official who emphasized that the Mets call the shots about anything concerning between-the-lines decisions – just as with all big-league teams and their affiliates.

(A formal announcement will probably not be made until Backman finishes his stint as the Licey manager. Backman — who was promoted to the Mets bench alongside manager Terry Collins after the Sept. 1 call-up last year but did not retain that status after Collins was re-signed — replaced Jose Offerman after Licey got off to a disappointing 10-17 start in an area where enthusiasm for baseball is extremely high.)

The fact that Backman, who also played on four other teams in a 14-year big-league career, took the Licey job only shows that he remains determined to land a managing position at the highest level of professional baseball – if not in New York, then anywhere.

Unless Backman can hit the long shot and land a big-league coaching job while baseball executives are meeting in San Diego next week, he will come back for a third season in Las Vegas, where he has won two straight Pacific Coast League Southern League titles and this season earned manager-of-the-year accolades.

(Ed note: We have been unable to reach Backman despite several attempts.)

With Licey, Backman is fighting history, as the Tigers have a long history of managerial changes, not uncommon in Winter Ball. For example, from 2007-2008 no manager has been able to complete one season, but this is not applicable to Backman.

“I am sure we are going to get to the playoffs,” was Wally’s first words on the Spanish-language website Ligadom.com after signing his contract to become the team’s 58th manager in its history.

“We have a great team. The players are enthusiastic. We had a meeting as soon as I arrived, and there was a definite feeling of wanting to move away from this part of our history.”

Despite taking over a losing team, Backman is not concerned, and shows a lot of confidence in his players.

“We have a solid nucleus of players, with many of them I’ve known from the United States, by either playing for me in the past or who have played against me. Getting to know how they play has made by job easier,” he explained while expressing his excitement about the opportunity in the DR.

“This is my first time in this country, let alone my first time in this league. Before this I managed in PR, first in Santurce and after that Caguas, but to come here has been very emotional because I know that the level of the game here is intense. The level of play in PR has diminished and is the reason why I left.”

Backman has been trying to get another job at the major-league level since he was hired, then fired, in a four-day span by Arizona 10 years ago for off-the-field issues and then, according to the Diamondbacks, lying about them.

Baseball, which has always given players a second change and sometimes more – except in the Pete Rose case — needs to give Backman his chance.

One would hope that the Mets might be the first team to step up.

The Oregon native joined joined the Mets’ organization in 2010 as a manager of Short-Season Brooklyn. He followed that by managing Double-A Binghamton (2011) and Triple-A Buffalo (2012). Prior to working in the Mets’ farm system, he managed at Single-A Winston-Salem (2001), Double-A Birmingham (2002-03), Single-A Lancaster (2004), as well as in independent baseball with South Georgia (2007) and Joliet (2008-09).

Sporting News named him the Minor League Manager of the Year in 2004, after leading the Lancaster JetHawks to an 86-win campaign.

Ten Mets have played for Las Vegas last season and Backman had his roster depleted by major-league promotions.

“Well deserved,” Mets GM Sandy Alderson has said of Backman earning PCL manager of the year honors. “He had to manage additions and subtractions in personnel there. He obviously had to deal with pitching challenges that come with Las Vegas … I think it reflects the work he did this year.”

NOW COACHING: Volleyball standout Meghan King of New City, this year’s player  of the year at The College of New Rochelle, has quickly donned a coaching jacket. King, an alumna of Clarkstown North HS, has joined the Alpha Gamma Volleyball club 17 Delta National team as an assistant coach.  The junior-Olympic level team, which practices in Tarrytown, is directed by Nyack College assistant coach Brett Shaffer and is expected to include several college prospects from Rockland County.

Caile Kohlbrenner, competing at Providence (courtesy Francis Hernandez)
Caile Kohlbrenner, competing at Providence (courtesy Francis Hernandez)

QUICK HITTERS: St. Joseph’s Regional HS alum Mike Pelham of Spring Valley is a sophomore guard at Purchase College, playing for two-time Coach of the Year Jeff Charney. Pelham is averaging seven points and three rebounds through six games for the Panthers, who visit SUNY-Old Westbury at noon on Dec. 6, and then host Yeshiva at 8 p.m. on Dec. 8. … Guard Jenna Erickson of Troy and St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill was recently named rookie of the week in women’s basketball by the East Coast Conference. The Lady Spartans, back from a three-game trip to Hawaii, host Bridgeport at 1 p.m. on Dec. 6 and then visit Felician (N.J.) College at 6 p.m. on Dec. 11. … Senior Caile Kohlbrenner of Sparkill and sophomore Colleen Hartigan of Suffern are competing at Providence College. Kohlbrenner is a distance runner on the track team while Hartigan specializes in the freestyle, backstroke and IM on the swimming team. The Friars’ track team competes at the Fordham Quad on Dec. 5 in the Bronx in their final meet before the holiday break. The swimming team competes at the USA Championships Dec. 4-6 in Greensboro, N.C. … Cortland football standouts Shane Cronin of West Nyack, a kicking specialist, and defensive end Gabe Ostrow of Nanuet were named to the all-New Jersey Atlantic Conference second team. Cortland, which finished the season at 5-5, including a 5-1 mark over its final six games, will join the Empire 8 for football next year after 15 years in the NJAC. … Senior guard Luke Houston of Pearl River is having another solid season for the Owls of Southern Connecticut State University, which went unbeaten through its first six games. Houston is the team’s second-leading scorer with 18.3 points per game and is second with 16 assists. The Owls host American International College on Dec. 6 in New Haven, Conn., at 3:30 p.m., and then meet LIU-Post on Dec. 9 in Brookville at 7:30 p.m. … Senior guard Lashonda Hathorne of Queens had a career-high 26 points, team highs with 10 rebounds and six assists as the Dominican College women’s basketball team defeated East Stroudsburg University, 73-68, in the opening round of the 50th Pocono Classic at Koehler Fieldhouse in East Stroudsburg, Pa. … The Dominican men’s team beat host Concordia, 76-62, getting 29 points from Nick Smith of Middletown. Guard Joe Clinton of Pearl River added 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists while Jared Fay of Lynn, Mass., grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. … The New Paltz women’s soccer team, including Suffern HS alumna and goalkeeper Katelyn Cordero of Airmont, has earned the 2013-14 National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) College Team Academic Award. … Mercy College women’s basketball coach Rashidi Aikens of Nyack turned the tables on his alma mater as the Mavericks defeated Nyack College, 85-59, in Dobbs Ferry. The Mavericks improved to 5-1 overall, while the Warriors fell to 1-5.