Plummer has lasting impact on Mets

Plummer has lasting impact on Mets

NEW YORK -- Most Mets fans can run off the select group of individuals with lasting and decades-long connections to the team. They know Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner in the booth, and Ed Kranepool and John Franco on the field. They know Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges and Tom Seaver -- the three Mets who have their numbers plastered on the left-field wall at Citi Field.

One name fans don't know off-hand, though, is that of the late Jimmy Plummer. Plummer served in the Mets' front office for three decades, beginning in 1976 and running up until June 24 last season, when, after he had undergone a kidney and liver transplant, Plummer passed away from a heart attack at the age of 57.

In order to honor Plummer's lifetime of contributions to the franchise and to continue the work he did as a mentor and promoter, the Mets started the James R. Plummer Scholarship. The $5,000 scholarship includes a summer internship in the organization's marketing and communications department.

Although Plummer's time with the Mets in New York started in 1976, his association with the franchise began even earlier back in 1965, when a 13-year-old Plummer served as a batboy for the Mets' rookie-league team in his hometown of Marion, Va. One of the stars of that Marion team was none other than Nolan Ryan.

"I have a lot of memories of him," said Ryan, who donned a Mets uniform for the first time since the 1970s during Saturday's celebration of the 1969 Miracle Mets. "He was an instant hit with the team because of his attitude and his love of people and just his spirit. It was really fun to watch him grow up and have the dedication he did to do what he accomplished."

Plummer's manifold accomplishments include becoming the youngest general manager in professional baseball history as a teenager, the first African-American GM in the Minor Leagues and the Mets' first African-American front-office executive.

During that lifetime spent with the Mets, Plummer's spirit -- an inescapable and effusive joie de vivre -- rubbed off on generations of Mets players. His influence spans from the team's early years and guys like Ryan through the success of the 1980s with Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden all the way to current Mets such as Billy Wagner.

When the Mets were courting Wagner before the 2006 season, they had a hard time selling him on playing in New York City -- until Plummer talked to him.

Plummer had gone to Marion High School with Wagner's father and uncle, and he quickly assuaged the fears of a small-town Virginian about playing in the Big Apple.

"As soon as I got up there, Jim came in and it was like someone from back home. It was just comfortable," Wagner said. "I could ask him questions that you probably couldn't ask Omar [Minaya]. You could say, 'Hey, what do you think? You know, coming from where I come from?'

"He said, 'I went the same route that you did. Then I got to the big city, and it's an adjustment period for you, but being an athlete and being competitive, this is where you want to be.'"

Working with the Mets' organization is where Sebastian Altilio has always wanted to be. The rising senior at Seton Hall University grew up a proverbial diehard Mets fan in Brooklyn cheering for Mike Piazza. He still remembers celebrating with his best friend that May day the Mets acquired the catcher from the Marlins in 1998.

Altilio is the first recipient of the Plummer Scholarship, spending his summer working in community outreach for the Mets. It's such a dream job that Altilio almost didn't apply; his chances of winning the scholarship and working for the Mets seemed too remote.

But after some prodding from his college advisor, Altilio went through with an application process that included essays, interviews and letters of recommendation.

"We wanted to pick somebody who just really captured Jimmy's spirit," said Mets vice president of media relations Jay Horwitz, one of six people on the committee that selected Altilio. "He had to be dedicated to community affairs, to be a good people person and to care about people."

Being the first to receive the scholarship meant a lot to Altilio, especially after he met with Plummer's wife, Tee, and his son, Jonathan.

"I didn't realize how big it was until I came here and I met his family," Altilio said on Saturday, the last day of his internship. "When I was here for my interview, some of the people had to step out of the room because they were getting choked-up and teary-eyed talking about him. So I knew it was a big deal to them, and all I wanted to do was do the best job I can.

"I'm hoping I made everybody happy."

And if Altilio did make everybody happy, well, what better way to capture the spirit of Jimmy Plummer?

Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.