Michael Conforto, 22, is one of just three players ever to compete in the Little League, college and MLB World Series (joining Jason Varitek and Ed Vosberg in that feat) — and he’s the only one to drive in runs in all three.
Michael Conforto’s first World Series appearance — in Little League — is still vivid to Darryl Beliel.
The coach of Redmond North in 2004 remembers Conforto as the youngster on the ballclub — the lone 11-year-old among 12-year olds that earned the coveted trip to Williamsport.
“It sounds silly now, but I had to push for him to get on the team,’’ Beliel recalled.
World Series game 3, Kansas City at N.Y. Mets, 5:07 p.m., Ch. 13
He remembers Conforto’s dazzling catch at the center-field wall in Williamsport, Pa., that made it onto ESPN’s “Web Gems,” and the mammoth home run he hit.
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“We had him third in the lineup, where you put the best hitter,’’ Beliel said. “I don’t think he really understood how good he was as a Little Leaguer. He was a little naive.”
The next time Conforto made the World Series — the collegiate edition in Omaha — was 2013, with Oregon State. By then, everyone knew how good Conforto was, having earned the first of his two Pac-12 Player of the Year awards.
Once again, Conforto turned in highlight-reel defense, with a spectacular catch as he ran into the wall in left, and another grab while falling into the stands that ended with Conforto throwing out a runner at the plate.
Oregon State coach Pat Casey won’t ever forget the blast by Conforto that unluckily bounced over the wall, forcing the Beavers baserunner back to third and probably costing a victory over Mississippi State.
“That ball stood out for how hard Michael hit it, like a golf ball,’’ said Casey. “You couldn’t even see it. It vaporized.”
Thinking back to that World Series, Casey mused, “I can still see him there with war paint on, a guy who was a leader, a guy that players on our club were inspired by.’’
Now Conforto is playing in the ultimate World Series, the one that moves to New York on Friday night with Conforto’s Mets, down 0-2 to the Kansas City Royals, desperately needing a victory.
The 22-year-old Conforto, who began the year in Class A ball before making a meteoric rise to join the Mets’ lineup in July, started Game 1 in left field and Game 2 at designated hitter. He is just 1 for 20 in this postseason, but the lone hit was a home run off the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke.
Those who knew Conforto before he was the No. 10 overall pick in the 2014 draft (the hometown Mariners, at No. 5, overlooked him), are savoring this unique moment from afar. Conforto is one of just three players ever to compete in the Little League, college and MLB World Series, joining Jason Varitek and Ed Vosberg. By virtue of his sacrifice fly in Game 1 in Kansas City, Conforto is the only one to drive in runs in all three.
“I was talking to a kid in class today about him,’’ said Mike Pluschke, Conforto’s football coach as a sophomore and junior at Redmond High School, and now a P.E. teacher there.
“There’s a lot of pride inside our walls from guys who knew him.”
Dylan Davis, who starred with Conforto both at Redmond and Oregon State and is embarking on his own pro career as an outfielder in the Giants’ organization, said that watching his longtime friend and teammate on national television is a “very surreal and awesome” experience.
“It helps to push me to hopefully get there one day,’’ said Davis.
Conforto was one of those athletes just oozing special ability at a very young age. He has great genes, for starters. His mom, Tracie Ruiz, was an Olympic gold medalist as a synchronized swimmer, and his father, Michael, played linebacker for Joe Paterno at Penn State.
Pluschke remembers seeing Conforto dominate a junior football game at Husky Stadium and marveling to his dad about his skills. His dad remarked nonchalantly that Michael wasn’t at full strength because of an injury. Another time, Conforto joined Redmond’s football weight-training program late, because of baseball, and bench-pressed the maximum 300 pounds on his first attempt.
“He could do things other kids couldn’t,’’ said Dan Pudwill, Conforto’s baseball coach at Redmond. “His bat was quicker through the zone — and when he hit it, it traveled 50 feet farther than any other kid.”
That point was driven home during Redmond’s batting practice at their home stadium, Hartman Park, which is bordered by a Little League field. That never was a problem, until Conforto started hitting balls so far that he was peppering the Little Leaguers.
“You can’t take BP,” they told Pudwill. “You’re endangering the Little League kids.”
Pudwill stationed teammates with gloves beyond the fence to protect the youngsters.
Conforto was such a good football player — a running back as a sophomore, a triple-option quarterback as a junior and senior, and a safety all three years — that Pluschke said, “He could have played strong safety for any college in our area.”
And as a senior, Pudwill turned Conforto into his closer, and he didn’t allow an earned run. “His fastball blew high-school kids away,’’ said the coach.
Casey likes to refer to Conforto as a “warrior” — one who played several weeks with a hairline fracture.
“You can put this guy in a barrel and drop him off Niagara Falls, and he’s coming back,” Casey said. “When he was called up, I got a call from a New York reporter who asked if Michael could handle the big city. “ I said, ‘Listen, I don’t know if he’ll hit .320 right away, but I do know he’ll handle it.’ ”
Mostly, though, what resonates with the people I talked to about Conforto is how good things are happening to a very good person. Pudwill called him hardworking, humble and respectful — “all the attributes you want to ascribe to a kid you coached. It makes it all the better to root for him.”
“He had a presence, an air, but the best part of Michael is his character, and the fabric of who he is,’’ added Pluschke. “He treated everyone the same. There was never a moment of cockiness or flamboyance because of his greatness.”
Beliel marvels at the time last year Conforto came back to help honor the current Redmond All-Stars, and how warmly and eagerly he performed those duties.
“That’s what makes me cheer him on now,’’ he said. “The person he has become is what really excites me.”
Pluschke calls Conforto a “fundamentally sound, grassroots, All-American kid.’’
He’s all that, and a World Series participant. Again.