The secret ingredient to Mets '19 turnaround

February 27th, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- One night late last season, as the Mets left Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, a group of them ordered cookies for delivery. By itself, that wasn’t an unusual occurrence; the only notable aspect of the order was that it included more deluxe chocolate peanut butter cup cookies than normal.

Long a favorite of several Mets players, the peanut butter cup cookie gained legendary status when, a day later, everyone who had eaten one raked at the plate. For the rest of the season, Mets players took to shouting, “Peanut butter cups!” at each other whenever one of them did something good on the field.

“No one gets it but us,” said.

Whether it’s peanut butter power or some other force at work, the Mets believe their cookie habit really did help them succeed last summer. Early in the year, a group led by Alonso, J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith formed an impromptu club, meeting up regularly after road games to eat cookies, drink milk -- “two percent,” Davis stresses -- and talk about baseball or life. Sometimes, the conversation revolved around the game. Sometimes, it pivoted to off-field topics. Often, it involved making fun of McNeil.

For the Mets, a typical session was part scouting meeting, part stress release, part team-bonding exercise. The only constant was cookies.

“It’s probably not on our nutritionist’s plan, late-night cookies,” Conforto laughed, “but I think it’s good for us to get together and just talk.”

If you give a ballplayer a cookie …

As far as anyone can tell, the cookie club originated in Philadelphia, where Mets players spent years frequenting an Insomnia Cookies bakery near their hotel. When David Wright returned from his initial spinal stenosis rehab in 2015, he met his teammates in the lobby with a tray of Insomnia Cookies because he knew how much they liked them.

So did one of the hotel managers, who began providing cookies for the Mets each time they checked in for a series. Younger players often raced to the front of the line to beat veterans to the trays. Some of them squirreled away extras so they’d have treats for the entire week.

It wasn’t long before the Mets began to seek out baked goods in other cities as well. Spurred in large part by Davis, who used to gather with his old Astros teammates for “Fortnite” videogame sessions on the road, a group chat was born. After games, whichever member of the text chain happened to leave the ballpark first texted the others, taking orders. By the time everyone was back at the hotel, the cookies would be well on their way. In cities that had an Insomnia Cookies location, the Mets placed a delivery order. In others, they called room service.

“It turned into more of a spot for us to hang out, mellow out, get away, turn the page, get ready for next game,” Davis said.

“We were tired of losing,” Smith added. “We were tired of the way we were losing. We wanted to change stuff up and build that bond, and … just kind of pick each other’s brains.”

Alonso likened the get-togethers to scouting meetings, saying he and his teammates generally spent the first 10 or 15 minutes of any cookie session recapping that night’s game, going over the next day’s starting pitcher, or discussing other matters related to baseball. If the Mets were struggling, or had a big series on tap, the tone of conversation tended to be serious. If it was a looser time of year, the cookie session reflected that.

One night toward the middle of the season, the group was watching Madison Bumgarner pitch when Davis noted he was having trouble picking up the release points of pitchers with funky deliveries, like Giants southpaws Bumgarner and Tony Watson. That was unusual for Davis, a right-hander who typically crushes lefties. Alonso mentioned that when he faces unorthodox pitchers, he tries to line up their release points with advertisements on the center-field fence. Using that tip a few days later in San Francisco, Davis had two of the Mets’ five hits against Bumgarner.

Another night, Nimmo picked Alonso’s brain about a half-swing drill the rookie performs to help him control his bat head at the plate. Until Alonso debuted, Nimmo had never seen it. Before long, he was trying out the drill himself.

Over the course of the summer, many other Mets popped into the cookie club, from veteran Todd Frazier to rookie callup Sam Haggerty and pitcher Robert Gsellman. When Smith missed time due to a stress fracture in his foot, he lobbied the Mets to let him travel with the team because he missed the camaraderie.

“If someone is having struggles or problems, you just kind of spitball like, ‘Here’s how I’ve gotten out of things,’” Nimmo said. The more knowledge that you can get in baseball -- I mean, it’s such a mental game -- the better off you’re going to be. Honestly, it’s a way for you to not feel so isolated.”

… he’s going to ask for a glass of milk

Cookie recall isn’t always perfect. Davis estimated that in a single session last summer, Nimmo ate three deluxe chocolate peanut butter cup cookies, plus three regular chocolate chip.

“I don’t know about that,” Nimmo said, shaking his head. “I can put away some cookies, but I don’t know if I can put away six. I can probably put away four or five of the regular ones. I can put away a cookie, no doubt. Give me a little bit of milk to wash it down with, and it gets real easy.”

His favorite is chocolate chip, “but if I do go a little more exotic, it’s the double chocolate mint one … and they come warm and gooey.” Conforto also prefers classic chocolate chip -- “I don’t like to mess around,” he said. Smith likes sugar cookies. Davis is partial to peanut butter cup, using a spoon to dip chunks of them into his milk. So is Alonso, although, “birthday cake, that’s a nice one too.”

McNeil’s preferences are most specific. “I’ll get two snickerdoodle and two of the double chocolate chip, with two milks, and crush,” he said. “No dipping. It’s four cookies and then two milks, straight down.”

Cookie club didn’t meet every night in 2019, but by season’s end, it was in session more often than not -- always on the road. At home, players tend to spend as much time as possible with their families, whom they see less than their teammates during the eight-to nine-month grind of a season. Road trips provide opportunities to bond, allowing teammates to develop camaraderie -- or in the Mets’ case, cookie-raderie -- over the course of a long year.

“It’s just a mental escape,” Alonso said. “[Baseball] is obviously a lot of hard work. You have to be focused and serious about what you do, but … it’s really cool if you can enjoy it with teammates who give off good energy, positive vibes, and are happy.”