The Manager and The Man

The Fort Myers Mighty Mussels' Brian Meyer

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While Brian likes to win as much

as anyone, his primary job as

Mussels Manager is to develop

his players to move up to

High-A Cedar Rapids and beyond.

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“If you help them become

a better person, you help them

become a better ballplayer

and vice versa.”

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“Since I came from the college level, 

I have a lot of experience with

their age group, to not only bring out

their best on the field, but to help

them develop the necessary skills 

to be successful in all aspects of life 

once they are done with baseball.”

photographs by Bill Parmeter

illustration by Andrew Elias

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by Gary Mooney

 

     MUSSEL MAN MAY BE the mascot for the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels, the Minnesota Twins Low-A affiliate in baseball’s Florida State League, but the team’s real ‘Mussel Man’ is second year manager Brian Meyer.

     A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Meyer managed the Mussels to a 60-54 record during his initial season in 2021, with the Twins promoting 17 of his players to the High-A level Cedar Rapids Kernels. The Twins hired Meyer in 2020, after 13 years in the college ranks. Brian was a three-year starter at 2nd base for Otterbein University from 2000-2003 while earning his Bachelor and Masters’ Degrees in Sports Management & Education. The 39-year-old began his coaching career with Otterbein before moving up to Wright State University, Tulane University, and Butler University until joining the Mussels. Today, Brian, along with Ashley, his wife of seven years, and 3-year-old son, Walker live in Cape Coral.

     Brian recalls joining the Twins organization in 2020: “I just received a promotion at Butler when I ran into a former colleague, Shooter Hunt, the Twins’ first round draft pick from 2009. Shooter asked if I had any interest in professional baseball and I replied, “sure!” He said the Twins were hiring new coaches, so he forwarded my name to the front office staff, who interviewed me on a Thursday and Friday, and by Sunday offered me the hitting coach position with Fort Myers, under first-year Manager Aaron Sutton.”

     The Covid-19 pandemic struck, however, resulting in the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. “Over those 15 months, Aaron and I became quite close,” Brian recollects. “Society began to gradually reopen in 2021, so we were preparing for Spring Training when Aaron mentioned he may not return, as he and his wife were opening a restaurant. Two weeks later, he resigned. Over that prior year, Twins management asked if I had any interest in managing, and I said I did. However, I certainly never thought it might happen as soon as 2021. But they offered me the Mussels position and I said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Manager, Mentor, Psychologist

     Brian plays many roles to his players, from manager to mentor, older brother to father figure, and even psychologist. “Since I came from the college level, I have a lot of experience with their age group, to not only bring out their best on the field, but to help them develop the necessary skills to be successful in all aspects of life, as husbands and fathers and life in general once they are done with baseball. I get to know each player individually, including their families, hobbies, girlfriends, and interests — because if you help them become a better person, you help them become a better ballplayer and vice versa. To me, relationships are everything, because to be successful, whether in sports or business or your personal life and family, you must understand what makes a person tick, to be the best they can be. I place immense value on the relationships I have with our players.”

     At Low-A, some of Brian’s players are away from home for the first time and some are in a new country where they may not speak much English, “so my relationship with them is crucial,” he continues. “They are all in their first level of full-season baseball from across the nation and globe, so we emphasize that there is always someone here to go to for help, including our other coaches, coordinators or trainers.” 

     He continues, “When the Covid-19 lockdown canceled the 2020 season, the Twins set up Spanish Zoom classes three times a week for the staff, to better communicate with our Spanish players, as language is huge in gaining their trust. A manager must be a bit of a psychologist as well, to get inside their heads and hearts.” 

     Many of his Mussels players are roughly the same age as his former college charges, so what is similar and different? “With college players, you must ensure they go to class to remain eligible,” Brian offers. “Even though many of the Mussels are relatively the same age, this is their paid profession and you respect that. In college, you play on Tuesday, have a Thursday practice, and games Friday through Sunday so they have plenty of time away from the field, but here we play or practice every single day, then you throw in the hot, humid, rainy Southwest Florida weather and it becomes a daily grind. This goes back to psychology, to help them control what they can control and to stay mentally and physically fresh while still teaching the finer points of baseball so they can attain their Major League dreams. However, both groups play video games and hang out with their teammates, buddies and girlfriends!”

Highest High to Lowest Low

     While Brian likes to win as much as anyone, his primary job as Mussels Manager is to develop his players to move up to High-A Cedar Rapids and beyond. “When I tell a player he is going up, it is awesome and the best part of my job! My 2021 season highlight was telling Jeferson Morales we were promoting him. The Twins signed Jeferson from Venezuela for just $5,000, so he was a longshot prospect who overcame many personal obstacles. Tears flowed down his face. In fact, he said that when I told him, it was the first time he clearly understood every word I ever said in English.”

     Conversely, Brian must tell a few players each season that their major league dreams are most likely over: “That is the worst part of my job. There is no easy way to do it, but that is part of my responsibility as a manager. You just do it and I pray I never get used to it. One day last season I told one young man he was going to Cedar Rapids and another that we were letting him go and, for me, that went from the highest-high to the lowest-low.”

     There is one other aspect of his Mussels job Brian does not love — “Rain Delays!” He explains, “With the Southwest Florida rainy season, it is a constant guessing game: When to put on or take off the tarp? How much water accumulates on the field and how long will it take to drain? Watching the radar to figure out when it will stop? And how to keep the players motivated? We had two games last year where there was absolutely no sign of rain and we began to play, only to stop in the first inning due to a downpour!”

The One That is Meant to Be

     Before almost every home game, you see Ashley and Walker with Brian on the Hammond Stadium field. “We live year-round in Cape Coral and are enjoying a wonderful experience. It was tough to get a feel for Southwest Florida in 2020 due to the Covid-19 lockdown, then we went right into the 2021 season, so we’re at the ballpark much of the time. And Walker has yet to start school or Little League or anything like that.” 

     He continues, “So far the community is tremendous. Fortunately, Ashley feels completely at home at a ballpark, as she is from Pittsburgh where her Dad was the Pirates clubhouse manager, so she fully understands and loves the baseball life and that makes everything easier for me. As for Walker... if he could spend every minute of every day at the ballpark, he would love that!”

     The Mighty Mussels host the Palm Beach Cardinals May 10-15; the Tampa Tarpons of the New York Yankees organization May 31-June 5; the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates affiliate, from June 14-19; and the Dunedin Blue Jays June 28-July 3, that concludes with three consecutive fireworks displays. Each series is Tuesday-Saturday at 7pm, with Sundays at 1pm, with the exceptions of Saturday, May 14, which is at 5pm (Joe Nichols and Parmelee perform a free concert following the game) and Sunday, July 3 at 7pm.

     While all of Brian’s Mussels players have Major League aspirations, does he? “Everybody dreams of the Big Leagues,” he philosophizes, “but I personally don’t look too far ahead. I do the best I can wherever I am and right now that is with the Mighty Mussels. I have a very deep faith in Our Lord, and whatever door that may one day open for me and our family is the one that is meant to be.” 

     The Fort Myers Mighty Mussels play at Hammond Stadium at the Lee County Sports Complex at 14100 Six Mile Cypress Pkwy. in Fort Myers. For information and tickets, call 768-4210.

     John Vittas broadcasts every home game and select road contests. You can hear Mussels games at mightymussels.com, at milb.com/fort-myers/fans/audio-listen-live, and through the MiLB First Pitch App.

 

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May/June 2022