Daniel Zamora is all smiles when he walks onto Citi Field’s bright green grass.
On this day, he wants to work on his slider. The goal? Get it to slow down when it reaches the plate. It’s easier said than done. He’s chatting with his peers, attempting to figure out what he can do to stand out.
“I can go all day and flip sliders,” Zamora, who made his MLB debut last August, said. “I can flip sliders whenever I want. But making my fastball better makes my slider better. I think that will help in the long run and everything will be much better if I can get my fastball command built up.”
But Zamora can’t ask for much more. To start his major league career, the New York Mets relief pitcher has battled against some of baseball’s most premier players, including Bryce Harper, fresh off signing a historic 13-year, $330 million contract.
That wasn’t a big deal, though, to Zamora. Through the four duels they’ve had against each other, Harper had to walk back to the dugout in defeat. That’s because this young southpaw left him in awe. Most recently, the two met on April 24, as Zamora made his season debut for the Mets, striking out Harper in five pitches.
“Eh, it’s my job,” Zamora said with plenty of confidence. “He’s good. But at the same time, I’m good, too. That’s how I look at it.”
Zamora started out the year with the Mets Triple-A affiliate, the Syracuse Mets. He pitched in five games before Mets skipper Mickey Callaway opted to re-call Zamora to the majors.
But what makes Zamora different compared to the others Mets players is his background. He’s no stranger to Flushing, Queens, and certainly not Long Island, either. That’s because Zamora spent his college years playing Division I ball at Stony Brook University.
Zamora grew up in California, but didn’t have many opportunities to play for a top-tier college team. But a connection between his high school baseball coach and then-Stony Brook pitching coach Mike Marron helped lead him on an amazing journey.
“We had a great group of guys,” Zamora said. “The bond we had was awesome. I talk to a lot of them still today. The coaching staff was great. I loved everything about what coach [Matt] Senk and Marron had to offer. I couldn’t ask for a better education. It’s an awesome school to go to educationally and athletically.”
Zamora has visited Stony Brook once since joining the National League club. Of course, he can’t forget some of his top places to hang out during his college years.
“The Bench was always a place I could enjoy,” he joked. “Down Port [Jefferson] was always a place to enjoy yourself. There’s good food out there.”
As time went on, Zamora entered the MLB Draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Zamora in the 40th round during the 2015 draft. But the organization wasn’t moving him through the rankings as he hoped. Come Jan. 31, 2018, the Pirates traded him to the Mets. It was the move he needed in order to show he can succeed.
“With the Pirates, I was just different to what they typically go with,” he said. “When I was traded, it was like, ‘This team wants me here.’”
Within less than a year of being traded to the Mets, Zamora was called up to the majors. He became the first Seawolf to adorn the orange and blue uniform in Flushing.
“It was a very proud day for all of us at Stony Brook when Daniel was called up to the Mets last year,” Stony Brook University Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron said. “His journey from Stony Brook to the major leagues proves that anything is possible through hard work and dedication. Daniel has remained close to our program and it is an added bonus to have him in New York.”
Now, Zamora is living the life as a major leaguer. He no longer has to worry about the torturous bus rides in the middle of the night. All he needs to do is focus on doing his job to make sure he doesn’t get sent back to Syracuse.
Striking out Harper and several others is certainly a way to do just that.
“When the phone rings and your name is called, it’s the most exciting thing ever,” Zamora said. “There’s a huge rush of adrenaline that comes in. You just want to get in there and have a chance to come in there to help the team.”