In 2011, when Wally Backman was managing the Binghamton Mets, the team's Double-A affiliate visited Trenton to play the Thunder (Yankees). One memorable smoke-filled conversation in back of then-Waterfront Park, was about the young team he was helping guide toward the big leagues.
Those uniquely fun series were always made more uniquely fun with Backman managing.
That year, reliever Erik Turgeon was pitching for Backman and getting a lesson in baseball he's never forgotten.
"He's the best manager I've ever played for. I wish I could play for him every year," said Turgeon, of the former Mets player. "He had your back no matter what. He'd have fun and say something wild, you couldn't have a conversation with him without laughing. But when it was game-time he was all business. He'd get on you if you messed up, and sometimes you need that."
The experience was one of many with the Mets, the team that drafted him in the 25th round out of the University of Connecticut in 2008. It's with that team that he clocked almost four years and two-hundred and twenty-two innings of experience.
While playing for Binghamton in 2012, the Mets released him.
For all the great moments and, especially the time learning from Backman, Turgeon felt it was time to go. The writing had been on the wall. His agent began to look around for opportunities elsewhere. The Pirates showed interest and the whole process happened fast.
"It wasn't a shock [to be released]. We talked to the Mets to see where I was headed. It was a relief. I needed a change."
The right-handed reliever was struggling some when he was let go, but when he joined the Pirates they told him they were assigning him to Class-A Bradenton. Not as an insult or doubt in his ability, but because that was the only spot for him.
Turgeon's spirit remained high and he remained focused on that key word: change. Truthfully, he welcomed the bounce backward.
"That was a tough season for me. I hadn't been [at that level] in awhile. But it was a confidence builder," he said.
Confidence was the overwhelming center-point that kept causing him trouble. As baseball goes, skill and talent matter. But confidence is baseball's magical spell. It changes everything and no one quite knows how to get it when it's gone. Players go through the process of losing and finding it again and again. Turgeon, 25, just couldn't quite find his for awhile.
"If I had last year to do over again, I'd just trust it. I was ready to have a big year. After I left spring training (where he also pitched in one big league game), I just didn't have my confidence and I didn't know why."
In 17 games with Binghamton, he gave up 43 hits and had a 7.40 ERA in 24 innings when he was released. He headed to Bradenton and suddenly, the lights turned on. In ten innings, he lowered his ERA to 0.90, allowed just 5 hits and struck out eleven.
It was the start he needed.
He took that search for something new into the off-season. His usual winter approach- training in Florida, where he's from, wasn't on the agenda. He stayed up north and began working in Nashua New Hampshire with Austin Wasserman, a UConn alum and founder of Athletic Development http://www.abathletics.com/ Turgeon informed Wasserman, a former player with the Can-Am League Worcester Tornadoes and Nashua Pride, that whatever he had in mind, he was open to it.
"I told him I needed something different. I'm a big guy on change. I ask myself if it's working. And, after working with him, this is honestly the best I've felt in years. My legs feel great," Turgeon said.
Reflecting on his college years, he remembers the experiences at UConn fondly. His uncle Dave had been an assistant head coach for the Huskies baseball team, and Turgeon kept in touch with head coach Jim Penders.
"It's the most fun you'll have. They really looked out for me that first year. They helped me mature there. I owe that program a lot."
His professional career with the Mets is now another page in his book. Filled with memories, but also hard-fought lessons.
And, while confidence is a bit of magic, there's ways to acquire it. Turgeon is clear about what he must do to continue to grow and be successful.
"I just have to trust what I have. I know I can get these guys out."
You can follow Erik on Twitter @ErikTurgeon