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Syracuse Mets GM expects big crowds for 2019

Ellen Abbott
WRVO Public Media
NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse.

A new era of baseball in central New York starts when the brand-new Syracuse Mets take the field for the home opener, April 4.

Don Waful’s baseball watching days in Syracuse go back almost a century to the Syracuse Stars.

"I saw some minor league games here in Syracuse when I was 10 years old," Waful said. "I’d say 1925.”

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO Public Media
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102-year old Don Waful has been a Syracuse Chiefs fan since the team began its run in Syracuse, and even spent 35 years as the team's president

And once the Syracuse Chief’s became the big team in town in 1934, he was a fan; heading to the ballpark every season, including a 35-year stint as the president of the baseball club. The 102-year-old admits the name change will take some getting used to.

"You have to learn to do it, but you can do it," Waful said. "I know I’m going to slip up."

But he’s a big fan of the New York Mets buying the chiefs to be their Triple-A franchise.

"It is a very big deal," Waful said. "It guarantees the financial future of the Syracuse area in professional baseball, which has been an up and down thing for the last 100 years.”

Waful will be at NBT Bank Stadium on opening day. Syracuse Mets General Manager Jason Smorol expects, if the weather cooperates, he’ll have a lot of company.

"Specifically, this year for opening day, come early," Smorol said. "Get your tickets early. If it is halfway decent, we are going to sell out."

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO Public Media
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Syracuse Mets General Manager Jason Smorol

Smorol bases this on the buzz he’s feeling as the Syracuse Mets season gets underway. The annual team open house at the end of February usually draws about 200 fans. This year he figured 500 would show up. 1,000 fans came out. And there are other signs pointing to a successful affiliation with the Mets.

"Our season tickets are the most we’ve sold ever in our time," Smorol said. "Our flex plans are ahead of schedule. Our suites and parties and individual tickets are ahead of schedule. Our merchandise is through the roof."

And that doesn’t take into account the fact that well-known prospect Tim Tebow could take the field in Syracuse this season.

"If we could be lucky enough to get Tim Tebow here for a summer, it would make me a great general manager," Smorol said. "Everywhere he’s gone, he’s set an attendance record.”

Smorol said the New York Mets are working with the Syracuse team to get out fans. The big-league Mets will conduct their final spring training workout at the Carrier Dome, Tuesday. A new fundraiser called Meet The Syracuse Mets, is set for April 2.

But that’s not all.

Smorol noted that all the tried and true, some would call hokey, minor league baseball attractions remain;  the fireworks, the between-inning contests this year, including a stunt guy shooting himself out of a canon from the outfield to home plate.

“We’re going to continue to promote, do the fun stuff that nobody else does," Smorol said.

Beyond the gimmicks, Waful said the success of the Syracuse Mets will come down to the game of baseball, the same game he watched as a ten-year-old, all those years ago in Syracuse.

"The game is not any different," Waful said. "Fundamentally, it’s run, pitch, throw and hit. It’s better trained, better coached, better managed, but the skills are the same.”

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO Public Media
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NBT Bank Stadium.


Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.