There's more to know about Wally Backman's baseball years than the 1986 World Series. Little Falls, New York is meaningful to Backman.   Thanks to the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs, a new generation of local baseball fans were able to hear a former major leaguer describe how his career began. The former New York Mets' second baseman […]

There's more to know about Wally Backman's baseball years than the 1986 World Series.

Little Falls, New York is meaningful to Backman.   Thanks to the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs, a new generation of local baseball fans were able to hear a former major leaguer describe how his career began. The former New York Mets' second baseman was the keynote speaker at this past Friday's Mohawk Valley Sports Hall of Fame dinner at the Travelodge in Little Falls.

17 pro seasons,11 on the big-league level with the Mets, Pirates, Phillies, Twins, and Mariners, brought Backman success on the field and earnings in the millions. But, his first season began on Burwell Street in Little Falls.

As a 17-year-old kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest, in Hillsboro,Oregon,18 miles to the west of Portland's metropolitan area, Backman was a first-round pick of the Mets (16th overall) in MLB's June Amateur Draft.

“I was never east of Salt Lake (Utah) where my grandmother lived,” said Backman,who returned to Little Falls for the first time in 41 years.   “I was 17, and didn't turn 18 until after our season was over.   I'm from a small community. Little Falls was good for me.”

For Backman, as is the norm by those in the Mets' system for the dozen seasons that Little Falls operated as the organization's New York-Penn League affiliate, his first recollection of playing in Little Falls starts with how well maintained the playing surface was.

“It   (Veterans Memorial Park) was the best field in the league,”   Backman says.

Manager Chris Krug, his teammates including catcher Jody Davis who would also go on to enjoy a successful MLB career, and the locals cheering on,Little Falls agreed with the teenager from the same hometown as wrestler Roddy Piper and Yankees World Series hero Scott Brosius.   Backman hit for .325 in 69 games, with a club that went 32-39, and collecting fourth place in the league's eastern division.

Most, if not all successful people, remembering where their journey began remains important. A time of innocence and joy, along with less pressure than what lies ahead.   Speaking before a packed crowd estimate at 200, Backman genuinely seemed to enjoy sharing his memories of his youth in Herkimer County's lone city.   Remembering that his mom and dad made the five day drive across America to pick him up, and the anticipation of packing what equipment he could stuff in his bag, for the return drive west brought a prolonged smile to the future World Series champion.

“People here (Little Falls) know baseball. They know how to play the game,” Backman declared.   “It was surreal for me. When I think of my playing days, coming from a small town in Oregon that had a gas station, post office, and not much more, and make it in New York.”

Reaching the major league level on September 20,1980, in a game at Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium with the Mets, is a memory in which Backman recalls with great detail and excitement.

“In New York, if the fans don't see you for 10 years, still, they never forget you,” Backman tells.

The friendships made and the highlights earned keep athletes, and fans, young at heart and mind, forever.

The Mets' World Series championship season of 1986 lives on with fans, and participants, as Backman, too.

After inserted in manager Davey Johnson's line-up for 124 games during the 1986 regular season, Backman saw action in six of the seven Series contests. The 5'9″ 160 lbs infielder hit for an impressive .333, en route to collecting a championship ring which he wore during his return to Little Falls. 30-plus seasons since the Mets won their second World Series championship, Backman explains how he and his teammates knew their roles.

“My job was to get on base. Me and Lenny (Lenny Dykstra) had to be on base for the run producers   Gary Carter,Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez,” Backman said.

Davey Johnson, the Mets skipper (1984-1991) of the 1986 club is who Backman credits to giving him a chance to play everyday.

The friendships made along the way appear front and center, when Backman reviews his career of more than 1,100 MLB games.   The comradery experienced with the late Rusty Staub spurred   an immediate smile, and story from Backman, during a question and answer session with those attending the dinner.

“I used to play hearts with (Rusty) on the plane.   There was a group of four of us. He controlled the money, and usually won,” laughs Backman.   “When we would get to the cities, Rusty would use the money to buy us all dinners. As a young kid, he took me under his wing. What a big loss.”

The conversation returns to Backman's pro debut, from an audience member. What memory do you have of that day in Los Angeles, Backman, who was traded on December 7, 1988 by New York to the Minnesota Twins, is asked?

As a 20-year-old, Backman was inserted into manager Joe Torre's line-up at second base.   On that fall Tuesday evening, the former Little Falls Met had four at-bats, scored a run, collected two hits and two RBIs. Not a bad first impression, to say the least, However, Backman's skipper had some wisdom to pass along that has stuck with him all these years later.

“I'm playing my first game. I get a hit, then I strikeout, and get a double,” Backman recalls.   “I thought it (double) was going to be a home run.   So, I was taking my time going around the bases, until I realize that the ball didn't get out of the park. When I got back into the dugout, Joe   told me what I needed to do, the next time I would be in a situation like that again.   Run hard, all the time, is the cliche I remember.”

Who were the most difficult pitchers for Backman to bat against?   Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan (righty) , and former Los Angeles Dodgers's phenom Fernando Valenzuela (lefty). Expos' Dennis Martinez threw breaking balls that caused Backman great frustration,too.

Leaders of the 1986 club remain clear for Backman.   Carter and Hernandez, and not in any specific order, are the guys who Backman tells “put us over the hump”.   “I knew we (Mets) were going to be winners,” Backman recalls after both   teammates were acquired.

When asked about the infamous plane ride back to New York,just after the Mets won the National League pennant by getting the best of the Houston Astros, Backman proclaims to “name names.”

“The wives and media flew in a separate plane.   We're (Mets) in Houston. Game 6. Going back to New York, the wives join us on our plane,” says Backman.   “We just had the biggest food fight you could imagine.   My daughter Jennifer was hit with an orange.   Danny Heep's wife (Jane) threw a salad on top of my head. And (Jane) ripped three seats out of the back of the plane. Frank Cashen (Mets' general manager) came into our clubhouse before Game 1 of the World Series with a bill from the airline for $10,000.”

Backman appears no different than most ex-athletes – still possessing the desire to compete, and at a high level.   What he misses most from the game – playing.   Although Backman has coached and managed on all levels of pro baseball other than MLB, he describes a different intensity felt as a coach, than on the field.

“I have the same desire as when I was 20-years-old,” confesses Backman.

As far as his thoughts on how this season's Amazin' Mets will fare, come October, Backman doesn't mince words.

“If their (Mets) five starters stay healthy, you could see something special. That's what baseball is all about – staying healthy.   Callaway (Mets' manager Mickey Callaway) inherited a great team. It's not as easy to manage as some people may think.”