Brandon Nimmo knows you might hate the Mets: 'I want to be that polarizing team'

New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (9) celebrates his solo home run against the Washington Nationals with teammates in the dugout during the fourth inning at Citi Field.
New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (9) celebrates his solo home run against the Washington Nationals with teammates in the dugout during the fourth inning at Citi Field. / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

PORT ST. LUCIE — The happiest man in baseball, as Brandon Nimmo has come to be known over the years, is ready to embrace the hate that he expects to come with being on Steve Cohen’s spend-whatever-it takes Mets.

“We definitely know we’re going to have that target on our back,” Nimmo said during an interview at his locker on Tuesday. “It comes with the territory, and I’m good with it.

“We want to be the best and people want to take down the best. I want to be the team that other teams want to take down. You’ve gotta take pride in that. You’ve gotta be up for the challenge and be willing to prepare so that you’re ready every day, because we’re going to get everyone’s A game.”

It might be premature to label these Mets as the new Evil Empire, considering they haven’t won anything yet, but with Cohen raising the payroll to record-setting levels, outspending even the Yankees by nearly $70 million, according to Spotrac, it’s hard not to make at least some comparison to the nickname that George Steinbrenner’s big spending inspired two decades ago.

Indeed, Nimmo laughed and said it reminded him of a time when he grew up in Wyoming rooting for someone to knock off the big, bad Yankees.

“I don’t know, we might be (the new Evil Empire),” he said. “With Steve making a lot of splashes in the offseason, there are a lot of similarities. We’re doing what the Yankees always used to do: We’re going for it.

“Growing up I rooted for the Rockies, but I had friends who were diehard Yankee fans. I’d say to them, ‘You’re just a Yankees fan because they’re buying their players.’ It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like them. But they were portrayed as the Evil Empire and I was like, ‘Someone go beat them.’

“We’re kind of that team now. I know Steve wants to build, he wants to make the minor league system one that produces great players, but for now he’s like, ‘This is we’ve gotta do it. We’ve gotta compete.’ And I’m really happy to be a part of that.”

Brandon Nimmo
Brandon Nimmo / USA TODAY Sports/SNY treated image

He should be after Cohen committed to retaining Nimmo as a free agent by signing him to an eight-year, $162 million contract, as his value soared at least partly due to the scarcity of quality center fielders in the game these days.

Now, as he turns 30 this month, Nimmo is determined to help the Mets win a championship at least partly as a way of rewarding Cohen for his commitment to the ballclub.

After the Mets won 101 games but let the NL East title slip away in the final week of the season, then lost to the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card series, Nimmo says there is unquestionably a sense of unfinished business in the spring training air for the Mets.

Yet he is also quick to make the point that it’s a long way to October and looking that far ahead can only lead to potential problems.

“We have to remember that nobody was unhappy about the way we played for the first five months,” Nimmo said. “It was September and finishing the season, so the big focus will be to try and finish strong, but we can’t control that until later.

“We need to make sure we’re ready for Opening Day. We put ourselves in a great position last year because of the way we played day-to-day, and we have to do that again, knowing we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. I think everyone’s mindset here is going to be to take care of business from Day 1.”

With that in mind, Nimmo believes having that target on the Mets’ back will help them play with high intensity from the start, something that he believes made them successful last season.

“I want to be that polarizing team,” he said. “I’ve dealt with that personally throughout my career, because of the way I sprint to first base on walks. I’ve heard it all: ‘He’s such a show pony, he’s just a try-hard.’ I laugh because I am who I am — you either love it or hate it. I’ve caught flak from people hating it, and that’s totally fine by me.

“So being the team people hate will be fine too. I hope the whole team will embrace it. I know the guys last year had a lot of bulldog fight and grit in them. We played with a chip on our shoulder. I hope we’ll have that same attitude.”

If Nimmo is right about how the Mets will be portrayed now, with a team full of stars and a payroll that is sure to bring resentment from fans around baseball, and perhaps other teams as well, they’ll have no choice.