Tommy Wilson was newly wed to wife Vanessa when he checked into a Port St. Lucie rental unit at the start of training camp.In 2020, the Mets right-hander was supposed to build on the successes that catapulted him to Double-A in his first full Minor League season. But of course,
Tommy Wilson was newly wed to wife Vanessa when he checked into a Port St. Lucie rental unit at the start of training camp.
In 2020, the Mets right-hander was supposed to build on the successes that catapulted him to Double-A in his first full Minor League season. But of course, he was forced to detour back to his home in Southern California.
Now Wilson works his throwing program at home, “just hanging in.”
The past two months are hardly unique to any professional ballplayer at the moment. But Wilson boasts a story that’s definitely a little different.
While people await the end of self-quarantine, they’ve become nostalgic about what used to bring them together. Sporting events and movie theaters aren’t bringing us together at the moment. So in looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, the behemoths of yesterday’s pop culture seem to be taking center stage.
Before there was ever a Regina George or Deebo, Fred O’Bannion or anyone from the O’Doyle clan, there was Biff Tannen.
Like baseball’s loogy, Hollywood’s quintessential high-school bully has a singular purpose — existing only to make life miserable for the main character before an eventual comeuppance at the hands of that very same protagonist.
And what bully could more memorable than the Back to the Future franchise’s Tannens — be he Biff, Griff or Mad Dog. Even the most modest of film fans seem to know Biff’s name, and the actor who portrayed him was somewhat frozen in time.
Congratulations to my son Tommy, drafted by the NEW YORK METS!! This is a recent photo, because I swear I took it yesterday. pic.twitter.com/sCqIT6LWVJ
— Tom Wilson (@TomWilsonUSA) June 6, 2018
That actor, Thomas Wilson, is also the father of a Mets prospect. And Tommy Wilson has a firm grasp of the film’s effect, even though he was born 11 years after its release.
“Throughout my whole life, I kind of continually realized how big the movies were,” the 23-year-old said. “Everybody I’ve run into and everybody I meet has heard of it or seen it or whatever.
“Still today, I continually am surprised by how big of a deal it is. And I don’t blame it for being a big deal. My dad did a great job.”
Tommy Wilson did not go into the family business. But he did show an affinity for a creative outlet outside of baseball. Last spring, he produced seven episodes of a podcast before a broken laptop and rapid-fire success in the Florida State League put the project on hold.
At around 6 or 7 years old, he made a deal with his parents that he’d do something that got him out of the house so he could interact with other kids. After the first couple of years, he hated baseball. He wanted to quit, but his parents left the same deal on the table: do something. So he stuck with the game.
Eventually, Wilson realized he was one of the bigger and more talented kids in his Little League. This pattern continued through college and into the professional ranks.
Wilson played high-school ball in the same program that produced Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick, former MVP Giancarlo Stanton and fellow prospect Hunter Greene at Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks, California. He committed to play Division I ball at St. Mary’s, but he was pushed to the junior college route before he could throw a pitch for the Gaels.
At Los Angeles Pierce College, Wilson’s head coach, Bill Picketts, taught him the delivery he still uses in the pros.
“My arm tended to like drag in my delivery. He had me overexaggerate and kind of pull my arm out early,” Wilson explained. “I saw my velo increase and my accuracy increase, so I kind of stuck with it.
“I’ve heard from numerous hitters that I hide the ball really well. … I kind of keep my right hand behind my knee and kind of just hide it the whole time. And that’s not something I try to do.”
After one year at Pierce, he transferred to baseball powerhouse Cal State Fullerton. He went 7-0 with a 2.61 ERA over 89 2/3 innings with the Titans. It was enough to get his name called by the Mets in the 19th round of the 2018 Draft.
Wilson proved to be a quick study in pro ball. He posted a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings out of the bullpen for Class A Short Season Brooklyn at the end of 2018. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound righty made only eight starts for Class A Advanced St. Lucie at the start of last season. He was 4-2 with a 2.01 ERA over 44 2/3 frames and was promoted to Double-A Binghamton two days before his 23rd birthday.
The magnitude of Wilson’s improbable leap from 19th-rounder to the Eastern League in less than a year got the better of him early on with the Rumble Ponies. He went 1-4 with a 7.90 ERA in his first six starts.
“I kind of put a lot of pressure on myself,” he said. “I was just trying way too hard and I was in my head. … [I] got to talk with a lot of people: Derek Mosher, our mental skills coach; Kevin Boles, our manager; Jonathan Hurst, the pitching coach. Kind of picking their brains for the couple weeks that I had there.”
That rough stretch ended with a near-three-week stint on the injured list. Over his next four starts, Wilson yielded three runs over 26 innings for a 1.04 ERA, holding opponents to a .133 average.
“I needed to go back to the attitude I had in Brooklyn and St. Lucie, which was just pitching with 100 percent conviction, just knowing that my stuff can beat anybody,” he said. “I just took that attitude into the last month and kind of rolled with it and had a pretty good finish to the year.”
With an imposing build, Wilson looks as though he could probably play a pretty convincing Biff Tannen himself. But he doesn’t possess overpowering stuff on the mound. His fastball tops out around 92 mph and he’s reliant on a changeup, which he describes as his best pitch.
The offering made him very effective against lefties, particularly at Double-A. There, he got to log some innings in the same rotation as David Peterson, the Mets’ No. 10 prospect, another 6-foot-6 imposing force who doesn’t rely on blow-you-away stuff.
“I think there’s advantages to being sort of a movement and location guy,” he said. “You’re able to keep your pitch count down. Induce weak contact, stuff like that. But I know David worked really hard this offseason; I worked really hard this offseason.
“Everyone is trying to get their velo up. … It’s a pretty big advantage. But there’s definitely advantages to both, and it’s a matter of taking your strengths and using it on the mound. And that’s a lot of what I learned in that period of time in Binghamton as well.”
I made a video about baseball on the video watcher. https://t.co/Xe7qlqMMMi
— Tom Wilson (@TomWilsonUSA) February 20, 2019
When baseball returns, Wilson will be back in his own spotlight. It’s on a very different stage than the one his father has reveled in for the past 35 years, but he is — as his father once put it — “performing live for live human beings.”
The elder Wilson has nearly 150 acting credits to his name, including feature films and network television shows. He’s performed in theater, standup comedy and is an accomplished painter. But he’s fully aware of how most people will perceive his legacy.
“I watched it completely eat me alive and turn me into a billion pixelized images flashing through satellites and on televisions and everywhere,” Wilson said while narrating a video about his artwork titled, I Am Pop Art. “The pop that I had watched and marveled at and celebrated chewed me up, spit me out and turned me into a human representation of a Campbell’s Soup can.”
That from a guy whose most recognizable character thought “butthead” to be the most cutting of insults. It’s pretty obvious that Thomas Wilson is not Biff Tannen.
“So far from that in real life,” his son noted.
By email, the actor said he and wife Caroline support his son’s career from the sidelines. He’s more comfortable speaking about Tannen in the nearly 35 years since the film’s release.
• Wilson’s father cheers on first professional hit
His 2009 standup special, Bigger than You, included a song with the repeated line, “Stop asking me the question,” dispersed between familiar interrogative requests by people on the street who recognize him as that dude from that movie.
“Movies are pretend. Cars don’t fly. Time travel doesn’t exist. When a 5-foot, 2-inch guy punches me in the face, I don’t get knocked unconscious,” Wilson explained in the special. “I was president of the debating team. I played the tuba in the band. Paint your own picture.”
He may not have ever behaved like Biff, but Wilson has joked that his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame left him with limited casting options on Broadway. He painted a picture — not literally, this time — of his macho male relatives. He showed off “the recessive theater gene” and high-school sports experiences for the Mets prospect’s father were limited to the marching band.
In Bigger than You, the elder Wilson recalled raising his only son, Tommy, the youngest of four children. Barbie doll parts were used as weaponry and his young lad even wondered what a rotating fan blade felt like.
“I wasn’t allowed to go to the comedy events at a young age because most of the comedians were pretty vulgar, and my dad likes to stay away from that. He does a pretty clean act,” the prospect said. “It was great once I got to high school to go watch his comedy and see his specials and stuff. I thought it was hilarious.”
Bigger than You also covers Tommy’s early Little League days, when Thomas was astonished to realize he wasn’t “the most clueless” dad at the field. He’s still working, but now he also plays the role of the eager fan at the Minor League baseball game.
“My dad loves coming to the games and cheering me on,” Tommy said. “And he’s not afraid to make his presence known by cheering me on. … He’ll get after it, too. And he’s not afraid to say a word or two to any umpire. … He’s electric. He brings the energy and it fires me up, man. I love having him at my games.”
Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @Gerard_Gilberto.