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"I remember telling him to hit the ball on the ground and use his speed," says Pat Strange, then the Mets' top pitching prospect, who would become close friends with Cole. "I believe his response was, 'Shut the f--- up and worry about throwing strikes.' "
Among Cole's abundant gifts, his ability to adjust may have been the most transcendent. What's a Double A slider to a kid who used to tattoo "cuckabugs" with a broom handle? He hit .349 over the final 30 games of 2000—his final season, as it turned out—including a 10-game hitting streak that featured four home runs. Binghamton went 26--4 during Cole's tear and came from eight games back to win the division. The resurgence culminated in a champagne-soaked dog pile.
"Brian was wired to succeed," says Ribaudo. "He didn't fail. Ever." Ribaudo, who now casts and choreographs baseball scenes in movies (he has worked on Moneyball and The Bronx Is Burning), has set up a production company, Meridian6 Films (Cole's jersey number was 6), expressly to make a feature film about Cole.
When Binghamton's season ended, Cole was honored in a pregame ceremony at Shea Stadium as the player of the year in the Mets' organization. He was sent to the Arizona Fall League to play against the cream of the minor league crop, including a promising third baseman the Cardinals had picked in the 13th round. "When I got there I heard [Cole] was a big prospect, and it was plain to see why," Albert Pujols says. "Amazing speed. Amazing power. People talk about five-tool players, but this was a six-tool player because he was such a competitor. I thought, Man, I'm in a special group here if there are players like this around me."
"People say they've seen Halley's Comet, well I've seen Brian Cole," says Kevin Mench, the former Rangers outfielder who played for the Grand Canyon Rafters that fall and watched Cole set an AFL record by hitting in 16 straight games. "Everyone knew he was going to be a star in the majors one day. He had this glimmer about him, this glow."
"Brian was the in crowd," says Pujols. "Everyone knew how talented he was and what a good guy he was and wanted to be around him. I remember being in the clubhouse before games, and he would walk in and the place would light up. Not because of anything he said, but—that smile, man. He was just friendly."
During the season Cole rarely strayed from his daily routine: apartment to ballpark to apartment. Recollections of him in nightclubs are far fewer than ones of him in a cut-rate hotel room engaged in all-night PlayStation sessions with teammates, telling them how good he was at Madden while demonstrating it with his thumbs. Southern rap was his music of choice, its skittering hi-hats and molar-rattling bass lines taking him back home to Meridian.
Heading into spring training in '01," says Mets strength coach Jason Craig, "everyone had heard about Brian, and everyone wanted to see if the legend really matched up. When he got in the cage we were all, Oh, O.K. Now I see the light." Mets catcher Mike Piazza told ESPN's Peter Gammons, "Let me give you a name to remember—Brian Cole."
A prospect creating even more buzz during camp, however, was Jason Tyner, the speedster the Mets had picked in the first round the same year they drafted Cole. "The big league guys started talking about wanting to see those two race," recalls pitcher Nick Maness.
There are as many versions of the 60-yard footrace between Cole and Tyner as there were strides in the race itself. Some versions have Cole slipping and falling at the start. But they all end the same way: with Cole backpedaling the last 10 yards, two or three body lengths ahead of the outfielder who had been paid a $1 million signing bonus specifically because of his speed. "Brian didn't say nothing to [Tyner]," says Jenkins. "He just looked at him like, Are you coming?"