When he got the call-up to the Majors, New York Mets’ rookie left-fielder Michael Conforto, Jr., had no idea that by season’s end he would join the rare fraternity of having played in the Little League Baseball® World Series, College World Series, and MLB World Series.
While each World Series experience was unique, none have ended with a championship dogpile, at least not yet. But Michael’s mom and dad, Michael Conforto, Sr., and Tracie Ruiz-Conforto have prepared their son to deal with success and failure by instilling the importance of work ethic, an appreciation for the team concept, encouraging his natural competitiveness, and reminding him to have fun because it's still just a game.
“Michael liked playing Little League because it was a great environment with a positive atmosphere,” said Mr. Conforto. “I helped out as a coach when he was in Little League, and the people involved in our community were great for the kids. Little League becomes your circle of friends, and social circle as well as providing tremendous athletic opportunities … Everything about it was a great experience.”
Michael’s father, grew up in Altoona, Pa., and played linebacker (1977-79) for late, legendary football coach Joe Paterno at Penn State University. Following graduation, he moved to Washington, were he opened the first of what became a successful chain of gyms in the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Conforto is currently a partner with Sound Oxygen, a medical services company.
“Both his dad and I are very competitive,” said Ms. Ruiz-Conforto. “Mike has incredible drive, and I can see that coming out in Michael. I give his dad a lot of credit for that. Plus, his dad has a confidence about him. I see that in Michael, too.”
In 1984, Michael’s mother became the first Olympic champion in the history of synchronized swimming when she won gold in both the solo and duet competition with teammate Candie Costie at the Los Angeles Summer Games. During her 16-year career from 1973-1988, she captured 41 gold medals. In June 1985, she married Michael Sr., who had helped her train for the Olympics.
Ms. Ruiz-Conforto managed the psychological part of sports with both Michael, 22, and his sister Jacqueline. Now 24, Jacqueline played soccer at Azusa Pacific University, and graduated in 2012, with a degree in Marketing.
“We were supportive and motivational, and exposed both our kids to other types of physical activities that helped them with their sports of choice,” said Mr. Conforto. “Don’t put too much pressure on kids because it makes them feel like they will let you down. I’ve seen as a coach when parents push too much, the kids stop having fun and eventually stop playing all together.”
Michael was a two-sport star at Redmond High School - a shortstop on the baseball team; and a quarterback and safety on the football team.
The 10th overall pick in the 2014 Major League Baseball amateur player entry draft, Michael drove home 71 runs as a freshman at Oregon State University, and the next two seasons won Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. Signed by the Mets on July 11, 2014, he was selected to play in the 2015 Futures Game on at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark. After his call-up on July 24 of this year, Michael played in 56 games. In nearly 200 plate appearances, he batted .270, collecting 47 hits, with 9 home runs, 14 doubles and 26 runs batted in.
“Little League is a great activity,” said Mr. Conforto. “Michael and I did a lot of stuff on our own too. We’d have a catch and go to the batting cages. We bonded as he got more comfortable and learned more about the sport. Little League is a great way to have a common connection with your kids as they grow up.”
As an 11-year-old, Michael was one of the key contributors on the Redmond (Wash.) North Little League that represented the Northwest Region in the 2004 Little League Baseball World Series. He finished the tournament tied for fifth in batting average, going 6 for 10 from the plate in three games.
“Michael is surprisingly comfortable on the big stage, and I think the Little League World Series played a part in that,” said Mr. Conforto. “Michael's all-star coaches the year Redmond North made the World Series were Darryl Beliel (Manager), Mark Sandquist and Mitch Beaton, and they were tremendous with the players. Not many kids get to play in front of 20,000. That experience helped to make him more comfortable when the lights are the brightest.”
During the Mets run to the National League pennant, Michael became the team’s everyday left fielder. He played In 12 postseason games, highlighted by a two-home run performance in Game 3 of the Fall Classic. New York lost the 2015 World Series to the American League Champion Kansas City Royals in five games, and his parents couldn’t be more proud.