Patrick Mahomes has been here before.
He was on the field for the game’s biggest stage, strutting his athleticism alongside the pros and fending off a defensive back who was recruited by the likes of Notre Dame, Miami and Florida State. It was before Game 3 of the 2000 World Series at Shea Stadium, during batting practice, and the 5-year-old Mahomes was running to catch a fly ball with Mets pitcher Mike Hampton right behind him.
“He had a beat on the ball,” Hampton, who passed on college football after he was drafted in the sixth round by the Mariners in 1990, said in a phone interview Thursday. “I think I was finally taller than someone and if he wasn’t gonna catch it, I was gonna catch it. … I mean, a 5-year-old is tracking a ball off a major league bat and we were pretty deep. We’re kind of close to the fence, probably about 330 [feet] out there and he’s tracking it like it’s nothing. Just special. You could tell, the athleticism, it’s just different. … Man, he’s full of it.”
The rest of the world now knows it. The 24-year-old Mahomes is a star, preparing to quarterback the Chiefs against the 49ers in Super Bowl 2020.
Nearly 20 years ago, though, before NFL stadiums became his playground where he could tiptoe down the sideline for a 27-yard touchdown and electrify the crowd, Mahomes was just a kid who got to play around at his dad’s office.
Pat Mahomes Sr. was a reliever for the Mets in 1999 and 2000, the latter marking the year the Subway Series was set in October. He was one of a few Mets with a kid that age, and those kids would spend time around the team in spring training, whenever they were out of school and even in the postseason. Manager Bobby Valentine was good with having kids around, said Hampton, whose son Gage would often take batting practice in the cage together with Mahomes.
It was part of an upbringing that is still paying off today.
“As a young kid in a major league clubhouse, I think you [gain] kind of a sense of normalcy,” said Hampton, who threw a complete-game shutout against the Cardinals in the NLCS to clinch the Mets’ World Series ticket. “So I think he’s not in awe of the big moments. I mean, all these kids — the Ken Griffeys and the guys that just hung around clubhouses and stuff like that, you just kind of get comfortable in the situation where you’re not overwhelmed. I think all of those things led to where he’s at now, not only in his physical skills but his mentality.”
Hampton and Mahomes Sr. went their separate ways after that season. It wasn’t until Patrick Mahomes picked a career in football over baseball and began lighting up the college football scene at Texas Tech from 2014-2016 that he popped back on to Hampton’s radar.
“I was kind of watching and then I was like, ‘Hold on a second,’ ” Hampton said. “Then I started putting two and two together and then just watched him, how he threw the ball like a baseball. His arm strength was unbelievable.”
Hampton and former Mets teammates like Rick White and Glendon Rusch still reminisce about knowing Mahomes way back when, before he became the NFL’s MVP in 2018 and a full-fledged star this season.
Of course, Mahomes’ rise has also brought Hampton back into the spotlight. The picture of him and Mahomes shagging batting practice at Shea Stadium in 2000 is brought up so often, he said, from people in his hometown to people on NFL Network.
“Patrick Mahomes is making me famous,” Hampton said with a chuckle.
One question remains, though. Who caught the fly ball in the famous picture?
“Well, that’s debatable,” Hampton said. “If they’d have gotten a few frames later, they might have caught me forearm-shivering him to the back to make the catch, but hopefully the referee didn’t catch it. … So I probably jumped over him and caught it. But for now, I’ll just say yeah, he caught it.”
Hampton will allow it.
“I think he’s climbed that hurdle,” he said. “He’s on top of the world now.”
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