When the Yankees were looking for a manager last year, they interviewed traditional candidates such as Eric Wedge — a former manager — and other longtime coaches, including Rob Thomson and Hensley Meulens.
In the end, though, they went with Aaron Boone, who had never coached or managed at any level.
Kyle Peterson, who played with the Brewers and worked with Boone at ESPN covering the College and Little League world series, wasn’t surprised.
“When I heard he was up for the job, I knew if he got in the room [for an interview], he was gonna get the job,’’ said Peterson, who is the president of a commercial real estate company in Omaha, Neb.
He had the same feeling about another friend, Brodie Van Wagenen, when Peterson learned the longtime agent — and his old Stanford teammate — was talking to the Mets about becoming their next general manager.
“They have a lot of similar qualities,’’ Peterson said of Boone and Van Wagenen, who grew up a year apart in Southern California.
“They’re comfortable with anybody and they know the game,’’ Peterson said. “They can deal with a lot of personalities. Sure, they both took different routes, but it worked with the Warriors [when they hired agent Bob Myers to be their GM] and it’s worked pretty well for the Yankees and Boone.”
Van Wagenen became the Mets’ 13th general manager when he was hired Monday after nearly two decades as an agent. He was the co-head of the CAA baseball division and represented clients that included Jacob deGrom and Yoenis Cespedes. Among his first challenges — in addition to learning how to run a team — will be to navigate deGrom’s upcoming arbitration process.
His handling of that situation, though, won’t ultimately decide his fate in his new career.
Instead, it will be whether he can follow through on team COO Jeff Wilpon’s desire to build a “sustainable” winner in Queens.
“I didn’t see it coming,’’ Van Wagenen’s father, Jeff, said of the career change. “Frankly, I’m not sure he saw it coming.”
The 44-year-old Van Wagenen starred in baseball and football at Crespi Carmelite High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Encino, Calif.
He played quarterback and defensive back, but in his junior year, Van Wagenen decided to focus on baseball.
“All he wanted to do was play baseball at Stanford,’’ Jeff Van Wagenen said.
At Stanford he was the starting right fielder for two seasons, playing alongside a handful of future major leaguers, including Astros manager A.J. Hinch.
It was at Stanford where Van Wagenen met his wife, Molly, who was on the diving team.
Later, Molly’s mother would marry retired astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. They remained together until Armstrong’s death in 2012.
At Stanford, Van Wagenen was bothered by a nagging right shoulder injury. His best season was his first, when he hit .241 with 13 doubles and three homers in 53 games.
After dislocating the shoulder swinging at a pitch from USC’s Randy Flores as a junior, Van Wagenen’s production plummeted and he had just 24 combined at-bats in his last two seasons in Palo Alto.
But Van Wagenen’s path would cross again with Flores, who became the young agent’s first client about five years later.
Van Wagenen graduated from Stanford in 1996 and went to work for the Chicago Bulls, where he sold tickets and sponsorships and ran special events.
He then moved on to a company that created websites for athletes, but that venture didn’t last long and it went out of business.
Using the connections he made dealing with athletes, Van Wagenen joined IMG as an agent, working for Mark McCormack and Casey Close.
At the time, Flores was in the low minors — “a non-prospect,” he said — and was introduced to Van Wagenen by a mutual friend.
“I laugh with Brodie, because sadly, I don’t remember the pitch or him hurting himself,’’ said Flores, now the director of scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals. “I joke with him that I only remember the good hitters, not easy outs from Stanford. … But he had a strategy even then, as he wound up advising a first-rounder from USC subsequent to our meeting.”
Van Wagenen and Close went to CAA in 2006 and Van Wagenen helped orchestrate huge deals for Cespedes with the Mets and Robinson Cano with Seattle, among others.
All that success begs the question, why would he leave?
“He’s built to run things; he’s built to lead,” said his ex-teammate Peterson, who was a right-handed pitcher drafted in the first round by Milwaukee in 1997 and appeared in 20 games in 1999 and 2001 before his career ended in ’01.
“In many ways, he’s been preparing for this role for the last 25 years,’’ Peterson said. “He was one of the leaders in his industry. It’s not like he needed a job and I know he wouldn’t have taken any job. He’s going to surprise people who don’t think he’s ready. He has a million things to learn, but if you’re assuming he can’t learn them, you’d be wrong.’’
The Mets agreed.
“I’m not one that looks at agents like they’re in a different sport,’’ said assistant GM John Ricco, who was part of the hiring process but whose own future with the organization is unclear. “They’re part of what we do. I was at the Commissioner’s Office [before the Mets]. People say he’s coming from somewhere else, but we all walk in the same circles. He just did a different job, a different part of it.”
Ricco added that each of the candidates had question marks.
“When you bring anyone into this kind of job, there’s risk,’’ Ricco said. “It’s such a different animal in New York than other places. So if you’re bringing in a first-timer or bringing someone in from the Midwest, whoever it is, there’s a learning curve.”
Among the traits that stood out, according to Ricco: “He lives in this market, he knows our team, knows the pace of the city. So he doesn’t have the institutional knowledge, well, we have a lot of people in-house that do. Can we cover it? Those are the questions I was asking myself. I’m a little less a believer that this is a real leap of faith. I think he brings a lot of the things the good GMs have already and we can cover the things he doesn’t have.”
A competitive drive, though, has always been there.
Up until a couple of years ago, Van Wagenen — who lives in Darien, Conn., with his wife and three children — played in a 30-and-over baseball league, where he was the third baseman for the New Canaan Cannons.
“He got in touch with me about five years ago and said, ‘I played at Stanford,’ ” former Cannons manager David Prutting said. “I said, ‘OK, then you’re good enough to play on my team.’ ”
The team played on Sundays from May to September, usually at high school fields.
“He had legitimate warning track power,’’ Prutting said with a laugh. “There are police officers, lawyers, teachers on the team. He never came out and told us what he did, but I pieced it together and he would get calls after games. But you’d never know he was any different from the other guys.”
Even when the shoulder injury made him a non-factor at Stanford, Van Wagenen remained a presence with the team.
“His senior year, we were playing in the regionals and he wasn’t in uniform because he was so banged up that he wasn’t on the roster, but he was in the dugout and he was the loudest person in there, trying to get us going,’’ Peterson said. “He was as engaged as if he was still starting in right field.’’
Another former teammate, Jason Middlebrook, recalled a similar scene.
“By his senior year, he knew he wasn’t going to play pro ball,’’ said Middlebrook, who pitched for three seasons in the majors, including parts of two years with the Mets. “He could have taken that spring and done something else for his future and no one would have faulted him. His career was over, but he hung in there to the end. I didn’t realize how unique that was.”
Now, Van Wagenen is back with a team, and both he and the Mets hope it has a better ending.
“I think it’s a natural transition,’’ said Jeff Van Wagenen, who played on the PGA Tour in the 1970s and won a tournament in Germany on the Senior Tour in 2000. “Whether you’re an agent or in business, you win or lose every day. It’s the same thing with a GM.”
And Van Wagenen believes his son is ready for the challenge.
“What you see is what you get,’’ the elder Van Wagenen said. “Whatever he’s doing, he’s committed and relentless. He’s at the top of the food chain now. We’ll see how it works out.”
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