New Mets GM may be a softball fanatic

Billy Eppler apparently shows up at local parks looking to shag some flies

December 8th, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

Billy Eppler, newly hired GM for the Mets, has been a lot of things during his time in baseball. He was a scout for the Rockies in the early 2000s, he was assistant general manager for the Yankees from 2012-14 and he was most recently the Angels GM from 2015-20.

While those are some pretty lofty MLB jobs, there's evidence that Eppler is just like one of us: He loves a game of slow-pitch softball. Like, he might be one of those guys who wanders neighborhoods, bat and glove in hand, looking for games to jump in on at any time of the night. At least, that's what happened one time back in 2013 at Williamsburg's McCarren Park.

"I mean, it was 11 o'clock at least and usually the lights go out at 11:15 or something like that," Dave Martin, founder of the rec softball league Tuesday Night Lights, told me in a recent phone call. "I was literally walking to the pitcher's mound to pick up the pitcher's rubber because I had already picked up some of the bases and the cones and all that stuff. And then this random dude came up to me and asks, 'Can I shag some fly balls?'"

It wasn't abnormal for people passing by to come ask to play, but then the man -- signaling his team was the Yankees -- began to ask about Martin's Red Sox hat and jersey.

"I had my Red Sox jacket on, my Red Sox Big Papi jersey on and my Red Sox hat," Martin remembered. "And this guy started asking about the Red Sox. And he congratulated me." (Boston had won the division a couple days before, beating out the Yankees by 12 games).

The man then started referring to the Yankees' signings and performance that season in the form of "we did this" or "we did that." That rubbed Martin in a strange way.

"You know like when fans will say 'we' like they're a part of the team, but they're not, and they sound stupid?" Martin said. "The way he was saying it, it sounded different. And he was getting into some details. ... Eventually I said, 'Who are you? It sounds like you work for the Yankees or something.'"

"And he said, 'Oh yeah, you know, I'm the assistant general manager for the Yankees.'"

Billy Eppler with GM Brian Cashman and then-Yanks manager Joe Girardi

"I was like, 'Really?'" Martin recalled. "This guy was congratulating me like I was assistant GM for the Red Sox! He was super gracious about the Red Sox whole winning-the-division thing."

In a weeknight pickup rec league, full of players with jobs as artists or writers or blue-collar workers (Martin is actually a DJ who goes by White Lightning and scrambled records with his feet back in MTV's early days), it was definitely surprising to see a guy who worked side-by-side with Brian Cashman showing up wanting to get some reps in. A guy who was at the helm of one of the sporting world's most famous franchises. It was a kind of charming, down-to-earth moment.

Eppler told Martin that he lived in the area and had been looking to get into some games, you know, in between signing Bartolo Colon or Andruw Jones or Freddy Garcia. Martin told him the pickup games would be happening every Tuesday night as long as the weather holds up, but they couldn't play anymore that day with the lights going out.

Under the lights at McCarren Park

Eppler, who played baseball in college at UConn, definitely looked like he could hold his own on the softball diamond. At least according to Martin's cursory scouting report:

"Yeah he looked like he could play," Martin said. "Tall, random-looking, pretty athletic dude."

Eppler didn't show up again to play that fall or winter, but Martin says that the then-Yankees front office member may have mentioned he played in Central Park. It's hard to completely recall. Still, it was a cool story that's fun for Martin and other softballers in the league to look back on.

"Oh, it was funny, it would've been great [if he played]," Martin said. "I was disappointed he didn't show up again, and then I was hoping maybe he'd show up in the spring or something."

Who knows? With Eppler back in the area for the next four years, maybe Brooklyn's little slice of softball heaven will get a visit from an MLB general manager this time. He just has to make sure he gets there before 11 p.m.